Peters, Bill: CALLERLAB Milestone

Photo Peters


March 31, 1997

Bob Brundage: Well, hi again, this is Bob Brundage again, and the date is March 31, 1997, and we’ve moved from down the road a few miles up to Zephyr Cove, Nevada, and we’re talking with Bill Davis.

Bill Peters: Bill Peters.

BB: Ha, excuse me. Thank you, Bill. Do you want me to erase that?

BP: No, no, leave it, that’s okay.

BB: Okay, all right.


BP: Because we’ve been mistaken for each other many times.


BB: Oh, I’m sure you have. So, well, Bill Peters, anyway. Okay, so Bill, why don’t you give us an idea of, tell us


BP: Just general background. I was born in Germany.  I was 3 months old when I came here, and my parents brought me from Germany to Brooklyn of all places.  Raised in Brooklyn and the gag I’ve always made is that if you told me at that time when I was being raised there that I was going to be a square dance caller, I’d have stolen your hub caps.  Went in the Army after Peal Harbor. Got out, got married, and in the first year or 2 of our marriage, which was in ’51, ’52, we decided to go square dancing, and went to a beginner class in San Jose, California.  And I went to a class taught by a caller called Bob Triplin, who is no longer with us. And about the third or fourth week into class, I said to my wife driving home, you know, I can do that.  And a year later I was in San Jose, California, and basically started with a beginner class. Taught a beginner class, formed a club, taught another beginner class, added to that. Got some more clubs the traditional way.


BB: Right, right. Okay. So now you’re pretty much a full-time caller or where you


BP: Oh, no. At the time I was, after about 8 or 9 years, I was calling so much, it made sense to become a full-time caller.  I was in the resume writing business. I had my own business writing resumes. But, and because of that, I found myself in my own office pushing checkers around, you know. And eventually closed the office and went full time. To make it as a full-time caller, I began writing (?) caller training books, note services, that kind of thing.


BB: Why don’t you mention some of the books you’ve written.


BP: Well, the first book I wrote was something called “The Other Side of the Mike”, which presented itself to me as the need for it arose out of the fact that there wasn’t one single book that you could go to early on, around ’58, ’59, ’60, somewhere in there, that covered all the subjects.  You had to go through all the magazines for this, and every subject was in a different place. And I felt there was a need for some one place, one source, where a student caller could go to get some reading material.  I wrote “The Other Side of the Mike”, 10 years after that, the callers’ craft, the techniques, had become so complicated, so involved, that one book wouldn’t do it.  I rewrote “The Other Side of the Mike” then as a series of caller guide books.


BB: Okay. Was this the start of sort of a note service then, or


BP: No, that, that was parallel. That was in addition to that.  After I wrote the first book, it’s interesting how that happened. Les Gotcher gave up his note service, and for a lot of people, that was a hole, a vacuum. Which I thought would be interesting to try and fill.  And I did, and I developed Choreo Breakdown.


BB: Yeah. I see it on the bookshelf here.  And then there’s the Callers’ Guide Book series.


BP: That’s the second series of books I wrote, which is still in print, still being sold.


BB: Right. Well, that’s great. Okay, then tell us about some of the big events you’ve been to, conventions, festivals, and so forth.


BP: Oh, good Lord.  Not as many as a lot of the guys I know (?), but certainly I’ve had my share. I’ve been (?) Stomp, I’ve done NECCA Convention.  A lot of my festivals have been attached to either caller clinics or caller schools.  Because of the books and because of the note service, I got very involved in caller training.  And I did a lot of work for caller associations and with festivals attached to that.  I’ve called in every state.


BB: Okay. How about national conventions?


BP: Not, I haven’t done much with that.


BB: Yeah. So, and then how about local callers associations and things.


BP: Very much involved with the Northern California Callers Association, Santa Clara Valley Callers Association, Callerlab certainly.  Involved up to my arm pits, you know, with the full board.


BB: Right. So probably didn’t have much time for other hobbies then.


BP: Not really, not really. Most of my time was, like a lot of guys I’m sure who enjoyed calling, when you pick up the microphone, you also put on a set of blinders. And one thing leads to another and that’s all you see.  And, matter of fact, the reason I retired, when I sat back one day and said, there are other things in this world you know.  And I still call a little bit now, maybe half a dozen dances a year.  But I’m involved in a lot of other things which I never had time for before.


BB: Right. So, what about recording?


BP: I recorded for the first time on Old Timer.  That goes back a ways.  Then I recorded for C. O. Guest on Long Horn.  Went to Kalox. Recorded for(?) any more.


BB: Yeah. How about Sets in Order. Anything with them.


BP: No, nothing.  One of the most interesting projects I’ve been involved in, not a

recording project, Bob Osgood asked me to help him edit and develop the callers textbook.  And what that was, Bob says that I had the good sense that there was a book there.  A caller training book. And asked me if I would help organize it.  And what we did, we went through every issue of Sets in Order magazine, every single one. And pulled out every article that had anything to do with caller training that might be, have some conceivable caller training application.  And I organized those by time and by the Callerlab curriculum.  And that’s what was finally published.  It was a big, big job.


