Herb Towler, Second Interview

Version 3.0 (August 2001)
Herb Towler, Drum Major, 1943 Simultaneously acted as Senior Manager
Dan Cheatham, Drum Major, 1957
Date of Interview:
July 28, 1992
Jane Lepisto (Cal Band 1976-1978)
[Cheatham edited his own remarks for clarity and grammar. Inserted by Tim Castro on April 1994. Additional work was done in August 2001.
Towler reviewed his remarks in December 1999. Cheatham entered Towler’s corrections in February 2000.
Editorial notes are attributed as thus:
Norden H. (Dan) Cheatham -NHC]

Keywords: Wartime role of the Band, Role of the hard-corps group of Bandsmen, Charles Cushing’s role, the role of the campus administration, the Alumni Band, Room 175 Men’s Gym, ROTC March in Review

Cheatham: I am at Herb Towler’s house, at 2076 Oakland Avenue in Piedmont,94611. My name is Dan Cheatham. I was the Drum Major in 1957.

This is our second interview and I would like to pick up the following train of thought. You were on campus when the student body was smaller due of the urgent needs of World War II. (Towler adds in the background, “And tuitions were smaller too.”)

Towler: ...twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents (laughs).

Cheatham: How did wartime alter the traditional role of the Cal Band?

Towler: By mid-1942 the draft caught up with a great many of the so-called civilian students...those who weren’t alreadys in the military units on campus such as the Navy V-12 program. There were many Cal Bandsmen who were called into the Service. However, the spirit of the Cal Band continued even though the size of the Band was vastly reduced. Professor Cushing and the campus administration ...I think at one time coach Clint Evans...was...had a great deal to do with the sponsorship of the Cal Band...and we were encouraged to perform in any way we could whenever needed.

ASUC employee Harry Davis was in charge of tickets and our appearance at athletic events which, as I recall, even included Ice Hockey. [Cal had a club-level hockey team that played at the Berkeley ice skating rink. NHC] Complimentary football tickets...“Comps”...were provided to Bandsmen through Harry. Many of these were sold as we marched up to the North Tunnel preceding football games.

We would perform at various University functions. We didn’t have any large parades...Big Game parades or anything of that nature as was quite common after the war.

In 1943 and ’44...I don’t remember whether we even had bonfires preceding the Big Game. But, we would have rallies on Wheeler steps, and generally musically participate whenever we could, even though on a much smaller scale than prior to the war. Many of the fellows who had played on some of these occasions were in the military or V-12 units stationed on campus. [See interviews with Ludy Langer and Phil Ellwood. NHC]

Cheatham: Clint Evans was a well-known baseball coach with a long career that extended from 1929 to 1954. The baseball field on campus is named after him. From 1943 to 1946, the height war years, he was Director of Athletics. That was during the period when intercollegiate athletics was a function of the ASUC, not the campus administration. It didn’t become a University program until 1958 when Glenn Seaborg became Chancellor upon Chancellor Kerr’s promotion to the position of President of the University.

Given the shortage of traditional rooters on campus, did the Band feel a sense of heightened responsibility toward maintaining the California Spirit?

Towler: I feel the Cal Band was the true spirit of California and was a leader in organized rooting.

Cheatham: How close would you estimate the Band came to having a minimum critical mass?

Towler: I don’t personally feel there was ever a time when the Cal Band would have deteriorated or been reduced to such a point where it didn’t exist. Especially because we could draw on students who had musical talent, even though they were in one of the military units.

Cheatham: Give me a guess what you think would have been the smallest band that we fielded?

Towler: A heck of a question, but I think that thirty to forty might be the smallest we got. Although sometimes at noon-time rallies, due to class conflicts of one nature or another, there might been fewer than that. But, by and large, I would say that when we were marching on the field we would, perhaps, have thirty to forty members. [The Band photos in the Blue and Golds show it was down to 35 people for three consecutive years, 1943,44,45. NHC ]

Our “stunts” were generally basic marching formations including some geometric formations like triangles and squares. We also would do “lay-down” stunts to form letters on the field because we had so few bandsmen to make the letters. We even hung cards with large letters around our necks to spell out words.

Cheatham: Herb, I am going to make a statement here to see if I can paint the picture as I visualize it from talking to you and others. I would like you to respond to my image when I’m finished.

I have an image of a core of Bandsmen, of which you were a part, who had the Cal Band and Cal traditions in its blood. Cal Band performances and the things the Cal Band stood for were important to that small core.

I also have an image that in those days male students who played band instruments had common skills that went with the times. I am referring to basic marching in block formations, following a drum major’s baton signals, etc. Today we would call that street, or parade marching and it came from common experiences in the military or the ROTC, even at the high school level.

