Bob Brundage: Today is October 6, 2000, and today, I am in Laughlin, Nevada, and we’re talking to the latest Milestone recipient, Mr. Tony Oxendine. So, Tony, let’s get started like we usually do. Tell us where you were born and brought up and tell us a little bit about life before square dancing.
Tony Oxendine: Well, I was born in a little city in South Carolina called Sumpter. Still live there. In fact, my home now is within 10 minutes of where I’ve spent most of my childhood. We get almost anywhere you want to in Sumpter in 10 minutes. Went to school there. Went to elementary school. My brother and my sister both live relatively close. My sister lives, oh, maybe three-quarters of a mile from me. My mother who still, my father passed away about 13 years ago. My mother’s still living. She’s 83, I think, and she lives about a mile from me so I see them regularly. She’s lived in the same house since, oh man, forever, since the early ‘70s I guess. Let’s see, before I started square dancing, I went to college, like everybody else. I started, I studied the Martial Arts when I was a youngster. I started at about age of 8, I started Judo, and started Karate when I was 12. And by the time I was 15, I was teaching for a living, and I was too young to get my black belt at the time, so they, they kept me at a brown belt. I finally got my black belt when I was, the day I turned 18 I got my black belt, and I have a black belt in three styles of Karate, black belt in Judo, black belt in Jujitsu, and I’m certified at several oriental weapons. I did that for years. That’s what I did when I first started right out of high school I was teaching Karate. And I did volunteer work for the Parks and Recreation Department. I worked with teenagers and stuff at local teenage center. And that’s where I got introduced to square dancing. When I was 18 I guess it was, and started dancing as a teenager. The Parks and Recreation Department, my job, I didn’t get paid with them, but I did volunteer work, the situation, kind of whatever the kids did I had to do. You know, normally we did things like, oh, we’d take them to the lake, or we’d have bands and have dances and things. Anyway, somehow, somebody came up with the idea 1 year of square dance lessons. I don’t know how it came about, and somebody there knew a caller or a guy that danced, and he was a baker in town. And he was, actually never called. Had never taught, and, but we went and approached him, and he was just all for it. And his name was John Davis, and he came in, and we danced every day. We graduated in a month.
TO: But, but we danced, we danced every afternoon for like, I don’t know, an hour and a half or 2 hours, Monday through Friday, and we didn’t have enough girls, so I went through lessons as a girl. And didn’t, I didn’t know how to dance the boy’s part. In fact, right after we graduated, I had the cutest little girlfriend at the time. She went through lessons, and I didn’t get to dance with her. Right after we graduated, we went to a dance, Beryl Maine was calling. and we got there, and I was trying to dance with my girlfriend, well heck, I couldn’t dance because I didn’t know the boy’s part . So it wound up she found her a boy to dance with there, and I found this other girl that could dance the boy’s part and so I danced the girl’s part and this other girl danced the boy’s part. We just had a great time without each other that weekend. (Laughter.)
BB: Well, I thought Beryl was from out here. You weren’t back East then, were you?
TO: No, he - Beryl was doing a festival.
BB: I see.
TO: In South Carolina.
BB: I see.
TO: He was the first, he was the first big-name caller I ever heard.
BB: Uh, huh. He was a goodie.
TO: Oh, man, I never, I’ll never forget. He taught, his workshop figure was Cast a Shadow.
BB: All right.
TO: Now this from a kid, that, I graduated from a guy that, the guy that taught me to dance knew no patter. He didn’t know any patter at all. He just, he had learned some routines and, and so we learned how to dance some songs and so. You know, our dancing was really ragged.
BB: Right. Well, as you progressed along, who were some of the mentors that you had.
TO: Well, John Davis probably was, probably had more influence on me than anybody, because he got me started, and he did things not only for me but for the other kids that most adults wouldn’t have done. I would imagine, I guess he would have been in his 40s back then. And one of the things he did was, after I learned a couple of singing calls, and he said, I’m going to go to callers school, and I want you to go with me. So he paid for me to go to callers school. Took me with him to Promenade Hall in Indiana, and there I met Dick Jones. The school was done by Dick and Ardy Jones, Johnny Davis, Rich Shaver, and Dick Hand. And so Dick Jones was the first caller that I ever met that was really, the showy kind of guy. I saw this guy, and I thought, man, I didn’t know square dancing was like this. I’d never seen anything like it. And so I guess that of all the callers in the world, the caller that most influenced my style of calling was probably Dick Jones. In fact, my biggest, of all the big things that have happened to me, the nice things that have happened over the years, I think probably the thing that stands out the most in my calling career was two things actually, and both involved Dick Jones. I headlined a festival with him. You know my name was on the same level as him, and we did the festival together. And so I got to call with him as kind of like an equal which I was just awe struck. And 1 year I did, several years before that I did the Staten Island Round Up. And Dick and, at that time he and Ardy had split up, and he and his girlfriend were there. And I went over afterwards. He invited me over, I went over to his girlfriend’s house, and I thought, you know, you’ve got to figure now, I thought this guy was just, you know, he was just the next best thing to sliced bread. I didn’t think a thing of driving 150, 200, 250 miles on a weeknight to go hear him call and then drive back that night and go to school the next morning. Anyway, so he and I sat up that night in her hot tub eating smoked oysters and drinking beer, and we got just plowed. You just, you know, we just sloppy drunk. I couldn’t go back to my hotel room. I spent the night there. And those things, that, those two things just really stand out because I thought, and I still think, that he was probably one of the most influential callers. Not only just to me but to a lot of the other callers.
BB: Oh, yeah.
