Interview With Fred Barker
- Version 3.1.1 (June 2004)
- Fred Barker, Saxophone player 1931-35
- Dan Cheatham, Drum Major 1957
- Date of Interview:
- June 2000
- 3150 Rossmoor Parkway, #1, Walnut Creek, CA 94595
- Transcribed by:
- Barbara Linchey
- Cheatham edited his own remarks for grammar and clarity in July 2000 and again in June 2004.]
- [Barker edited his remarks in October 2000 and were typed in by Cheatham in December 2000. He edited it again in November 2003.
- Note: There was a short follow-up interview on 12 April 2003 to fill in some of the blanks. It was transcribed by Barbara Linchey and entered by Cheatham in October 2003.
- Barker added additional material in late May 2004]
- [Editorial notes are attributed thus: Norden H. (Dan) Cheatham - NHC]
Key words: Berkeley High School Band, joining the Cal Band; performing with the Cal Band; introducing new uniforms; Sousaphone stunt / USC Band; other bands; Campus/Band memories; Modest Alloo; Golden Gate Bridge dedication; California State Fair; network radio; Drum Major Robert Rice; undergraduate days; after graduation; war years; postwar years; after retirement years
CHEATHAM: This is Dan Cheatham. I was drum major in 1957.
BARKER: Hello. I am Fred Barker. I was in the band at Berkeley High up to 1931. We won the state championship by the way, for bands competing at the state capital...I still have the medal somewhere. I graduated from Cal in 1935. I went back for a postgraduate course and received a master’s degree in art in 1937. I played saxophone, starting out as alto and then they put me on baritone. I played tenor too.
Joining the Cal Band
CHEATHAM: How did you first become aware that there was such a thing as the Cal Band?
BARKER: I remember going to one of the Cal/Stanford Big Games when I was just a youngster and watching the Band come out of the tunnel. They had the old uniforms, of course. But I became intrigued. This was long before I went to high school. It was exciting to watch the Band come out and to see the old uniforms. This was one of the first impressions I had of the Band.
I remember the game pretty well. I remember Ted Beckett stayed in my mind because I think he made every tackle, particularly that day. Stanford won the game of course...they usually do. [This is in reference to a seven game winning streak by Stanford in the 1990’s. NHC]
Later on, a good friend and fraternity brother of mine, Ed Gray, was also a band member and introduced me to the Band. I was still in high school playing with the Berkeley High band. He invited me to the Spring Concert in the Greek Theater [See interview with Charles Richardson. NHC] and I was impressed with the performance. I forget what the numbers were at this point.
Wanting to play the saxophone, I started it at Willard Junior High. My folks got together at Christmas and gave me one, a used one but it was a good one.
I took lessons from a professional sax player, George Sturgeon. He also played in dance bands and I got interested in dance orchestra work too. My experience at Berkeley High was that we had two different bands. They had a beginner’s band for a year and then they had an advanced band. Earl Morton was the bandleader. He was an excellent bandleader and musical instructor. In the beginning band we had to get up and make a presentation, everybody in the band had to make a presentation on their particular instrument. Nervousness and all, we got up and did it.
I remember that there was a young fellow in the band that played the French horn. French horn is a pretty technical instrument and you could blow into the thing and what a funny noise would come out. But, when Mr. Morton got up to conduct our concert at Sacramento for the state championship, he went to this fellow and I am not going to mention his name, but he said, “Now look, I like your being in the band but I don’t want you to play a note because you are liable to play that thing so that it will kill our whole performance.”
We went to Sacramento on the Sacramento Northern Railroad, which was the train formerly out of Oakland. [It’s route went up Shafter Ave. in Oakland, through the Oakland hills, past St. Mary’s College, across the river by railroad ferry at Benicia, and to Sacramento via the town of Dixon. NHC] We had our groupies at that time. I remember a lot of the girls that liked music and played in the symphony orchestra at Berkeley High rooted us on and we did win the championship that time.
I think we made about a 98%, which is pretty high. We had an oboe player and I guess he was just a little bit nervous because he squeaked a couple of times in the middle of the performance. But actually, they didn’t hold it against us. I know Earl Morton had us all well trained. We had been practicing on weekends and every other day for this event. We even had practice taking our hats off in unison and sitting down in unison to show our discipline.
I made a little cartoon book on all the members of the band. I ended up as a commercial artist, having finally earned my master’s degree in art. I have an amateur little book signed by all the band members, which indicated that we were one of a team and liked each other.
CHEATHAM: What were your first impressions of actually being in the Cal Band?
BARKER: Well, having been in the band at Berkeley High, the first thing I wanted to do was to join the Cal Band. I made that a must. I was secondarily interested, due to other work, in music, in dance bands. But I did want to join the Band and I had a tryout in Eshleman Hall.
Bill Ingram was the new football coach at that time and I remember that he came down and impressed us with the responsibility of being a member of the Cal Band. He said, “You know, one thing that we have to have at the football games is a lot of music and a lot of camaraderie and a lot of enthusiasm and you guys are the ones who are going to furnish it. So I want to congratulate you. Be sure and join in if you can,” and he left. We were quite impressed with the guy. We sat down and we had auditions and I played my saxophone and I seemed to make out all right so I then became a member of the Cal Band.
CHEATHAM: Give us more detail on your audition.
