Brundage, Al & Bob (Early days)


Al and Bob Brundage

November 28, 1998

Bob Brundage – Well, today is November the 28th, Thanksgiving weekend, 1998, and today we are in York, Pennsylvania for the Annual Contra Dance Holiday Weekend and having a great time contra dancing with Don Armstrong and Dick Leger and a lot of other artists from around the country and around Canada.  Bill Lichtman, the archivist at the Lloyd Shaw dance archives asked me to get together with my brother Al and talk about square dancing as it was back in the early days, of uh … before Modern Western Square Dancing got started in New England and try to describe the way the dances were done and a little bit of the action.  So, we were just talking about, before we started taping … trying to reminisce about what were some of the dances we did and perhaps a good place to start is the way the Brundage family got started.  For all intents and purposes, we really got started because of our mother. She was a concert pianist and she married a farm boy and she wanted to enhance her son’s musical ability.  So, in order to stimulate this she organized the first music project 4-H club in the United States  and we selected music for a project … music as a project and many of us started taking music lessons and this and that.  We’re talking back in the early 1930s at the moment.  Our first band, as I remember, consisted of 3 banjos a guitar a piano and a trumpet.  This took place in 1933 in our 4-H club converted chicken coop club house.  It appeared in the Fairfield County Extension Service bulletin that came out every month in 1933.  We used to run dances at that facility, probably once a month and even before that. Al will be able to tell you a little about … I keep remembering and forgetting the name of the people down on Franklin Street that had the Saturday night dances, Jack Craddick the old accordion player and Andy …

Al Brundage – Andy Golder used to call and Bob and I would go down there, and we weren’t supposed to be out … and, as a matter of fact, it’s interesting that right outside my bedroom window was a big stone chimney that went up and we had a big fireplace there in the farmhouse, and we could climb down …. It was made out of native rocks which were kind of round and rugged and we used to climb up and down this chimney.  We could get out our bedroom window and climb down the chimney after we had gone to bed at night and supposedly nobody knew we’d be gone and so we’d go down … some other neighborhood kids around from there would peek in the windows …

BB – Hawthorn’s

AB – Hawthorn’s, that’s right.  And Hawthorn’s, I had in mind that that was an old stage coach stop in the early days Bob, and they had a kind of a, I don’t know, tavern, bar room floor and things like that.  I don’t know if they operated it as that when we were there, but it was a home more and they had some space and they did have this orchestra that would be in there and they had a concertina, as I recall, and a fiddle player, and I don’t know if somebody had drum sticks and played on a piece of wood or something, I don’t think they had a drum set.  Anyway it was really great music to our ears because they were playing these old, old tunes, many of them French Canadian tunes and early American tunes that we now use in some of our traditional square dances, and it was just great and they’d run square dances down there and Andy Golder was the caller and I guess we learned our dances while looking through the windows.  And as I recall once in a great while why they needed one man or one couple or something and we were allowed in to dance a little bit, just to fill in.

B – Right.

AB – But that’s kinda how we learned. There weren’t any lessons in those days.

BB – By the time we got going at the 4-H club house two or three of the older boys took turns calling and I’ve always said that all of a sudden they found out about girls when you started calling and I think I followed up fairly shortly thereafter.  And so, I thought we would try to reminisce on what some of these dancers actually were.  Of course, at that time the basic square dance calls were visiting couple dances.  So, that would be Duck for the Oyster, Birdie in the Cage, Go Around Back, Take A Little peek, Pop Goes the Weasel ….

AB – Lady Around the Lady, Gent Around the Gent.  There was one we used to call Rights Across where you lead to the right and circle four and right hand star and left hand star.  But we called it Rights Across say Howdy Do and back with the left the same to you.  And swing the girl across from you or something like that, and go on home and swing your own.  There was a lot of swinging in those days.

BB – I remember too we used do one called Swing or Cheat.  You would circle four and so these guys would either swing their partner or cheat and swing the other one.  And it got to be kind of a contest.   Do you remember? There was also one, a visiting couple dance where you swing your partner half, swing your opposite half way, and then your own then your opposite, then your own, then your opposite, then your own.

