Transcript for Bud Johnson Full Interview (Unedited)


June 14, 2006
Interview with Bud Johnson by Brian Mitchell at WILL-TV, 300 N. Goodwin Ave, Urbana, IL 61801
Transcription (not spell checked)

01:02 MITCHELL: Please state your full name. 01:03

01:05 JOHNSON: My full name is John Cleo Johnson, Jr.  I go by the name of Bud.  J-O-H-N C-L-E-O J-O-H-N-S-O-N, Jr. And Bud is spelled just like the beer B-U-D. 01:22

01:23 MITCHELL: Where were you born? 01:24

01:24 JOHNSON: Right here in Champaign, Illinois. 01:27

01:27 MITCHELL: What year were you born? 01:27

01:28 JOHNSON: 1942. 01:28

01:35 MITCHELL: Can you please tell me the role you played in the Drum Core? 01:37

01:37 JOHNSON: Well, I think I played several roles.  When I was small I was a follower of the Drum Core.  Where ever the Drum Core was, you could usually find Bud.  As I got a little older and got into a little drumming myself, I wanted to be a drummer and I played in high school, high school drumming.  As far as the Drum Core itself, I tried out several times before I made it and then I became good enough to play in the last row drummer.  Eventually, I worked up to being the leader of the Drum Core. 02:12

02:14 MITCHELL: What type of drum did you play? 02:16

02:17 JOHNSON: I could play any drum.  I considered myself a percussionist, so I played anything from the cymbals to the snare drum, I played it all. 02:29

02:30 MITCHELL: Who was the leader of the Drum Core when you first got involved? 02:33

02:33 JOHNSON: I think it was either Milton Norwood or Billy Tandy. 02:39

02:40 MITCHELL: Can you tell us the relationship you had with Jessie Ratliffe…? 02:47

02:48 JOHNSON: Yes, I could tell you.  Jessie was one of the fellows, I wanted to work really hard with him, but Jessie wasn’t a drummer.  He just wasn’t a drummer and he didn’t have natural skills but he was willing to learn, spend time after practice, he stayed and he worked hard.  He’s get frustrated with himself and he was just determined to be a good drummer and he wound up being a good drummer. We never took anything less than a first place. 03:25

03:26 MITCHELL: What was it like seeing Jessie Ratliffe…? 03:27

03:28 JOHNSON: It was really fun.  I saw Jessie last time I was here for the Champaign-Urbana Reunion Day and I think Jessie was a little T’d off because he couldn’t get enough guys together to participate in the Champaign-Urbana Reunion Day and so when I left, I didn’t get to see him before I left.  So, I don’t know if he was mad or happy or what, but to see him this time, I reassured him that it was ok. 03:53

03:56 KRANICH: We want to get a little more into Jessie.  Mr. Johnson says Jessie was a good drummer.  Do you know what a good drummer is?  We should ask him.  What is a good drummer?  He said Jessie didn’t have natural talent but he was willing to work, do we have any stories about that? 04:22

04:24 MITCHELL: Talking about Jessie, can you tell us any stories about that… 04:27

04:28 JOHNSON: Well, I was talking about he is a good drummer, I should explain myself.  What I mean by good, I meant he was willing to work hard.  He was willing to learn the rudiments of drumming.  He was willing to stay as long as he had to stay to march to stay in step, to guide right on the drummer next to him.  He was the one that would stay late just so he could get as much knowledge as he could about drumming.  That’s what I meant when I said good. 04:56

05:01 MITCHELL: Shifting to New York, how did you raise money and what did you do when you got to New York? 05:06

05:07 JOHNSON: That’s a long story.  Let’s see.  Let’s talk about the raising money first and then I’ll talk about what I was doing later on.  We did everything from collecting cans and bottles and sell them, take them to the, what’s the place called, you know, the salvage yard.  And we raised money washing cars.  Remember this wasn’t only a boys club, Drum Core, it was also a girls drill team, so that was actually about 60 people. They estimated for us to be there for a week, the cost of a bus for four days, it was close to $1,000 a kid.  So the…Club of Champaign decided they would give us matching funds.  So our goal was to raise about $15,000 and obviously a bunch of kids we didn’t have the potential to raise that kind of money.  So they wound up kicking in some money and I think that’s how we raised most of the money to get to New York.  Talking about what we did when we got there.  When we left, I had a bad cold and it was in the summer time and when I got on the bus I caught pneumonia with the air conditioning.  So, I was in bed most of the time that the kids were out having fun in New York.  It dawned on me that in order for me to be ready to go for the parade Saturday, that I needed to get my rest.  So I wasn’t out site seeing and touring, I was laid up in a bed.  I didn’t have enough energy to get out and march with them.  I think Terry Townsend was preparing to lead incase I couldn’t make because I was really sick.  I didn’t have any medication or anything.  As it turned out, I did get up and march in the longest parade I’ve ever been in.  We marched all over New York.  There were groups in the parade from the East Coast to the West Coast and you went in according to where you lived in the State on the map.  Champaign, Illinois, being from the Midwest, we got in about middle ways in the parade.  But I’ve never seen a parade that large.  I’ve never seen a parade that good.  I’ve never been in a parade that long.  Chaperones would march ahead of us about a block or two and they would let me know when the judges were because they had judges throughout the parade and they would go out and kind of check it out and they would say, “hey Bud there’s a judge around the corner.”  We knew to prepare.  Whenever we got to the judges stand, we got down, we performed, and we came home with a first place. 08:03