BARKER: I was of course a little nervous. But I had been into band work at Berkeley High and I felt confident that I could perform. There were a lot of prospective new members being auditioned at the same time in different parts of the room by senior band members. Professor Alloo did not audition me. He was the musical director for the whole university. But I have a story to tell about him later on.
My audition went fine, I was not totally nervous but I was of course a little nervous. I had played band music before and I could sight read reasonably well. That part went fine.
CHEATHAM: What was your reaction the first time that you got to play with the full Cal Band?
BARKER: My first reaction and feeling of course was that this was really a big organization and the sound was huge. The Berkeley High band was about half the size of the University of California marching band. Get that band going and I believe that is an experience you carry with you the rest of your life.
CHEATHAM: Other people that I have interviewed have a similar response, that the first time that they hear the volume and the power of actually being within the Cal Band is a very special experience and it sounds like it was the same for you.
Tell us about your first marching rehearsals with the Cal Band?
BARKER: It was not totally unique because at Berkeley High we had marching experience too. We performed at football games. We didn’t, however, do some of the maneuvers that the Cal Band did like monkey counter marching and special to the right and to the left column marches. So this was extremely new and interesting to me.
We always had the trombones in the front rank. [And still do. NHC] If you ever played a trombone, you could figure that one out...the need to have room for the slide of course.
The first drum major, I thought, was very good. I think it was Herbert Blasdale. His directions were good and the front row, the trombone rank, always followed his instructions correctly. Each file followed their lead. I was back in the body of the band somewhere with the reed section. I just followed the guy in front of me. [Many of the movements done in block band formation, street marching is good example, consists of following, in turn, the man in front of you and the trombone rank is the one to set the action upon the command of execution by the Drum Major. NHC]
The Drum Major was very tall and his presence was very commanding and he conducted himself on the field I thought extremely well. His baton handling indicated the proper maneuvers, one to the left, one to the right: monkey counter march and so forth were handled quite well.
Marching rehearsals were held in two or three different places on campus. The main field opposite the girl’s gym at that time...Hearst Gym, was an empty field at that point and we rehearsed, for the main part, on that. But I remember that we rehearsed several times in the stadium itself and the ROTC Signal Corps provided a public address system for us so that Blasdale could direct the Band with a microphone. The ROTC detachment had a very good system as I remember, which got me kind of interested in public address systems...which I have pursued ever since.
CHEATHAM: Tell us about the first time you marched into Memorial Stadium for a pregame performance.
BARKER: My first impression was of course a fulfilling one. You get the cold chills and are overwhelmed at the size of the audience. This was before we used fanfares as is done now. Still, the same effect was there. We had a crowd noise, which was very stimulating and overwhelming. It’s kind of hard to describe.
CHEATHAM: Several times Fred mentioned something called a “monkey counter march.” Let me explain. During a standard counter march, the band emerges as a mirror image of itself. The former right file now is the left file. The position on the right side of the front rank is generally considered a position of rank and prestige. That position is called the “Right Guide.” During a parade all the ranks and files “guide” on him so that the band is evenly spaced and lined up front to back and left to right. The word “guide,” associated with position, is derived from the command, in close order drill, “Guide! Right!” Anyway, after a normal counter march, the person at right guide winds up on the left front corner of the band instead of his normal position on the right front corner. The monkey counter march corrects this.
It hard to explain how it is done. You have to see it. At the command of execution the front rank “bends” in itself keyed to the middle player and passes shoulders as in a standard counter march. Each file follows its leader as in a standard counter march and when everything is sorted out the Right Guide is still in the right guide position. It is not as complicated as it sounds; it is just hard to explain.
During the period you were in the band, did you participate in any of the leadership positions?
BARKER: Well, they elected me music Librarian for one thing. I had to pick up all the different parts out of the library and get them to the proper instruments. In addition to that, I was on the committee that designed the stunts at half time and I did have some rather peculiar ideas that I tried out.
CHEATHAM: Do you have any particular stunts that you would like to tell us about?
BARKER: One that comes to mind was the time we got our new uniforms. I believe it was 1933 when we were playing the St. Mary’s Gaels at Memorial Stadium. We had this new outfit...blue blouses, yellow caps, white trousers with a gold stripe down the outside. They were really very nice looking uniforms.
We asked, “How could we introduce ourselves with the new uniform and have some fun out of this?” So I thought it might be a good idea to get some of the old uniforms and do a bit of burlesque. We used a small pickup band with maybe 20 members, which we pulled out of the main body of the band, and we dressed them in the old uniforms.
The old uniforms were a cape as I remember, white duck pants [a type of cloth], black shoes and a white duck hat with an emblem on it. So we decided to go with this little mock band. I designed a Shako, which was just about as tall as the gentlemen who was wearing it, and he was the shortest man in the band...about 5 feet...Diamond I think his name was. He whirled a baton, which consisted of a long piece of gas tubing with a toilet bowl float on one end and a revolving handle so that the thing would twirl by itself as he shook it a bit. It was very slow but it did give the impression that he was twirling.
He came out of the tunnel with this little outfit and paraded up and down the field. I think everyone enjoyed a great laugh. Following the appearance of the old, mock-band, we came out of the tunnel with great enthusiasm with our new uniforms. I remember that the rooting section went wild. They were really taken up with these new uniforms and we felt really great about the whole thing.
Sousaphone stunt / USC Band
CHEATHAM: What else comes to mind?
