In 1964 a Roman Catholic priest and a businessman from Bayonne, New Jersey, started tossing around an idea over dinner of an organization that could serve as both a youth activity for St. Andrew's Parish and also represent the parish at local functions. While their original vision is not fully known, it is certain that the organization that Father Joseph Donovan and Ed Holmes started grew far beyond their wildest dreams. The Bayonne Bridgemen was a drum corps dedicated to innovation, excellence, and audience entertainment above all other priorities. During its twenty-year history, while the corps had a strong record of competitive accomplishments, their real legacy is the profound effect they had in breaking new ground and pioneering new directions in drum corps, of continually pushing boundaries and defying convention. While one may consider the Bridgemen videos from the 1970s to be campy by modern standards, these first steps at adding theatricality, dance, and costuming to drum corps opened the door for a wave of innovations that spread throughout the activity.
The St. Andrew’s Bridgemen made their first appearance in a local parade in 1965. Actually the guard made their first appearance in a parade. Actually, the guard made their first appearance in a parade without equipment, wearing skirts and blouses. It was the Bayonne Memorial Day Parade. This first performance capped a long winter of novice musicians learning to play horns and drums, and to spin guard equipment. The horns were G-D slide bugles, the drums an old set of wood instruments bought from the Garfield Cadets. There were so few horns at first that members had to take turns bringing them home to practice.
More parades followed, and the corps made its first field appearance at a New York Jets intersquad game. (That day, incidentally, also marked the first field appearance of Broadway Joe Namath.)
The following year saw the corps entering competition, not only during the summer but with two winter guards as well. The Bridgemen competed regularly in the Garden State Circuit and in other shows. 1966 also marked their first appearance in the National Dream Contest. The corps started entering more shows in 1967 against the open class corps of that day and took their lumps in a number of competitions. But defeats translated into experience.
That year the legendary Bobby Thompson ("The man who taught God how to drum") took over the percussion program. "Mr. T" would remain with the corps into the late 1970s. A consummate gentleman and a complete professional, Thompson gave expert lessons on the fine art of being a good human being. That he built dominating drum lines was a bonus.
In 1968 St. Andrew's Bridgemen won the first of two consecutive Garden State Circuit Championships, and by the end of 1969, it was clear that the corps was ready for competition at a higher level. By 1970 they had emerged on the national scene, participating in some of the larger invitational competitions. They made finals in the seventh World Open, one of the period’s most prestigious competitions. Their horn book by Hy Dreitzer helped move them ahead.
1972 - DCI Charter member
St. Andrews officially became one of the big boys in 1972 as they earned a charter membership in the newly formed Drum Corps International, placing 11th at DCI finals in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The corps had developed an incredible talent for a brass technique called triple tonguing. Triple tonguing became a Bridgemen trademark, featured in "Triumphal March" and "Mr. Clown.”
The Bridgemen add the World Open Championship title to their list of accomplishments in 1973, at the same time moving up the DCI ladder to finish in ninth place. That year the corps introduced the music that was to become their theme song, Rossini's "William Tell Overture.”
In 1974 the corps' fortunes began a decline as many of the members who had built the corps aged out or moved on. Burdened with a very difficult show, the corps managed only a lackluster competitive season, finishing a devastating 26th at DCI. The triple-tonguing technique that had been the horn line’s featured weapon was also its undoing.
The administration saw the need for a new direction and undertook some fundamental organizational changes. By the end of the 1974 season names that had been staples with the corps - Bob Holton, Gus Wilkie and Bob "Jamba" O'Connor - were all gone. The administration wanted to bring new blood into the organization, but the transfusion fell short. Membership was low and recruiting not going well. A large number of members were brought up from the Kidets, the Bridgemen's feeder corps. Even with this fresh blood, low membership and many inexperienced players combined with staff problems to add to the overall deterioration.
As a result of these problems, the Bridgemen stayed primarily in the local area and did not compete at the 1975 DCI Championships. This rough season challenged both the spirit and the stamina of the corps' members.
Determined to reverse the corps' decline, Ed Holmes finally hired the right Garfield and Hawthorne instructors, Bobby Hoffman to head the visual program and Dennis DeLucia to oversee the percussion. DeLucia and Hoffman, along with brass arranger Larry Kerchner, formed the team that would change the definition of drum corps and create a corps whose reputation for entertainment, innovation, quality, and complete disregard for accepted norms lives on to this day.