08:05 MITCHELL: Is there any more like, any different stories about that? 08:10

08:14 JOHNSON: I really haven’t thought about it in quite some time.  I imagine if I sat here for a minute I could tell you a couple of stories. 08:24

08:32 MITCHELL: Can you tell us about when you came home, like the police escort? 08:37

08:38 JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, thank you.  Well, when we came back to Champaign, it was a surprise, we figured we’d roll up to Douglass Center and take our clothes off and take our clothes home and that would be it.  But to our amazement and our surprise, there were police cars.  Parents were out there.  We got about 20 miles outside of Champaign and this entourage, this big car load of people and families, met us on the highway, they had already knew about it, blowing their horns and everything.  So they led us back to Champaign with their sirens going and everything.  It was just something, it was awesome. 09:13

09:14 MITCHELL: When you got back here they like threw a party or something? 09:17

09:18 JOHNSON: Yeah, they did.  I think they fed us down in Douglass Center…yeah.  So we knew that they appreciated, they showed us how much they appreciated us. 09:28

09:30 KRANICH: Delve a little deeper into what year that was and the climate of the community back then, what the community was like. 09:38

09:40 MITCHELL: Yeah, what year was that in? 09:43

09:44 JOHNSON: I’m glad you asked.  I had to do the same thing today earlier, I had asked one of the younger guys if he could remember and I was told it was 1968.  At that time, in the community, there was a lot of dissention and a lot of gang fighting but it was 1968 as I am told because my memory is all but gone.  In 1968, that was the year we went to New York. 10:12

10:13 MITCHELL: You said something about there being tension in the neighborhood. 10:14

10:15 JOHNSON: Yes, there was.  In that era, parents were sleeping in bathtubs to keep from getting shot, you know.  Brothers against brothers in the same gangs, in different gangs.  It was a pretty bad time but somehow the Drum Core managed to stay together. 10:39

10:50 MITCHELL: How did that incident give the community pride during those harsh times? 10:58

11:01 JOHNSON: It wasn’t one incident.  I think it was several.  It’s really hard for me to say.  I think people just had to realize that they couldn’t continue to live like that, you know, with that kind of dissention.  Extortion was going on, anything that you can think of that you could possibly associated with gangs happened.  Over time, over time, a loss of lives and brothers having realized that their own brothers were getting shot and maimed and killed, I think was enough to capture the hearts and minds of the people living in the community at that time and I think that’s what did it. 11:50

11:55 MITCHELL: In New York, were there any other group that gave you any challenge? 12:00

12:01 JOHNSON: Oh yes.  There were several groups.  In fact, by the time we entered the parade, we had thought first place had gone by until we’d seen another group, because we didn’t use any gimmicks in our group.  For example, we didn’t have the best of costumes.  A lot of our costumes were homemade, our outfits were homemade.  A lot of guys that came from cities that had money, you could tell by the issues they had.  They were well tuned.  But nobody up there had any more spirit that we did, nobody had more spirit than we did.  I think, nobody had more belief than we did.  I think that’s what did it for us. 12:44

12:53 KRANICH: I just want to get a few more details out of you.  What was it like to be at a competition, the feeling…give me more on that. 13:00

13:02 MITCHELL: Can you tell us a little more on the competition? 13:05

13:06 JOHNSON: Well, I would preach to the guys to not be afraid.  Not to worry about challenges that they had faced, but the one who faced the biggest challenge was me because I was with those leaders and they were really sharp, I knew they were sharp.  I knew those groups were really tough and they had practiced I’m sure just as long and as hard as we had.  But I could not let it show.  I could not show how intimated I was by some of those guys come by high-steppin and using batons and stuff.  We had no baton and I didn’t think we needed one.  The dress, you know the outfits that they wore, the quality of their gear, their equipment, I think a lot of things.  We were just, not only were we intimidated by them, we were impressed by them.  They were actually good.  But we felt, like I said, we felt like we were the best. 14:00

14:01 MITCHELL: Do you remember any particular group that scared you the most? 14:04

14:05 JOHNSON: No, I can’t remember.  Let me tell you about…I remember one judges stand we marched by and they announced us as being from Chicago, Illinois and we stopped, I had the guys stop, and I went up and told the judges, “We’re not from Chicago, we’re from Champaign, Illinois,” and they made the correction and we marched on after that. 14:26

14:38 KRANICH: Why do you think you won?  You had uniforms that were home made, instruments that weren’t as sparkly or as new or as well tuned.  So tell us the story about why you think in your mind you won and what did the winning have to do with you?  I don’t want you to be humble here. 14:52

14:56 JOHNSON: I really don’t know.  I really can’t say.  It was beyond me, it was beyond me.  It was the girls…because there was little I had to do.  Most of our marching was done without any kinds of signals because in most parades you find that the fewer commands the leader has to give, the better is the band.  If I have to say anything about myself, I have to say I was hard, I was hard on the guys.  I demanded a lot but I was willing to give, give as much as I gave.  But to say what distinguished us from any other group, I really couldn’t tell you.  I don’t know what criteria they used to judge us.  We just gave it the best that we could.  That’s all I can say. 15:46

15:48 MITCHELL: What number did you plan to win the competition? 15:52

15:53 JOHNSON: I think it was XX but some of the guys might disagree with me.  I guess they tell you all the different scores.  There were five different sets of judges as I remember, in five different locations throughout the parade.  I assume that when they got together they tallied those scores.  We didn’t play the same thing at every judge’s table but we had a salute, we had a salute that was awesome.  One thing that I, a fellow I was taking to today said that the way I used to march, they called it the Bud’s dance.  There were two guys imitating me that marched with us.  I think the style of marching that I had was combined military and a little showmanship.  I think that might have done it. 16:52

