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Chip Buck drummed up love and respect: Late Westwood Middle teacher taught way more than just music

You remember.

With its shark-tank social hierarchy, middle school (face it) isn’t a lot of fun for a lot of kids.

Unless, say, you went to Westwood Middle School and had Chip Buck’s music classes on your schedule.

Unless, say, you were in the marching band he directed and the famed “Westwood Panhandlers” steel drum band he founded — just because he knew you could do it and he knew you would like it (and besides, how are you gonna know if you don’t even give it a try?).

The kids in the Panhandlers band, in particular, were dang lucky, and they knew it.

Heck, they actually gigged on the road, performing at schools and other venues, from Niagara Falls to Indianapolis.

They logged time in a recording studio for a professionally produced CD of their tunes, and when they started signing autographs, that was it. They were golden.

When the news broke of his sudden death last week — he died in a tractor accident at his lake house and his funeral Mass was Tuesday at St. Francis — it didn’t take long for word to get out.

The testimonials and “grieving” emojis began hitting social media with the steady, insistent thrum of a drumline taking the field for the pre-game.

For Chip, however, as those students remembered, it wasn’t just about notes on a sheet to be grasped at and squeaked at, as they attempted to play an instrument for the first time.

It was about the soundtrack they were going to compose for themselves as the tune and the times took them into their adult lives.

One of those former students, LaChrisa Wilson, didn’t miss a beat as she picked up the tale.

“The last time I really got to talk to him, I can say I was happy to be able to show that the shy girl from age 9 has grown to a more confident woman,” she wrote on the tribute page for him set up by this newspaper.

Visit to read all the testimonials in their entirety.  

“He taught me not only how to hold the beat, but how to let loose,” LaChrisa continued. “Nothing like a bunch of middle-schoolers dancing down High Street for the parades …”

That was when those budding Westwood musicians showed their moms and dads and all that sidewalk humanity, that yes, they could hold the beat and let loose at the same time — because that’s how Chip taught them.

Did somebody say “drum solo?”

He taught them to play, how to really play, because he knew how to play.

The once-and-future educator of music came up as a percussionist, doing band in high school while gigging professionally on the weekends.

Behind the drum kit, Chip could lay down an in-the-pocket blues shuffle worthy of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Chip could rock it 4/4 at 150 beats per minute, just like Charlie Watts — and he could crash out a cluster of hi-hat polyrhythms, a la Art Blakey, if the chart called for it.

A mix of serious scholarship and high slapstick prevailed in his classes and rehearsals at Westwood.

He would patiently work the trombone section through the brow-furrowing logistics of actually learning how to slide up and down to the notes — and then launch into one of his signature goofy dances, if it started to get tense and un-fun.

Ain’t too proud to beg (for laughs)

The teacher, his students remembered, also wasn’t above a good-old Dad joke, tailored to a middle school sense of humor with a Detroit soul feel, after he taught them who those principal Motown players were in the first place.

Here is, perhaps, his most famous offering from that lot: “What do you do if you have a booger? You let Wilson Pickett.”

And who could forget those fall days when the Westwood band, marching up the hill by the school, broke into “I Second That Emotion,” with Chip singing loud and proud as he led the pack?

One more time

For those Westwood kids who kept up with music in their lives, they gained a mentor looking over their shoulder, even when he wasn’t physically there.

Tom “Big T” Clark took his baritone sax with him in the University High band and WVU’s Pride of West Virginia Marching Band.

There were jazz bands and concert bands in other settings, as well.

“The places I traveled and the friends and memories I made are started because of Mr. Buck,” the sax player wrote.

“I will forever remember his teaching style, patience, life lessons, and knowledge and passion for the music he shared with his students.”

Music, it was. The marching bands and concert bands under his direction were known for a repertoire that took in everything from Tchaikovsky to Tower of Power.

The Panhandlers kicked out the jams on tunes that went far beyond the background music of lilting, island lullabies.

Chip’s kids unleashed their steel drums on Chuck Berry, Otis Redding and everything else in the CD player of your granddad’s sedan.

Singing the scuffed-floor blues

“Let loose,” was the mantra.

As in, performing the tune.

Selling it, and having fun.

He wasn’t shy about getting mad, though, if he had to. Letting loose didn’t mean goofing off and disrespecting the music or the audience.

And it certainly didn’t mean trashing school property, either.

Joey Spencer got a lasting lesson there, he remembered.

He was part of the inaugural steel drum assemblage at Westwood when he and others, sporting new band shoes, decided to see who could leave the longest scuff mark down a freshly polished hallway floor.

Chip was chafed — “Mr. Buck was not pleased” — and he made the band clean every scuff on every floor in the entire school.

What began as a punishment morphed into a ritual.

“To this day, even when walking through the mall, I have to clean up a scuff mark when I see it,” Spencer wrote.

Everything was a teachable moment for the band director.

Which is why, in part, he’d hit those Andy Griffith reruns on the TV in his room during downtimes in class.

After all, the show’s bumbling deputy, Barney Fife, was portrayed by Morgantown’s own Don Knotts, a serious actor who studied drama at WVU.

And Knotts, just like a musician running scales, drilled his lines over and over as he readied for filming the next day with his script in hand.

It takes a lot hard work to make something look so easy, Chip would say.

Any old way you choose it

The kids in his bands got it, as all remembered in their tributes.

Meanwhile, as the first middle school steel band ever from the Mountain State, the Panhandlers went forth — a lot.

Those aforementioned gigs at Indy and Niagara.

Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Penn State — in the middle of a driving snow squall from high atop Mount Nittany. (Snow and all, they went out for ice cream afterward, because that was also tradition).

On the road with the Panhandlers, he reveled in watching kids, some of whom had barely ventured from Mon County at that point, taking in new sights.

He loved watching the audience reacting to the performance, with their faces smiling and their toes tapping.

Chip was especially jazzed when audiences actually approached his kids for autographs when the music was done.

During one such gig, he had to smile and nudge a Westwood parent, who had traveled as a chaperone.  

“Look at ‘em up there,” he said. “Being rock stars.”

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