BARKER: Well I remember in the Stunt Committee...we were trying to think of something that we could do to show ourselves as being a little superior to those guys down south...the Hollywood boys. The boys down south whom I am referring to are the USC boys, of course.
What we wanted to do was to put on a stunt that would show us up a little bit over them. We considered the idea of having a band consisting of as many sousaphones as we could possibly get in our area.
We went out and got every sousaphone we could possibly channel to come over to the game for free. We would furnish them with a uniform and they would come out of the tunnel as two solid ranks, which would be 16 sousaphones. In addition to that, we had the world’s largest sousaphone, which belonged to the Shriners and that was placed in the center of the whole group. After the game, Hal Roberts who was the director of the USC band, came over...of course, they had won the game...and he said, “Well, I don’t really give a damn about who won the game. The only question I want to have you answer is where in the hell did you get all those sousaphones?”
Once, we were down practicing on Bovard Field, which is a field on the USC campus. The two bands were interspersed because we were practicing for a joint playing of the National Anthem. I noticed that the lady next to me was carrying a clarinet and I didn’t pay too much attention to her at first. The fellow on the rank next to her on my right came to her and he said, “Ma’am, would you mind sounding an ‘A’ on your instrument, I think I am not quite in tune.” She turned a little bit red in the face and she said, “Well you know, it is a little hard for me to do that because this is a wooden instrument.” Obviously the USC band was pretending to be larger then they really were.
CHEATHAM: Do you have any memories of any of the other bands that appeared on the football field with the Cal Band?
BARKER: I do have a few memories regarding that. St. Mary’s College in Moraga had a band...a smaller band than Cal but a very good band. They still wore WW I helmets...chrome plated. [These same helmets can be seen in the photos of the Saint Mary’s band that appear in the interview with Herb Towler. NHC]
They wore leggings of the sort worn in WW I. But, they were a colorful band and they were real good. They were a smaller size than what we were but they had a good sound.
The Washington band marched with us and I remember they were a good organization.
UCLA was comparable; they had a very good outfit.
The Stanford band at that time was completely different from what it is today. I really don’t appreciate the change that has taken place in recent years. In those days they were disciplined and smartly dressed in red blouse, white pants and I think a white Sam Browne belt. They were a very good outfit at that time. That is not the case today, in my opinion. [...referring to the present-day undisciplined and lackadaisical approach to their field shows. NHC]
CHEATHAM: This is the end of the first side of the first tape of the interview with Fred Barker.
This is the second side of the first tape of the interview with Fred Barker. The date is April 28th and we are at Fred Barker’s house.
CHEATHAM: What are your memories of the band room, which also was known as Room 5, Eshleman Hall, now known as Moses Hall. Its doorway is now the rear exit to the Governmental Studies Library whose main entrance is 109 Moses Hall.
BARKER: My memories of Eshleman Hall...we are coming down the stairs and through the courtyard with our back to the Campanile. We are going down as far as we can go towards the little creek. We are mounting the stairs to the right at this point...up a little set of stairs, which abuts a loading dock. [still there] Now we are facing the west and we stay on the left side and we go into a room, which is kind of a locker room. Some desks are in there and the facility is for storing the instruments. In the back of that room they have lavatory facilities, and there were lockers. I am trying to remember where I used to change into uniform...I did it, I believe, in the room there. I must have had a locker. Now we come back out towards the front of that room and we turn to the left, which would be going towards the Campanile. We go through a set of double doors and we are into a large rehearsal area, which is something like 50 feet square. It was big enough to hold a whole band of 150 pieces. That would be what we used as a music rehearsal hall before we ever got out on the field for marching rehearsal. [I don’t know if he is referring to a room on the ground level and next to Room 5, possibly labeled Room 4, or to Eshleman Auditorium on the top floor of Eshleman Hall, now called Moses Hall. That auditorium room is now used as a student lounge/hangout...not very formal...old couches and stuff. NHC February 2003]
CHEATHAM: What are your memories of the lifestyle in the Band Room?
BARKER: As I remember, the lifestyle, or the use of the room by band members, mainly consisted of the arriving before the event, maybe 11:00 on a Saturday. We would especially use the facilities, the lavatory and so forth. We would change into our band uniform. We would get out our instruments and we would probably warm up. I remember we would always be in a barrel of warm-up sounds. Then we would get called upon to go out on the field and practice. We didn’t use the rehearsal hall on field rehearsal days...the days that we went up to the stadium. We would march and do our playing out on the rehearsal field. On days when we did not perform on the field we would use this big rehearsal hall.
I didn’t observe any card playing or any hanging out in Room 5. We were more or less in there to do our job, rehearse, warm up and get our uniforms on, go to the bathroom and that sort of thing.
CHEATHAM: Tell me what it was like to have a music rehearsal with Modest Alloo.
BARKER: Well, having a rehearsal with Conductor Modest Alloo was really something to experience because this gentleman was very familiar with most all the instruments in the band. In fact, I think he had played most of them himself. I remember one time we had a member in the band who was playing a baritone horn and he was very good at it. But he did flub a couple of times during one of the rehearsals and Modest Alloo ran down and picked the horn out of his hand and said, now this is the way you should play it. And he sounded off and played a beautiful rendition of that particular section of music.