16:53 MITCHELL: Do you think the judge played a part in that winning too? 16:59

17:00 JOHNSON: The judge, you mean our number called The Judge.  Maybe so, maybe so.  I don’t know.  I forgot about that.  Here comes the judge. 17:15

17:33 MITCHELL: How does the competition work?  Did all of the groups perform in one place or during the parade did you walk there and were there random place that the judges were? 17:43

17:77 JOHNSON: What happens is, I still can’t imagine how long the parade was but I’d say 10 to 15 miles and perhaps every 3 to 4 miles there were intervals in which there were parades.  There wasn’t any rest stops, I do remember that.  We didn’t rest.  We stopped, not stopped, but we would walk a certain distance to the judges stand with the ribbons and everything and we’d have to turn and face the judges and salute, we did that was our presentation, we saluted.  So we stayed there long enough so they knew who we were and could identify us and we would perform.  So at every judges stand you had to perform, do a little performance.  And we had different numbers that we used to do, like the figure 8 which we can talk about later.  The figure 8, follow the leader, every step that the leader took, and we had five squad leaders, every man in that squad would follow him.  So just different gimmicks that we would use to impress the judges.  We knew that was the biggest competition that we would ever be in. 18:54

18:57 MITCHELL: Who was Robert Cook? 18:59

19:00 JOHNSON: Robert Cook was one of the snare drummers and he was a squad leader.  He played at the same time that Ratliffe did and with Stevie…he got killed in the Vietnam War, do you remember his name?  I can’t think of his name right now.  In fact, after we got back to New York, we presented a big baton to her, we took a big baton to her house, we marched to her house and gave it to her in honor of her son just being killed.  I’ll have to think of his name before we leave. 19:56

19:58 MITCHELL: How was the Drum Core different than it is today? 20:10

20:13 JOHNSON: Different in a lot of ways and yet there are some similarities that I noticed.  It seems to be that there, the community is a reflection of the Drum Core, as strange as that may sound.  Guys come and go as they want to in the Drum Core.  They just hang out.  If they feel like putting on a drum then they play, they play, if they don’t, they don’t do it.  There’s no consistency.  The same is true of the community, the people at the parks.  If they want to shoot some basketball, they shoot some ball.  If they want to do anything but hang out, they just hang out.  That much has changed.  Before I think they had in the park, things to do.  If you weren’t a drummer, you might play basketball.  If you didn’t play basketball, you could roller skate.  If you didn’t roller skate, you could play horse shoes.  If you didn’t like horse shoes, you could play tennis.  If you didn’t like to play tennis, you could play softball.  There were a lot of different options at that time than there are now for the young people.  So that much has changed. 21:32

21:34 MITCHELL: Did any of the members of the Drum Core have any connections…was there anybody in the Drum Core that was in a gang that you know about? 21:50

21:52 JOHNSON: I can’t think of anyone.  They might have been.  I think Tony Jones, Tony Jones, he had considered it.  I think his brothers were pretty influential at that time but I won’t say Tony was in a gang.  Tony decided he wanted to be a drummer too.  So other than that, I can’t think of anybody in a gang or a gang member. 22:24

23:08 MITCHELL: Do you think the Drum Core served as an alternative to gang life? 23:12

23:13 JOHNSON: I know that it served as an alternative to gang life.  I know that…I can’t tell you why, but I do know that I was demanding so much of their time.  We used to rehearse everyday except Sunday.  Everyday after school.  In many ways, I think we provided them that outlet, something else they could do positive.  You know, instead of gang, you know, banging but there are so many influences, even today.  There are so many influences that people have to choose from.  We were home, we were brothers and we believed in each other.  We looked out for each other.  I think it gave you a certain amount of prestige to be in the Drum Core.  I mean, personally I tried out three or four times before I really made it.  I wanted to be as good as some of the guys who were playing in the Drum Core.  I think it’s just a matter of choice, I think it boils down to just a matter of choice. 24:29

24:30 MITCHELL: Do you remember what gangs were very influential back then? 24:35

24:36 JOHNSON: Yeah, there were two.  I can’t remember the names of them.  There wound up being two gangs. 24:44

24:45 MITCHELL: … 24:48

24:49 JOHNSON: That was one I guess.  I don’t know what the other one was. 24:52

25:05 MITCHELL: I would like to know, who was Butterball? 25:08

25:09 JOHNSON: Milton Norwood.  Milton Norwood and don’t let me forget to mention the twins, Muffin and Little Bit, because they had an instrumental part in this too.  Talk about Milton Norwood.  Milton Norwood was a big, robust guy who pleased the crowd.  That was one thing I couldn’t do.  I was not a crowd pleaser, I could not please a crowd like Milton.  People came out to see him and the Drum Core just followed.  I mean, he was a good leader.  Milton started off too as a base drum player and at some point during that time, he took over as a leader.  I think when Billy left.  For whatever reason, when Bill Tanny left, Milton took over as Drum Core leader.  His style…nobody could touch that style. 26:10

26:12 MITCHELL: What was his style like? 26:20

26:21 JOHNSON: When they saw him, everything stopped, everything stopped.  Nobody knew what he was going to do, I didn’t know what he was going to do until I saw it. 26:28