Also, I can see that the hard-core cadre of Bandsmen, on a moment’s notice, could form up into a block band, which could be augmented with any other male musicians who were at hand from the military units and had a few spare moments to participate. All the drum major had to do was give a whistle signal combined with a baton signal and off they would go in a coherent unit without any rehearsal.

It would be easy to do the classic pregame performance of the day ...marching in a block down the field from the North Tunnel toward the south end-zone, do a counter-march, come back up to the 50-yard line, or there abouts, do a left-turn to face the opposing rooting section (sitting on the west 50-yard line) to play, as a courtesy to them, their fight song, do a counter-march to wind up facing our rooting section to play our own fight song. Somewhere in this sequence the Star Spangled Banner was played. [Phil Elwood’s interview indicates that the Star Spangled Banner did not become a regular feature of athletic events until the war years. I don’t have any corroborating evidence on this. NHC ] [Kadachrome slides taken by Towler’s father show the Cal Band and the Stanford Band jointly playing the Star Spangled Banner.]

A simplified variation might be to do the counter-march in the south end-zone, return to center field, and execute a column-right march and leave the field in front of the rooting section.

They could almost do that at a moment’s notice, with very little or no rehearsal because those basic movements were well ingrained do their common experiences in military drill.

I am going into this detail because I want to underscore the point that as minimal as this may have been, the Band was able to survive a situation that otherwise might have altered its long standing persona. Due to the efforts of Herb and the others, when the war years were over and the veterans came back, they were able pick up again where things were prior to the events in 1941 and carry on as before.

Towler: Dan, I couldn’t improve on it one iota. It’s absolutely true, and it’s exactly the way it was. It was just a spirit that we had there. With the encouragement of Professor Cushing, musically, we were able to hold our own and probably do better than most other college bands of the era. At that time women in the Band was not an option.

Cheatham: Would you say that your classmates held things intact until the other Bandsmen could return and pick up where they left off?

Towler: Definitely true. I feel that without the efforts of the war-time Bandsmen providing a certain thread of continuity, those Bandsmen returning from war service would have had difficulty resurrecting the spirit of the prewar Band. The postwar band could have evolved into something entirely different. The folks who march today owe a lot to those who held things together during those difficult times.

Cheatham: Ladies: The all-male tradition was not necessarily anti-women. Remember, origins of the Band reach back to the turn of the century and the all-male California Cadet Corps, forerunner to the ROTC. (Reserve Officer Training Corps)

What would the situation have been if the members of the military units had their activities restricted to military training only and were not available to be in the Band?

Towler: The membership of the Band would have been substantially reduced and times would have been tough.

Cheatham: What do you think would have happened to the Band if the war lasted longer and your cohort had graduated?

Towler: I would like to hope that other men not in the military would have stepped forward. Also, that may have been a good time to include women and start new traditions.

Cheatham: Describe your recollections of the role that Charles Cushing was playing in assuring the continuation of the Band. He must have expended some of his own time and energy to make sure that your cadre of people kept going.

Towler: Professor Cushing was not one to hang around the band rehearsal room at 175 Men’s Gym or at Room 5 Eshleman Hall but he was always there to help us musically...and he was quite a perfectionist...to make sure that the musical rehearsals were held properly and from a musical point of view. The student officers handled everything else. [Which basically means Herb Towler and Alcide Marin. NHC]

Cheatham: In addition to Clint Evans, there were some other adult counterparts that you worked with. Tell us about them.

Towler: Well, we worked through Clint Evans. He in turn had contact with us through Harry Davis, who was in charge of the Athletic Department daily management. I believe that Charlie Clark(e?)...whether she was a Miss or a Mrs. I don’t know...but she also worked with Harry Davis and Clint Evans. But, I don’t remember in what capacities

One problem we would occasionally have was getting up to the stadium in time for the game to start. It was always kind of a problem getting our small, little, dwindling band together to march up and enter the North Tunnel at the appropriate hour. Harry Davis would often fret about our timely arrival.

One of the men in the Cal Band who worked very actively and very closely with Charles Cushing was his graduate student Alcide Marin. He was our Student Director, in 1943 and perhaps ’44. I’m not quite sure. [In his oral history, Marin is modest about this point but I take it that Cushing kept aloof from daily matters of the Cal Band and Marin was the major command presence. He was Assistant Director in 1944 and Acting Director in 1945 while Cushing took a sabbatical leave. NHC]

Cheatham: Off the tape Herb and I were talking about our first interview where he discusses the origins of the Alumni Band in 1952. He states that to the best of his recollection the Cal Band was the only band, at least up to that time, to have gathered together in the form of an Alumni Band [The Ohio State Band Centennial Book says that their first alumni band (228 people) marched in 1966. NHC ].