Another thing I remember about Modest Alloo was we were playing full bore in this room and you know how loud it was. I don’t remember the name of the selection but it was a classical selection, maybe Atlantis. He stopped the band and he pointed to me and he said, Barker, I want you to know that you played a G natural and that should be a G sharp. And to this day I can’t recall how anyone with all that noise and clutter could single me out and yet be exactly right.
CHEATHAM: We have very little information on Professor Alloo. What else can you tell us?
BARKER: Well, I do have another little anecdote, which is kind of funny. One day we were out on the field getting ready for the Washington game. We came out and we had only 7 sousaphones...we didn’t have a full rank. Having been the music librarian, I used to fool around in the band room when no one was in there. I used to pick up horns and try to play them. I did pick up the sousaphone and I learned how to play the first 8 bars of Lights Out March. [The tune for Fight for California.] Alloo came out on the field and he said, anyone in here that can play a sousaphone? Well I said, “Gee, this should be kind of fun,” so I held up my hand and said, “Professor, I think I could handle it.” And he said, “Well come here and show me how you can handle it.” So we went back into the band room and he handed me the sousaphone and I played the first 8 bars of Lights Out, not too good, but enough for him to say, “Well, I think you’ll do.” So he handed me the instrument and we went back on the field.
The funny part is that when you come out of the tunnel at Memorial Stadium you get carried away. I guess I got a little bit beyond the 8 bars. When we got into the stands, Professor Alloo said, “Gentlemen. I think something stinks in the Bass section,” and I am sure the stinker was me.
Describing Professor Alloo: he was a nice looking gentleman. He was middle sized, short, not too large, and somewhat balding. He was dark skinned; I think he was Armenian or Portuguese. He was at times quite jolly but most of the time was quite serious and very devoted to music as indicated by his perception of my playing a G sharp instead of a G natural. This is something that to this day I can’t explain as to how anyone could possibly have heard me with all that noise.
He must have had a wonderful musical ear. He was not a severe conductor. He was fairly complacent but he was earnest. If you didn’t play your instrument correctly, he would grab it from you and show you how it was properly played. I think all the Bandsmen liked him very much. They appreciated his talent and his leadership. As far as I know, everybody thought he was the greatest.
Golden Gate Bridge Ground Breaking
CHEATHAM: Tell us about the occasion that the Cal Band helped celebrate the ground breaking for the construction of the Golden Gate bridge.
BARKER: Well, my recollection of the ground breaking ceremony, our part in it, was that we, I believe, met at the Ferry Building and we marched all the way up Market Street to Van Ness. We went all the way down Van Ness to Lombard, then we turned left on Lombard and went to Crissy Field at the Presidio. It was a long march, but you know, when we were that age and that young and full of vigor, it was fun and I wasn’t particularly tired at all. In fact, I was ready to go again the next day. I don’t recall any fireworks at the final end of this thing. My memory stops at that point where we arrived at Crissy Field. I can’t remember anything beyond that.
CHEATHAM: I am interested in this march. Tell us what the parade consisted of? Were there more bands? Were there floats? Were there other marching units? I am also interested in the tempo at which the Cal Band proceeded on this march.
BARKER: Well, the tempo of the Cal Band: as you know, we have always been rather vigorous and fast. In fact, in those days I think it was less vigorous than it is today by quite a bit, but still vigorous.
But I remember that in the procession that took place in the parade there were other bands. I think there was an Army band and I think there was a Navy band and I think there were some other high school organizations. I know we had to slow down quite a bit to keep from pushing the back of the ones in front of us. We cut our cadence down quite a bit. I don’t recall any floats, but I am sure there were things like that. [See interview with Bob Rice.]
California State Fair
CHEATHAM: Somewhere during your time, I think it was 1933, the Cal band performed at the State Fair in Sacramento. What can you tell us about that? [See interview with Bob Rice. NHC]
BARKER: Well, as I remember, we left the Berkeley train station maybe like 8:00 in the morning. We arrived in Sacramento I will say at 10:00. We immediately went out to the grandstand on busses. We played most of the day in the grandstand for the different events. I remember they had a trapeze act out there and horse races. There were no other competing bands that I know of for us to compete against. We weren’t marching out on the field at all at that point, we just played. Then we came back to the hotel, I remember one thing that happened. I woke up in the morning and I had about 4 extra people in the bed. We had partied a little bit that night and I was surprised to find extra bandsmen in my bed.
The next day we went back out to the State Fair. We went home on the afternoon train, I think getting back to Berkeley about 6:00 or something like that.
The hotel was downtown, I can’t remember the name of it but I know some of us spent some time at the Hotel Senator. [The expensive downtown hotel. NHC] We were up there looking for girls and having a little recreation. I am sure we spent a little time at the Fair looking around. I don’t think we played the whole time solid. I don’t recall any particular event or exhibit or anything. I know, I was fascinated with a couple of persons from Hollywood. There was a movie studio orchestra and I believe one of our former members played with them, I believe it was Williams. He played trumpet the first year I was in the Band but then all of a sudden he appeared in this Hollywood musical organization that played for motion pictures. I believe we were listening to them play. I was interested in the microphones being used.
I had been in that business for some time. I was fascinated with the recording facilities that they were using. There were strange microphones. They were crystal mikes and they were called crystal pile microphones, crystals placed on top of each other in series. This generated the signal...activated by the crystal itself as there was no diaphragm in this device. They were very popular at that time of recording technology. Since then, they have disappeared into the nether lands.