1976 - The Bananas take the field
In 1976 the next generation of Bridgemen, augmented by an influx of new members, were to make their first appearance. Separated from the church for financial reasons and now known as the Bayonne Bridgemen, the corps had a new look, a new sound, and an attitude, which, if not new, at least placed greater emphasis on public entertainment. Attitude was now part of the new act. In fact, it was all about attitude.
Part of that attitude included a new uniform look. Hoffman had his ideas about that new uniform and designed a uniform around a Cossack style knee-length coat. Since Hoffman liked to paint pictures on the field with his drill forms, he thought that he could achieve greater variety with a palette, with each section of the corps wearing a different color: red, green, black and white.
On the night the new uniforms were introduced, a snare drummer, a one-time member of the East Side Motorcycle Club, summed up everyone's feelings: "I ain't wearing that." Hoffman went back to the drawing board. In the new design the corps proper would wear a yellow Cossack coat with black trim, a large olde English B in the middle of the coat. The guard would wear a black coat with yellow trim. The hat came a little later, an object that Hoffman happened upon during a tour of the uniform factory.
Just as coming to terms with Hoffman on uniforms wasn't easy, getting used to Hoffman's way of doing business was a challenge too. St. Andrew’s had always been a family corps. You got in, you paid your dues as a member, you earned your stripes. Hoffman promised to take the Bridgemen to new heights, but he made it clear that performing spots were based on talent regardless of history with the organization. This approach caused considerable hurt feelings. Bobby Hoffman quickly learned two lessons: that loyalty sometimes outranked aptitude, and that you can trust your family not to walk out on you. He also had to eat a little piece of humble pie.
The world found out about the new Bridgemen at the "Tournament of Stars" show on June 5, 1976. The startling uniforms were kept hidden until the moment the corps strutted into Veterans Stadium, clad in long yellow coats, with a police escort no less. Four thousand jaws fell open. If the uniforms weren't shocking enough, the show was. From a jazz version of the corps' trademark "William Tell Overture” for starters to the kick-line in the closer of "What I did for Love/One" from "A Chorus Line,” the corps bombarded the audience with visuals, dance, and stunts such as never had been seen before.
The Bridgemen were as much fun off the field as on. It was the Garfield Cadets who dubbed the Bridgemen "The Bananas" in 1976. The Bridgemen turned the insult around by selling felt bananas with Bridgemen hats on them, banana T-shirts, and banana stickers at their souvie booth.
The Bridgemen and the Garfield Cadets carried on a friendly rivalry for years. In 1977 Garfield had a vocal two-chord "Amen" at the end of their show. The Bridgemen put a blues version of the Amen on the end of their show, played by the hornline, that brought the house down.
1976 was a very successful year for the corps, considering its traumatic rebuilding period, as they finished sixth at DCI Finals in Philadelphia. That night the corps also made history by doing the "Bridgemen Drop", in which the whole corps pretended to faint dead away on the ground at the end of the show. Dennis Delucia later recalled that this move was thought up the day of Finals and rehearsed a whole twice.
Coming off a high '76 season, the Bridgemen's staff decided that to keep the momentum going through the winter, the corps would apply the Bridgemen treatment to a noncompeting winter guard. The Hoffman concept was to back up the guard with brass, percussion, electronics, strings and stage lighting. The music included Chuck Mangione's "Hill Where The Lord Hides,” "Land of Make Believe,” and "What I did for Love/One.“ The guard/ensemble made a number of appearances around the Tri-State Area.
1977 - DCI disqualification
See main article Bayonne Bridgemen DCI disqualification, 1977
1977 was a year of great accomplishment and great tragedy, as the corps, within striking distance of the DCI crown, was disqualified for having two overage members. An ill-advised decision by the corps staff and administration to allow two individuals to march up until their 22nd birthday wound up costing the corps the season.
The early season went well. The Bridgemen’s score of 84 at the DCI East Championships was the highest in the nation, taking down not only the archrival Phantom Regiment but also Madison Scouts, the Cavaliers and others.