TO: Because I see, I see a lot of Dick Jones in a lot of all other callers. And some of the callers that I see Dick Jones in them, never heard him call. But they’re, they’re emulating somebody that heard Dick Jones. So, you know, even now, I listened to some tapes from him, uh, last year, I heard some tapes from dances in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and even then, you know, it, the things he could do just scary. He was.. Elmer Sheffield was another. Elmer Sheffield is, is the caller that, he got me my, um, when I first started recording on Ranch House, he’s responsible for me recording on Ranch House. Uh, he was doing a festival in Gatlinburg, and I went as a dancer, and they had a Callarama, and I did a singing call at the Callarama, and he heard me, and at that time, Darryl McMillan was looking for somebody new, and, and you know, somebody trying to get started . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: To put on his label. And Elmer came back and said, hey, I heard this guy in South Carolina and, and shortly after that, Darryl called me and, and put me on his label, and I started recording for Darryl. And that’s probably, recording on Ranch House probably is what did my career the most good because that was at a time back in the early ‘70s, uh, ’75, ’76,
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, that being on a record label really, really meant something, you know, because there weren’t that many people recording records, so that really probably launched my career as much as, as anything, in, in the early stages. Later on, uh, after I got calling, it’s - guys like Mayo and, and some of the guys, that you know, because I was wild and rambunctious for so many years. And, and those are the guys, Mayo and John K, uh, uh, Osgood, you know, I, I started looking at these guys and thinking, you know, well, I’ve been a little too wild, it’s time to calm down, but you know, those guys kind of influenced me in my later years.
BB: Um, hmmm. What other recordings have you done - labels.
TO: Let’s see. Oh, man. I started off on Ranch House, and, and I was on Ranch House from ’75, I think, until 1986, when Jerry Story and I started Royal, and we still own Royal. But I, I recorded on Blue Star, ESP, uh, I’ve done back-up vocals on, on a lot of other labels, um, you know, doing harmony work with on, on a bunch of them.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Over the years.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: I, I don’t even have any clue - Global, I wouldn’t have any clue how many labels I’ve done, at least part of a vocal on a bunch.
BB: Okay, what about, uh, week-long camps and weekends, and things like this one.
TO: Do, oh, I do a ton of these weekends.
BB: Right, yeah.
TO: Uh, you know, that’s, that’s, uh, uh, a full-time caller’s bread and butter are the weekends.
TO: You know, and you kind of use the weekdays to fill up around the weekends. Um, I do a, a lot - I met Jerry Story back in 1980. And he and I started doing a lot of weekends together. In fact, at one time, we were doing, I guess, probably at one time, we were doing 30 or 35 annual weekends together a year. And, uh, you know, and with the decline of square dancing, you know, that’s dropped down some, but I imagine I still spend probably 15, 20 weekends a year with, with Jerry. Um, I’m generally - most of my weekends are booked with something like this. Uh, I don’t have many like Fridays off or Saturdays off, um, most of my weekends are Friday, Saturday kind of engagements.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Um, except for, um, like the summertime, June, uh, I do some 1-night stuff, uh, but most of my weekends are full. I do a lot of, uh, don’t do as many of the institute weeks as I used to because dancing’s down so much and so many of them have shut down. Cope Crest has shut down . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And English Mountain has shut down. But I’ve done most of them. The only one I, I never did, I wish I could have done was, uh, I liked to have done Estes Park with Frank Lane. I was, by the time I got to where I could have done him any good, he’d already quit doing it, but, but I’ve done most the others, Fun Valley, uh, McCloud, Kirkwood. Uh, Kirkwood was just such a trip working with Flippo.
BB: You were just at Kirkwood not too long . . .
TO: I was just at Kirkwood a few weeks ago, yeah, back in September.
BB: But, uh, so, uh, what about festivals and nationals and things like that, uh.
TO: I enjoy the nationals. Uh, in fact, I’ve only missed since I started going to nationals in ’74, I don’t think I’ve missed but maybe four or five, uh, I really, really enjoy going to the nationals. That, and the nationals is a good spring board for, especially for a young caller getting started, and, and I used the nationals as a spring board. I mean when I went back in, you know, in the early ‘70s, man, when they were having 30, 40,000 people at these things, and, and, uh, you know, if you’re lucky enough to get on the after parties, you could, you could call to 10,000 people, you know, so I mean you booked it early on. I booked a lot of dances, uh, through the nationals. Nowadays, you know, I don’t book as many at the nationals any more because pretty much anybody that’s going to hire me has already heard me. Uh, but I still enjoy going. I, I enjoy, I enjoy going now. I use the time to go and, and see friends that I can, that I only see once a year. There are people that I only see at the nationals. There’s people that I only see at Callerlab. Uh, so I enjoy going and see my old friends that way. And, and I, and now I, I find that I’m, I’m getting old now, and so I’m doing more panels. You know, they, they get me to do these panels and things. So that’s, I still enjoy the nationals. About festivals, because I do so many weekends, I don’t have an opportunity to do too many festivals now. Um, and a lot of the festivals are closing up. They’re, they’re getting scary. However, I still do, um, uh, I do Bakersfield, California, which is, I think, I think Bakersfield is one of the best dancer-run festivals in the country. It’s, it’s, uh, just really well run. And, I’ve, I’ve been doing Bakersfield like every 3 years I do that. And, it’s still doing well. Um, I think they had, I think they had about 2,500 people at their dance last year, and it’s been growing for the past couple of years. Um, I’m doing, um, Silver State in Reno . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, I do that, uh, next year. I did it a few years ago. I’ve done it a couple of times. I’ve done most of the big festivals over the years.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, you know, the WASCA’s, the Golden States, a lot of the state conventions, uh, a lot of the festivals now have, have quit hiring traveling callers and have gone to using callers in their area. It’s, it’s a financial thing, you know,
TO: Because it’s not the caller’s fee as much as it is the expenses, the, the travel expenses have just gotten so outrageous.
TO: Um, it’s, uh, in fact for me to do this thing here, I didn’t fly into Vegas. I flew into, uh, St. George, Utah, because it was $300 cheaper.
BB: I’ll be darned.
TO: And, uh, yeah, and I did a dance in St. George on Thursday, but normally I fly into Vegas then drive to St. George and come back to Vegas. But it was almost $300 cheaper for me to fly into St. George and, and then drive, you know. So the airfare just, it’s tearing people up now. The airfare and, and the, and the callers’ fees really haven’t gone up that much over the years.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: If you look at what, what some of the guys were charging, uh, 30 years ago, 25 years ago, and put that in today’s dollars, we’re not charging as much as they were back then.