26:29 MITCHELL: What were some of the thing he would do? 26:30

26:33 JOHNSON: I don’t want to say dance, just tricky moves, tricky movements.  He was a big heavy set guy and he could move like he weighed ten, fifteen pounds.  I mean it was just unbelievable. 26:49

26:53 MITCHELL: So how was it like walking around the Fourth of July parade? 26:57

26:59 JOHNSON: We walked in the Fourth of the July parade because that was about the only time that people from Champaign could see us as a group.  We practiced I think all year for the Fourth of July parade.  The other opportunities to go to other cities were like a piece of cake because we never knew if we were going to have enough money but the Fourth of July at that time was the biggest parade in Champaign.  If we were in it, it was how good were we going to be when we got in it.  The thing I could remember about the Fourth of July during at that particular time during the riots and stuff, we had to show some dissention in terms of where black people stood with regards to the whole idea of freedom.  So to show our objection, to show our dissention with the whole concept of what it was like at that time, we would march, I think we started at Green Street and march straight down Green Street to Fifth, and we when we got to Fifth Street, we would have on home, come across the tracks…either that or we’d hold the parade with a big old gap between us and the group in front of us.  But we would hold the parade up and then we would march on home and consequently people out there viewing the parade would say, “Where’s Douglass Center, where’s Douglass Center,” and we were all the way back home. 28:28

28:31 MITCHELL: You all just wouldn’t finish the parade out. 28:35

28:36 JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly what we would do.  Not finish it. 28:38

28:38 MITCHELL: Why did you do that? 28:39

28:40 JOHNSON: Well, as I explained to you, that was the only way that we knew, that we could boycott the Fourth of July and still be in it, and still let the people see that we’re still here. 28:53

28:54 MITCHELL: How did the Drum Core impact your life as a person? 28:56

28:57 JOHNSON: My life, oh man.  You know, the first impact it had was, when I left here as the leader of the Drum Core I went into he Navy and I was in regular boot camp in San Diego and they said they had a trial for the drum and bugle core.  But the irony of the whole thing was if you weren’t good enough to make the drum and bugle core in the Navy, you got sent back to your company and no company commander ever wanted his group to split up, so they would cheat, you would get all the dirty jobs.  So, I wanted to try out for the Drum Core but I didn’t want to fail.  So, it impacted me because when I went to try out for the Drum Core in the Navy, I was good enough to make it and that’s what I did as a recruit.  I was in the Drum Core, the Navy Bugle…but I obligated myself to stay there for a few extra weeks because we got to go places that other people didn’t get to go.  So, that’s how it effected my life at first.  On the other end of that, now I work with…my next door neighbor happens to be an elementary school band teacher.  And I have Fridays off, every Friday, so I’ve been working with her.  I’ve helped her with the Drum Core, not with the Drum Core, with her drummers and all of the people in the percussion section.  Also…on the barbecues, on weekends, when we finish a parade or something.  I guess I’ve, I still have, I don’t play as often or as much as I would like to, which is obviously, if you’re out in the park, it’s hard for me to keep up, but it impacted my life quite a bit. 31:00

31:01 MITCHELL: Can you tell us about the majorettes and what part they played? 31:04

31:04 JOHNSON: Oh man.  Yeah, I found out, one reason I couldn’t make the Drum Core the first couple of times I tried out was because most of the guys, the drummers, had a girlfriend on the majorettes and I had two sisters on the majorettes.  So, it was a long time before I could see what they were doing.  And when I first made the Drum Core, when we were going, we were traveling and going anywhere, I had to sit in the back of the bus, you know.  In terms of their ability to march, the majorettes made the Drum Core because people didn’t come to see the Drum Core, they can to see the women work, see them workout, see them do their step.  They were always sharp, they were always sharp.  I think the majorettes made the Drum Core what it was.  They made the Drum Core as good as it was.  There were certain numbers that we used to play, as I said in competition, there were certain numbers that we played for ourselves and certain numbers, I remember, certain numbers that, Fern Hill, one of the leaders of the Drum Core was Fern Hill, I can’t remember all of them.  Barbara Boswell I do remember.  Certain numbers they preferred for them to do their steps, they had certain steps that they liked to do also.  So they were a major influence on the Drum Core. 32:34

32:35 MITCHELL: The original Drum Core, why did it stop? 32:38

32:41 JOHNSON: That’s a good question.  I don’t know if I can, I’m capable of answering that.  When you say stopped and the original Drum Core, I don’t think the original Drum Core did stop.  The guys got older and, you know, quit but when the, I think when Ratliffe left, when he was no longer the leader, there was nobody being trained or nobody interested in maintaining that leadership, taking over that leadership.  But fortunately, there is a young man now who I understand Ratliffe is training to be a leader.  He has natural leadership skills and abilities but he needs encouragement to be a leader.  So, it hadn’t quit, I think it’s just been in limbo for a while. 33:38

33:40 KRANICH: Tell Brian how you see him as a leader.  What do you see in him?  How do you identify him as a leader? 33:48

33:51 JOHNSON: Well, I identify Lee as a leader because he’s a young guy, he’s sixteen years old I understand.  Is he sixteen?  No, how old is he?  He’s eighteen, seventeen or eighteen.  Anyway, he is a young man.  He hasn’t reached is twenties yet.  There are certain skills that he has that stand out.  For one, he is a good drummer.  For two, he is patient with the little guys, smaller than him, younger than him.  He is a quick learner.  But, it’s hard to distance somebody that’s the same age.  It’s very hard to distance somebody or to demand that respect.  So, I think with those changes and working with those kinds of characteristics, he had all that it takes to be a leader. 34:50