The first stop on their western tour was Whitewater, Wisconsin, for the DCI Midwestern Championship. Prelims was a flat show, and Phantom pummeled the corps by almost three points. Coming off the field, contest officials told the corps to line up for a spot-check. Don Pesceone, the Executive Director of DCI, went straight to the two members who had been marching in violation of an age-rule clarification sent out the past fall. It seems that one of the Bridgemen’s primary competitors had gotten information on these individuals and turned that information over to DCI. The corps was told that, aside from having two blanks in line, nothing else was going to happen. They should have said that nothing was going to happen YET.
At the Fort Collins, Colorado, show, the last competition before DCI Prelims, the Bridgemen struggled through a show interrupted by rain but still beat Phantom Regiment by about 2.5 points. But one of those great old-time timing penalties called "Under Time In Motion,” which simply meant the corps hadn't spent the required number of minutes with their feet moving, caused the corps to lose to Phantom by a few tenths. Although the Bridgemen were performing the same show as they had all season, it seemed as if the judges had waited until a crucial competition to enforce the penalty. That night was the beginning of Hell Week for the Bridgemen.
On the eve of DCI prelims, Bobby Hoffman told a stunned corps that, "Because we marched [name] and [name], we've been disqualified." While many drum corps would have packed up and gone home at that point, that wasn't the Bridgemen way. No defeat, no surrender, no way was their creed. While most of the corps was still absorbing the shock, a couple of staffers took off in search of a lawyer, who obtained a court order allowing the corps to participate in Prelims. Although the corps was allowed to compete, to the astonishment and delight of the crowd and judges alike, their results were withheld pending the outcome of the court order.
Somebody was not going to let this drop, but neither were the Bridgemen. The following day the corps rehearsed and prepared themselves mentally for Finals. Although there was some doubt, no one really believed that they wouldn't be allowed to perform. Late in the afternoon word came in that the Bridgemen had finished fourth in Prelims and would be competing in Finals that night, right after Madison. Now it was time for the corps to pull itself together and show Mile High Stadium just what the Bridgemen were made of.
While taking the field that night, boos could be heard from the crowd. After the week they had had, the last thing the Bridgemen needed was to be put down by the people that mattered the most, their fans. That booing was probably the best thing that could have happened to a tired, emotionally drained Bridgemen corps. It galvanized them into a collective resolve that they were going win back their fans and give them a show that they would never forget.
Bayonne pulled out a performance that came from putting every bit of emotion built up during that week into their horns, drums and guard equipment. The corps left the field with the audience on their feet, clapping and shouting their approval; no boos then. The Bridgemen had redeemed themselves in the hearts of their audience.
The corps’ fourth-place finish that night was tentative, contingent on the outcome of a consent judgment signed between the corps leadership and DCI a few months later. That agreement voided the Bridgemen’s performance but stipulated that the other corps would not move up in placement. As far as DCI history was concerned, the Bridgemen had been erased from the 1977 Championships. Competitive standing aside, this series of events took a tremendous emotional toll on members. But they also got angry and determined to do whatever it took to realize their goal the next year.
1978 - Return to the field
The 1978 season saw a return of most of the 1977 members. This year produced one of the two best Bridgemen horn lines ever, along with a drum line that wound up going undefeated until DCI Prelims. It looked as if the corps had re-entered the quest for the DCI title denied it the previous year. But this was not to be.
The 1978 show reflected the inner fire driving the Bridgemen. "Ritual Fire Dance" was fast and powerful, a mine field for the hornline, but performed impeccably. "Spanish Dreams" was fiery and passionate. Crosby, Stills & Nash's "To the Last Whale" was somber and melodious, with a transition to the "William Tell" signature that was probably one of the worst segues in drum corps history. This year would see a repeat of the "Bridgemen Drop" at the end of the corps' performance in Denver. Although it was a good year competitively and the corps demonstrated excellence in all captions, they seemed destined for a fifth place finish at Finals. A penance was being demanded for the sins of the preceding year and again, it was the members of the corps from whom that penance was exacted. To add to the depression, corps founder Eddie Holmes, more friend and surrogate father than corps director, retired at the end of the 1978 season. Jack Dames, who had joined the organization in 1974, took over as director, a position he would hold until 1981.
True to Bridgemen style, the corps persevered and worked harder than they ever had in the past (which was pretty hard. As one vet in the hornline said to a rookie with a sloppy work ethic, "Yo', man, this Bayonne and %$#&. The quality goes IN before the yellow coat goes ON. You dig?") 1979 was also notable as being the first year that members came from as far as California and Toronto to march in Bayonne.
