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Mustang Band History

From the Autobiography of Volney Cyrus (Cy) Barcus
Transcribed by Barbara Jane Barcus from the original manuscript

This is a partial transcription of a taped interview with Cy Barcus in the 1980s. It was transcribed by his daughter, Barbara Jane Barcus. He spoke on many subjects of his life with the Mustang Band—and the rest of his very full life. As with all transcripts, there might be some problems with continuity. This is because we all speak differently than we write.

Listen to the full recording, ending with a vintage 1928 jazz rendition of 'Peruna'. (with introduction from March 12, 2013).

Cy Barcus with Peruna I

Cy Barcus with Peruna I

When I came to Dallas to apply for Director of the SMU band, I contacted Dr. H.M. Whaling in his cubby hole next door to Dr. Selecman's office. I guess I made a pretty good "selling job' in my interview because I got the place.  I was just twenty years of age.

I remember I envisioned the band maybe ridin' on horses-maybe­mustangs-like the Culver Black Horse Troop. I had directed the band at Southwestern University; played solo cornet in the then-known and famous Old Grey Mare Band and was known to be a good "cornetist".

I had not been here a week until learned to my horror and disappointment -there was NO Mustang Band as such.  It had been composed of only a few students who were in SMU, but "outsiders"; Highland Park High School students, "Alums" and others who "got together to get in" to see the football games.

The band uniforms were in sad disrepair. They looked like they might be uniforms in a third rate circus: red hussar type, white poorly fitting hot flannel pants with faded red stripe leggings, blue coat with flaming red cape like a bull fighter's cape in Mexico and high awkward looking hats; and the  guys couldn't play- and I often said, "America in the Key of C with a week's notice!" It didn't take long to discover the causes of the problem:

The "no status" rating of the band, the high school students  and "ringers" and the type of music they tried to play.  The repertoire had such marches as "Ringling Bros. Circus March" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" and others which were all too difficult for their ability. Fortunately I hit upon a good happy, popular solution!

Victor Hugo once said, "Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come". This was "the time" of the "Gay 20's",  raccoon coats, flappers, bell bottom pants, the roarin' twenties, the early part of the jazz age. I remember distinctively when it started: The Jazz age, in 1914...

But the band, such as it was, had no ability as such-"no status"-it literally was in disrepute-considered by most students as a hopeless  joke-  sounds pretty bad, and it was- and was I desperate!

My immediate effort/problem was to get those students who were in SMU to play in the band.  It seemed to them to be a hopeless situation. Everybody I talked to said, "Oh, I don't have time (or inclination)". "I can't." "I won't". "Excuse  me". "I'm sorry."

Mustang Band sweater

I am a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity. I was initiated in Zi Chapter at Southwestern University in 1923.  Here at SMU at the KA House were two fine  musicians. "Red" Mills, son of Dr. J.W. Mills, leading minister of the Texas Conference and his dance-band friend, Raymond Jasper-a "hot" trumpet player who could really "go to town" on a hot chorus.  Mrs. Morefield, our housemother, was at the piano.  They played all the latest popular dance tunes.  I said to them, "You fellows!  We need for you to help SMU develop a fine band."  They replied, "We can't play this style of music in a brass band.  It doesn't have the rhythm- the beat" - (a dance band swing).

So I made them a sporting proposition: "If I can get swing band-get the rhythm-get a dance band swing, will you play with us?"  They agreed that they would!! So I got busy to try to develop a "Swing Rhythm".  I went down to the roof of the Baker Hotel and studied "the beat".  The secret of dance band rhythm"'

I saw that the "military" brass band music accents to 1 &  3 -the first beat of each 4/4 measure and the third.  Example: "left right", "left right"-1-3.  The dance band accents the two and four beat.  It now seems very simple, very obvious now but no brass band had ever  played "it" that way! Nobody back there then in 1924 had ever tried to get that kind of rhythm for a marching band.

I worked a week-every afternoon-with the drums, cymbals, brass horns and metalaphones- Learning to ACCENT the 2 & 4- instead of 1 & 3.  The cymbals were held close together, and developed a "slap beat"-(after beat)­ the snare drums beat in rhythmic style-2&4 and cut the "licky-dick-dick" fancy stuff. Then I brought the other instruments of the  band in.

There was a popular little ditty. "She'll be comin' round the  mountain when she comes." It had a simple melody easy to improvise or "Swing".

There was a popular "energy tonic" like Geratol called Peruna. So put the two ideas together - Peruna for pep: then "Comin' round the mountain" for music. "She'll be loaded with Peruna when she comes!"

We went to the first football game of the season- (1924) As  I remember it we were playing Southwestern University.  Anyway, when we played that "dance band rhythm swing: the first time, it electrified the crowd!! I remember when a football play started on the far side of the stadium where the band and student body were sitting, the  play came through and the left end came across the field and stopped right in front of where we were seated.  Both teams, the  officials and entire student body cheered! That was the beginning of Jazz in SMU!!

Other Southwest Conference schools immediately began copying the "jazz style" (I called it MY style).  Rice began playing "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet with Blue Ribbons on it and Hitch  Old Dobbin to the Sleigh".  TCU got in the act -but none of them then or today have ever been able to "get the sound", Example: Other bottle drinks have never been able to get the secret of "The Coca Cola" taste.

After the first appearance at that first game the band immediately became popular and from then on it was no problem to get men to play. That is the way it all started, and for sixty years-(it hardly seems that long), the same style, the same tune, the same "Idea", yes MY idea-haven't changed. Tho' it has been "refined" and sometimes today-sometimes it isn't as good (soul appealing) as then--! I think!

I am impressed today that they still use the flutter tongue introduction to Peruna - the way that I started it. - - -Many times I couldn't get the band's attention so I took my long model cornet and gave the "flutter" to get attention- and then when all were ready- "we played".

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