September 14, 2004
BY NIKKI G. BANNISTER (of SU Digest)
September 14, 2004
According to Dr. Isaac “Doc” Greggs, his health is just fine.
After sustaining a fall during a pre-game drill Sept. 4, the Southern University Marching Band director became the subject of debates that have critics and fans alike asking if he has had enough.
“I am fine,” he said. “I have never felt better. I just stumbled.”
Greggs said he fell after the tip of his right sandal got entangled in asphalt where the band was practicing. He said one of the freshmen band members was “stepping over the line, when he should’ve been stepping on the line.” He then went to direct the student on the correct formation and that is when he stumbled.
He said that he went to the hospital via an ambulance after his spill for precautionary measures. His left hand was visibly swollen and he has a line of band-aids over a slew of cuts and scratches on his lower left leg. In lieu of the battle wounds, Greggs said that his is still going strong.
“The doctors (at the hospital) said that I was a little dehydrated,” said the 75-year-old Greggs. “But I feel like a horse.”
The Shreveport native said he arrived at Southern as a student in 1944 and graduated in 1948 at the tender age of 19. He then went to Chicago to pursue his graduate degree while he played music professionally.
After leaving the Windy City, he returned to Louisiana to teach. He has been on the Bluff as director, including a stint at Southern Lab, since 1969.
Greggs said he left Chicago after he realized that his “clock was ticked.” He said that he knew that there was someone who played better in Chicago, so he went where he knew he would be the best.
“And there is still no one better,” he said. “You know my motto, ‘Often imitated, but never duplicated.’”
According to Greggs, under his tutelage, the band has been to every modern nation except China and three U.S. presidential inaugural parades. He has even been bestowed the honor of honorary Louisiana state representative, senator and mayor-president of Baton Rouge.
He said that the critics who feel that he may be too old or outdated should stick to things that they know about rather than comment on his abilities.
“I’m as old as you want me to be and I’m as young as I want to be,” he said. “I have a very strong bloodline. My daddy was about 100 years old before he died. I still have at least 20 years to go. I am still going out there and I am light-years ahead of every band out there.”
Greggs also defended his rationale of having a band of 170 marching members. He said that the band has had up to 192 players with reserves, but at 170, “things are flowing.” He also said that people do not consider the cost of running a band.
“It’s simply too expensive,” he said. “Besides, it’s not the size of the ocean that makes you seasick, it’s the moving and the grooving and we move and groove. Other bands can have 500 on the field. They can’t outplay the band and they can’t outplay me. I don’t tell car salesmen how many cars they have to sell. Until someone can do what I do, then I will listen to the critics, but right now, there is no one.”
Not willing to back down from any challenge, Greggs said that as long as he is director, Southern will always stand tall among the nation’s bands.
“Who’s going to be close to me?” he asked. “Put them all in a bag and let the first one jump out.”
Although his band may have been on the upside, there have been a few “downs” for Greggs. In the past years, Greggs has been approached with allegations of discrimination and more recently, issues of personnel misconduct.
But for Austin Sanders, a sophomore trumpet player from Atlanta, those things did not matter. Southern was his only choice.
“I came to Southern and auditioned for Doc right in his office,” Sanderson said. “I’ve always admired him and the band, so it was an honor to play for him.”
Greggs said that alumni and other students opted to attend Southern because the band is one of the university’s best recruiting tools.
“They come for the band even if they don’t play,” he said. “When (former head football coach A.W. Mumford) left and we went through that drought, we still filled the stands because people came to see me.”
If there is ever a moment when Southern does not want to see Greggs anymore, he said that he would just take a page out of the history books and add a new twist.
“Alexander the Great said that he sat and cried when he realized that he had no more lands to conquer,” he said. “I think I’ll go and do as he did and cry on Lake Kernan behind the alumni house.”
Clearly, you can’t duplicate that.