Our Iowa Heritage: Tom Davis – Our Musical Mom.

As a long-time Hawkeye, graduating from Iowa in 1973 with a Bachelor of Music degree (yes, I got a BM), I will often mention my admiration of Tom Davis. Almost immediately, the person with whom I’m chatting will respond, “Ahhh, yes . . . Tom Davis . . . wasn’t he a great basketball coach?”

Iowa basketball coach Tom Davis (1986-1999) – yet another fine Hawkeye Tom.

At such time, I quickly retort, “No. No. I mean the real Tom Davis. The musician. The jazz percussionist. The music arranger. Our Hawkeye Marching Band director when I was in school. Mom!”

It’s at that point, most folks go silent, or simply say, “Who? or What?”

So, in response to all of that unawareness and uneasy-ness, allow me to give a big tip of the old hat to the real Tom Davis.

Hats Off To Tom Davis . . . we, in the Hawkeye Marching Band, all affectionately called . . . “Mom.”

Yup, that’s the real Tom Davis (above left) . . . or should I say Mom?

And that’s me (above right), your humble writer, second one in on the left, waiting for Mom to give his hand signal from the sidelines to the bass drummer that it’s time for The Boom. Click here to read more about The Hawkeye Marching Band, and the origination of The Boom.

And, here are some of Mom’s kids…The Hawkeye Marching Band – The 1968-1972 edition.

Yup. we made a big impression on campus during those years. In truth, Hawkeye fans clapped more for the HMB than they did for the hapless Hawkeyes. Over my four years at Iowa (1969-1973), the football team went thru two coaches (Ray Nagel and Frank Lauterbur) and one athletic director (Forest Evashevski), while racking up a very unimpressive won-loss record of 12-28-2. In my era of Big Ten football, only the champion went to a bowl game (The Rose), so in the band, the joke was if Iowa ever went bowling during our tenure, it would be The Toilet Bowl!

Tom Davis – Bio of One Magnificent Musician.

Thomas L. Davis was born to Orville and Arlie Davis on April 21, 1931 in Casper, Wyoming. Throughout his high school years, he remained active in music, graduating from Natrona County High School in 1949 and subsequently enrolling at Northwestern University (my wife’s alma mater) in Evanston, Illinois, where he began his pursuit of a degree in music.

After one year, Davis enlisted in the United States Navy, attending basic training at the Armed Forces School of Music in Washington, D.C., and then serving two years as part of the 7th Fleet Admiral’s Band in Sasebo, Japan. Davis remained overseas through the end of the Korean War, receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1955. Tom then returned to Northwestern to resume his studies (a percussion major), and with fellow student, Dick Schory, they founded one of the first collegiate percussion ensembles in the country – The Northwestern Percussion Ensemble. As a member, Tom became a successful recording artist for RCA and was touring the country while still studying at N.U.

Tom & Pat Davis Come to Iowa City.

In 1957, Tom completed his Bachelor of Music degree and added on a Master of Music degree the following year. After graduation, Mom had a difficult decision to make. He was offered a nice position with one of Chicago’s top radio orchestras, but Himie Voxman, the chair of the School of Music at Iowa, also invited Tom to come to Iowa City as the first Professor of Percussion at S.U.I.

Tom Davis & Fred Ebbs – HMB’s team of the late 50’s and 1960’s.

Fortunately for all of us, Mom said yes, accepting the position and moving himself and his wife, Pat, in 1958, to Iowa for what they both thought would be a gig of “a couple of years.” Davis, not surprisingly, grew the SUI percussion program to such a degree that by his second year, he had enough students to form the Concert Percussion Ensemble. In addition to his duties as Professor of Percussion, Tom also served as Assistant Director of Bands to Frederick Ebbs, which allowed him plenty of opportunity to co-lead the Hawkeye Marching Band, including writing drills and arranging music, something he’d done a lot of during his days at Northwestern.

Read more about Iowans who were great bandsmen – like Karl L. King, Iowa’s March King.

HMB’s team for the late 60’s and early 70’s – Frank Piersol and Tom Davis.

When Frank Piersol replaced Ebbs as Director of Bands in 1967, Davis continued in his role as Assistant Director for one more year and was then promoted to Associate Director of Bands and Director of the HMB in 1968, staying in that role through the 1972-73 school year.

The Golden Age of HMB.

Now, I know others might see it differently, but from my seat on the bench, my fellow bandsmen from those days (1968-1973) and I all believe that the Tom Davis-era was the Golden Age of the HMB! And the main reason we say this is because no other generation of HMB had Tom Davis writing some of the best band arrangements ever put down on staff paper.

The School of Music records show that Mom started arranging in 1960, putting together the music for several themed shows, including “The Licorice Stick Story” (featuring guest clarinetist Robert Lowry), “Holiday in Paris,”“Southern Exposure,” and “Musical Highlights of the Fabulous Fifties.”

Over the next twelve years, Mom turned out one winner after another, including “Spinning Wheel,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “MacArthur Park,” “Godfather,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Warhorse Overture.”

You gotta love “The Warhorse Overture” – A Tom Davis classic. Time: 3:44 Enjoy!

Hey Mom – Hey Jude.