AB – Yeah.

BB – And it was like a half swing and you swapped girls.  And it kept going around and around and around.

AB – They were killers.  We couldn’t do them now….

BB – Right.

AB – …. I don’t think.

BB – Well, then you remember Push Her Away and Yank Her Back?

AB – Oh, well I don’t know if I want to mention it but I won a contest on that one year  Our uncle Gus was 4-H … state 4-H club leader at the headquarters at the University of Connecticut.  And they had picked us … but we’ll tell you about that pretty soon.  But anyway, he was over for the Fourth of July or something, a family reunion and he said, “Well, you know, they are having a big contest up in Boston to see who is the champion square dance caller of New England”.  So I got excited, we all got excited and he said, “Well, there is no need of you to get going up there.  Ralph Page is the old sage of New England. He’s been calling for yea many years and he always wins it, and nobody’s ever won that I can remember, and so there is no need of making that long drive way up there just to go”.  But he said just enough to where it was kind of a challenge and we went up there and one of the favorite calls of the time was, I guess, one of the worst calls that has ever been written right now looking back on it, called … what I call Push Her Away and Yank Her Back, and Push Her Away and Yank Her Back.  And Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous.  And anyway, I thought that’s a great call, and we did that call and it was a boisterous call and very lively music of course and we put everything we had into it, struttin’ up and down on the platform.  And finally the outcome was I won that fall and I got a $25 dollar war bond, or defense bond I think which wasn’t small money in those days even if we did go all the way to Boston and back.

BB – Right.

AB – A four hour trip up and four hours back to do it.

BB – And I understand Ralph Page was a little ticked off …

AB – Yeah. Ralph Page couldn’t believe it.  And in fact we drew lots, or something, to see who would call first, and there were eight or ten callers on the program and they all brought their own band and everything else and had their own music and we were … Ralph and I were both down toward the end and I think I was right ahead of him, just ahead of him, and he was to follow me.  And when I got through the crowds yelled and screamed.  And there were a lot of young people there evidently.  And the reporters from the Boston Globe who sponsored the contest came and said, “Oh”, they said, “We’ve got to make the deadline. It’s getting late and said what’s you name and give us all your rundown on what you do and all this and that”.  And I said, “Well yeah, but Page hasn’t called yet”.  But they said, “Yeah, but you’re going to win, there is no question about that”.  A lot of the reporters left and Ralph could see this from where he was calling and he could see me. The reporters were writing down stuff from me and all of a sudden they broke up and they took off and they never even heard him call really this time and he got really mad.  But he not only got mad at the reporters and everything else he got mad at me. (laughs)

BB – Sure.

AB – And we were on the outs, I guess, for probably 35 years and finally, gradually, through going to callers meetings and having functions to where we’d go we finally got to respect each other quite a bit and realize that well, there is more to it that the two of us, so we became good friends finally.

BB – Yes.  Well, getting back to some of the figures we used to do, how about the Butterfly Whirl.

AB – Oh my goodness yes.

BB –         Swing down the center.

AB – Yeah, the first gent and the pretty little girl, swing down the center with a Butterfly Whirl.

BB – Lady go Gee and the gent go Haw.

AB – Yeah, Gee and Haw were terms, farm terms in …. Gee is right and Haw is left as I recall.

BB – Yeah.  And we would do a lot of things where … well couple one down the center and cut away six, you split the other two and go all the way home and swing. G down the center and this time cut off four, you went between the side couples and the head couple and you would go back and swing. And this time go down and cut away two, you would split the side couples, and ….  You mentioned earlier Marching Through Georgia.

AB – That’s right, Marching Through Georgia was a big one.  That got a crowd response.  I can’t quite think of the entire figure but the gist of it was finally everybody is promenading in single file ‘While we go marching through Georgia’ and then everybody would sing, “Hooray, Hooray go back the other way” and then everybody would turn around and go back the other way. Then the words would be, “Hooray, Hooray, go back the other way, when you get back home again give your girl a swing, ‘while we go marching through Georgia‘ ”….

BB – Right, right.

AB – …. And it was a big hit number. Everybody sang.