34:59 MITCHELL: Ok, we’re going to explore the majorettes a little bit.  Did they have different leaders?  Were they kind of like the Drum Core? 35:09

35:10 JOHNSON: I think they were like the Drum Core…oh…you know who I forgot Mr. Shoefield, I think was his name.  Mr. Shoefield, Billy Shoefield was one of the leaders of the majorettes.  Even before Fern I think.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of recall about the majorettes.  I do remember that they were changed about ever five or ten years but generally they stuck together.  Like I said, as they got older or more mature, the average age I guess at the time, they were teenagers, they were probably thirteen to seventeen or eighteen, and usually when you got past that, you know, then you were too grown to be a cheerleader…I’m sorry, to grown to be a majorette.  They were teenagers, you know when they got out of their teens, they were usually too old to be a majorette. 36:21

36:32 KRANICH: So then, what was the relation between the majorettes and the Drum Core?  How did they work together? 36:25

36:26 JOHNSON: Boyfriend, girlfriend.  We used to have to rehearse together.  For a while, our rehearsals consisted of working by ourselves.  But they would be near enough to hear us and still somewhere in the square of Douglass area.  They would get a portion of the area and they could still march to the beat.  Every now and then we would combine rehearsals, which reminds me, the girls drill team always led the Drum Core.  They always marched before the Drum Core.  I don’t know why, but they did.  They always came first and we always came second.  The significance of the drill team…like I said, we would rehearse the things that we wanted to do for the parade and we would march through the community on a regular basis, that’s another thing… 37:33

37:37 MITCHELL: Ok, you were telling us something about Shoemaker? 37:41

37:44 JOHNSON: I was trying to recall the names of the leaders…you had asked a question about the majorettes and I was trying to remember who the leaders were and, thanks to Diane, it was Willy Shoemaker, Fern Hill, and Barb Boswell. 38:00

38:02 MITCHELL: Thank you.  So, the Drum Core was around the Black Power Movement.  Did that have any effect on it? 38:17

38:19 JOHNSON: I don’t think so.  It was more, we were more of a rhythmic thing.  I think there were songs that came out during era that we could relate to and, like Bo Diddly, songs like that.  Songs that were played, we turned into a rhythmic number, but I don’t think…we were just probably who we were and we had something to demonstrate.  But I can’t remember any real black power songs or numbers that we did. 39:02

39:05 MITCHELL: So, when you were playing the drums did it make you feel proud, make you feel very excited? 39:08

39:09 JOHNSON: Honestly, more so than when I played was when I lead and I knew that they were sounding good because that was my judge, they would sound so good that I knew they sounded good.  When I, when I played it made me feel good, but more it made me feel good to listen to them play.  That was the best felling in the world and they knew it. 39:44

39:45 MITCHELL: What was it like marching in the streets? 39:48

39:50 JOHNSON: I think that everyone wanted to go by their own house, by their own neighborhood.  That’s why we walked all over town.  But I think, it was very important.  You wanted to show your people, you wanted to show your family that you had made the Drum Core.  You were in it now.  If we didn’t go down the street on Monday, we’d go down it on Tuesday.  I think everybody had, everybody felt that they were part of the Drum Core.  In order to satisfy each drummer, we would have to get their address or know where they lived so we made sure we marched.  We marched through the projects, all over town, without a police escort, you know.  40:30

40:37 KRANICH: So I’m trying to get a picture.  On a Saturday, did you just start drumming through the neighborhood? 40:39

40:40 JOHNSON: Yes.  That’s basically what happened, we would start drumming through the neighborhood and I would have to pick a route.  A lot of times we would go through Urbana, all the way through Urbana.  We would go through Champaign.  It was very sporadic.  We didn’t have a particular route we took.  We went out Fourth Street, down Fifth Street.  We marched almost until it got dark.  When it got dark and we started having some traffic problems, then we would generally have to call it a night.  We still played, it would be way past dark, the Center was ready to close at 9 o’clock and we would still be out there drumming.  And so when we retired, usually the guys were ready to go home and get ready for school the next day. 41:30

41:39 MITCHELL: What would happen when you marched through the different neighborhoods?  Did different people come out? 41:43

41:44 JOHNSON: You know, by the time we started, two or three kids at the park when we started playing.  We marched through the neighborhood and everywhere we would go it was like a snowball effect.  You would just pick up more people marching with you and you’d have to get them out of the street to keep them from getting hit.  Bicycles, kids on bicycles.  They didn’t have skateboards then but they had roller skates.  You just had to be careful of where you were and you had to watch for people, but the crowds just followed.  The men, the women, the youngsters, everybody, everybody.  They were proud of us, we were the community, we were an asset to the community, we were the most vocal.  And it gave us a good feeling, it gave us that boost we needed to continue.  So you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Wait till you see us this Fourth of July.  Wait until you see us…wait until you see us in Chicago. 42:43

42:44 MITCHELL: How did people on campus respond to seeing you march through campus? 42:49

42:50 JOHNSON: I can’t really say.  I don’t have the slightest idea.  When you say people on campus, do you mean campus students? 42:58

43:00 MITCHELL: The question is how did white people respond to the Drum Core marching through campus? 43:05

43:06 JOHNSON: You said white people?  Oh, I didn’t understand the question.  I’m sorry, give me the question one more time. 43:11

