I’m going to blow a proverbial horn today for Tom Gustin and Rex Stitsworth. After all, they’ve been tooting theirs for thousands of others the last 54 years as original members of the Circus City Festival Band.
As the 55th Peru Amateur Circus gears up, Gustin and Stitsworth will be part of the band — just as they were for the first circus — Gustin sliding sounds out of his trombone, Stitsworth producing them with the valves of his trumpet.
For Gustin, music has been his life and his livelihood. For Stitsworth, music has been his lifelong hobby.
Gustin, 71, was only 6 years old when he started to play the accordion at garden parties, fundraisers (such as the March of Dimes), birthday parties and other social events.
The oldest of four children, he was born and raised in Peru to Harold and Dorothy Gustin, both of whom worked at Delco in Kokomo.
Gustin was 12 when a trombonist in the Peru High School Marching Band impressed him. That fellow was future doctor/surgeon Dan Roberts.
“I wanted to be able to play like him,” Gustin says of the now retired Roberts, who continues to perform with the circus and is the leader of the popular Dixieland group, the “Swampwater Stompers.”
It took Gustin just 12 weeks to learn how to play the trombone from his father. Tom recalled: “Dad taught me the basics of ‘song form,’ which is A-B-A, and how to use my ear to pick up on melodies.”
That led to his first professional job at the Logansport Moose Hall in 1954. “Made $6 … wow!” he kids.
His father taught him 32 songs in those 12 weeks, Gustin said. “And then on [that] first job at the Logan Moose, he taught me two more songs, one on each 15-minute break. The actual techniques of playing the ‘bone’ I worked on myself … and with God, of course.”