BB – OK. Were … one of the things I want to be sure and mention was that when we were young our parents were very interested to expanding the experience that we had and spent a lot of time taking us out of the area.  I remember we ran into a place where they did Do-sa-do left shoulder and we also ran into a dance down in New Jersey where an Allemande Left was you hooked left elbows and go around about four times before you do anything else.  And these were great experiences and almost everywhere we went we came home with another call that we added to our repertoire.  So, our folks were really, really diligent trying to expand our area of expertise, if you will, so …. Well, that pretty much takes care of the real early years.  We were trying to emphasize things that happened before Modern Western Square Dancing took over much of the activity.  Somewhere in there you put up the Country Barn in Stepney, Connecticut.

AB – Yeah, that’s true.  Actually, just a little history behind that.  We got very popular, our orchestras did, and we became known throughout … well first in our town, and then the county, and then the state, and then we went over to other states, so we became quite well known.  And people attended … we had good crowds … attended a lot … speaking of good crowds, Bob, I’ve got to tell you, when we cleaned out Papa Hecks chicken coop to get a place to dance, and we had our first dance up there  and other dances subsequently, we really packed that place.

BB – Yeah, yeah.

AB – We always packed the hall.  That held I think two squares.  (both laugh)  But anyway it was fun.  But I did build the barn in 1948 actually almost from scratch.  We went up to Massachusetts and bought some lumber right from the mill and hauled it down on a farm truck and stacked it … I had purchased a piece of property on Route 25 which is a commercial and good for commercial buildings on there … and I stacked it over the winter and cured it, and dried it, and that next spring when we could get on the ground why we dug the foundation and put it in and built this barn and it would comfortably hold about 18 squares actually.  And the big event, of course, in those days was the Saturday night dance.  And we featured the Saturday night dance and the Pioneer Band played at that dance for all the years I ever had the barn, which was up until 1954.  And as an aside too, crowds were good and people think that square dancing just boomed and everything was going great and things are kind of going backwards at the moment, but in those days crowds were large Saturday night and we had a lot of bad nights, hot in summer, we didn’t have air conditioning, cold in winter, we didn’t have adequate heat really, but my average Saturday night crowd was 329 people for all the years I’ve had that barn.  Good nights and bad.  Rain and snow and everything else.  And when you get that many in an 18X20 square hall you’ve really got a lot of people.  Well, it was jam packed a lot of the time and it was a successful venture and I finally sold it when I started traveling around.  I didn’t feel like I could take care of it adequately.  And finally for the property for quite a while and I didn’t want to do that.

BB – Well, that brings up the Pioneer Trio.

AB – Going back, in fact I just wrote an article and sent it in to American Square Dance Magazine, it should come out in January or February concerning the Pioneer Trio.  There were three guys and I have right here beside me a picture of these fellows taken in 1947 and they had already been together nearly 10 years at that time.  Playing at the outside Festival in Newtown Connecticut, an outside affair, private affair of some kind on that date.  And complimentary to that there is a nice color picture of the same three guys in 1997, so these fellows are celebrating 60 years of playing.  And they are still together, still playing and their getting a little ancient as you might expect, but Jimmy the fiddler is getting a little bit of Parkinson’s in his fingers and so forth but they are still working.  Culver Griffin is the caller that hires them mostly right now.  But people can read about them in American Square Dance Magazine, 1999, January or February.  And they should read that too Bob, because that is an interesting story.  They did a lot of things that will be explained in the article, we won’t cover that here, but that was a great group and they were well known all around the Eastern United States too.

BB – They played for the first Atlantic Square Dance Convention up in Boston, Massachusetts….                                 (lot of noise on tape)

AB – ….but anyway there were a lot of barns beside the Country Barn, Stepney did early dancing and I think one of the best known in the East  was Floyd Woodhall’s out in Elmira, New York.  He had a floor, a tremendous wooden beautiful floor, that was like … I think he said it was 60 X 80 or something like that, or 120 X 80.  It was a huge hall by my way of thinking and he drew crowds there from all over the country.  And then there was another barn not too far away from our home up in Med … New Milford Connecticut named Medliicots.  And he had taken a dairy barn and cleaned out the hay and the hay mound, swept it up and cleaned it up and made a dance hall out of it.  They held forth with these dances for a long, long time.  And Bob can tell you … with a fiddler named Tude Tanguay and an orchestra named Pop Benson.  And they had fun stuff.