43:12 MITCHELL: How did white people on campus respond when they saw the Drum Core marching through it? 43:16

43:20 JOHNSON: I’m not so sure that we marched on campus.  We probably crossed University Avenue.  So, at that time, unlike now, most of the black neighborhoods were mostly on the north side of University and we didn’t usually go on the other side of University Avenue for a lot of different reasons but primarily…there were as many white people cheering us on during the parade, the actual parade, as there were black people.  I can’t recall, I won’t say that there wasn’t, but I can’t recall any difference in the treatment. 44:01

44:02 MITCHELL: Why didn’t you cross different boundaries? 44:05

44:06 JOHNSON: I guess because I just felt more comfortable being in my own neighborhood, you know. 44:10

44:12 MITCHELL: Were there neighborhood boundaries over there? 44:15

44:16 JOHNSON: No.  Except to say there weren’t an influx, a large influx of black students at the time, going to campus that related to us who live in the community.  I see there is more of that now but there wasn’t at the time.  I don’t think there was a real tie between even the black students and the community.  So, there was probably even less of a tie between the campus, the white campus community and the town. 44:46

44:49 MITCHELL: What was it like marching in the Air Force Band? 44:51

44:51 JOHNSON: Navy Band. 44:52

44:52 MITCHELL: Yeah. 44:52

44:55 JOHNSON: It was a different style of marching.  A different cadence we had, a different step we had.  I used to get in a lot of trouble because I knew how to march and a lot of those guys didn’t so I used to trip them up, you know.  I was a trouble-maker.  Eventually, it was like the same kind of a thing where, you know, you’re going to a Miss America Parade or a Miss California Parade and you had to be sharp.  In the military, it was little different because the discipline was different.  You could get in trouble, really serious trouble, if you violated one of the rules.  You could wind up going to jail for the least little thing.  The uniforms were spotless.  You had to scrub them.  Not every time you were going to play, but every night.  It was just a whole different routine. 46:00

46:01 MITCHELL: Was the uniform, like the regular…or was it an actual… 46:08

46:09 JOHNSON: Mostly it was dress uniforms.  We probably had to have two or three dress uniforms and you recall the navy blue pants with the white flap, yeah, that’s, and the spats.  That’s what we wore every time we marched.  Now for day-to-day, we wore dungarees or blue jeans, the bellbottom blue jeans. 46:32

46:40 MITCHELL: What was your relationship with Butterball? 46:42

46:46 JOHNSON: My relationship with Butterball.  Well, first of all, I respected Butterball because he was an older member of the group.  As far, he was also ahead of me in school.  I respected him because he gave me a chance to become the drummer that I eventually became.  I loved Butterball.  You know, we was just good people.  I don’t think anybody disliked him, you know, nobody that I knew disliked him.  I didn’t say we didn’t get mad at him but we didn’t dislike him. 47:30

47:31 MITCHELL: How would you describe Mr. Ratliffe when he first came to the Core? 47:34

47:36 JOHNSON: Scared.  Intimidated because, as I said, there were a lot of guys who had been there longer, who had more experience.  I would describe him as very hungry.  He wanted to be the best.  Determined, that’s the way I would describe him, determined…to be the best. 48:09

48:14 MITCHELL: Do you think he took the steps he needed to take to be the best? 48:17

48:18 JOHNSON: Yes he did. Yes he did. 48:22

48:24 MITCHELL: Do you remember the song The Judge and who wrote it? 48:27

48:27 JOHNSON: I remember the song but I don’t remember who wrote it. 48:30

48:32 MITCHELL: I think Jessie Ratliffe’s little brother wrote it. 48:33

48:34 JOHNSON: Henry!  See that’s one you knew that I didn’t know.  Henry Ratliffe, that’s right, Here Comes the Judge.  Right. 48:44

48:45 MITCHELL: Do you think that song played a big part in the Core…did you have to play that song a lot? 48:51

48:52 JOHNSON: You know, the thing of it was, I can remember 22 songs that we had to know by heart, by the leader just putting his hand up and he would throw up a number and you would have to know when to switch to that number.  You had to…I think each leader has his own preference in terms of what songs he likes, you know, what he likes to hear.  And you tend to play those more than you do the others or practice those more than you do the others.  Especially those songs…but it would be very difficult right now to stop and say we played one more than we played the other because I couldn’t remember. 49:36

49:37 MITCHELL: What was your favorite one to play? 49:38

49:39 JOHNSON: XX.  And I used to, this one didn’t have a number, but there was a tenor-snare echo back and forth exchange, I liked that, I still like that in music.  Judges like that sound, that difference in the sound.  It goes pianissimo, which is soft, to the loudest that you can hear.  When you’re marching through a crown, they don’t even know you’re coming and all the sudden you let them have it.  I don’t know if there is a proper name for it or not. 50:20

50:21 MITCHELL: What was your trip like to Detroit? 50:24

50:25 JOHNSON: Now see, everybody asks me about that and I have a very, very little recollection of the trip.  Now that’s another question you probably know better about than I do.  I cannot remember a trip to Detroit.  I remember a trip to Milwaukee and, again, we were up there and several guys that didn’t want to perform because they thought we were beaten before we even got started.  And I thought they were so ready, so good, and I think that particular day we went out of town and we had to leave a few guys here because they weren’t ready to go when the bus left and so we went up there with less than a full Drum Core.  So, some of the guys threatened not to perform if we didn’t have everybody there even though they took the trip.  And we got there, and I think when we sat down in the shade and we talked about it as a group, roughly half wouldn’t perform because they said we couldn’t win the first place.  They didn’t want to be the first group to not win a first place and come back to Champaign and tell them that we didn’t get a first place.  I said, well if you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to?  So, my conniving didn’t do any good.  So we entered the parade with only nine people and we won first place.  And I didn’t kick out the guys that didn’t perform but we did win first place. And I don’t know how we did that but every number we had, every trick we had, we gave it all.  I guess that’s to say we believed in ourselves. 52:09