CHEATHAM: This provides a good lead to ask about the Cal Band performing nationwide over the NBC and Columbia Broadcasting System.
BARKER: Strange that you bring that up because the Rossmoor video club is investigating a parabolic mike right now for television recording of Rossmoor public events. [Later: They never did get this microphone.]
The Cal Band event was broadcast, during my freshman year, in the old Harmon Gym and they used a big parabolic microphone. It had a square condenser mike that was very popular in the early ’30s.
I remember they had the Band standing by for quite some time waiting for our cue to perform on this network hookup that
was being broadcast nationwide and the networks were switching from one time zone to another. Other bands were also
broadcasting as part of the show, as well as other program
They finally gave us the signal and so we played while they picked this whole thing up on one huge parabolic microphone. It must have been three or four feet in diameter. That was an interesting experience and it piqued my interest in audio recording.
We had the whole Band assembled for this. Harmon Gym wasn’t too bad acoustically. It was pretty good. I know, I have listened to symphonies in there at one time and they seemed to be quite good acoustically.
One other thing that happened was that at our spring concert in the Greek Theater in 1934...having expressed an interest in sound recording, someone presented me with an aluminum disc, a 12” disc, which had been recorded of the Cal Band playing at that spring concert. Where that disc went to, I have no idea. I had it up to the time WW II started. Most of my recording equipment at that time was disposed of by my family. I guess that disk just went along with it. But it was a rather peculiar choice of materials to record on because as you know, aluminum is rather scratchy and you have to use a specially made bamboo needle to pick up the sound. I played the thing several times. We were using vinyl actually for most of the recordings at that time, and here comes along this aluminum disc. It sounded pretty good but the scratch noise was pretty high. What the content was, the selections played, or who recorded it, I do not know. It might have been somebody in the ROTC Signal Corps unit.
Drum Major Robert Rice
CHEATHAM: Among the drum majors during your time in the Band was Robert Rice. I have done a separate interview with him. Do you remember him?
BARKER: Well, Bob was always a good friend of mine. We played in a church ensemble in addition to the Cal Band. He played the peck horn and I was playing sax. They had no real need for a saxophone in a church ensemble so they put me on clarinet and I sat back there doing peck horn parts with Bob Rice and laughing from time to time over all the off-beats [we] were playing.
Bob taught me how to play the trumpet and he also taught me how to play the bugle. We were in the Boy Scouts together and Bob was one of the assistant scout leaders. He was also the bugler. He had a class on playing the bugle.
CHEATHAM: This is the time in the interview where I ask a generalized question to take a few minutes to talk about anything we have not covered.
BARKER: In the early 1990’s, for a class reunion, I produced a multi-media show using Ralph Edwards as the narrator, I wrote the script and did the photography. I also made my own remarks.
We were so lucky to have gone to school during a period in which we had no drug problems. We had no real basic social problems or unrest. We had a rather naive approach to life. We did terminate hazing after my freshman days...there was no more hazing after that. [He is referring to the customs involving the freshman men wearing “dinks.” NHC] Although I think this was part of college life in the early days and it is something that is probably not good to continue, but I was hazed along with other people.
We wore little freshman dinks. [A distinctive felt hat peculiar to incoming freshmen men students of the era. NHC] By the time I got through the first day on campus, my dink consisted of probably a piece of felt-like board 6” in diameter, which was all that was left. [The sophomore class men would harass the new male students by tearing off a piece of their dink. See the interview with Ralph Edwards. NHC] I know one of my fraternity brothers was a sophomore and the sophomores were the ones who persecuted the freshmen during the opening days of the semester. Unfortunately, I was caught at Sather Gate and that’s where you shouldn’t go during the first week of classes when hazing was going on. But I went down there and they caught me and they had me doing all kinds of strange things. [...things like rolling a pencil on the sidewalk with their nose. See contemporary reports of those times. NHC] My fraternity brother, who wore a big sophomore sweatshirt, grabbed me and said, “I am going to take this guy around the side and I am going to give him the ‘Where-to.’ ” So he took me around to the side and said, “Get the hell out of here!” So I was lucky to be in a fraternity at that point. That is one of the anecdotes that I wanted to remark on.
I want to go back on how lucky we were in those days to have so few social problems to deal with in...addition to all the classroom strife and the drug scene and maybe even the drinking scene. [...that goes on in recent times.]
Halfway through our college life we were in prohibition. Drinking was not even permitted I think until it was ’33 and Franklin Roosevelt recalled the Prohibition Act. My philosophy is that I think we were quite lucky to have grown up in such a nice, comfortable and naive time.
A few of us had automobiles but we didn’t drive like crazy. Gas was scarce and we didn’t have too much money either. In my freshman days of ’31, following the class of ’29 of course, everybody was pretty short of cash. Actually, this was good because we made our own fun and we weren’t gallivanting around with a lot of money in our pockets.
After I graduated, I was offered a lifetime membership to the Alumni Association for $65. And boy that was a boon. I have never regretted it and I have been receiving the Cal Monthly and all of the other benefits along with everybody else. And I have been fairly active with the class of ’35.
As I said, I wrote this script and produced this multi-media show, “The class of ’35! -This Is Your Life!” with Ralph Edwards...with his permission and his participation. The script is already on deposit with the Bancroft Library with archives of the Class of 1935.