BB – Oh, I tell you.  Pop Benson and Tude and that gang they had about a five or six piece band and Tude Tanguay played fiddle and Pop Benson played banjo.  And one of the things that they did, they took a little intermission and everybody sat down, and they had this same act that they went through.  First of all, Pop would sit in this straight backed chair and Tude would come in and sit down in the same chair in front of him, not on his lap but between his legs, and the two of them had their own instruments but while Tude would finger the fiddle, Pop Benson would push the bow.  And then Pop would finger the banjo and Tude would strum the banjo.  And if you don’t think it’s difficult to do … you know the old adage about you scratch your head … er you scratch you tummy and rub your head at the same time you can’t do it, but they did it every time.  And following that Tude always asked a girl to come out of the audience and sit in his lap and all she had to do there was to run the bow back and forth and Tude was so strong with that left hand that he could actually hold the fiddle out in mid air and turn it to the proper string and still finger the tune and so forth.  The two of them would go through this little routine of his and, as a matter of fact, the gal that used to jump out of the audience almost every time turned out to be Tude’s wife, eventually.

AB – Oh really. I didn’t know that.

BB – You remember he had a hair bow on the end of his fiddle?

AB – Yeah.

BB – Well, he stole that out of her hair one time when she was sitting in his lap, and it was right there till the day he died.

AB – Well I’ll be darned.

BB – And one of the nicest testimonials that I have ever seen was a testimonial for Tude one time when all the fiddlers from miles and miles around got together in the VFW hall up in New Milford.  Louie Risato arranged it and that was quite a day.  Jimmy Gilpin, the Pioneer Trio fiddler, he out did himself on the Orange Blossom Special that day, I’ll tell you.  But then the final part of this little three act play that they did, Tude would take the fiddle and play Pop Goes the Weasel and he’d play a couple of choruses and every time he would pluck the string with his left hand on the finger board and then he would change the position of the bow.  And start it out putting it behind his back first of all, and then he would lean over and put it under one leg, and then he would take that and put it under both legs, and then put it on top of his head, and then fiddle. And the climax was, he lay down on the floor and he’d arch his back between his feet and his shoulders and he would play the fiddle under his back.  And when it came to Pop Goes the Weasel he’d pop right up to standing position out of that position every time.  He always got a big hand for that.  I’d always wished that more people could’ve seen that.

AB – It’s too bad we didn’t have video tapes and things like that in those days.  It should have been documented.

BB – I don’t think it’s ever been tape recorded.

AB – I doubt it.

BB – Just audio taped.

AB – No, no. You know we didn’t have tape recorders then Bob.  There was an early wire recorder.  I’m not sure many people had ‘em.

BB – Well. So, moving on we are still talking back before the Modern Western Square Dancing took place.  Our father’s brother, A. J. Brundage, as Al mentioned, was the state 4-H club leader and he organized what he called a Song and Dance Festival.  He contacted all the singing groups, all the area’s singing societies and so forth, barbershop quartets, or any group that had a singing group, and he invited all the granges and the farm bureaus that wanted to get together with a singing group and everybody practiced the same half a dozen numbers and the music director of the University of Connecticut conducted the whole thing.  And all these people came and sat in the football stadium bleachers and sang together these tunes that they had practiced.  There were 3000 voices.  And, following the song part of it, then we had the square dance festival on the same football field.  They marked off the field with lines and made squares and each couple or each square, they registered by squares, came from the various agricultural organizations around the state, young and old, 4-H plus the FFA’s, the farm bureau, and the Granges, and so forth.  And they had also rehearsed several numbers and the callers would appear and mention what numbers they wanted to do.  And each caller brought his own band and it was really quite an extravaganza.  If I remember right there were over 100 squares dancing on the football field at any time.  They did have amplification at that point but no turntables or anything like that…. no square dance records.  But it was very interesting to hear various bands perform.

