Purdue Big Bass Drum
The Purdue Big Bass Drum is a percussion instrument played by the All-American Marching Band of Purdue University. At a height of over ten feet (three meters) when the carriage is included, it is branded by Purdue as the "World's Largest Drum." Since its inception, it has become a lasting symbol of the marching band as well as the university. The drum can be seen at all home football games as well as parades, alumni rallies, the Indianapolis 500 Race, and many other special events.
The drum stands approximately ten feet high on its carriage. Purdue is reluctant to disclose the exact measurements of the drum. Many of the original components, the carriage, axle, wheels, and wood shell of the drum are all intact and well preserved. Since its trip to Ireland with the "All-American" Marching Band in the spring of 2013, the drum has been remastered with new paint and select new parts to replace ones damaged on the trip. The carriage is built upon a Ford Model T back axle and wheelbase. The rims are steel wire spoke rims common during the 1910s in the racing circuit.
The drum is handled by a crew of four chrome-helmeted bandsmen, who are selected for their strength and agility, along with two beaters. They painstakingly rehearse every movement of the "Monster" drum to assure its being in the right place at the right time in accordance with the precise timing necessary for the fast-paced shows presented by the "All-American" Band.
In 1921, Purdue Marching Band Director Spotts Emrick commissioned the Leedy Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, to produce a massive bass drum (cost: $911.12). Other bands were trying to make large drums at the time, but most could only achieve a diameter of about four feet. The main constraints included finding cattle skins large enough to use for drum heads, and carrying the drum both during and in between performances. After months of searching, Leedy's suppliers solved the first problem by finding steers weighing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds each, which are said to have been from Argentina. These large heads put a great strain on the shell, requiring special reinforcement rods to be designed. While other marching bands had tried having two people work together to move their large drums along the football field, Emrick and Leedy decided to use a wheeled carriage. After contacting Jesse Lemon of the New York Central Railroad, Emrick was able to find a baggage car with a door large enough to accommodate the Monster.
The Purdue Drum's first football game was at the University of Chicago, whose band members immediately contacted Conn asking for an even larger drum. The resulting instrument was completed the following year and later sold to the University of Texas at Austin where it was nicknamed "Big Bertha."
The drum was refurbished in 1937 when the natural wood finish was replaced by an old gold diamond pattern and several inches were added to the drum's size. With the arrival of World War II, the Big Bass Drum was put into storage as the materials required such as animal skin drum heads and rubber tires were not supportive of the war effort. By the time Al Wright became Purdue's director of bands in 1954, the Big Bass Drum had been neglected after years of damage in storage. Wright had the drum repaired and once again made it a centerpiece of the marching band. Because large cattle were much rarer than they were when the drum was built, Remo began making Mylar drum heads for Purdue in the early 1960s. These synthetic heads can be changed frequently.
While the drum may have been the world's largest in overall size at the time it was constructed, other drums have claimed the title of world's largest, such as the Millennium Drum. However, no official comparative measurement has ever been made. In 1961, the University of Texas and Purdue University chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary band fraternity, pledged to bring their drums to the national convention in Wichita, Kansas for a direct comparison; however, only Purdue showed up.
As it stands the Purdue Big Bass Drum is the largest free standing bass drum of its kind with no support bars inside of the drum.
Spinning in the Block P
In 1907 the Purdue All-American Marching Band was the first marching band to break ranks and form a block letter on the field. During the pregame show, the drum is positioned in the 'P' formed by the marching band and spins while the band plays "Hail Purdue!".
Being part of the official band of the Indianapolis 500, the drum can be seen on the back of a pickup truck driven around the track.
When Purdue scores, the drum crew can occasionally be seen performing aerials in the Southeast endzone of Ross–Ade Stadium. This is accomplished by first removing the 'third' wheel, which acts as kick stand. Two crew members pull down of the back of the drum as two other members are lifted on the front bar of the carriage, while performing acrobatic stunts, such as spinning on the bar, horizontal holds, and one handed balancing.
Drum crew members perform push-ups each time the Purdue Boilermakers score a touchdown. The push-ups correspond to the total score achieved at that point by the Purdue football team. The push-up tradition was started by Eric Stankiewicz in 1994.
Another tradition is for celebrities to sign the drum head, and old autographed heads are kept in the Bands Department. The head was signed by US President Harry Truman in 1961. Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn signed his name to the drum before a concert at Purdue University in 1995. Other signatures include astronauts Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong as well as Snoop Dogg and the Kodo Drummers of Japan. The inside of the drum is filled with names of previous drum crew members. Through two air expansion holes in the side of the drum, one can easily spot the names.
Every fall during the week of camp, training occurs. The potential crew is put through a series of physical and public relations tests to determine if they suit the characteristics needed to be on the crew. Physical tests include: 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, a 1.5-mile road course, a 100-meter dash, and a 400-meter run. Each test has a perfect score for which members aim. A series of questions are asked to the crew to see how they would respond in certain situations because during a year many types of situations can occur ranging from talking with celebrities, rowdy fans, and senior citizens. Each takes a certain adaptation that a crew member needs to make. Questions also include history of and other important facts of the drum such as its size and original cost. Thursday of camp the crew scales the stairs of Ross-Ade Stadium for one final run in the blistering sun of an Indiana August.
- Cook, Rob (1993). "Bass Drums Become Big and Bigger!". The Complete History of the Leedy Drum Company. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 79–85. ISBN 978-0-931759-74-1. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
- "Purdue Has World's Largest Bass Drum". Popular Science Monthly (Bonnier Corporation) 99 (6): 71. December 1921. ISSN 0161-7370. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
- "Purdue's Big Bass Drum makes long-awaited return to Chicago". Purdue University News Service. 2002-07-02. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
- Norberg, John (1987). Hail Purdue. The "ALL-AMERICAN" Band Club. p. 29. ISBN 0-9617991-0-2.
- Purdue All-American Marching Band
- Video featuring Purdue's World's Largest Drum
- History of the "Big Bass Drum"