MORRO BAY – Richard Gallegos is bringing a fresh energy to the non-profit, all volunteer White Caps Community Band as the youngest member in the music group’s history. His white cap is an actual hat, rather than white hair, which he pairs with some blue sunglasses his bandmates gave him. It may take him a while to earn those white hairs. The President is 26-years-young.
Since Gallegos became president of the White Caps, he’s been bringing the band into the 21st century by starting a White Caps page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He is preparing a modern playlist to jazz up some of the next White Caps gigs. And to give back to the community, Gallegos is working on setting up music scholarships in the name of the White Caps founder Ed Smith.
“I’ve been playing the trombone for 13 years,” Gallegos said. He has been playing with the White Caps since he was a student at Morro Bay High School. “It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had,” he kids, but he sincerely considers the nine years he’s been playing with the White Caps an honor. “I’ve been the youngest member for that long too.” The band did indeed have a couple of eighth graders join the group for stints, but Gallegos has always shown a solid commitment. Lately he’s been making connections with local businesses about having the band play at their establishments.
“It’s also a big responsibility because I’m the only trombone player for the White Caps. So if I’m out, they don’t have that low brass,” he said.
Gallegos became the band’s president in June of this year. The volunteer membership is about 10-15 players, but in some years the band has had as many as 40 musicians.
Gallegos is on the path of becoming an elementary school teacher, and is student teaching a fourth/fifth grade combo class at Lillian Larsen Elementary in San Miguel. He has earned a degree from Cal Poly in psychology and child development, but his journey wasn’t as easy as his jovial personality might appear. Three years ago his dear 11-year-old younger brother Mike passed away in a drowning accident at Star Farms. The tragedy struck Gallegos and his family hard, and Cal Poly allowed him to take the quarter off. When he came back to school, he vowed to devote his life to making a difference to children.
“Man, I miss that little guy so much, but to be honest, he is the number one reason why I’m in a classroom,” he said. Gallegos said his fellow White Caps came to his brother’s Day of Remembrance to play. They wanted to play their respects for Gallegos, but they also knew his little brother. With the help of Gallegos, Mike had been practicing to be a White Caps drummer. “He could keep up a beat,” Gallegos said. “And I know how hard it is to keep up a beat.”
The Morro Bay White Caps have been around for longer than 30 years, a group formed for both amateur and professional musicians to play fundraising events and non-political gatherings. The group took a little month-long break last month, a suggestions Gallegos thought might re-energize a group that has never taken a break before, and is now back practicing for the Morro Bay downtown Halloween parade, where they will be set up in front of Grandma’s Frozen Yogurt & Waffle Shop. Gallegos had fun with the line-up. He choose some modern, artistic songs to challenge the band, and also some songs children would recognize. As the White Caps prepare for the parade, they are rehearsing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “This is Halloween” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” as well as “Ghost Riders in the Sky” from “Ghost Rider.”
“We have a diversity of musicians who come and play with the White Caps because we’re a community band,” said Gallegos. “We’re not just a brass band. We’re not just a woodwinds band.”
Right now they welcome all musicians, composers and directors. They have a vacant director/conductor position, as Carol Johnston just retired. Gallegos mentioned how much he loved Johnson’s quick wit and sharp intellect. He knows she will come and help in pinch.
Gallegos humbly admits he can also play the trumpet, piano, drums, banjo and flute. Like many of his bandmates, he plays for other bands as well. He plays trombone in the Mudskippers Dixieland Jazz Band, a band which actually led him to the White Caps.
In 2008, his father introduced him to the Mudskippers, a band he enjoyed listening to at the Pizza Port. The leader of the Mudskippers, Gil Delcid, invited the young Gallegos to bring his trombone to play with them. Gallegos would see the White Caps practicing after the Mudskippers, and so he began to stay longer and practice with them too.
He remembered how the White Caps used to be larger in size. “We ad some really nice musicians. Some of them would give me some of their old music and say, ‘Here, you can have this because I’m not gonna need it anymore. Because in five or six years I’m gonna be six feet under,” he laughed. Gallegos considers himself an older 26-year-old. He may be full of energy and devotion to teaching and leading a band, but he has the demeanor of a person who takes his time, appreciates artistry and mastery, and cares about his fellow bandmates and community. He worries about their health. He encourages them and gives them pep talks. He thinks playing for free as volunteers builds character. And he tries to bring a fresh perspective to their mission.
The band’s founder, Ed Smith, passed away two months ago. “He was such a great guy. I remember he would come by. He would listen to us way back when, and he would direct a couple marches. And then he would bow out and let the band do their thing. Nice of him to do that.”
In Smith’s name, Gallegos is working on setting up White Cap scholarships. Any student of any age who plays with the White Caps may apply. He said he would like to offer letters of recommendation for the students as well, because he said he knows firsthand how helpful those letters can be for young people getting a start in the work world.
The White Caps rehearse at the Morro Bay Community Center, 1001 Kennedy Way and the Veteran’s Building, Morro Bay on 209 Surf Street. According to David Farber, Morro Bay White Caps Vice President, the band would like to see more musicians join their group, retired or not. If interested in joining or would like to find out about upcoming concerts, please email David Farber at: [email protected].
You may contact Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.
*Corrections: The original article wrongly stated that Gallegos was the only non-retired member. There are more than a few musicians in the band who are still employed. Carol Johnston's name was also spelled incorrectly and has been corrected.