BB: Right. Well, you just mentioned a perfect segway and that’s Callerlab. And I know you’ve been very heavily involved in Callerlab over the years, so let’s start back at the beginning of your experience with that (laughter). Tell us a little bit about that.
TO: Oh. You know, it’s, it’s kind of weird because, um, back when, when I first started calling, you know, back when I first got active calling, Callerlab was, you know, you just couldn’t wait to be invited, you know, that was the time you had to be invited to be a member. And, uh, you know, it was like a huge honor to be invited to be in Callerlab. You know, I thought, wow, and, uh, I joined in, uh, I think ’78 was when I went in, and, uh, but that was back, you know, I was young. In ’78, I was, uh, well, I was about 25 years old, 26 years old, um, I was calling full time, I was calling, you know, at that time, I was calling 300 days a year, you know, all over the country, and, uh, and so Callerlab didn’t do me a whole lot of good. I don’t guess I didn’t call that good a whole lot that early on.
TO: You know, I went, and, and, you know, I’d come, and we’d, I’d party with my friends, and I’d miss most of the, of the panels. I didn’t go to many of the panels. I’d go to the banquets. And, uh, and I stayed in trouble. I was, I was young, impetuous, and, and I kept terrible books. And so every now and again, I would get double booked. Never intentional. Uh, you know, it would, it just happens. And, you know, and so, I’ve been turned into the ethics committee a few times, and, and so, in fact, that’s how I got to meet, uh, Jim Mayo, and uh, Bob Van Antwerp was, uh, I got, they were chairmen, they were chairmen of the ethics committee at the time, and I got turned in for one thing or another, and, and that’s how I met those guys. Gradually, like anything else, you know, you grow up, and, and you get a little older and you mature a little bit, and I, I got to thinking, and this sounds corny, but it’s the really, I take so much from square dancing over the years. I mean, it’s been so good. I’ve, it’s, it’s let me travel, it’s, it’s, it paid my way through college, it, it’s paid my kids’ way through college. And, uh, in, in trying to look for a way to put something back into it, uh, I picked, I chose Callerlab because it, it seemed to be a, the organization around that was actually trying to, to mean something. And, uh, and I saw a lot of the guys that, that I grew to respect, uh, that were involved in Callerlab. And, and, you know, they needed some people to fill in their shoes because these guys are getting tired, and they’re ready to move on, and so I started getting involved, really involved in Callerlab back, oh, I guess I started taking it seriously back in the early ‘80s, ’81, ’82, ’85, maybe. I ran for the Board of Governors, uh, in ’86, ’85 maybe, and I didn’t make it. And I was devastated. Because, you know, I thought, you know, man, I’m a big name caller, and, and I found out that don’t mean a whole lot of beans in Callerlab. And the thing is, the funny thing is, is that so many callers think that, the callers that aren’t involved in Callerlab, think that it’s just nothing but a big get together of full-time callers that sit around and, and it’s really not because the full-time callers aren’t the shakers and movers in Callerlab. And, and I didn’t find that out. Because I thought, well, yeah, I’m a full-time caller and big name, and well, heck, I didn’t get elected. And, uh, and I found out that if you’re going to get elected, you’re going to have to show people that you actually do something. You know, guys aren’t going to vote for you pretty much based on your name only. They’ve got to know that you’re going to do something, and, uh, and I wanted to help. I wanted to change things. So that’s when I started, you know, getting involved. I, I became vice chairman of, uh, of the full-time callers committee, was my first committee, I think. I was vice chairman and then I, uh, I finally got asked to do a couple of panels, and, uh, and I kind of cut my niche on the showmanship panel, they call it. I’ve done that, I don’t know how many times, uh, over the years. And, and then just gradually, I got on the board, and, um, and my first year on the board, my first meeting on the board, uh, John K and Jim Mayo took me aside and they said, hey, if you want to sit here in this meeting, you know, you’ve got to sit here and, and start taking notes and sit up and pay attention. You’re going to sit over here with us, you’re not going to sit over here and cut jokes, and, uh, you know, so I got, started getting involved with the board. Eventually, I ran for the, uh, the executive committee, and, uh, that’s really when the work begins. Because that’s, that’s, the callers, unless you’ve been on the executive committee, you have no idea of the amount of, of - and this is before, this is before E-mail and, and, even voicemail. We were writing letters, you know, back and forth to one another, send a letter in, and have the next guy tear it apart, and, uh, and, uh, our communication was either conference calls or letters. And, uh, you know, now it’s a lot easier with E-mail and everything. Anyway, eventually, uh, I got elected to, uh, vice chairman and low and behold, I got elected chairman. I would have never believed in a hundred years that I would have ever been elected chairman, and, uh, it came along, you know, at a neat time - you know, for me it was a perfect time for me. I was, you know, my kids, I’d been married, I’m married now, and I’ve got kids, and, uh, I really, really enjoyed my chairmanship, you know. That’s a ton of work. I enjoyed that. And so now I’m still on the executive committee. I can’t seem to get off. Uh, uh, but we’ve got some good, young guys coming up now, uh, which we haven’t had in the last few years. I’m finally seeing some really, uh, some hard working, new faces coming up on the board, running for the board, running for the executive committee, and, and that’s good.
BB: Who are some of them that you like.
TO: Uh, I like Tim Crawford, you know. Uh, Tim, Tim Crawford is, is very eloquent. He speaks and writes as well as, as anybody I’ve seen. Uh, Mike Jacobs. Uh, I’m really, I like, I like the work of Mike. Although he’s not young, comparatively speaking, but Larry Cole, I think, has been a great asset. Tim Mariner is back on the board now. In fact, he’s on the executive committee. And, uh, I’m glad to see him getting involved. Uh, there’s, there’s several. Um, Tommy and - Tom, Tom Miller, I think, can be a great asset if he allows himself. He, he needs to, to, um, he needs to kind of like what I did and, and separate himself from a lot of the other stuff and just get down and do his own thing. Uh, but, but I think he’ll do well. And, uh, so I’m, I’m feeling a lot better about - I was worried there for a while about who the hell we’re going to leave the Callerlab in the hands of. But, I, I really, like I said, I really like the leadership qualities. Tim Crawford impresses me a lot. Uh, Jerry Story is, is finally getting involved . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, in Callerlab, and, and he’s not making, he’s not making so many people so mad all the time. He’s finally learning how to deal with people.
