Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blues in the US Navy USS Chicago Style

Blues in the US Navy USS Chicago Style

Modern day Chicago blues artists have a backup band and these sidemen are the time keepers. Any major Blues artist will tell you that without a great rhythm section the show “just don’t cut it”. Whether on the stage, or in the studio, side men have to lay down a solid groove for whoever that artist is. A side man can make or break an artist and it is essential that all work as team. How does a rhythm section keep time? It comes from an inner clock inherent in everyone.

I thought long and hard about this question; how does one develop their clock? I came to the conclusion that mine was developed or wound during Boot Camp in the US Navy.

I enlisted in the navy on July 20th 1972. I thrust my right hand up in the air and stated the following;

“I, Terrance B. Lape due solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the officers appointed over me according to the regulations, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me god.”

I reported to Great Lakes Naval Base September of that year. I had a full 12 weeks ahead of basic training AKA “Boot Camp”. Talk about culture shock, the very first morning I was awaken by the sound of two metal garbage cans. The company commander had his billy club and was rotating it inside those cans. It was 5:00 am. You gotta be kidding me, I muttered under my breath. The company commander heard me and rushed over to me, pulled myself and the mattress out of the rack (bed). I tumbled onto the floor (deck) and then he tossed the scratchy wool blanket over me. “Sailor you better be on that grinder (asphalt parking lot) in 15 minutes or your gonna be in a world of hurt.” I was there in ten. That grinder was the place where the company learned how to march. Why in the world did sailors have to march? Swim yes, march no. It was, at the time, beyond my comprehension. I learned anyway.

Those twelve weeks in boot camp were focused on team work. If one team member screwed up the whole team suffered. The way we suffered was with the dreaded grinder. I swear I wore out my freshly issued boondockers (black boots) with all that marching. If the company (team) went to another building like the mess hall or sickbay or a classroom we marched and it was double time, a running march. When we marched someone called the cadence. A form of answer and call work song like this;

Caller : Let me hear the sound of yo' left (company stomps)
Caller : sound of yo' right (company stomps)

Caller : Let me hear the sound of yo' left (company stomps)
Caller : sound of yo' right (company stomps)

Caller : Double it up (stomps twice)

Caller : double it up (stomps twice)

Caller : Now stomp your left and drag yo' right
Platoon : boots cost money you big dummy

caller : Now stomp your left and drag yo' right
Platoon : boots cost money you big dummy

Come to think of it the marching cadences were a form of blues. They were song to keep time, to sync the company, to tap a sort of timing in your head that has to be tapped into. We got to be pretty good at marching and did some very fancy footwork. We could fold a column of men back through another column without hitting each other. We were very adept at side marching, 45 degree turns and similar maneuvers.

I served and lived on a guided missile cruiser oddly enough it was the USS Chicago Cg-11. I was assigned to the weapons department and the subdivision 6th Division. That division operated and maintained two 5” gun mounts. It took a coordinated effort to shoot those guns. One of the gun mounts was manned by sailors and the other was manned by marines. It was essential for the survival of all the crew that the gun personnel worked together as a team. That crew had to get the timing just right, after all lives were at stake.

There was certain horror firing that gun, but there was a certain beauty to it also. The gun crews worked like a precision clock movement. Load the gun, close the breech, and pull the trigger. When that gun fired there was no mistaking it. BOOM; wait 33 seconds, BOOM and over and over again. The marines were always much faster than the sailors. The last part of the firing sequence was mine, pull the trigger. If I pulled it at the wrong time, the bullet would fire prematurely with tragic consequences. My timing had to be just right. No second chances. It was not an assignment I took lightly.

Timing is a big issue in our everyday lives. Look at a car engine, construction of a steel skyscraper, people walking down the street. Everything has timing. A blues musician has to follow that inner clock and in order to follow that clock he has to focus. I have always said that all successful people have one thing in common and that one thing is focus. It does not matter if that person is an athlete, entertainer, politician, business CEO or numerous other occupations. When the focus is adjusted and operating correctly they enter a place called the zone. Those of you who have hit that zone know what I am referring to. It is the ultimate high without any form of chemicals. Some musicians call it; the groove, playing in the pocket, synched up, kicking it, rocking the house.

In that zone moment an artist knows that something magical is happening and in that moment he knows his purpose, the true meaning of his very existence. All that marching taught me this; a group of individuals with a singular purpose can accomplish anything.
If any veteran out there is a blues lover let me know.
If you have spent time in the "Zone" tell me about it.

Terrance B. Lape AKA Gatorman

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