I would add at this point that I recently went through the Alumni Band scrap book and came across correspondence from the schools that the Alumni Band represented. I discovered that one of the justifications for the Alumni Band was to play at a game that the opponents were not able to send their own band. The Alumni Band would, as a matter of courtesy, represent the opposing team. (In those days, courtesies between bands were at a high point.) That way the Alumni Band would not be seen as competing with the Cal Band for the spotlight when both bands wanted to play for Cal at the same time.

The correspondence I am referring to has several letters from the Band Directors of those schools who wrote with profuse gratitude for the job well-done and how they enjoyed hearing the Cal Alumni Band play their fight song over the radio.

Herb, there was an historically important place called room 175 Men’s Gym. Give us some insight and understanding to that place?

Towler: Well, 175 Men’s Gym is where the concert band always rehearsed. Group photos of the Band were on the walls. The Alumni Band rehearsed there before we went out on the field to a short marching rehearsal for the Alumni Band Day. Room 175 no longer exists, but it was on the same level as the basketball courts and on the north-side of what you now call Harmon Arena. [In the year 2000 it became the Haas Pavilion.] It had bare walls, and the music must have bounced off all the walls, but that didn’t seem to stop Charles Cushing during his rehearsals nor did it stop the Alumni Band for their musical rehearsals. [It should be noted that this was only a short walk from Cushing’s office in what is now called Dwinelle Annex. Hertz and Zellerbach halls didn’t exist then. The only space the world’s finest public university had for musical rehearsals was Room 175 Men’s Gym.NHC ]

Cheatham: I’ll add my observations on room 175 Men’s Gym. During the years I was a student, and long before, this was also the headquarters for the ROTC Bands. In earlier times, there was even a Naval ROTC band, I believe. During his time Cal Band Director Jim Berdahl was the musical director for all of these bands and non-commissioned officers from the various services where assigned to him to deal with the cadets or midshipmen. In the 1950’s, the Army had Sergeant Petris.

The ROTC bands provided the music at formal military reviews. They functioned just like an Army band would function on an Army base. Every spring there was a major ROTC review that was called the Chancellor’s Review [In earlier years before we had chancellors, it was called the President’s Review.] in which the whole cadet corps gathered on the athletic field just to the west of what is now called Harmon Gymnasium, then called the Men’s Gymnasium. That field was much bigger in those days because the current Recreational Sports Facility did not exist. The field went all the way from Bancroft Way, where there was a major concrete wall with a big gate in it, to the home plate area of what is now called the Clint Evans Baseball Diamond.

The Army Cadet Corps consisted of two battalions (They drilled on Tuesdays, one at 11:00 and one at 1:00.), the Air Force unit, and the Navy unit. All totaled there were probably about, believe it or not, four thousand participants when I was a student. They would assemble on a particular Thursday morning in the Spring and have a formal review with the Chancellor (or, in the early days it was the University President) being the reviewing officer. Bancroft Way was closed off to public traffic and the two Army battalions would form up out there. The Air Force and the Navy units formed up on the roadway on the campus side of the baseball field. [Allston Way extended all the way up to Cowell Hospital, the site of the present Haas School of Business.]

The reviewing party would be on the concrete steps that still exist just to the west of Harmon Gymnasium itself. The band would be in its designated location on the field.

The proper military ritual would begin with the lead trumpeter playing First Call, later followed by the Adjutant’s Call. Then by the bugle call that instructs the units to come to attention. The mass of cadets were off-stage on Bancroft Way or over near Strawberry Creek and after the call to attention, the band standing in a block band formation in its designated field position, would play whatever march the Director had chosen. In through these big doors on Bancroft and a smaller set of entrances near the baseball field would march the Corps of Cadets, company, by company, by company--thousands of them. (This is where you learn why marches are written with first and second endings. The march had to be played over and over in order to get the whole Corps on the field.) They would end up in company-front formation behind their respective cadet battalion commanders, all facing the reviewing party, which was, as I said, assembled on the steps of the gymnasium. It would take a good fifteen minutes for the entire Cadet Corps to march in. The spectator seats located along the third-base line would be filled with wives, sweethearts, parents, and the curious. Centerfield and right field were filled with cadets and midshipmen.

(Incidentally, I am describing the ROTC of the 1950’s, not the years we are talking with Herb Towler about. But I suspect during the war years there were many similar scenes.)

Once the corps was fully formed, the ritual would continue as written in Field Manual 22-5: Dismounted Drill. The cadet officers and the color guards would march “Front-and-Center” to present the colors, and the Corps to the reviewing party while the band was playing an appropriate march. The colors would return to their original position then there would be a lot of “presenting-of-arms” and “right-shoulder arms” and “inspection-arms” and the band would troop the line.