The corps got an additional boost from the fans with the "Civil War Medley,” a reinterpretation of the Yankee Rebels' classic "Requiem for an Era,” complete with a battle between the North and South. As the corps moved down the coast on their southern tour to the DCI Championships in Alabama, the battle scene was modified to depict the North surrendering to the South, and the Southern fans ate it up. This reinterpreted crowd favorite help propel the corps forward. This Bridgemen show started pushing towards 100% on the zany meter. Where there had been sight gags and prat falls over the last few years, 1979 was when Hoffie really pulled out the stops. The Civil War was just one of the theatricals that the fans got that season. There were the Andrews Sisters in "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,“ as well as "Gene Gene the Dancin' Machine" and "The Unknown Soprano." The Birmingham show was so popular that the crowd completely cleaned out the corps' souvie trailer. Unhappily, the souvie salesman was robbed of all his cash in the parking lot the same evening, presumably by someone who didn't enjoy the show.
One real bit of comic relief that year came at the Dream Contest in Jersey City. On a muddy field, corps were allowed to decide whether to wear their uniforms or not. The Bridgemen decided that if other corps were going on without their jackets and hats, they would wear their jackets and hats, but leave their pants behind. During "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” the trio of sopranos and soloist normally took off their coats to reveal service tops underneath. On this night, the boys revealed nothing but their BVDs (Bridgemen didn’t wear boxers). The crowd loved the reverse logic. Director Jack Dames almost had a coronary. But after the way the season started out, this kind of antic was the Bayonne safety valve, keeping the corps sane and productive. The season ended with a hard-earned sixth-place finish.
1980 - DCI Championship contender
The following year showcased the greatest Bridgemen corps ever. Larry Kerchner rejoined the corps, penning such classics as "Thunder & Blazes,” "In the Stone,“ and a version of Bette Midler's "Big Noise from Winnetka.” The "Civil War Suite" was also redone with the Kerchner touch. Some other names came to the brass staff that year, such as Jamie McFarland and a young instructor named Jim Prime, Jr. There was a considerable membership turnover, but their spots were quickly filled by imports from Michigan, Boston and Texas. Visually the show was a feast: circus animals, clowns, and a janitor to sweep up after them, not to mention the infamous Bayonne Chicken. Hoffman pulled out all of the stops and the corps marched better than they ever had.
The drum line really took it up a couple of notches in 1980, taking a percussion caption award at Finals with the solo "The Pursuit of the Lady in the Feathered Hat" that featured an extended left-hand sixteenth note passage that most drum lines would have considered suicidal.
After a lackluster Prelims, the Bridgemen’s Finals performance was awesome in all respects. All of the elements fell into place. Once again the "War Between the States" whipped the crowed into a frenzy, but Hoffman had one more stunt for his Alabama audience. At the end of the last note of the show, the corps scattered and suddenly a Crimson Tide football game, complete with cheerleaders, was being played in the middle of the field. Complete pandemonium in the Birmingham stands.
A mere 0.55 of a point separated the top three corps that night. The Bridgemen came in third. The corps believed that the judges were reacting to a lackluster season rather than to a specific dynamite performance, and believed that once again no justice could be found.
1980 marked the zenith of the corps. Although well received, and despite taking their second consecutive high percussion crown, the 1981 corps dropped again to sixth, as they brought back the circus opener, "In the Stone," and featured music from "West Side Story" filled with dance and a reenactment of the rumble.
In 1982, a strong drum line and their solo "Black Market Juggler” took the corps’ third consecutive caption trophy. While containing an extended sixteenth note passage, the snare line also wailed though one section of the solo blindfolded.
Overall the corps managed to place eighth in 1982. But financial troubles were starting to catch up with it. 1983 was that last year the Bridgemen would ever appear in a DCI Finals competition, placing 11th. It wasn’t that the corps’ production values were waning; the '83 corps compared favorably with some of the best corps that Bayonne ever fielded. But other corps were moving ahead; where the Bridgemen were once the innovators, others now took that role.
The corps was in decline and was also starting to have recruitment problems. The local base of kids from Bayonne had been eroded or displaced. The imports from all over the country who had flocked to the corps in earlier seasons were moving to corps that were doing better competitively. Commuter membership is driven by competitive success. Have a bad year, and major recruitment problems appear the next year. Even the Kidets broke away from the Bridgemen in an attempt to make it on their own. Not only did the corps lose a source of membership, it lost the income the Kidets generated doing parades.
