“Black Market Juggler” celebrates 25th anniversary

by Steve Hecklinger, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 1), on the occasion of the newspaper’s 36th Anniversary.

My first drum corps show was in 1982 at Evansville, IN, featuring many corps. I’m a drummer and I wanted to see the Bridgemen, two-time DCI percussion champions.

Black Market Juggler was the drum solo played by the Bridgemen from Bayonne, NJ, during the 1982 and 1983 seasons. The production featured eight snares, five tenors, five bass, cymbals and the pit. The snares played 16th notes with the index finger and thumb for 12 measures while playing on nine roto-toms with their right hand. The tenors ripped a very fast solo unmatched at that point with bass and pit accompanying the drum solo.

The percussion section achieved a 19.8 out of 20 — almost a perfect drum score — in the tick system!   Then they had to do it blindfolded in 1983! So let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how to “nail this beast”.

The corps’ percussion instructor was Dennis DeLucia who wrote Black Market Juggler. I interviewed Dennis and asked, Black Market Juggler is now 25 years ago. Do you listen to it these days?

His reply, “I do from time to time. It’s probably my favorite drum solo.”

I followd up by asking, do you still get people asking about that particular solo?

He replied, “ALL THE TIME!”

It was a very special combination of circumstances, the right writer at the right point in his career, the style of the corps and a perfect assemblage of talent.

Dennis grew up in Bergenfield, NJ, and was influenced by jazz and Latin music. He learned rudiments in the late 1950s and early 1960s, becoming a drum set player. The first drum corps instruction was in 1968 with the Poughkeepsie, NY, Pacers and he was with the Hawthorne Muchachos from 1970 to 1975.

The 1976 season saw a transition for the Bridgemen. They hired Bobby Hoffman to run the corps. Larry Kerchner was the brass arranger and DeLucia became the percussion instructor. Hoffman had a vision of the corps being in long yellow coats with high black boots and a hat.
The style was set.

The talent of the drum line grew over the years. DeLucia hired Bob Dubinski in 1977 and he became DeLucia’s righthand man. Pat Scollin and several others were also part of the staff. The Bridgemen were leaving the 1970s as a top drum corps with a top-rated drum line.

DeLucia came up with a “finger-thumb” technique of 16th notes in the late 1970s. This is where the index finger plays with one bounce motion and gets two beats out of it (or “one-ee”). Then, the   finger is lifted up and out of the way so the top of the thumb comes down and does the same motion (or the “and-a”).

DeLucia told me, “I think that singular moment, and that singular device, is the hardest thing that’s ever been tried by any drum line to this day.” The Bridgemen drum line worked on the finger-thumb technique for a whole year before they used it in the 1980 and 1981 drum solo, Pursuit.

The name Black Market Juggler came from two songs by the group Weather Report. A bass line and melody from Black Market was played by the timpani and mallets.

It’s really the Juggler Black Market , but that didn’t make any sense, so they just called it Black Market Juggler. DeLucia wrote the piece for the snares, tenors, cymbals and drum set, while Dubinski wrote the mallet arrangement for the pit.

I asked him, “Did you ever think about changing this since it was so difficult”. He said, “No, I never second-guessed myself. I thought, ‘we are doing this, we’re gonna learn this drum solo today and you’re gonna play it and that’s the end of that. And when you play it, you will make history!’ ”

I then asked DeLucia if anyone left after he said that?

“Nobody left,” was his emphatic response.

Teaching the drum solo was secret.

He said, “Well, by my choice and design, we did not play the drum solo even for other members of the corps. We would have the snares go very slowly, odd-numbered snare guys go first, then the even-number players, so they wouldn’t beat up each others’ knuckles.

“They would go over and over it until they got the snare choreography down. The snares would have five surfaces to play on — two roto-toms, the player’s own snare and the two snares on either side. It’s an amazing tribute to those players that they played that thing so well.”

The corps was having a rehearsal in February 1982 at a small, private Jersey City auditorium for Bridgemen people only. DeLucia said to Hoffman, “Okay, it’s time for you to see this thing.” The audience was full of parents, helpers, staff, members, etc.

DeLucia declared . . . “And we played it and to this day it’s one of the greatest memories I’ve ever had in my life. The reaction was unbelievable. A five-minute standing ovation ensued and it just kept going. It was beyond description.

“I remember tears and hugs, Bobby was speechless, laughing, crying, hugging. It was incredible, I mean, because I knew this was a special event,” DeLucia added.

There was very little changed for Black Market Juggler leading to the start of the 1982 season. Dubinski named it “The Beast.” Every single competition he would yell at the top of his lungs, “Nail this Beast!”

Lost fact: the 1982 drum line started with 10 snare players and 11 roto-toms, but two people had to leave just as the season started.

The Bridgemen’s season began in Bayonne, NJ, in early June. The corps went on last since they were the host of the show. DeLucia went to the top of the stands to watch the other corps since he’s also a big fan of the activity.

Dubinski warmed up the drum line and motivated the guys before entering the field.
So, how was DeLucia doing that night? He said, “A nervous wreck. We knew we were sitting on something really special. I remember having to say to myself, ‘YOU HAVE TO BREATHE.’

“The audience erupted four or five places during the solo which was rare. The corps came on the field and did a remarkably good job and the audience response to the drum solo was unbelievable. We played from the perspective of emotion first, because I believe cleanliness came out of the inner spirit.”