TO: And, and that’s going to make him effective. He wasn’t effective before because all - he came in and just made everybody - just pissed everybody off. And, uh, while that’s good to shake and stir things up some times, it doesn’t make you a really good leader if nobody likes you. You know, people have to like you. If you’re going to be a leader, uh, some people have to like you. You can’t make everybody mad at you. And, and he’s learning that now. And he’ll be a good asset to Callerlab. Um, and then some other guy - uh, Vernon Jones is running for the Board of Governors this time, and Vern and I, uh, Vernon is chairman of the, uh, caller liaison committee. Hard worker. I’m really glad to see him getting involved. He’s Jon’s son, but he’s come upon his own now. He’s, he’s no longer Jon Jones’ son. He’s, he’s Vernon Jones . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And Jon may have to go around here not very long and have to say his Vernon Jones’ daddy, you know . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And, uh, so, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m feeling a lot better about the hands that Callerlab come in. Jerry Reed, uh, is doing a really good job.
TO: I’m really - got the new office going on in Florida . . .
TO: Um, and he’s got a handle on everything finally, you know, he’s, he’s gotten away from, from George’s shadow finally . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And, uh, and George, you know, everybody gave George a hard time, but George was good for the organization. He came along at a really good time, um, you know, the transition. It’s really tough. That, the transition when you’re losing an executive secretary and move from one to the other. That’s tough. And that’s where Jerry really had it tough because he kind of had it just thrown at him when George got so ill.
TO: So, anyway, but I feel, I feel good about the direction of Callerlab’s going now. I feel, feel good.
BB: Well, that’s great. Um, let’s get away from - I wanted to ask you back earlier, uh, do you have any kind of a home program?
TO: No. See that’s the problem. I, I - up until a few years ago, up until, uh, about 3 years ago, I had a club that we danced when I was in town. Um, that kind of deal. We danced on Tuesday nights. We danced the Tuesdays that I, I could call, and, uh, I started those guys back in, uh, 1980 . . .
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And, uh, so I called for them almost 20 years before we, before uh, I had to quit. And the reason I had to quit those guys - we were successful. The club was doing well, but it was a hundred miles from home, one way. And, and now I’m at the point, you know, I’ve got kids in school. I’m getting up at 6:30 in the morning, and that’s tough, driving, calling until 11, driving 2 hours, getting home at 1:00 or 1:30, going to bed at 2:00 or 2:30, and getting up at 6:00 with the kids and being up all day. Um, and like I said, and, and traveling (. . .) I tried early on, uh, because I used to have clubs when I first started calling. I had clubs all over the state. Uh, I called, I called every night of the week, and I was calling for one of my clubs somewhere, did lessons, the whole 9 yards, workshops, and I found that the more I traveled, the people say, clubs say, oh, no, it’s okay, you know, get us another caller, and (. . .). But they really don’t like it, and it’s really not fair to them.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: I learned that the hard way with, with a couple of clubs. And, uh, so no, I don’t have a home program at all because I travel too much.
TO I’m on the road. I would love to, but it’s tough.
BB: Well, you’ll get back to it one of these days probably. What about, uh, round dancing? Have you ever gotten involved teaching rounds?
TO: No, no, I can’t teach - I, I can round dance. I can do the, uh, up through the, I can dance some fours,
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, not all fours, because I’ve never had formal lessons. I, my first experience with round dancing, I, at Cope Crest years and years ago. Uh, I used to do a week with, uh, uh, a round leader from Ohio named George Everhart, George and Irene Everhart.
BB: Um, hmmm. Oh.
TO: He was an older man but . . .
BB: I remember him.
TO: And, uh, just a heck of a cuer.
TO: And, uh, my first round dance I ever learned in my life was Piano Roll Waltz.
TO: And, uh, I spent the entire week learning that.
TO: And so George taught me a, and that’s where I learned everything about, pretty much, I learned about round dancing was a lot with George. Since then, I would just dance with the round dance cuer’s wife if the round dance cuer was male, and I would do the easy ones. So, I’ve grown up - I don’t know a lot of the classics that, that everybody knows, and because I, I can only dance to cues. I don’t know songs. So if somebody puts a round and says it’s a classic, it, I may be able to do it, I may not be able to do it, but I, I do enjoy, I enjoy dancing. I was able, um, this year to, uh, and last year to work with Roundalab. They, they did the, uh, they did a round dance version of the God Bless USA record.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: And so I was able to work a lot with, uh, the (. . .) with that and getting things organized for that. Uh, I, I’m believe there’s a lot of dissension with callers now as far as rounds and everything. Uh, I like having rounds at a program personally. I, I think it, I like music the entire time.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: You know. When, when I’m on a break, I like music going on. So, I think that there’s room for, for everybody to work together. I think round dancers are finally realizing now, well, not all of them, uh, but most of them are realizing that, that as square dancing goes, so do they. And if they don’t start helping square dancers recruit and get some new, new square dancers in, that they’re not going to have a pool to draw from. Because they draw from the square dance pool.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: They don’t go out on the streets typically and get non dancers. They, they get their people from the square dance ranks, and, and classes are, are going down everywhere, and so, you know, I’m, I’m seeing round dance leaders work closer with, with square dance callers. These guys that are here this weekend, I love to see round dancers get out on the floor and square dance.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, you know, I generally dance with the round dance cuer’s wife, but, but, I, and I like to see the cuer’s get out there and dance with the, with the callers, with, with the dancers. Too many of the, and one is too many, but too many of round dance leaders now have, have gotten away from square dancing, and, uh, and, I think they, they need to be like really, really careful because, uh, you know, it’s one thing. It’s kind of like calling Challenge all the time. You know, it’s one thing to call it, but eventually, it’s going to catch up with you if you don’t put something back in.
