Gary Locke shakes the system

Update: November 5, 2015 | Written by Lawrence Manns

The men that can say that they crafted an enduring legacy for themselves from scratch, are few and far between. At Riverside City College, we have a person that has not only made a name for himself, but for the college and the entire city of Riverside as well.

Gary Locke is leaving his position the director and founder of the RCC marching tigers at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 marching season, after 32 years of serving the college, the city, and the marching arts around the world.

Locke graduated from the University of Redlands with two degrees in music education and percussion studies. He moved into a job at Banning High school, and taught there for seven years.

Later, he moved to teaching at John North high school for five years. During his tenure at John North, RCC instated a new president, the former president of Long Beach City College, Dr. Charles Kane.

Kane was a former musician, and noticed that there was not a performance component to RCC’s numerous sports teams. Wanting something for the games, he formed a committee that was in charge of filling the time in between the different stages of the game.

One of the solutions was to install a marching band at the college. In order to explore the option, this committee contacted Locke in the spring of 1984.

He remembers, “At a meeting, there was a blank sheet of paper, and they said, ‘start talking.’ So, I began listing everything that a marching band needs, uniforms, equipment, all that.

After all the planning and interviews, I was hired in the fall of 1984.”

The college found their man to execute their vision of a marching band. “They told me that the band’s purpose was to be the visible classroom of RCC.

The idea was if someone clueless about the college or the city, they could see us and go, ‘Hey that was pretty alright. I wonder what the college is like.”

The other objective for the band was to keep RCC as a leader among community colleges, and to display the spirit of forward thinking that RCC is about.

When Locke came to RCC, he had nothing to work with. The first step was to establish a base of students to be in the band.

They held two barbeques, where students could learn about the band and get their bellies filled.

Each one had about 80 students in attendance. Things were looking up until the first band camp, where there were only 16 students in attendance.

“That night, driving home to Redlands, I wanted to be ill.” His program at John North had 170 students and performed in the events of successful bands like the Rose Parade.

“I wanted to just pull off the road and say, ‘What have I done?’ I was in a college program, with no kids, no instruments, nothing to say, ‘Here’s why you should come.”

The students recruited aggressively. At the first football game, there were 56 students.

In the fall of 1989, they were invited to their first Rose Parade. College invitations are rare, and RCC’s entry was a rigmarole of paperwork.

At the time, they were in competition with Pasadena City College and had an uncontested 11-time victory streak.

“They asked their director if it was alright to invite us and he said, ‘Sure, as long as Gary knows it’s not a competition” According to Locke, the first five years were the most difficult.

In his 32 years of direction, the band has appeared in movies, television shows, commercials, and has performed in major events around the world. He explains the band’s success as the progression excellence. Whenever the band performed or rehearsed, he always looked for ways to improve.

“The two, four letter secrets to success are hard work. In our students words, don’t suck.” Locke’s goals were always to find fresh ways to engage the audience with humor, unconventional themes, and electrifying performances.

“The magic happens when we trust each other and care about it. You don’t need to have the same last name to be in a family.”

After Locke leaves his post in June, he will be working with his production company in Britain, producing major shows, and go back to adjudicating shows, taking a break from directing.

The District has shown interest in keeping the band going, and Locke hopes they can find a way to keep the tigers marching.

As for the help along the way, he thanks the college and district and the ASRCC for all the support through the years.

In his words, “ The best is yet to come.”

CORRECTION: In the Nov. 5 print edition of Viewpoints, it is stated that the story was written by Brooke Cary. The story was written by Lawrence Manns.