52:14 MITCHELL: So you won first place in the Milwaukee one too? 52:16

52:16 JOHNSON: Yes. Yes. 52:17

52:28 JOHNSON: The twins we used to call them.  Ronald and Robert Sterning.  They, they performed first with Milton Norwood.  They could steal the show from Butterball, I mean…people would come out to see them.  We didn’t have a lot of twins who looked so much alike.  I didn’t know one from the other.  They made sure that they had their uniforms together and they marched, they could really march and dance, and they could clown.  They were exciting, they were exciting.  I should mention at the same time, I had a little fellow that march like I did at that time.  His name was Albert Murray and they would put Albert out there and sometimes I’d let Albert lead and I would go take a break while he was leading.  But Robert and Ronald Sterning were instrumental in the Drum Core and I don’t think they should be overlooked.  They won as many first places as the Drum Core did, just by being a part of that group.  They marched with Butterball and they marched with me for a while.  But then again, as I said, they started getting older and they eventually gave it up.  But when I first started…George Albert Murray, his dad, who is deceased now, came to me and said, “Bud, my son can march just like you.”  I said, “No he can’t, no he can’t.  Nobody can march like I do.”  And he said, “Oh, well will you watch him?”  And I said, “Yeah, I’ll watch him.”  So he brought him down to practice one day and the boy was “bad,” he beat me being myself.  He was really good.  So, Albert Murray started marching with us.  And we used to dress alike.  Every leader had a certain dress, to make himself look a little different than the rest of the group.  He had to know what costume I was going to wear so his could match.  But he was good, he was really good. 54:34

54:35 MITCHELL: I jut have one more question.  Can you tell us a little about John Lee? 54:38

54:39 JOHNSON: John Lee.  Well John Lee and I, we share the same name.  Except his name is John Lee Johnson and I’m John C. Johnson.  When John and I were in the sixth grade, we were the same age too, John Lee used to sign his name with my homeroom number so I wound up doing the detention for him.  He was left-handed but I think he was one of the best artists that I can remember.  I would always try to get him to draw me pictures, “Come on John and draw this picture for me.”  He loved to draw, he just loved to draw.  John Lee, even though I wasn’t here, my sisters would often send me word.  He was instigating for people.  A lot of people didn’t agree with him.  There was a lot of disagreement but nobody could challenge the fact that John didn’t do what he didn’t think was best for the community, I mean the entire community.  I was glad to see there was a street named after him.  Probably should have been one before but we tend to think about people in the best light after they are gone instead of giving them their flowers while they are living.  But John Lee was a tremendous person.  A good friend, fun to be with.  I happened to hear, when he ran for city council and made it.  He had a lot of…probably to many for me to try and name.  He was a good person, a good person. 56:25

56:31 KRANICH: Mr. Johnson, help us understand the context of the late ‘60s when you had Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Power Movement, riots, and then you had the Drum Core in Champaign-Urbana.  Tell me what was going on nationally that intersected with what you were doing locally and how the Drum Core fit into that context?  Sort of a picture of the time since these folks weren’t living at that time.  What was the atmosphere like and how did the Drum Core compliment that atmosphere or how was it different? 57:04

57:13 JOHNSON: What I will try to explain to you is how we tended to function during that time.  I think because the guys were so young, it didn’t effect them as much as it did me, being older, and I like to think more knowledgeable of what it meant as a people.  But there were so many things, as Kimberlie just mentioned, there were so many things happening at the time.  Sometimes it was so confusing.  A person would have to make a decision if they wanted to stay and play or wanted to be in the Drum Core because it didn’t seem to have that much significance to them anymore.  There was, what she didn’t mention, there was Vietnam at the time too and we lost Stevie Brown, that’s his name, Stevie Brown is the name of the guy I was trying to thing of before who died in Vietnam.  There were so many things happening, there was just turmoil.  For me, by that time I had returned from the service.  I had gone back into the Drum Core and got involved with the Drum Core.  At that time, that’s such a tough question.  It’s the kind of thing where everyone had to make a decision for themselves of what was important.  A lot of guys who were influential with me, I would have to say were Stevie Jackson, Roy Williams, the guys…on the one hand I would be messing with the Drum Core and on the other hand we would be down working with the black coalition, we had to do things.  I spent as much time in court probably as I did drumming, you know.  Come 5 or 5:30 I would be back down at the center with the kids.  They respected that.  I remember in Dunbar Court for example, there was a black gentleman, he had witnessed some shootings, some drive-by shootings and he identified who the person was and they printed the fellow’s name and address in the paper.  The newspaper printed it and so, he got threats, please would come by his house, and so, we had to do what we had to do.  There were some people who said, this may shouldn’t be out there unprotected.  So, consequently, we had to do what we had to do.  Now I don’t want to go much deeper than that because I don’t want to go to jail.  The times, during that time, there were a lot of different elements that we had to cope with.  I don’t really care to say much more about it but that we had to look out for each other. 01:00:29