And that went on for several years and then after I graduated college from the University of Maine I moved down to the University of Massachusetts and at that point there was a extension … a State Extension Recreation Director named Lawrence Loy.  And Lawrence was very active in the square dance field, very interested, as a matter of fact, to my knowledge, he is the first man who recorded square dance music on a major label.  And he put out an album which we have copies of at the archives on RCA Victor, long before many of the other people … any of the modern day square dance labels got going.  Of course, Henry Ford had some recorded music before that.    But anyway Lawrence and I used to put on a similar kind of festival at the University of Massachusetts.  Now we are talking about early 1950s.  And we had an overflow … well we really did cover more than the football field and our square dancers came from all over Western Massachusetts, throughout Connecticut and Eastern New York State.  And even some came down from Vermont and New Hampshire.  And it was quite an event.  We had, oh, a lot of well known people…. well known callers.  I know Ed Gilmore appeared on that program, and I know you did Al.

AB – Oh yeah.

BB – So, it was quite an event.  You ought to tell that story about …

(recorder clicks off and then on) I couldn’t think of his name.  Jack Mansfield.

AB – Well everybody, all the callers and there were six or eight of us I guess on that program, and maybe more.  But we all brought our own orchestra because we all wanted our own music our own way and I was fortunate … Mom Brundage and our band, we played at that.  And I did my thing.  But John Mansfield was a very proud caller and he had been calling a long, long time and all and was popular around in Massachusetts, Western … Eastern Connecticut area.  Anyway, he was calling and here we have maybe 2 or 3 or 4 hundred squares out there, a couple of thousand people dancing.  And they … Bob was good there … and Lawrence Loy … they planned this festival at the full moon.  And so it was a beautiful, beautiful night and it was nice in the summertime.  And while John Mansfield was calling some automobile had hit a light pole somewhere not too far away and knocked out the transformer and so everything went off.   The lights went off over the field, the amplification of the instruments went off.  And in those days we were just getting electrified and amplified (the instruments) and the loudspeaker went off so all these people couldn’t hear the calls but being such a great night, being a full moon so everybody could see, and John was calling Nellie Gray.  And I can’t remember how far along in the figure he’d been, he’d had the first and I guess the second couple out to the right but everybody started to sing.  And they sang the words to the square dance call.  And I can’t quite remember them but it’s “first old couple lead to the right and circle 4 that way and you swing with your Darling Nellie Gray”,  and it went on and on and people were doing the routine.  And John stood there with a dead microphone and the orchestra behind him couldn’t play, some of them were electrified instruments.  And here is 2 or 3 thousand people singing the call and dancing the whole dance.  And they went through that whole routine including the Grand Right and Left and all the way around and the Swing and the Promenade and then the next couple lead to the right and they did it all over again and John stood there and he got so mad to think that those people could do it without him as a caller …  that before they were through dancing the whole figure he turned to the band and made them pack up the instruments and they were in the process of leaving the hall … leaving the area in a huff when the thing ended.  And when people started applauding and looked up and John was gone.  (all laugh)  And I never got over that. I thought, they really don’t need callers when they … when people know dances as well as they did.

`       BB – Well,  the other story, I probably shouldn’t tell stories about Jack Mansfield, but he incidentally had an exhibition group that danced at the historical village up there in northeastern Massachusetts, Sturbridge Village.

AB – The Springfield Exposition area.

BB – Well they would dance there too.  But anyway, and he was calling and he had this one record that only had six choruses on it.  And so, we were at a festival somewhere and he put this record on, and it was his favorite record … or one of his favorites anyway, and so without thinking he started calling the ending and it happened that the ending on the record after six choruses was fairly long, it was like 16 measures but then it stopped instead of going through the entire 32.  So he started, Circle Left, Allemande Left, and Grand Right And Left and was right in the middle of this when the record stopped (laughs) because he hadn’t thought about that.  And he said, “Darn it All”


(tape ends abruptly)


Editors note:  the end of the story is that he said, “Darn it all, the record did it AGAIN !


End of interview of Bob with Al Brundage discussing old times.


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