I am putting it on again at our 65th reunion (November 2000). I hope all the equipment still works. It is a multimedia show with a 16mm projector intermixed with 3 slide projectors on 3 large screens. And this equipment of course has gotten rather obsolete but it worked out fine. [Ralph Edwards is also in the class of 1935. See his oral history. NHC]
We always appreciated having the Band arrive at our reunions. They always brought a lot of spirit.
When I was playing in the Band we visited all the major hotels in San Francisco playing at all the reunions the night before the Cal vs. Stanford game. In fact, the Big Game in my day was the highlight of the whole year.
I really enjoyed working with the Band. It’s something I will never forget. Music has always been a part of my life and playing in a band is stirring. You get stirred up and you are really with it. I think the Band, when it marches out on the field, is recognized by the student body as one of the main things that happens at the game. I know I felt that way when I marched out of the North Tunnel.
This is the end of the first side of the second tape of the interview with Fred Barker.
CHEATHAM: Give us a synopsis of your life subsequent to graduation.
BARKER: I graduated of course in May of 1935. I came back to Cal for a post-graduate course to get my masters degree. I got it in art. At that time, electronic communications was not what it is today. We had no course on recording or electronics, broadcasting, television, or anything of that nature which we have today. So, in addition to doing art work, I got involved with sound recording on a freelance basis with the various bands and orchestras in the vicinity.
Somebody sold me an amplifier with a microphone for $25, which was a lot of money in those days. I used this equipment with a dance orchestra I was playing in. I also used it to augment other activities around the campus. I rented this equipment to such groups as the Don Mulford Dance Band and set it up for them. That is more or less what got me interested in the sound end of the business. [See interview with Don Mulford. NHC]
Don Mulford called me one time when he found that I could furnish a public address system, which he needed for his band when it was playing at the Persian Gardens ballroom in Oakland.
I was putting on the public address system for him while his band was playing for the dances. One time, he found out that I could play saxophone so he said, “Well, suit up for the band and play with us and take a fourth sax part.” He had three saxophones in the band and I played the fourth saxophone, which plays a baritone reed part. I enjoyed that quite a bit.
The Persian Gardens was located in Oakland and it was a popular dance rendezvous for a lot of people during the “Big-Band” era. I think we played on Friday and Saturday nights down there. I was working the PA system and as I said, I sat in on the band later when he found out I could play the saxophone. One night though, I remember as we were non-union, the union stink-bombed the place to try to get us out of there. [The Persian Gardens was well known in Oakland and the history room at the Oakland Library has a lot of material on it.]
It was a rainy night and I remember that we came down to the marquee outside of the place when we took our break. The pickets were walking back and forth and we formed a little line around the edge of the marquee so they had to walk out in the rain, which they didn’t like too much. The band was comprised of some students and then a lot of the others were mixed professionals that had been in the band business for some time. It was as good a professional group as anywhere in the Bay Area.
When you ask, what style did Don Mulford’s band assume...I might say that it was actually in the “sweet” band style, something like Tom Coakley’s style. It was comprised of full brass, two trumpets, one trombone, which Don played. The sax section consisted of two altos and a tenor in the middle, first alto and third alto plus the second sax part in the center of the trio. When I took over my part of the band, I played baritone horn, the fourth saxophone, which was a duplicate of the lead sax. It brought up a lot more bass with the four saxophones.
CHEATHAM: Would you say that the Don Mulford Band was a popular band in the San Francisco Bay Area?
BARKER: Yes. Don Mulford’s band was well known throughout the Bay Area, especially on campus. He played several different stints down at Hotel Oakland for instance and out in Hayward. I know that I sat in on a band out in Hayward one time. We played in a theater in the Castlemount area I remember. We played at the Hayward High School in addition to his stint at the Persian Gardens. He played on several occasions on the campus, which I didn’t attend because I was working the public address system elsewhere at that time. We played at the Oakland Athletic Club off Lake Merritt I know one time, but I can’t remember who it was for.
I know they always referred to me as “Marconi” because I was running the radio end of the thing as far they were concerned...actually a PA system. “Mr. Marconi,” they called me and I used to do that little bit with him.
I started working in the band with Don while he was a student at Cal, I believe. Later on he became more engrossed in music and I think he joined the union and his band became unionized. [See separate interview with Mulford. NHC]
After teaching art at the Academy of Advertising Art in San Francisco, now called the S.F. Academy of Art, I went ahead and became an art director at the Wank & Wank advertising agency about the time the war came along in early 1942. That kind of wiped out my artistic career at that point because I was sent off to Camp Robinson in Arkansas as an enlisted man.
CHEATHAM: How did it happen that you first heard about Pearl Harbor and then later entered the service?
BARKER: It came about this way. I was working at Boulder Creek with my dad at our weekend vacation cabin. The two of us had gone down to Boulder Creek to do a little work on the house.
We were cleaning out the attic. There had been some rats up there. I had gone up town to Boulder Creek to pick up some rat poison.
When I walked into the Water Brothers General Merchandise store I noticed that everybody was standing around looking rather stupefied. I wondered what in the world was going on. I finally said, “What’s happening?” They said, “Well did you know that Pearl Harbor has been bombed and that the United States is at war, so to speak?” And I said, “Good heavens!” I was overwhelmed. I went back rather stupefied to continue my work and I couldn’t carry on with it very much. We finished up the job as best we could and took off for Berkeley.