In 1984, in turmoil financially, staff-wise and in membership, the Bridgemen placed 14th. Not even bringing back the old favorite "Civil War Suite" could help the corps win back the judges’ favor.
At the end of the season Dennis DeLucia left the corps. Bobby Hoffman, replacing Dave Bandy as director, was surrounded with a mountain of debt, no staff, very few members, and no solid management skills. The booster organization that ran the bingo operations and other fundraising efforts was in chaos, unable to produce a cash flow to sustain the corps. With fewer corps members from Bayonne, getting support and participation from the Bayonne community was becoming more difficult.
1985 - Christmas in July
1985 was the year of the infamous "Christmas in July" show. The corps came in 23rd in Prelims scoring lower than they had since 1975: 59.5.
The corps limped through the winter bleeding red ink. It wasn't a question of membership; the kids were there. There was just no financial infrastructure to support them. Despite the best efforts of many, the Bayonne Bridgemen Drum & Bugle Corps closed its doors during the winter of 1986. An era appeared to have ended.
In 1987 Brian Law, a former baritone player, and David Simons, a fan of great business acumen, managed to restart the corps. With almost no money and no cooperation from the town of Bayonne, they put a corps together and got that corps to DCI. The corps came in dead last in Prelims, but they were there. Law, Simons, and the corps overcame long odds every time they got that corps to another show.
But the following winter, financial and administrative realities took their inevitable toll, and the Bridgemen took their storied place in drum corps history. The Bridgemen’s last appearance was in the West Orange St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1988. Fittingly, a couple of members from the 1965 corps filled blanks in the horn line.
But to this day, people still know about the Bridgemen, how much they changed drum corps, and how much joy they brought into their lives. And they still stop old Bridgemen wearing their corps jacket at DCI, just to tell them how much they loved the corps and how much they wish it was still here.
The formation of a Bridgemen Alumni Association was announced in February, 2003, and plans for an alumni drum corps got under way in 2004.
An expanded and more personal version of the Bridgemen history may be found at http://members.tripod.com/DrumCorpsHistory/Bridgemen.htm. Gratitude is expressed to the original unknown authors, and to Ben Pisani for submitting the history.
- The corps was found in 1965 as the St. Andrews Bridgemen, a parade corps.
- In 1972 St. Andrews earned a charter membership in Drum Corps International, placing 11th at the first DCI finals in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
-Falling at the end of show
Member Name ---------- Section ------------ Years Involved
Athens, Rich ------ Brass/Baritone ------------- 1984
Athens, Tom ------ Brass/Baritone ----------1983 to 1984
Barkenhagen, Dean ---- Contra -------------- 1980 to 1981
Brynwood, Brandon - Brass-Baritone --------- 1983 to 1984
Clark, Maurice ------ Snare Line --------------- 1979
Clay, Clarence ------- Horn Line ----------- 1979 to 1981
Cooper, Ruth Ann ---- Color Guard ---------- 1973; 1975
Cuzzocrea, Gary ----- Brass/Soprano ------------ 1987
Davis, Chris --------- Baritone ------------ 1982 to 1983
Faul, Rich ------------ Brass ------------------ 1981
Giles, Darold -------- Battery ----------------- 1984
Griffin, Ed ------------ CBA --------------- 1977 to 1978
Hedden, Gene---- Snare Alternate, Trap Set-----1981 to 1982
Hedden, Naomi ------Guard ---------------------1981 to 1983
Higgott, Edward ------ Baritone ---------------- 1978
Highland, Byron ------Soprano -------------------1977
Jacobowitz, Alex -----Snare, General Grant------1979
Katz, Josh ----------- Soprano ------------- 1984 to 1985
Kulinski Jr, Vic ------ Perc ------------------- 1978
Laracuente, Michael -- Soprano ------------- 1977 to 1978
Moscato, Joe -------- Horn line ------------ 1966 to 1970
Nakazono, Mark---------Soprano---------1983 to 1984
Pisani, Ben -------- Precussion - -----------1968 to 1969
Schaller, Stephen-------- Contra Bass ------------1982 to 1983
Steadman, Tim ---------- CBA --------------- 1981 to 1983
Tabor, Rick --------- Drumline ------------- 1977 to 1980
Ward, Dennis---------Horn line-------------1975 to 1977