The Sonic Boom Of The South, Interview 2

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Today’s blog post will be my second of three interviews I conducted with former members of the Jackson State University Marching Band. Before I get to the interview I’ll go down memory lane once again. After finishing up my questions with today’s interviewee I knew there was only one topic I could focus on. And it’s the annual event that has now become known as “The Boombox Classic”. This event occurs whenever Jackson State University and Southern University meet in football. Jackson State has in-state rivals Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State. Those two provide excitement in their own ways but if I’m being honest neither compares to the electricity generated when Jackson State and Southern go at it. This rivalry brings out the best and sometimes the worst in both schools both on and off the field. There have been last second heartbreaks in the games (unfortunately the most recent for JSU in the 2013 SWAC Championship game). There has been plenty of trash talk between both fan bases on just about every topic imaginable. And there’s the sounds from both bands. Many that have been able to attend have said that this is one of – if not – the best rivalry game in Black College Football.

I really don’t remember the first JSU-SU game that I went to. I just remember hearing stories in the 90s about how they turned the clock off on us one year in BR (Baton Rouge). I’ve NEVER attended a game in BR so I’ll leave that alone. The things I do remember are both funny and great. There are so many stories that I can tell. Like getting to my Grandma’s house in December of 1999 after a long day of work only to find out that Southern had won the inaugural SWAC Championship Game 31-30 over JSU.   That game still holds the record for attendance in the SCG History. In 2001, I left the game early because it was raining and JSU was losing. Most importantly I left because my ride was leaving. We ended up eating at Outback and while we were there a few SU fans walked in. I asked them “what was the final score?” I was so disappointed when I learned that JSU had come back to win 24-21. That was the last game that I left early. Another favorite moment from this rivalry occurred in 2002. This game was played in New Orleans and it aired on BET. JSU won that night 36-14 and I remember then JSU QB, Robert Kent dancing on the Superdome sideline as The Boom played “Do Watcha Wanna”. In 2004 the rivalry returned back to New Orleans and JSU was thumped 45-7…that was a rough one. I ended up being rewarded – for not leaving early – in 2010 when JSU won the greatest regular season game that I ever attended. I was very close to leaving but I stopped at the top of a stairway. It was the wildest 3 minutes of a game that I’ve experienced. The last two meetings between the two schools hasn’t been great for JSU. In 2013, SU won the SCG in Houston after another wild ending and last season they went up to Jackson and had their way both on and off the field.

The funniest personal memory occurred in 2006. The “Bell Error” was over and The Vet was packed when SU came into Jackson. For those that don’t know, when Jaguar Nation comes to town they plan on taking over. So as usual the crowd was overflowing and some SU fans were seated on the home side of the field. Well after the bands had settled down and the game had started, SU was up 14-0 early and they were rocking! I would’ve been fine except there was one SU fan that stood up and not only danced but flipped the bird at JSU fans as the Jukebox played. Now dude wasn’t directing the fingers at anyone in particular but I was pissed no one close to him hadn’t made him sit down. So as the 1st half progressed, JSU ended up tying the game at 14 and this is where it gets funny…especially if you know me. I had to be sitting like 12 rows up from this dude. We were both on the home side 20 but he was sitting on the first row. Before the extra point could hit the back of the net good I was in dude’s face dancing and flipping the bird. He would’ve had every right to steal on me. The people around me tried to stop me but they said by the time they were reaching for me it was too late. I’ve never sprinted down stairs quicker than I did that moment. I walked back up the stairs to cheers and plenty of high fives. The game ended up being a thriller and JSU won 31-28 on a field goal in OT.

The combo of great schools, teams, bands, and fans has made this a great rivalry. When it comes to the bands there is no describing the intensity.  It’s one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself.  The “5th Quarter” has always been a staple for HBCU marching bands with each one trying to one up the other. But at some point this rivalry made the “Zero Quarter” intense.  There was always that genuine rivalry in place but I think a few years ago – when The Boom cranked on SU as they marched in – things went to another level.  So much so that at the 2014 game SU was in the stadium extra early ready to return the favor to JSU.  It’s always hard to give an edge because both sides bring their best and neither fan base is willing to concede.