It was Sunday night when we came back to Berkeley. The next day I went to work at the advertising agency and we were all rather somber.
I think we had a big blackout the following night. When I left work at Wank & Wank, I was the last one out of the office. When I got to the East Bay terminal all the lights went out throughout the city and all the trains shut down. Everything just came to an absolute standstill.
I think I was sitting around in the terminal for two or three hours waiting to find out what was going to happen. Finally the trains started up again and the lights came back on. I got home fairly late at night.
From that point on, I decided that it was time to do something about my career in the Army so in a few days I went up to the recruiting section in the Federal Building in San Francisco and talked to the recruiting sergeants and then enlisted in the Army. The next day I was supposed to report for duty. I told my boss at Wank & Wank that I was sorry, but I have to end my tenure with them because I had just enlisted in the Army. He was very sad but he allowed me to leave. I went down by train the next day to the Presidio in Monterey.
A funny thing happened about a day later. On my first night on duty as an enlisted man, I was asked to do a little KP work so I went over to the mess hall. I was shown to the room where they cut vegetables and I was told by one of the “noncoms” there to cut onions. I started cutting onions and he left the room and I had not been told to not cut onions so I continued to cut onions and pretty soon the mess hall steward and the sergeant walked in and said, “Good Lord! Are you still cutting onions?” I said, “Yes sir! No one told me to stop.” And he said, “Well, stop!” So I stopped and he said, “Good Lord man! You cut enough onions for the entire regiment.”
CHEATHAM: The term “noncom” is an alternate for “noncommissioned officer” and refers to someone who carries the rank of sergeant.
The term “KP” stands for “Kitchen Police” and is Army lingo for working in the kitchen preparing, serving and cleaning up after the meals.
Did you do your basic training there or somewhere else?
BARKER: After a few days of indoctrination at the Monterey Presidio, we were shipped off to our destinations. I was to go to Camp Robinson in Arkansas but we were shipped out of Salinas by train to Los Angeles. [Salinas is the nearest railroad station to Monterey that is on the Southern Pacific main route to Los Angeles. NHC]
When we arrived in Los Angeles the next morning, we were ushered into a hotel where we were informed that the Hollywood people were going to invite us out to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a luncheon, which was kind of nice. So they carted us out there in station wagons. We got a wonderful luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was told that I could go in the swimming pool, if I wanted, so I did. I found some bathing trunks and I got into the pool among all the starlets and swam back and forth and then had a really nice dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. There were about 10 of us in the entourage. The next night we took off by train to go to Camp Robinson.
The war had just started and, of course, Hollywood was anxious to put on a good face. They wanted to be very hospitable. They really took pains to see that we were taken care of. We were celebrities in their eyes at that point. So they were very nice to us and I appreciated it very much.
While on the train going to Camp Robinson, they found out by looking at my records that I was an art director and they had me do some artwork on board the train, which all the soldiers on board signed. I don’t know whatever happened to it. I never saw it again.
I found out that being an artist was kind of an advantage because I did quite a bit of artwork. They put me in a sign shop and I know I did a lot of lettering for the Army and they told me, “Now look. You don’t even have to leave. You can stay here for the duration if you want.” I said, “I didn’t enlist to become a sign painter for the Army. No, I want to get out of here as soon as I can and do something more valuable.”
Funny things happened in my basic training. I did pretty well in marksmanship because an artist has a pretty keen eye and I could hit the target pretty well. I know they handed me a BAR one time...a Browning Automatic Rifle. It had about 25 rounds in the clip and they told me to take a kneeling position, which is the most unstable position you could take, and fire the weapon. My instructor at that point said, “Now be sure you set it on the non-automatic setting and squeeze off the shots...pull the trigger back very softly and squeeze off the shot.” Well, I thought he put it on single fire but actually, by mistake, he had put it on automatic. And when I grabbed the rifle and squeezed the trigger, the muzzle came straight up and I shot straight up in the air. I think the shots are still coming down.
While I was at basic training, my records were coming through. When I had originally signed up in San Francisco, I indicated that I wanted to pursue a commission if I could. They told me I could do that since I had enough background in ROTC and enough college training to make this possible.
So my records came through and I was advised that I should report to the battalion headquarters for an interview. So I went up and was interviewed by the Battalion-level Board and I was accepted at that level. They passed me on after a few more days and weeks to the Division-level review board, which I appeared before. Again, I was accepted and passed along to the next review board, which was at the regimental level.
One of the boards asked me about my career at Cal and I told them that I had been house president and that kind of put another link in my chain of good luck. I found out later from one of the members on the board that the President of the Board was a Phi Sigma Kappa, which was my fraternity. So I had a leg up on the commission I must admit.
I had taken ROTC at Cal, which was a help in the long run because this enabled me to get a commission. [In those days every male student was required to take two years of ROTC. If they wanted to, they could stay in for an additional two years of “advanced” ROTC and graduate with a commission. NHC]
I selected a commission in the Signal Corps, which was the closest thing to communications that I could find with the Army. Eventually I ended up in the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
During the war they looked up my record and discovered that I had been in the Cal Band and in a high school band and had done dance orchestra work. So they asked me if I would be willing to activate an Army Air Corps band. I was really flabbergasted and I said, “Well sure. Why not?” So I activated the 766 Army Air Corps band.