BB: Right. Uh, what about contras?
TO: Yeah, I have no experience with contras, uh, other than I, I do a weekend with Mike Seastrom periodically, and Mike does a lot of contras. And so I was able to dance them. But as far as prompting, well I wouldn’t have a clue, wouldn’t have a clue how to do it. I love watching them. I love, I absolutely love watching them. I spent an entire day watching Mike teach them, and I know so little about them.
TO: But, uh, my only experience with contras has either been with Mike Seastrom or from tapes from the Callerlab convention, or if I go to the, to the contra session at the Callerlab convention would be the only time that I ever see them. Uh, to my knowledge, there are no contra dancing like in South Carolina. I don’t think there’s any.
TO: But it’s big in other areas.
BB: Sure. Do you get up into New England very much.
TO: Oh, yeah. I, I get up there, I do a weekend up there every February. Uh, and now Jim Mayo and I have started doing a callers school up in, uh,
BB: Oh, yeah.
TO: New Hampshire. So we did, our first one was this year. And, again next year. So, yeah, I get, I get into New England periodically. I’ve done the NECCA clinic . . .
TO: Uh, several years ago. And, uh, I’ve done, uh, I’ve done a couple of festivals like up in Vermont, and, and Boston, and . . .
BB: Well, I know you talked to our Connecticut Callers Association once (. . .)
TO: Yeah, I did the Connecticut Callers Association, yeah.
BB: I was there. Yeah. Well, uh, let’s get a little profound here for a second.
BB: Okay. Um, with all your vast experience, uh, Tony, do you have any regrets, anything you wish you had done differently?
TO: Yeah, yeah. Um, not many, you know, I was telling some folks tonight, for me it’s been a great ride. Um, you know, I look back, and, and a lot of guys look back and say, you know, I wish I’d done this, I wish I’d done that. You know, I did most everything I wanted to do. I, I came along with square dancing at such a good time, uh, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when square dancing was really, really popular, and I was calling full time, I was single, uh, uh, I was traveling all over the country. People were flying me everywhere. I was seeing places. Uh, you know, I’m a southern boy, born and bred in the south, man, and, and here I am. I’ve got people in, in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and New York hiring me, and bringing me in, and, and eating in big restaurants, and staying at fancy hotels. You know, hotels with my mother and father, who would, you know, would never, you know, my father would work a week to pay for what one of these rooms would cost sometimes. Um, that I don’t, some, I regret some of the mistakes I’ve made, uh, you know, because over the years, you’ve got to be careful. I was young and impetuous, and you’ve got to be careful who you step on on the way up because you’re going to see them on the way down, and you, you don’t see that when you’re, when you’re struggling to, to become famous for lack of a better word. And, and, I’ve lost some friendships over the years with people that, that, you know, as a matter of professional, it was, it was, uh, kind of like either the, the activity or them. and, and I kind of picked the activity. I’ve done that with, with relationships, with, with, um, girlfriends, you know. I mean, I’ve had some serious relationships prior to being married, prior to this one, that, uh, you know, if it came down to, well, you know, do I stay, do I stay here on your birthday or do I go somewhere and call, and there wasn’t a doubt, I mean, I’m off, I’m gone.
TO: I don’t think I would have done all of that. Uh, I think I would have, I would have done, I would have nurtured some, some friends more. Maybe not necessarily the girlfriends because I really, I’m very, very happy with the wife I have now, and if things, if I hadn’t done everything the way I did, I wouldn’t have met my wife now. I wouldn’t have my wife, I wouldn’t have my three kids, and so, but yeah, you know, some of that - I, I, um, I would have liked to have not made so damn many people mad over the years. I just made a bunch of people mad at me over the years for, you know, so I regret some of that. But, by and large, I guess, I don’t, I don’t know that I would change a whole lot. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t radically change anything because I like the way everything has turned out, and I, and I don’t know that had I not gone through some of the trials and tribulations and making the people mad and everything, I don’t know that it would have made me become the person that I am now, and I really, I’m, I’m, I feel very secure about myself now. I like
BB: (. . .) end of the tape unexpectedly, and, uh, I think Tony was just at the, uh, end of that particular segment anyway. Uh, (. . .) somewhere along the line, Tony, I forgot to ask you about, uh, calling overseas. Why don’t you get into that a little bit.
TO: Well, you know, it’s, uh, it doesn’t have the mystic to it that it had initially. When I first started going over, uh, like to Scandinavia, to Sweden, I was one of the first American callers to go over, and, and it was quite different, you know, because they weren’t used to American callers being over there. Uh, and, and Sweden, at least. And so it was quite different. Now, because now there’s a lot of the callers over there have been over to America so many times, it’s, it’s almost like being in America. Most of the countries, uh, I, I enjoy. I, I enjoy going overseas. I enjoy the foreign countries. I, I’ve developed some really, really good friendships, uh, with, with people from, from many foreign countries. I find that, that, that, the more different we are, the more actually we’re the same. Uh, if you take away the side of the road they drive on, and if you take away the kind of food they eat, the dancers are basically the same. Uh, you get over in, in Europe, uh, and the dancers are younger, uh, in parts. Now, you know, you go to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, maybe, the dancers are younger. You go to England, uh, and the dancers are, they’re more like the United States dancers. They’re, they’re a little bit older. I was just in Australia, uh, I went last year and this year, uh, beautiful country, uh, just an absolute gorgeous country, and I was in different parts of the - last year I was in Adelaide, this year I was in, uh, in Perth which is kind of like equating, uh, uh, Dallas, or maybe Houston, and Los Angeles. It’s that, that much difference. Um, and, and they have their share of retirees. Now, they, they have a younger population as well too, because their dancing is a little bit more strenuous. The tips are longer. Um, but, yeah, I, I enjoy, I enjoy the travel. I, I don’t see the, a lot of the differences amongst the foreign dancers that I saw 15 years ago. I see a lot of the same problems that, that we’ve been having, they’re now starting to experience.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, you know, when you used to go over to Sweden, for instance, and, uh, and there your typical dance was, uh, you did a basic, you’re, they, they don’t take breaks, you know, so you dance non stop for 3 or 4 hours, and the tip sequence goes like Basic, Mainstream, Basic, Plus, or maybe Basic, Basic, Mainstream, Basic, Basic, Plus. Now you go over there, it’s Basic, Mainstream, Plus, Basic, Mainstream, Plus, and, and you’re finding a lot more Mainstream and Plus dancing than you did originally, and, uh, and, and now you go over there and you see so many Advanced and Challenge weekends and dancing going on. And as you see that, the level drops. Uh, and, you know, that’s one of the problems we’ve got over here. Uh, . . .