But, let’s face it – the one arrangement that has had the greatest impact over time is Tom’s unique rendition of the 1968 Beatles hit “Hey Jude.” Davis provided a unique twist in his work by using the band to sing the tune’s memorable chorus while gradually adding different instrumental sections as the song moved steadily toward the big ending. The HMB band premiered Mom’s arrangement at the Iowa-Michigan State football game on October 25,1969, and I was there. I recall that all of us enjoyed practicing the tune that week, but we were all blown away when we saw the amazing crowd response as we went into the chorus.

I think we even got a handful of Spartan fans sitting in Iowa Stadium to sing along with us that day as well! And as the saying goes…the rest is history. Mom’s “Jude” has now become a traditional Hawkeye favorite, played by the HMB between the third and fourth quarters of every home football game ever since!

Give “Hey Jude” a listen and just try not to sing along on the chorus! Time: 2:37 Enjoy!

The HMB Drum Cadence.

Keep in mind that while Mom was an amazing music arranger, he was an even better percussionist. Now, as a band director myself, I want to tell those who might not be familiar with the term, percussionist, it means much more than just a drummer. A percussionist is one who can play every instrument in the percussion family; from a snare drum to a triangle, from bell chimes to tympani, from a bass drum to the marimba. Mom could not only play these instruments well, he mastered them.

Early in his tenure, Davis introduced to the HMB what is known as “The Series” – a string of drum & percussion cadences to be used in parade marching, and performed generally without stopping. “The Series” was uniquely designed to be about ten minutes in length and was always used as our marching cadence when the band transitioned from the old Field House Armory, where we always did a pre-game concert, to the stadium. The Series also appeared as the opening cut on our 1970 LP (album), becoming both a band and crowd favorite even to today.

Give “The Series” a listen. On our album it’s entitled “On to the Stadium” and includes “The Boom,” and our pre-game lineup of “On Iowa” and “The Iowa Fight Song.” If this doesn’t get you ready for Iowa football, you must not be a true Hawkeye! Time: 6:29 – Enjoy!

The HMB Uniforms & Marching Herky.

Click here to read more about the long history of The Hawkeye Marching Band.

By the end of the 1960s, the HMB uniforms that were designed by Fred Ebbs (mid-1950’s) were starting to show signs of wear and tear. So, in the early 1970’s, the HMB sported a new look. Although similar to the previous ones, the new uniforms had three distinct differences. First, Davis changed the pant color from navy blue to black, next, the script “Hawkeye Marching Band” on the sleeves was removed, and finally, the word “IOWA” on the breastplate was replaced with the new official mascot of the HMB, “Marching Herky.”

Mom’s Sense of Humor.

One thing you must understand about Tom Davis. He had an amazing sense of humor – dry and unsuspecting, but definitely amazing!

In October 1971, the HMB traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana, to perform at the Iowa vs. Purdue football game. The Purdue University “All American” Marching Band was known for its “World’s Largest Bass Drum.” Mom certainly did not want to be upstaged by the Purdue band, so he contacted a local manufacturer in Iowa City and had them fashion a two-foot steel triangle that could be used in the upcoming performance. He dubbed this behemoth the “World’s Largest Marching Triangle.” According to reports, this instrument still resides in The University of Iowa Percussion Studio’s collection! :0)

Tom Davis – 38 Years at Iowa – Winding Down.

These two great Tom Davis pics come from the website of percussionist Dan Moore. Dan is pictured here with Mom in 2009.

After the 1972 season, Davis stepped down as Director of the HMB. In the early 1970s, he helped to pioneer The University of Iowa Jazz Studies program, and in 1973, he began the Iowa Alumni Band, for which he served as director for thirty years. He continued to serve the University as Director of Percussion until his retirement in 1996, upon which thirty-eight years of alumni honored Mom by creating an endowed scholarship, which Davis requested be awarded to percussion majors. Contributions to The Thomas L. Davis Percussion Award can be made through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Thomas L. (Tom) Davis passed away on November 12, 2011, at the age of 80, in Iowa City. In June 2012, Davis’ wife, Pat, donated all of the arrangements Tom wrote for the Hawkeye Marching Band to The University of Iowa Bands.

Here’s an MJB arrangement for the HMB used during the 1972 football season, my senior year at Iowa.

Quite honestly, I’ve never been around a more talented, more inspiring leader than Tom Davis. An amazing jazz percussionist, this guy could conjure up a marching band arrangement that not only was musically solid, but it always had a bit of fun in it as well. When you were around Mom, you knew he expected the best from you, but he also wanted all of us to never take ourselves too seriously. I had the honor of working with him on some arrangements my senior year (1972), and I still consider it a real honor to work with this music master.

Thanks, Mom – you were the best! Godspeed!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

History – Hawkeye Marching Band, University of Iowa

Thomas L. Davis (1968-1973) – On Iowa! A history of The University of Iowa Marching Band, 1881-2012, Samuel Carter Biggers Jr., Iowa Research OnLine, Spring 2013, pp 119-135

Hawkeye Band Pics, Tom Leslie, Drum Major, HMB

Thomas L. Davis – Obituary, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 15, 2011

Thomas L. (Tom) Davis, Dan Moore

Tom Davis – 2012, Jazz Educators of Iowa

Thomas L. Davis, Find-A-Grave

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