After a half century, George Ramsden will set aside his fire engine red night shirt and plunger baton after he leads the Rockport Firemen’s Band this Fourth of July for the final time.
Ramsden has been part of this tradition for 50 consecutive years, and he looks forward to Thursday’s parade in Rockport, before he steps down from that role.
“Apparently in 1955, a bunch of guys who were firemen — Rockport firefighters who were musicians — got together to march in funny outfits, and they called it the firemen’s band,” he recalled. That was just for one year.
Then, on sort of a whim back on a hot June afternoon in 1964, two longtime members of the Rockport Legion Band — Billy Crowell and George “Rammy” Ramsden Jr. —were having a cool drink in the Ramsdens’ living room. The late “Rammy” was George Ramsden’s father, who marched in the band even when he was 92 years old in 2007. He played saxophone and the late Crowell played trumpet.
George Ramsden said both these gentlemen played professionally in addition to working their jobs, and playing with the Legion Band — and they thought it would be fun to do it again. So they did.
“We continued the tradition of fun outfits and the name of the firemen’s band,” he said. “Along the way, it was called the Rockport Firemen’s Marching Band, and then a Gloucester reporter called it the Firemen’s Marching Clown Band — there was a certain evolution to the name.”
He talked of some of the former guest players, like the late Russell Scatterday, a drummer who, at one time, had played and marched with John Philip Sousa. Then there was Christopher Cooper, a French horn player and Rockport High graduate, who marched when he was young, then went on to play for the San Francisco Symphony.