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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tommy Walker (1922-86)

Thomas Luttgen Walker was born November 8, 1922, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was band director Vesey Walker (1893-1977), who became the leader of the Disneyland Band at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  His father, also a musician (cornet player), was born in England and came to America in 1913 "because of all the wonderful bands." He would become the instrumental music supervisor of the public schools in Milwaukee and helped organize 30 high school bands. In 1930, he was the band director at Marquette University. This is all very important because his son Tommy was a part of all of that. On the weekends, Tommy played trumpet with the American Legion band that his father led in 1936. Vesey Walker moved to Los Angeles shortly after this and helped organize several bands in Southern California, including the Topper Band, originally made up of members of the Elks Lodge of Whittier. The Topper Band was a regular part of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California for over 30 years. 

Tommy graduated from high school in 1940 and enrolled at the University of Southern California as a music major. He had been a drum major in high school. But he was also the place kicker for the varsity football team. The band plays a very important role in the game of American football: It might be on the field two or three times in a game. At first, for the pregame. Just before the game starts, the band gets into a formation on the field and plays the Star Spangled Banner. The band might also play some kind of music to show homage to the school. The second time is the band's show in the middle of the game, called a half time show. This is where, in this 'blogger's mind, American football has soccer beat. If the game is boring, the band's perfomance makes up for all the bad stuff. Some people actually go home after half time, figuring that's all with the band. But some band's give a third perfomance on the field after the game.

In his freshman year at Southern Cal, Tommy did play trumpet in the marching band, as he did the following year. But in 1942, Tommy had gone away to be in the Navy overseas. He returned in the fall of 1946. This time, he wasn't content to just be in the band. He became the band's drum major and student director. And he went to varsity football coach Jeff Cravath (1903-53) to tell him he wanted to be the place kicker for the team AND be the band's drum major. How could he do that?

Tommy was the absolute master showman. He would sit on the bench during the game wearing a helmet (they didn't have face guards then) with no pads underneath (this was legal for kickers at that time; today NCAA rules mandate protection for all players). Just before half time, unless he had to kick the ball, he would slowly move toward the band and make a big production, changing from a football uniform to a band uniform.

One of Tommy's most notable achievements, and this is the reason why his biography appears on an OldTimeRadio website, was a six note composition that takes a little more than three second to perform--CHARGE! It was first heard in 1946 and most people heard it on the radio.

After graduating from USC in 1948, the Washington Redskins wanted to draft him as their place kicker, but he chose, instead, to become the marching band director at his alma mater. He stayed there until 1955, when he went to work at Disneyland, when it opened (father and son both went to work at the park at the same time.) As previously stated, Tommy was the master showman. He created a wonderful show for the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955. For the next eleven years, if something at Disneyland was showy, it was a Tommy Walker production! He left in 1966 to start his own production company. But, in 1960, just prior to the 17th Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, he composed a military march in honor of the games entitled, the March of the Olympians. It was definitely more complicated than Charge!

Every New Year's Day, Tommy was the drum major for the Toppers Band in the Rose Parade. During its last few years of existence, the band was made up of members from Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians in Hollywood. (Tommy was a member of Local 7 in Santa Ana.)

Tommy's production company created extravaganzas for five World's Fairs, two Presidential inaugurations, various football games, and more. He was in charge of the fireworks for the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty and the 350th anniversary of Harvard University. At the time of his death, he was executive producer of special events at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Undergoing his third series of open heart operations, Tommy Walker died  October 20, 1986, during surgery at the Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. He was survived by his wife Lucille and three daughters (Debbie, Diana, and Patty). Tommy was 63 years old. He is buried at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach, California.

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