BB: The attendance, you mean.
TO: The, the, both the numbers of people and the quality of the dancing.
TO: Uh, the dancing is, is not nearly as good as it once was because now people are rushing up the level ladder, uh, you know, and, uh, they’re trying to learn Advanced, and they’re trying to learn, uh, Challenge, and they’re trying to learn Plus, and, and, whereas before the dancer stayed at Basic for a year, 2 years, 3 years, some never left.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: You know, now, you know, they’re getting in and they’re getting in one season and the next season they’re learning Mainstream, the next season they’re learning Plus, and so, they’re now, instead of a seasoned 3-year dancer learning Plus, they’re a seasoned, you know, 18-month dancer, and so, so you don’t have the quality dancing, and, and so they’re, they’re experiencing the attrition now, that, that we’ve been experiencing. Not as bad. They’re experiencing it, what we were experiencing 10 years ago now. And if they don’t watch what we’re doing, uh, they’re going to be in the same problem, they’re going to be in the same shape we’re in 10 years from now.
TO: And it may not be 10 years for them.
BB: Yeah. Uh, have you gotten over to China or Japan at all.
TO: Been to Japan. I’ve never been to China. I’ve been Taiwan. Uh, been to Japan, uh, three or four times. In fact, I’m going back to Japan next year. Uh, a great country. The dancers there, uh, my first trip to Japan was one of my, was one of my most memorable overseas trips. I went over with, uh, with uh, Paul Markham and, uh, it was just wonderful. I was so over my head. The dancers could do so much more dancing than I could call. It was kind of like Sweden. The first time I went to Sweden I - these dancers could do a lot more than I could call. And the same thing with the Japanese. Uh, I couldn’t call nearly as well as they could dance. But it was just great. Uh, Taiwan, I went over 3 years ago, and, uh, beautiful country, and, uh, I don’t think they’d had, I don’t know if they had any American callers over there or not. Maybe one or two if any. Uh, square dancing’s very new in Taiwan. I was there - I met the, uh, the Minister of Physical Education for the country. I had tea with her. Uh. You know, beautiful people. The oriental people, great people, also good friends. Tak, I just worked Australia with Tak. He’s a very, very good friend of mine. Tak was my escort the very first time I went to Japan. Uh, my last trip to Japan, I met, a, a young caller over there. I can’t remember his name. He told me call him Jake. And, uh, he and I correspond through E-mail regularly. He’s a head huncho at one of the Hitachi Corporations. And I’m looking forward - I’m going over to Japan in March, this coming March, and then again next November. I like Japan.
BB: Well, that’s great.
TO: I even learned how to eat with chop sticks.
BB: There you go. (Laughter.) Uh, tell me one thing that has been noising around a little bit lately on the E-mail and the few people I’ve talked to, have you got any thoughts about competition in square dancing?
TO: Yeah. You know, I don’t think it’s that, you know, most people think, most people that don’t dance think that we compete anyway. I’m not so sure that it’s a bad thing. If you look up, uh, in St. George, Utah, just up, just north of here, they have their senior games every year. They just started last year. They have senior games. One of the contests is square dancing. Uh, I don’t see it as a bad thing. For years, they’ve had that, uh, that teenage competition up in, uh,
TO: Yeah, somewhere in the Northwest.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Uh, you know, I mean that’s, you listen to some of those tapes. I, I just listened to a tape Steve Kopman did for them a couple of years ago, and, and, buddy that’s some tough stuff. I, I don’t see that it’s a bad thing. I, I don’t know that we want to make all square dancing competitive, but it might be a way to get some of the young people involved in it if they found out they could win a prize for it.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: I, I’m for whatever it takes to get people in it, so I don’t think it would be a bad thing necessarily.
TO: I, I wouldn’t want to see square dancing become competitive, you know, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a part of square dancing having competition, if that makes sense.
BB: - Okay. Well, one of the things I’ve been asking everybody in these interviews, where do you think square dancing has been, and where is it now, and where do you think it might be going.