The season continued with overwhelming audience reaction, winning high drums nightly.

The visual component worked every night, too, no matter how well they played.

The drum line and Black Market Juggler, the “Beast”, had become legendary. DeLucia believes in the concept of diminishing returns. He feels that you can overwork the emotions and literally play yourself out of a great groove. Dubinski would be working the line hard and DeLucia would say, “That’s enough. Let’s go to the movies.”

Finals week in Montreal progressed just as the season had. At prelims, one set of the large roto-toms blew down in the solo. One pit member picked it up and knelt during the solo to save the day.

DCI Finals week was the payoff for all the hard work. The audience loved Black Market Juggler and gave the corps a long standing ovation. A DCI judge came up to DeLucia, saying “Congratulations!”

DeLucia said, “What do you mean?”

The judge responded, “Well, you won drums again,” and DeLucia had a feeling of elation.

He turned to his mentor, Dr. Bernard Baggs, who had a big smile and gave DeLucia a hug.

A historic three top drum awards in a row, a historic 19.8 out of 20 score under the tick system, a historic drum solo and history was made. The season was such a huge success.

The success of the Bridgemen drum line and Black Market Juggler brought an unusual off-season request. The Slingerland Drum Company was the Bridgemen’s percussion sponsor and paid for the whole 1982 drum line to be flown to the Percussive Arts Society’s annual convention that fall in Dallas TX.

DeLucia knew he had a lot on his shoulders. They had to represent the drum line, Black Market Juggler, the Bayonne Bridgemen, the drum corps activity and Slingerland
Everything was on the line. The Bridgemen drum line was the main act at the convention.
The 1982 competitive season ended in August, but this show was in November and the drum line had not seen each other for three months.

They rehearsed the Sunday before they left, then Slingerland brought the entire drum line to Dallas on Thursday night. The practice was at midnight on Thursday and it was just awful according to DeLucia. They practiced Friday morning and through to late afternoon.

Saturday’s performance was just amazing according to DeLucia. “It was incredible, unbelievable, it was scary!” The Bridgemen were heros the rest of the weekend.

This performance was videotaped and DeLucia has a copy. Pro-Mark has it, too, and they’re going to feature this article and the video on their Web site (www.promark.com) after this issue of DCW has reached subscribers worldwide.

The talent level was still high enough in the 1983 drum line to do the “Beast” one more time. DeLucia felt that something like Black Market Juggler doesn’t come along every day. Not much was different from the previous year except the tempo was a little faster. A great drum line, a great drum solo and effective results through the 1983 season.

DeLucia had to go over the top once again and give the line the unthinkable. The hardest drum solo was about to get harder and more crazy. He BLINDFOLD the snares! The drum line toyed with the idea of a blindfold on the snares late in the 1982 season. They decided not to do it because it was too risky.

But they had to turn it up a notch, exhibit the Bridgemen attitude and make the solo even more crowd-pleasing.

The 1983 season didn’t start with the blindfolds. The line waited until the last 10 days going to finals in Miami to blindfold the “Beast”!

The corps’ home show in Bayonne was right before starting the trek toward Miami and it was there that the crowd, for the first time, saw the blindfolded snare line. This happened in the latter part of the solo, right before the final roto-tom choreography.

During a downplayed tympani feature, the snares backed up and angled to their original positions. They flipped their hats off and pulled down a hidden scarf over their faces. They marched forward while playing a snare lick solo and played snare-to-snare, roto- tom to roto-tom, blindfolded. It blew everyone away. History was made!

Lost fact: the blindfold was originally black, but was changed to red to show off better for the audience and judges.

Jim Miller of the Bridgemen drum line and the staff gave me a copy of on-field percussion judge Len Carey’s comments from a show on the way to Miami. As Carey saw the Bridgemen make history playing blindfolded, he talked into his tape saying, “Wholly x$fr, what next?”

At the end, he erupted in laughter and said, “I think it’s great, good job guys.”

DCI Finals had the drum line blowing away the audience again and at the end of the solo the standing ovation was so loud, so elated, so long that DeLucia remembers having goosebumps all over. Then the season was over and that was the end of the Black Market Juggler. Everything had come together over decades to make history.

I asked DeLucia about the Bridgemen alumni corps and wondered if he had considered bringing back Black Market Juggler. His response was, “If and when we have enough talent to play it note for note, then I will CONSIDER it.”

I then asked him, what was the Black Market Juggler to him after all these years? After hesitating for a long while, the answer was, “I think it was the BEST THING I ever did!”

Thanks to Dennis DeLucia, Bob Dubinski, Pat Scollin, the entire drum staff and the Bridgemen drum line members over the years. Thanks for making history. Now we have NAILED THE BEST!

But wait! I have one more ULTIMATE secret never revealed to the public.

The blindfolds! The secret! Here it is. I asked Dennis to tell me, after 25 years, the secret of playing Black Market Juggler with blindfolds? How did they do it? Could they see?
His reply: “The blindfolds? YOU’LL NEVER KNOW!”

I have so much more material from the interview, the complete audio tapes, the transcription and more. Readers can contact me at info@blackmarketjuggler.com. I am also building a Web site at: www.blackmarketjuggler.com and am looking   for pictures, tapes, video stories, etc. to help build a historical collection for all to see. In addition, I am seeking items from Black Market Juggler such as the blindfolds, drums, sticks, etc.