The band’s initial position was in a block band to the right of the fully-assembled Cadet Corps. That is, it was near Bancroft Way with the rest of the Cadet Corps in position extending in the direction of Strawberry Creek. With the command: “Troop the line!” and on the Drum Major’s signal, it would march forward so it was in a position between the assembled corps and the reviewing party at the gym, do a column left and march forward, and “troop the line” marching in front of the Cadet Corps while playing a march. Once it got down to the end of the line it would do a counter-march and return to its original position.

After some other rituals that included an address by the reviewing officer, sometimes a performance by the Drill Team, and other smaller events the Cadet Corps Commander, a cadet colonel, would direct the Cadet Adjutant to have the Corps pass in review. In a loud voice the Adjutant would command: PASS IN REVIEWWWW! Whereupon, the band would march straight ahead, forward, until it came approximately on line with the reviewing party and then execute a column-left march.

Each of the assembled companies, in turn, would do something called a right-turn march, which is different from a column march, and follow along behind the band with flags flying, that is, carrying the guidons marking each company and each platoon, and follow in the path of the band. [A guidon is sort of pike pole with a pennant on top that, among other things, served a function similar to a Drum Majors baton. It would be raised on the preparatory command and dropped on the command of execution. This was useful in a large formation when it was hard to hear the verbal commands.]

With companies following behind, the band would march in front of the reviewing party and the Drum Major would give a baton salute to the reviewing officer and once the band had cleared the reviewing party it would do a succession of three column-left turns and wind up facing the reviewing party and continue playing while each of the companies, one-by-one, would pass by the reviewing party. [In his interview, Bob Stevenson describes his mistake of marching behind the reviewing party.]

Each company commander would salute the reviewing officer and the guidon would dip on the command, “Eyes” (pause) (Guidon is raised high.) “Right!” (Guidon dips to a horizontal position...the signal for those in the back ranks who can’t hear the command, to execute the eyes-right movement as signal of honor to the reviewing officer.) Then once the final cadet unit had passed, the band would follow along behind and exit the field and the review would be finished.

The reason I am describing all of this is because students today haven’t the faintest idea of the extent and the role that the ROTC once played on campus.

Now...there is a whole different discussion concerning how the students hated being forced to do this. ROTC was required for all lower division male students. It was voluntary for upper division students, but “advanced” ROTC would lead to a commission rather than to the draft board. For most people, this was the preferred route. There was also a small financial aid package involved. The presence of the ROTC on campus helped fuel the student protests of the late 1960’s called the Free Speech Movement.

For years there was a well-known song on campus that went, in part, R...O...T...C..., It all sounds like horseshit to me, to me, to the tune of “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.” The compulsory nature of ROTC was not very popular. The University’s position was that the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 required military training at the Land Grant Universities, Cal being one of them.

Let me make a few remarks about things that struck me when I went through the Alumni Band scrapbook. [Call Number CU 203.VOL, located in the Bancroft Library.]

The first performance of the Alumni Band was on fifteenth of November, 1952. Cal won the game with a score Cal 28, Washington State University 13. Ernie Nagle was the drum major. [See his oral history] and Reg Krieger, class of 27, was the director. The only uniform requirement was to wear a white shirt and the photographs show all these people sitting in the stands with 1930s style hats of the sort of which you most recently saw Indiana Jones wearing in his movies. [Fedora style.] The photographs of these guys, the alumni, wearing these hats strikes today’s generation as being very quaint. In 1954 the Alumni Band wore cardboard hats that looked an awful lot like the kind of hat that you give to your small kiddies when you go to Burger King Restaurant today. These hats were designed to look as if the child was wearing a king’s crown. In the case of the Alumni Band it provided a cheap and easy-to-get surface to print the Alumni Band logo in order to identify who the group was. The style of these hats looked so silly that as far as I know, they were used only once.

Off-tape Towler told me that the Alumni Band would give a written description of its show to the radio announcers so they would be able to describe it over the radio...in those pre-television days

On May eleventh, 1954, there was a thirtieth anniversary banquet of the ASUC Band held at the Faculty Club. This would be the thirtieth anniversary of the advent of the ASUC band in 1924. That was when the Cal Band was formalized under the sponsorship of the ASUC rather than a rag-tag group of off-duty ROTC bandsmen who hung around together supporting Cal athletic teams.

And my final comment is that there is a great photograph of Chris Tellefsen wearing one of the cardboard hats in the upper right hand corner of about page twenty-five in that scrapbook. This photograph is adorned with the signature of alumni Bandsmen from nineteen thirties and forties

This concludes this recorded interview.