Today’s interviewee is Shameka G. Shameka played the trumpet and was a member of Tau Beta Sigma while in the band. Surprisingly to some, she chose Jackson State over her home state school Alabama State. Like me, she has a fondness for the atmosphere that comes with The Boombox Classic.

What is your earliest or first memory of the Sonic Boom Of The South?

My earliest memory of the Boom was my freshman year in high school when I first joined a marching band. We used to watch tapes and listen to clips of different HBCU marching band programs, including The Boom.

Were you always interested in music? If so, where did it come from?

I was never really interested in actually playing a musical instrument until 6th grade when we had to choose an elective and the music teacher did a great job convincing me to join. I’ve always enjoyed listening to music though, ever since I was a little kid.

Can you take me through what it was like deciding to join The Boom?

Deciding to join The Boom was a little crazy for me since I’m from Montgomery, home of the Alabama State Marching Hornets. A lot of my friends and family were surprised that I didn’t choose to go there instead. I started doing research on the university, which helped make up my mind, and practicing for an audition.

Did you/do you still get jokes for not choosing Alabama State?

Not so much from my family especially after they went to a couple of our games and really enjoyed themselves. There are a few of the alumni I know around here that still give me a hard time when football season comes around and I’m always hoping we at least end up winning that particular game and that The Boom is on point.

Can you give some insight on what your first band camp with The Boom was like? What instrument did you play?

One word that comes to mind is “HOT”! We had band camp in high school, but this was nothing like it. There was way more exercising and way more play and practicing. At the end of the day, which was about 12-1 in the morning, we were all exhausted, sore and could barely move. I was nervous too because we had to stand up one by one, introduce ourselves and play a song or scale in front of the directors and upperclassmen. I played trumpet.

After classes and the fall semester started…what was it like balancing the band, your studies, social life, etc.?

The only social life I really had in the fall was the “hot spot” during the day. Other than that, there was no “college night” at Freelons, homecoming activities (unless we were performing), or other after hours campus activities for me during football season. The band members pretty much just hung out with each other which is one reason why a lot of us are so close/cool even years after graduation. As far as studying and homework goes, I did what I could in-between classes, sometimes I stayed up after practice getting work done, too. It was really just a sacrifice we had to make to be in a demanding program like that. On the bright side, there was always the spring semester to catch up socially.

Practice? Yeah we gotta talk about practice…what were they like and WHY were ya’ll keeping the entire campus and West Jackson woke all night? Lol

Practices were tiring but productive and actually fun sometimes. It was a lot of repetition. One reason we kept everyone up at night was because we practiced learning the music first, then we went outside to work on the show. So, the longer it took for us to get it right on the inside, the later it would be before we went outside. The other reason was because if we had to be up all hours of the night, so did everybody else.

The first time you marched into “The Vet” what was that like? And how did you manage to stay calm? And what was the typical game day like for you?

My first time marching into Memorial I thought I was going to lose my lunch. It was just unreal to me, actually being a part of something I watched for years. Everyone made such a big deal about going up “the ramp” and I was just trying to make sure I stayed on the right foot and didn’t get “caught out there”. I think the only time I was calm was when we weren’t playing.

Game day for me was making sure I had my uniform together and trumpet before I left the room. Depending on game time, we either went to the caf or off campus for food then headed to the band hall. I and the other members of Tau Beta Sigma would help band members with anything they needed with their uniform. There was no tailgating, unfortunately.

Lol at getting “caught out there”. Did you ever slip up?

Fortunately, no. I’ve had many close calls in 4 years, but I held it together. Being in the front during field shows makes you concentrate just a little bit more.

You also mentioned, “Tau Beta Sigma”. Can you tell me what that is?

Tau Beta Sigma is a national honorary band sorority dedicated to serving college and band programs. Our main goal is to assist the Director of Bands in developing the leadership and enthusiasm that they require of their band.

If you have one, what was your favorite game/event that you marched in?

The BoomBox classic games between us and Southern were always my favorite to march in. The unofficial rival game. The energy in the stadium whether we’re home or away is always on another level during that game. A close second would be the 2007 SWAC Championship game where we beat Grambling.

