by Jeff Collins, DCW staff
In 1969, a new era of drum and bugle corps was taking form in California. The Santa Clara Vanguard was making a strong bid for dominance, while the Anaheim Kingsmen/Velvet Knights rivalry was at its peak.
During this time, several other corps struggled to gain attention. One, most noticeably, was a favorite among drum corps crowds. The Stockton Commodores gave people exactly what they paid for — entertainment. This solid corps from the heard of the Delta, in Northern California, made the term “Dude” a tradition. Their membership was a melting pot of ethnic and racial differences, which only added to the unique and playful character demonstrated on the field.
The Stockton Commodores were one of the top 12 corps in Drum Corps International’s second year of existence, playing favorites like Russian Sailor’s Dance, Popeye and My Way. Jim Ott, the corps’ arranger and composer, took these kids from the neighborhood and taught them to play their instruments with passion and feeling. He gave them a signature sound that people remember to this day. When Ott moved on to the Concord Blue Devils in 1974, he made time stand still in the hearts of many Commodore alumni, including two members who will be marching at the DCA senior corps World Championships September 1.
These two members, Bill Collins and Rick Clavejo, were Commodore baritones from 1969-1973. Both members will also be marching with a son or daughter at the DCA Championships. Cris Clavejo, who plays soprano, is a seasoned drum corps veteran as a former member of Santa Clara Vanguard. Tiffany Collins, 18, has been active in dance, gaining drum corps experience with Freelancers II and Mandarins’ color guards. All are members of the San Francisco Renegades senior corps.
“What Jim taught us about senior corps has remained a passion for me,” Bill said. “He was always conscious of trying to make the Commodores sound close to how it would sound if it were a senior corps.”
In fact, during the mid- to late-1960s Stockton had its own senior corps, the Joaquin Caballeros. This is where Ott got his first taste of the senior style.
“Staying up late at night after practice listening to drum corps music at Jim’s house gave us an education of sorts. At some point, Jim would always reach for the Cabs or Skys to remind us of our dream to someday move east and join one,” Bill said. “Jim would come to practice with a new arrangement or augmented ending to a song that sounded just like a senior corps. It was thrilling and magical.”
The Renegades will be making drum corps history this year, becoming the first senior corps from California to compete in the DCA Championships.
“To compete against corps like the Brigadiers, Caballeros, Statesmen, Hurcs, Bucs, Crusaders and Minnesota Brass is an honor, and I know Jim will be there watching us, too,” Rick said. “Having our family and friends together with the Renegades is something we will always have fond memories of, just as we do of the old days in Commodores.”
With the addition of River City Regiment and SoCal Dram, things are looking up for the growth of senior corps in California. And it will be the people buying tickets who will benefit the most because after all, juniors are polished, but with seniors, IT’S SHOW TIME!