There is no other musical score that gets the response that “Tiger Rag” is sure to evoke from any gathering of Clemson alumni or students. As it winds to completion you’ll see fists raised as the faithful spell out C-L-E-M-S-O, pausing to circle their fists in the air before finishing with an emphatic “N.”
It’s a song that has become synonymous with Clemson, but as with everything, there’s a story behind it.
According to Clemson historian Jerry Reel, “Tiger Rag” was first recorded in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass [sic] Band. The recording didn’t sell well, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (they had changed the spelling in late 1917), with Dominic James “Nick” La Rocca as the leader, issued a second recording in 1918.
In the fall of 1941, Dean Ross, cadet bandmaster of the Clemson Corps band, went to the athletic director’s office to discuss Clemson’s lack of a fight song. With $100 in his pocket to make it happen, Ross hitchhiked to Atlanta with another cadet to look for music for the band. They purchased the band score of “Tiger Rag” for $1.50 from the Old Southern Music Company and brought it back to Clemson. The band quickly learned the music and played it after every touch-down for the 1942 season. According to Ross, “cadets warmed up slowly to the tune.”
The tradition stuck, and now, with the addition in 2003 of “Tiger Fanfare” by band director Mark Spede, the band has more than nine variations on “Tiger Rag,” including “Sock it to ’Em,” “Short Rag,” “Gliss Rag,” “D Rag” and “First Down Cheer.”
Nick Peck, who began his 29-year stint as Tiger Band announcer in the 1960s, coined the introduction that has been enjoyed by fans ever since: “And now, the song that shakes the Southland — ‘Tiger Rag’!”
And when Tiger Band hits the field and begins those first few very recognizable notes, it does indeed shake the Southland, or at the very least, Death Valley.
This story has been updated since the print version with the correct name of the announcer who coined the phrase “And now, the song that shakes the Southland — ‘Tiger Rag’!” Our apologies for the error.