BoomBox Classics are always great. As a fan, I’ve had moments of insanity at a few games. Did you ever get too hype during a BoomBox Classic?

As a member of The Boom I was always overly hype for that game. I never did anything out of the way, though. As an alumnus I’ve gone back and forth a few times with opposing alumni band members in the heat of the moment, but we all knew it was just part of the game. Everybody was still cool afterwards.

The last time that you marched with The Boom and what it was like?

 My last game with The Boom was the Capital City Classic game in 2009. It was pretty emotional for me because that was the last time I would be in uniform performing for the fans with people I’ve grown to know and become good friends with over the years. It was definitely fun and memorable too though.

What’s the most common misunderstanding that gets associated with The Boom?

I haven’t really heard anything bad get associated with The Boom. I know a lot of times I hear people say that we’re the best band in the SWAC and they’re absolutely right.

What is it like now seeing The Boom when you attend events?

Coming back to games always brings back memories. It’s great to see that they improve year after year since I was a member.

Any words of encouragement or advice for young musicians?

I would just tell them to practice, practice, and practice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with anything. Also, to learn time management so you don’t miss out on fun memories while still remembering what your main goal is.

The Sonic Boom Of The South, Interview 2

The Sonic Boom of the South, Interview 1

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For most young kids growing up in Jackson our first memory of Jackson State University is the marching band affectionately known as “The Sonic Boom of the South” or “The Boom” as we like to call them. We generally run across them for the first time at one of the annual parades held in Jackson (Homecoming Parade, Christmas Parade, Martin Luther King Jr. Parade) or at a Jackson State home football game. There’s no way to describe the way one feels when you first hear them play their adopted theme song “Get Ready”1. Fans rise to their feet and wave “shakers” in unison, little kids dance, clap and mimic movements of the drum majors, and the gentlemen…I’ll just say they have their binoculars in hand. I love JSU football with all of my heart (just ask anyone that’s seen me at a game) but today I’m paying homage to “the summa cum laude of bands”. This is the first of three posts in which I’m going to give a few personal memories, a little history of The Boom and also interviews from former members of the band.

The reason I wanted to do the interviews is because I have great respect and admiration for The Boom. I love music but I’ve never marched in a band or played an instrument a day in my life. But growing up in West Jackson and attending many JSU football games I was well aware of the time and commitment that members of the band put forth. I wanted to hear from a few former members what it was like to march in the band and for them to give some insight on their experiences. Before we get into our first interview I want to share a few more personal memories. My mom loves telling a story about the first time I attended a JSU football game. She said that I couldn’t have been more than 3 months old. So I’m thinking my first game was a JSU-Alcorn game. While my dad was determined to take me to the game, my mom feared my ears would be damaged. Thankfully they weren’t. The highlight of the story is that as my dad held me walking up the bleachers I spit up on his back and shoulder. My mom got a real kick out of that. Of course I don’t remember any of that or what The Boom played that day. My first distinct memory of The Boom did occur at a football game and there were two things that stuck out. I already mentioned “Get Ready” and the band but there was also the greatest mascot ever “Wavy Dave” (Dave Chambers rest in peace)! Wavy Dave did it all! He danced, he flipped, he rode a unicycle, he interacted with the fans, and of course he outdid the opposing mascot every time. The next thing I remembered was “the voice” of the band, Dr. Jimmie James Jr2. during the halftime performance.  Dr. James would put together some interesting quotes with the best of those being his recognition of The Boom as ‘the summa cum laude of bands’. Man those were some good times. I think that’s enough reminiscing for today. After the interview be sure to check out the videos at the end.

Saeed M. was the first interviewee for my look into the Jackson State University Marching Band. While in The Boom, Saeed played saxophone. He was also in Birmingham, AL on December 15, 2007 when JSU defeated Grambling to win the SWAC Championship.

What is your earliest or first memory of the Sonic Boom Of The South?

I had to be about 6 or 7. My family and I were visiting Jackson and my mom (who’s a JSU alum) took my sister and I to a game. I remember getting out of our van and hear this booming(no pun lol). As we got closer to the entrance I saw the Boom warming up getting ready to march into the stadium. By the time we got to our seats they had already made it to the ramp and I watched in amazement until the last person got to their seat. Never thought then I would be one of those people.

