California Dreaming… in a Drum Corps Way

by Jesse J. Amador

I recently read an interesting article about a competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys.  Sort of a one-upmanship between the two groups using their artistic abilities.  In the ‘60s both the Beatles and Beach Boys were at the height of their popularity.  While both were at the top of the music charts, they were looking for a new horizon to challenge them.  Each group was looking to go beyond, exploring their musical talents.  Playing pop songs to screaming fans was getting old for both groups.  They were looking to expand their artistic skills by creating a new direction in musical art.

The story starts with the Beatles releasing their “Rubber Soul” album.  When Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys first hears it, he was totally blown away.  Brian Wilson was so upset that he immediately started writing “God Only Knows”, starting the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” album.  

The Beach Boys then release their “Pet Sounds” album.  The Beatles hear “God Only Knows” from the album and now they were totally blown away.  So much so, that they start writing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.  Each band continued raising the bar with each new album.

Drum corps experienced something similar between two California corps back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  In the late ‘60s there was this informal competition between the Anaheim Kingsmen and the Santa Clara Vanguard.  In those years the Anaheim Kingsmen were the pinnacle of California drum corps. Up north, the Santa Clara Vanguard was this new drum corps looking to make their move up the California drum corps ladder.  In 1969 the Anaheim Kingsmen attended VFW in Philadelphia where they made VFW Finals placing 9th.  The Santa Clara Vanguard also attended VFW in Philly but missed Finals by placing 13th.  Fortunately, both corps grew and improved, slowly moving California up into the upper echelon of drum corps.
ADVANTAGE:  Anaheim Kingsmen 1969

For 1970, both California corps went back to the design board and came out with new shows designed to raise the bar to greater heights.  The first face off was at the California American Legion State Championship, where now the Velvet Knights were competing to join the contest. This time Santa Clara jumped ahead and were now finishing in top placements, while the Anaheim Kingsmen were close but finishing further back.  The Vanguard won their first National title that year by taking the American Legion National Championship.  Anaheim finished 2nd, VK 3rd
ADVANTAGE:  Santa Clara Vanguard 1970

1971 was an interesting year as both corps didn’t really dominate.  At CYO Nationals the Kingsmen would finish ahead of Santa Clara, and at the very next show Santa Clara topped the Kingsmen at World Open.   At the Mid-American Open, the Kingsmen would again take top honors with the Vanguard finishing 2nd.  In the end, Santa Clara Vanguard won VFW Finals, taking the VFW National Championship, with Anaheim taking 5th.
ADVANTAGE: Santa Clara Vanguard 1971 (but not by much)

1972 changed as Santa Clara Vanguard won pretty much everything that year. Unfortunately for them, when it really counted at DCI Finals, Anaheim took top honors, becoming the first drum corps to win the DCI Championship. 
ADVANTAGE:  Anaheim Kingsmen 1972

My point, while these two California corps were competing against each other, both corps were now making California the new pinnacle of drum corps, with a California drum corps winning a National Championship from 1970 to 1974 (counting AL, VFW, and DCI).  Not to mention thereafter a California corps won almost every DCI Championships between 1972 to 1982 except for Madison in 1975.  Everyone that saw these two drum corps compete in those years got to see the very best in drum corps, not only for California but for the nation in those developing years.   

Much like the Beatles and the Beach Boys both reaching out to the next level, the same could be said about these two California drum corps who took drum corps to a whole new horizon.  We all won!!! 
ADVANTAGE:  Drum Corps Fans!!!

This is an ongoing volunteer effort to document the history of Vanguard Music and Performing Arts. Submissions and corrections are welcome as we continue to add more content.