I enjoyed watching some of them doing some of the things I did during my days in the Cal Band.
I had people auditioning for the different positions and I also had a Table of Organization and Equipment given to me because I was activating this unit from scratch. [A TO&E is a document that prescribes the people and the equipment that a unit is authorized to requisition from central procurement sources. NHC]
The men were sent to me from all over the United States. The band members were all African Americans which was very interesting because most of the talent came from the major black orchestras like Jimmy Lunsford, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington.
They were marvelous musicians. While I was instructing the band I introduced them to the Cal Band roll-off drum beat, which they really enjoyed. I was with the band for a year. Then they sent in a Black officer to take charge because he was supposed to have been there in the first place.
But the reason I took over as First Lieutenant was that I had previous band experience and my commanding officer felt that it would be in fairly good hands to do this.
I went overseas to Okinawa and, being in Special Services, which was my secondary Military Occupational Specialty [abbreviated as MOS], I had a chance to meet a lot of the celebrities. I saw Fred Astair performing a USO show at Langley Field. I met some of his cohorts. I also remember meeting prizefighter Max Baer. He was quite a substantial sort of guy and he was instructing the troops to keep physically active and so forth.
Being in Special Services I was busy the whole time. Even on the Navy transport ship (a type of ship classified as an APA) going over, I was in charge of morale. I put on a show every night. I had a musical organization on board, which I organized. I also put on a show for all the troops on board and the captain of the ship would come up and sit through this thing every night...suffered through it in a lot of cases. It was a lot of fun and it kept me busy, which helped relieve my mind of any of the bad stuff that went on.
When I got overseas, the war ended so I didn’t have to participate in any real combat situations. We had a stage at our squadron unit headquarters with motion pictures every night.
Music is the blood of life really. We had a little pickup band when I was overseas and we had a guitar player, myself on clarinet, and another guy on drums. We had fun doing this.
If you don’t have music, I think you have lost something. That got us through a lot of problems.
One, kind of interesting experience overseas, was that we established a movie theater with a 16mm projector. The Hollywood people were really productive. They furnished the troops overseas with all of these color releases from Hollywood so we had a new picture every other night practically. We had a fairly big screen and we would seat maybe 100 people at this outdoor theater.
I remember one night when the show was over...when the lights came on...we had a big generator to power all this..all these Japanese got up and ran back up in the bush. They had been there watching the movie the whole night. Because the war was over, we didn’t really do much about it but it was kind of interesting that we were sitting down with the enemy most of the time not even knowing it. This was not the civilian population in Okinawa, this was Japanese troops hiding out in the hills around Okinawa. They were bored to death I guess. They saw all the lights on in the theater and came down and saw a movie.
Of course with the war being over, there wasn’t any reason to make any big deal out of it so we just let it go on. You could hear shots firing up in the hills, and that went on for days and days after the war ended. During all this time, they would come down and they would pilfer us a little bit...stealing mattresses and things like that. We caught a few of them, put them in the stockade and then released them back to their own people. War is crazy.
Post War Years
I came back to California and got a job. I wanted to get back into advertising agency work. But I got interested in show business because I had been in show business with the Special Services. So I got a job with Standard Oil Company of California putting on their fairs and shows and I was on that job for 2 or 3 years.
I wanted to go into television and motion picture production, which I did for 13 years in San Francisco with Photo & Sound Productions. We worked with the Hollywood people when they came up to San Francisco to put on shoots. Desi Lou Productions was one of them. Hal Roach was another we worked with.
Prior to that, with two friends, we established a partnership. We made television commercials. This was following the stint with Standard Oil Company.
In fact, one of our first commercials that went on the air in San Francisco cost the client $75 which you can imagine, was not even paying for the film. But we wanted to get our name to be up and recognized.
My next big job was for Del Monte Corporation. I became their audio/visual manager. We put on shows and did recording and motion picture work for them. While at Del Monte, my wife Vernice and I attended professional management gatherings every six months.
Incidentally, my military occupational specialty with the Air Corps was Motion Picture Officer, Staff. I finally achieved that after 28 years of service, most of it being in the reserves.
I retired from Del Monte Corporation after 15 years. I set up business for myself, and the next day they called me back as a consultant in audio/visual and paid me more than I got paid as an employee.
I worked with them for about 4 or 5 years as a consultant and I also did work for companies such as MJB Coffee, Hills Brothers Coffee, and S & W.
Also after retirement, Vernice and I traveled to Europe almost every year for ten years.
We found that age was creeping up on us so Vernice and I decided to move to Rossmoor, which is an adult retirement community here in Walnut Creek. Actually, there are now 9,000 to 10,000 people at Rossmoor.
I am presently involved with the Rossmoor Video Club. I am one of the sound engineers and I also have done camera work but I am not doing it at the moment. Mainly I am doing recording and that becomes a real chore because we have four large clubrooms at Rossmoor and there is a program of some sort going on all the time, including some of the local big bands that come here to perform. I have to record a lot of these to video tape.
We have a narrowcast TV broadcasting system on the Rossmoor cable network. It is digital cable so you get good quality. I have been working with them and we have been putting on what we call the Rossmoor Hour, the program I work on. We do other things too but that is the major one I work on.
CHEATHAM: Fred, this has been a very interesting interview. Thank you for sharing your memories with me.