TO: Well, now I can’t talk a lot about square dancing prior to the ‘70s, because I don’t know much, that’s, that’s when I started. Uh, but I, I noticed a real big peak around 1976. Uh, and, and that was when everybody was kind of looking back towards their roots, the bicentennial, and, and everybody had big classes. Uh, my first class I ever taught, for an adult club, I had 10 squares in 1976. And, uh, and then it kind of started fizzling, and, and then it kind of picked up a little bit about the time Urban Cowboy came out. And, you know, so, I think it’s just a sign of the times right now that we are at the bottom of the trough. Um, everybody’s wanting to doctor it up. I’m, I’m not for certain sure that we need a whole lot of doctoring up. I, I don’t know. Um, I think that, that more people are going to have to get involved in the actual promotion of the, of the activity. We, we have too many, too many people that sit around and wait for somebody else to do all the work, and I think it’s going to take a lot of us working if we are going to get out of this trough. Uh, I’ve got friends that really think that square dancing’s on it’s dying legs, on it’s last legs, and if we don’t do something radical that we’re going to lose square dancing. And I don’t think that square dancing’s going to go away. Um, you know, it may have to change to more adequately reflect the times that we live in, but even that, I don’t see that we need a radical change. Um, you know, there’s been a big whoopee de do about getting away from the outfits and, and stuff, and I think that, I personally like the outfits. To me, it gives an atmosphere of the dance. Uh, but, you know, like for like daytime sessions, I don’t think you should have to wear them. You know, come comfortably. Uh, but for festivals and big dances, I think you ought to dress up. Kind of like going out to eat, you know. If I take my wife out to dinner, you know, we can go in the afternoon. If I take her to lunch at McDonalds, I go in a cowboy in a baseball hat and tennis shoes. But if I’m going to take her on a Tuesday night to Outback or somewhere and have a nice dinner, I’m going to dress up. I think it’s the same thing with the dancing. I think if you have a big event, dress up for it. Um, I’m hoping that, that, that this marketing firm that we’re using for the foundation is going to come back and tell us some of the things that sells. I think we need to start stressing the health aspect of square dancing. If you want to get some of the young people, the younger people in, I think we need to start letting everybody know that it is physical exercise, you know, that you, you do a lot of walking. Uh, instead, we’ve been trying to sell square dancing for years - been trying to sell it as cheap, and I don’t think that is the selling point for the market that we’re going after. It is for the market that we have, for the retirees, the fact that this is an inexpensive hobby is, is a selling point, but for the, the baby boomers, the 45-year old, the 50-year old people, it really doesn’t matter. Uh, you know, I’m, I’m in that age, you know, I’m 46, um, I have three children, you know, I’m looking for something to do with my wife. Uh, the money is not the problem. My problem is time. I can’t spend 40 weeks learning it, you know. I think we’re going to have to get away from square dancing being 40 weeks long. To me personally, the change that we’re going to have to make in square dancing, I think, is we’re going to have to lose some of the calls. I think square dancing is going to have to become easier. Uh, and I think we’re going to have to have an activity that we can teach in, in several months, 3 or 4 months maximum. Twenty weeks, 15 weeks, maximum. Because you’re not going to be able to keep the other people’s attention span that long. You can’t tell anybody, this is a great activity, and it’s only going to take you a year to learn. You’re not going to get them. I can envision that happening. Uh, other than that, I don’t see . . . and, and that to me, it’s not a major change because I think you can still do a lot of the calls that we need to do, uh, you can teach them in 15 weeks. Uh, you can’t teach Relay the Deucey and Coordinate, so I think we may have to make up our mind that we’re going to lose those calls, and, uh, that to me is a good thing. Uh, I see too many people that know how to do Relay the Deucey and don’t know how to do Wheel Around, and uh . . .
BB: Yeah, I saw that tonight.
TO: Oh, yeah. (Laughter.) It’s scary, isn’t it?
TO: It is absolutely scary. I make a living on calling things like Wheel Around and Reverse Flutters and, and Fan the Tops that the other guys aren’t calling, um, they spend a month teaching people Relay the Deucey.
TO: Literally a month. Because you teach it tonight, you’ve got to re-teach it the next week, and you review it the next week, and they finally have it that 4th week.
TO: It takes you 4 weeks to teach something. You know, that’s why classes are so long, because we’re trying to teach people to dance the way we as callers we want to call. And we want to call those long calls because it makes our calling smooth. We, we, I was telling some guys that, uh, just the other day, I think our problem as callers is that we’ve become technicians instead of artists, and, and the thing that, that made the caller years ago, and it’s when square dancing was rocking and rolling, and I don’t know if it’s the reason, but I know square dancing was rocking and rolling when we had artists. When the callers called out of the lines, you know, you painted outside of the lines. Uh, now, we, we, we’re like technicians. We drill them. Uh, I had a guy accuse me tonight of calling fast, and after he left me, I was talking to someone else, and I said the reason that guy thinks I’m calling fast is because he is so use to dancing, boy do this, girl do that, centers do that, okay look at your spot, now do this, all right now, wait a minute now, look at this, boys check this out, now do this. He is so use - that, that has become dancing to him, so that if a caller comes along and truly calls on tempo to the beat of the music, it appears to be too fast. And, uh, and, and that’s where we as callers have lost - we have become great technicians, we’ve become great movers. We can place them here and move them over here, and put them in some of the most God awful formations they’ve never seen and straighten them out. We’ve become great at that. What we, what we’ve lost is the fact that - watch those people’s heads move like this for an entire evening. And, and I see so many of the new callers coming up now are - instead of emulating guys that, that call smooth, they’re emulating these, the technicians, and, uh, I think we’ve, we’ve almost techniqued ourselves out of, out of a job. Um, you know, I’m making a living calling smooth stuff, as smooth as I can make it and, and using calls that the dancers aren’t accustomed to using from - I’m making a living at it, you know. I mean, I’m watching other guys starve to death trying to drill people to death.
TO: To me, it don’t take no rocket scientist. I’d much rather call to 20 squares of people that just kind of rock and roll and dance smooth than to three squares in a basement that can do everything I know how to call, you know.
BB: Do you think we ever might get back to using other dance forms like we used to, like mixers, uh,
BB: Triplets, you know,
BB: Uh, contras, and so forth.
TO: And, no, because we’ve become too specialist. We, we specialize.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: We now have, we now have round dance leaders do the rounds for us.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: We have prompters do the contras for us. Uh, we have line dance leaders that do the line dancing now. Everybody’s become a specialist. I don’t, unless you just, I don’t see the, the new callers coming up learning all of that, I, I really don’t. Um . . .
BB: Well, the reason is because they’re spending all their time learning choreography.
TO: True, true. But, like I say, and, and, but we now have other people that are doing the other stuff for us, you know. We, we have, uh, why, you know, why should I learn lines. I’ve got a guy here, you know, I can get in to do the dance with me, and we’ve got squares and the lines. So I don’t see the callers, I don’t see the callers doing that now.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: Years ago, you know, we didn’t have round dance leaders.
TO: You know, and you didn’t have caller prompt, you didn’t prompters, the caller was everything.
TO: And, and, now, like I say, everybody’s got their own little job. And, and I don’t know - and that’s the way society’s become. You know, we’ve become a society of that. You have a little niche, that’s where you work, that’s what you do, and unless society changes, I don’t, I don’t see the activity changing. I think square dancing has to change according to society, and we have to, we have to keep up with how society’s working if we’re, if we’re going to stay viable. Uh, you know, we’re not going to be a viable market if, if people think we’re from the 1950s.
