By D/S Chris Minnis
Sometime in early 1984, a group gathered not-so-secretly at Nashville’s Cheekwood Estate specifically to play bagpipes. Obviously, it takes one strike-in to compromise that secret… there was nothing to hid. Those get-togethers became rehearsals and moved to the cafeteria at Hillsboro High School. Early participants by name include Steve Snoddy, Andrew McRady, Jim & Ann Black, Scott McLeod. I wonder what they were thinking? Did they have hopes of building something or were they just sharing a love for bagpipes?
Jim Black had retired to Savannah, TN after a career with the NYC Police Department that included playing pipes in the NYC Police Pipes and Drums. Jim, his wife, and kids would drive 2 hours one way to Nashville. Scott McLeod also had previous pipe band experience with the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders Pipe Band. When the group elected Jim the first Pipe Major, a pipe band was clearly the goal. Scott, even as a teenager, was the best piper and primary instructor. The players were there and getting better, but the band was incomplete without one more ingredient.
When two drummers originally from different parts of Texas, Willie Cantu (original Buck Owens and the Buckaroos drummer) and later Roy Barbee (Sonny James and the Southern Gentlemen drummer) joined the group, the Nashville Pipes & Drums were truly born. There were cheers when Roy arrived, as it meant the band had enough drummers to join the EUSPBA and compete. I think this had to be akin to welcoming the newest patient to the asylum. How did two professional musicians with no Scottish or Irish heritage come to this music? Many drummers immediately find jazz and swing in the drums scores written after World War II… Alex Duthart! but that’s a different story… Suffice to say the music was what attracted Willie and Roy and the dedication to learning a new and difficult style is what kept them.
Rehearsals moved to Woodmont Christian Church (where they remain today – we’ve enjoyed a 25+ year partnership). Uniforms were chosen to honor James Robertson (a founder of the City of Nashville) and local performances began.
Scott McLeod moved away, but Joe Miller relocated from New Jersey and joined the band. Over the years, there have been many highlight performances for the band. Members have relocated and leadership has changed. Early in the band there was some sort of split over some members wanting a “fun” band and others wanting a “good” band. Pipe bands occasionally struggle with identity. Individuals struggle with the standard a band has. Ultimately, some of the members left to join other bands. But the spark was still alive and stronger than ever. The Nashville Pipes and Drums survived and continues to this day, trying to be a “good” band. Our standard for excellence is one of our core principles.
There are many stories in a pipe band. Each member has their own, “How I Came to be in a Pipe Band” story that range from enlightenment to entrapment, Black Watch to Blackmail… The pipe bands themselves have all the things you’d expect from a family: history, family trees, favorites, and outcasts… even (not-so) dramatic returns. (your author left the band to relocate in 1997 and returned like a lost Uncle in 2015). I hope to explore some of these stories (including my own) here in the future.