01:00:30 KRANICH: Tell us more about your leadership, like why you chose to be the Drum Core leader.  What it meant to your life, what it did for your life.  Tell us a little more about that. 01:00:42

01:00:45 JOHNSON: Well, I really didn’t choose to be leader.  It was kind of through attrition.  I think that I realized that if I wasn’t going to step up and take over the position as Drum Core leader, that the Drum Core was going to fall, was going to fail.  I didn’t want to see it fail.  I didn’t want to give up my drum either because I thought I was a tough drummer.  I didn’t want to give up playing the snare or the tenor or whatever was necessary.  It wasn’t something that I desired to do but my military experience did help.  I thought that I knew how to keep the Drum Core together.  I knew what it took to be a leader and the leadership skills, like anything, I think they develop over a period of time.  I don’t think that I was a born leader.  I had some fine examples.  My mother and father had always worked in the community.  My mother was a schoolteacher.  My father worked with boys, he was Assistant Director at Douglass Center for a while.  He went to the U of I and he took Recreational Administration.  I had some good examples.  David Hill, you know.  There are so many influences.  I was so lucky to have so many influences in my life to persuade me, to encourage me.  That’s something that I can’t take credit for, it just happened.  01:02:22

01:02:24 KRANICH: Who made the uniforms for the Drum Core? 01:02:26

01:02:27 JOHNSON: Well they didn’t make all of them, but a couple of times, we had some…I’d have to ask my sisters.  Do you remember who made those uniforms?  The…women would get together and sew the African…one year we wore Nauru suits.  I think we brought Nauru suits, I think we had gold Nauru suits and we had turbans wrapped by East Indians from the University of Illinois and they wrapped the turbans.  They wrapped each one separately.  It took about twenty-five minutes and they wrapped them so fine and so good that we would take them off.  When we went to New York, we didn’t wear them until we were ready to play in the parade because if they come loose they would have been lost.  I don’t…every year we had to come up with something.  I think one year we wore khaki uniforms like the military.  But we would sit down I guess collectively and decide what we wanted to wear. 01:03:32

Tape 11

01:03 PATTERSON: Bud, talk a little bit about your experiences since you’ve been back home.  What did it feel like revisiting the Core? 01:14

01:13 JOHNSON: Visiting the whole neighborhood.  It’s been tremendous.  I guess the fist thing I realized is that I missed playing on a regular basis.  I missed the commradery because we don’t have anything similar to that back in Uma.  But more than that is, I realize how much I miss the people.  You know, friends and having the opportunity to work with young people.  I think I worked with young people the majority of my adult life until I got real job.  It’s been tremendous and what I think has been most influential is what I said earlier is knowing that you have that kind of impact on somebody’s life.  That’s a lot of responsibility and that’s the most significant thing that I’ve had to come to grips with.  I never realized, I never realized how many guys, girls, would just walk up and say how much they miss me, how much I meant to them.  It’s what it’s all about.  That’s what it’s all about. 03:21

03:23 PATTERSON: When you were with the kids yesterday and you were drumming and you were passing it on, what did that feel like?  What was that like? 03:1

03:34 JOHNSON: I guess I felt like I was ready to go to work again.  I was ready…I think part of what makes me feel you is having the opportunity to work with young people.  I don’t think anybody who ever has the chance should ever pass it up because you may never remember them but they will always remember you and what you showed them.  I think that in itself makes it worth it.  That’s the most beautiful thing you can ever have.  “Hey Mr. Johnson.  How you doin?”  And you know who it is but a lot of times you can’t recall the names, you can’t remember their name.  It’s just a rewarding experience, man, I can’t begin to express the joy I’ve had making new friends, the little ones, and I see so much potential in them.  They need that guidance and I think it’s the elders responsibility to make way for them, to show them, to give them direction.  I feel whatever I can do in that regard, I’m willing to continue to do, whether I’m here or wherever I am.  As long as I maintain my health, that’s what I’m going to do. 04:58

05:00 PATTERSON: When we called you, what did you think this trip was going to be like? 05:03

05:04 BP: I said, well, what’ll happen is I’ll end up doing a telephone interview and that will be the extent of it.  Because as you know, as time went on and got kind of short, I figured, now he told me I’d have it by July the 1st and I told my wife I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I think they might call me and ask my point of view, my opinion on something, but I won’t be ready to go.  If they call me and I don’t happen to have a payday, I’m not going to make it anyway.  She said, well just wait and see what happens.  Fortunately, you called a couple weeks out so I had ample time.  The problem was I had ceremonies back in Uma, this Saturday as a matter of fact, and I was supervisor during this period of time because my supervisor had left.  So, I was supervisor at work, so it was pushing it to the edge.  In fact, I hadn’t seen her in two week, she’d been off.  She had family coming to visit her and so, I couldn’t leave any sooner because I was in charge of the facility that I work at.  So, when Kimberlie sent me the email and said she was going to work on the reservations, I felt things were taken care of.  But I appreciate having the opportunity to come down and spend time with them and maybe next time…I heard you talk about your program and your intention to expand, and I hope that I have something to offer.  I do want to come back and see how the Drum Core is doing, if everybody has lived up to their promises and I think accolades should be given to the first string.  And the more I stay here the more I learn but people shouldn’t be so hung up in who gets credit.  Just make sure that the work gets done. 07:18

07:24 PATTERSON: Say the beat goes on. 07:25

07:26 BP: The beat goes on. Right on, right on. 07:28