BB: Um, hmmm.
TO: You know, I mean, that just don’t cut it.
TO: You know, and it’s not going to cut it in the outfits, it’s not going to cut it in the music, you know, I think that, that our music is going to have to be, and it has been, I say our music has to be, our music now is a lot more contemporary, you know, we’re no longer Turkey in the Straw all night. You know, people are hearing all kinds of different forms of music from us now. And I think that’s great. You know, we have a lot of different, uh, music, the music, you play five different square dance labels now, and you’ve got five different, entirely different sounds, and that’s good.
BB: Of the same tune, right.
TO - Records now done by the Back Street Boys, Cher, Dooby Brothers, you know. Uh, it’s not just Wylan Jennings and George Jones, and I don’t want to lose our roots, you know, I still want to have the country stuff, but, but I think that we can dance, you know, I’ll give you an example, you don’t ever hear anybody calling any 6/8 rhythm any more. You, you very seldom hear it.
BB: I love it.
TO: To me, that is the best.
TO: The best rhythm to dance. But you don’t hear it any more.
TO: Because nobody does jigs, and that’s what that is. You know, it’s like a jig. And nobody does that any more.
TO: You know Marching to Donegal. It’s kind of hokey, nobody does it. But the rhythm is just so great. Uh, Wade Driver cut that Rhythm of My Heart a couple of years ago and it’s done in 6/8. Great dancing record.
TO: So, I can see some of that coming back.
TO: You know, in some, some contemporary songs.
BB: Do you work with live music at all?
TO: No. Uh, I haven’t worked with a live band . . .
BB: I mean you can, that’s what I’m saying.
TO: Oh, yeah, I guess I could. Or, now I won’t say that. Yes, I work with a live band. I’m in the recording business. We record records. I work with a live band . .
TO: Yes. As far as calling dances with a live band, um, in the last 20 years, you can count on your hand the number of times that I - I did it once at the national convention, um, I used to do it at Fontana. I did Fontana Village a couple of years.
BB: (. . .)
TO And this has been a long time ago.
BB: Tex Brownlee.
TO: Yeah, when Tex was there, and they had the live band in the evening there. Uh, but that’s been, uh, late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and I haven’t done it since then. Uh, I enjoy my - I would much rather have structured music than a band now. I would much rather - if I had an option of doing a live band or my own music, I’m going to pick my own music because I know what my music does.
BB: Um, hmmm. Well, it’s been very interesting, Tony. Golly, uh, really had a - glad we had a chance to sit down and talk for a little while. Um, we’re here in Laughlin, Nevada, uh, you’ve got a very active weekend going on and everything is, uh, you’ve got to get some sleep before, uh you start again.
TO: Are you nuts! I’ve still got to gamble.
BB: Oh, you’re going to still go. . .
BB: Back to the, gee, you mean they don’t shut down yet.
TO: Laughter. Are you kidding.
BB: Well, I’m going to be on my way early in the morning, get back to . . .
TO: You’ve got a long drive, don’t you.
BB: Yeah, I’m, it’s about 8 hours.
BB: But, um.
TO: Better you than me. I did it last week
TO: Yeah. I did an 11-hour drive last week.
BB: Oh. We’ve done a lot of driving over the years.
TO: I reckon.
BB: I think the only that was worse than, uh, the rest of us was Les Gotcher. He would, he had that old Cadillac, and I tell you.
TO: I heard that, that Louie Calhoun was the guy who used to do a lot of driving . . .
TO: Just drive anywhere. The worse one recently, um, of all the young guys, was, uh, Art Tangen. I don’t know if you know Art.
BB: Sure, yeah.
TO: Art Tangen used to drive. I mean - I played golf with him 1 day, and we were playing golf in Dallas. He said, I reckon I ought to get going, I’ve got a dance in Chicago.
TO: He was in Dallas. His next gig was Chicago.
BB: I’ve heard of that one, yes.
TO: And, uh, he, he’s not calling - he’s still calling I guess. I haven’t seen Art in years.
BB: Yeah. No, he lived in Albuquerque near me for quite a while. He took . . .
TO: So, he’s still calling.
BB: He just moved to Texas.
TO: Oh, he’s in Texas now. What part?
BB: I honestly don’t know, Tony.
TO: Oh, I used - Larry Letsen used to drive so much. Larry Letsen had calluses . . .
TO: On the, on the palm of his, on his fingers from the steering wheel.
TO: That’s just - I used to drive 100,000 a year. My first few years when I first started calling full time, um, I would drive 100,000 a year. I still drive 40, 35 to 40 even now.
BB: Yeah. I think the worse trip I ever made I - when I was in my touring days, I stayed over night in Montreal, drove to Toronto, called a dance, got in the car, and drove to Duluth, Minnesota.
TO: Laughter. I left, uh, I left Los Angeles International Airport on a Sunday night, 9 o’clock, dropped some friends of mine off at the airport. I drove non-stop to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Got there Tuesday . . .
BB: Oh, my.
TO: Afternoon at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Called that night.
BB: Oh, my God. Yeah.
TO: Turned around and drove back to South Carolina, a thousand miles, uh, and do a dance the day after.
BB: Yeah. Well, I.
TO: I’m too old for that now.
TO: I drove home from Louisville last week - damned near killed me.
BB: Well, this has been really great, Tony. I appreciate it. I, I . . .
TO: My pleasure. This was nice. Thank you.
BB: I’ve enjoyed your comments and your thoughts, and you’ve put a little different slant on a couple of things from some of the other people I’ve talked with. And, it’s been really great, and I want to wish you great success.
TO: Thank you, sir.
BB: In the rest of your career.
TO: It’s an honor to be interviewed by you.
BB: Thanks very much. We’ll be looking forward to having you in the Lloyd Shaw Dance Archives along with all the other Hall of Fame guys, Milestone, and Silver Halo, and a lot of other people. So, once again, thanks, Tony, uh, I think we’ll call this the end of the tape.
BB: You bet.