Were you always interested in music? If so, where did it come from?

I’d say so. Growing up, every Saturday morning my mom would wake my sister and I up and we’d clean the house. While we were doing that my dad usually had some music playing, usually some Maze, OJay’s, etc. That’s where I believe my love for music came about.

Can you take me through what it was like deciding to join The Boom?

Joining the Boom was the easy part. Deciding what school I wanted to go to was the problem. I knew no matter what school I went to I was going to be in their band. Whether it was UAPB, Texas Southern, MSU(yeah I know) or Jackson State the band was a part of the plan. So I knew once I chose JSU I was going to be in the Boom.

Can you give some insight on what your first band camp with The Boom was like? What instrument did you play?

Man the first band camp was cool and rough. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect to be in practice that long. I had never played my saxophone that much in one week EVER. The early mornings for PT were the worst. I’m not a morning person and the waking up sucked. I didn’t stay on campus either so I had to wake up that much earlier just to make sure I was there on time because I wasn’t about that running laps life.

After classes and the fall semester started…what was it like balancing the band, your studies, social life, etc.?

It was rough on me. I didn’t know how to balance them at all. It took me a little while to learn how balance them all because it was a different monster compared to high school.

Practice? Yeah we gotta talk about practice…what were they like and WHY were ya’ll keeping the entire campus and West Jackson woke all night? Lol

Practices were cool. They were long and repetitive most times but the people made it fun. Can’t lie some of the best times of practice was when we were marching back from the Dust Bowl we’d stop on the side of Alexander and blow the roof off for a couple songs.

You mentioned “the people” when you spoke about practice. Can you touch on the camaraderie and friendships formed?

Being around the same people from 6:00 to sometimes 12:00-1:00 in the morning you couldn’t help but build friendships. Most of the guys I had in my wedding were in the Boom or I was introduced to by someone in the Boom. The only 2 that weren’t were my brother and cousin. I think most people that were in the Boom are the same way as far as the friendships go. Like I said earlier, when you are around people for that long you can’t help but to build a friendship with them. Some people I marched with I truly look at them like a brother or sister.

The first time you marched into “The Vet” what was that like? And how did you manage to stay calm? And what was the typical game day like for you?

Honestly I don’t remember my first time marching in. After 4 years they all start running together. Game days were the best. Well, outside of the football team being trash my 1st two years and sometimes performing in front of, literally, a couple hundred people they were great. Being able to get the crowd hype during games was great to see.

If you have one, what was your favorite game/event that you marched in?

Easily the 2006 games vs Southern. It was the first time we had a “zero quarter” with them in my tenure. The stadium was packed from corner to corner. The game was great and the battle was just as good.

The last time that you marched with The Boom and what it was like?

2007 SWAC Championship. We won. That was a great day. Nothing else needs to be said really lol we enjoyed that night.

What is it like now seeing The Boom when you attend events?

It’s cool. The difference from watching them when I was in high school to now is crazy. In high school I didn’t understand all the hard work it took to put the product on the field and in the stands. Now that I’m out I appreciate it even more seeing the younger kids keeping up the proud tradition.

Could you sense the “tradition” from the beginning or was it something that developed over time and after leaving the band?

You could sense the tradition from day one! The first piece of music that was passed out at band camp outside of the marches was “Get Ready”. Growing up in Jackson I had played the song before but I had never played it the “Boom” way so to speak lol. That’s when it hit me. The ultimate sense of tradition came Homecoming week, though. That’s the week it seems every “old head” comes out the woodworks. The entire sideline is full of old band members. That’s when you realize this is a family. A huge, crazy family but a family nonetheless.

Any words of encouragement or advice for young musicians?

Practice, practice, practice! Stay focused on your task and be an inspiration for the younger kids that are looking at you. DO THE PROGRAM RIGHT! Most of all, Love Da Boom!

1. http://www.jsums.edu/music/sonic-boom-of-the-south/

2. http://myjsutv.com/?p=2329

The Sonic Boom of the South, Interview 1