BB: I can imagine. And you’re not right next door to Bob Osgood, either.


BP: Well, in those days, I was calling in Southern California often enough.  I was going down maybe half a dozen times a year from San Jose.  I’d go down on the weekend, call two or three dances, and stop in and see Bob.


BB: Okay, you know, there’s people talking these days about costuming. Not really a controversy necessarily, but people are, some people are saying they think we may be overdressed in some say, it’s okay.


BP: I’ve heard the discussions. One of the things that I’ve always liked about square dancing is that we don’t compel costuming officially, formally. There’s a keep-up-with-your-peers pressure to be sure, but I’ve heard more comments that the ladies especially enjoy the petticoats, or they did.  I can see, it’s my impression that the comments for doing away with costume restrictions or requirements are coming from people who are dancing five, six, seven times a week, and that can be a bit much.  And I can understand it. On the other hand, there is a lot be said for the petticoats.


BB: Right. Yeah. Well, I hate to see slacks and shorts. It just doesn’t seem like the right


BP: Me either.


BB: It just doesn’t quite seem right.


BP: You’re right, you’re right.


BB: Right. Did you ever get involved in any other forms of dancing like round dancing or contras?


BP: Oh, I, in the old days everybody taught rounds you know. We all taught rounds, and I round danced. There came a point when the requirements of calling a dance, the homework, the preparation that a caller had to do to get, to keep current if nothing else, precluded rounds. I didn’t have time for it any more.  Happened to most guys. Very few guys are doing both today.  There are some, but not many.


BB: Yeah. No that was


BP: I hate to see it go. I was, I still cue “Tips of My Fingers” every dance I call, just to say I’ve done it you know.


BB: That’s a nice dance. Okay, do you have any secrets for recruiting?


BP: Oh, golly.


BB: As you know, we’re, our activity is a little bit


BP: I don’t understand it. I just have got some interesting thoughts on it, but I, no explanations.  It totally struck me as relevant that we have appealed over the last 40, 50 years to one generation.  And by that I mean I started calling 40 years ago by teaching a beginner class, where everybody was my age, give or take 5 years.  I taught a begin, while I was working, I taught a beginner class, at least one, every single year thereafter. And the students were always my age.


BB: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.


BP: My students would always remain my age.


BB: I never thought of it that way.


BP: Why that should be, I have no idea.  But that’s a fact. And I think one of the reasons we’re dying out is that we’re getting Alzheimer’s, we’re getting older, we’re getting, the body parts are wearing out.  I think that has a lot to do with it.  I think it’s generational. We don’t, we don’t appeal to the generations before us or after us.  Why that should be, I have no idea.  But I think the numbers will bear it out.


BB: Right. Oh, I’m sure it will. Well, maybe we’ll get through a little valley and start up the hill again.


BP: Oh, I’m sure that’ll happen.  It’s been cyclical.  Another interesting point that, this might be interesting.  I’ve done a lot of calling overseas.  I’ve been all over Europe, just about every European country.  New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, it strikes me as odd that square dancing is very successful in other countries, in the white  Scandinavian, non-Latin countries for example.  Why square dancing should be enormously successful in Germany, in Scandanavia, and die in Italy and France and Spain.  Why is that?  I can’t understand it, but it’s a fact, absolute fact. I had a caller student one time interested point­, who, he was mulatto, mixed parentage, very well educated, a doctorate degree in language of all things.  Spoke nine languages fluently. Worked for the UN in Rome. He discovered square dancing in the American compound. Wants to be a caller. Came to a caller school that Jim Mayo and I did in Georgia, and learned to be a caller and was very good at it. Went back to Rome, and his thought was to get the Italians involved, not just the Americans.  The ex-patriots.  And they came, but they didn’t stay.  They came 3 or 4 weeks and then they were gone. And he

couldn’t figure what was wrong. He came the next year to our school, and we explored it. It wasn’t him. He was a good caller, a good teacher.  When he went back again, and be asked the people that left, why did you leave. The answer came back, why do we always have to come on Tuesday night.  Why can’t we come on Thursday some times.

Why do we always have to do what you say.  Why can’t we do a Tarantella once in a while.  And I think the answer there is, it’s a disciplined activity.  It requires a certain amount of discipline.  And there are certain peoples who enjoy that, others who do not.


BB: Right. Well, that’s interesting.  Interesting concept, right?


BP:   I’m not quite sure what relevance it has, but it’s an undeniable fact.


BB: Yeah. One of the questions I’ve been asking everybody, Bill, is, what in your career did you find, excuse me, what did find appealing about calling. What was the appeal.


BP: Oh, for me, it was the opportunity to be in the center ring.  As you can see, I’m now involved on stage.  I started out, before square dancing, I wanted to be an actor.  I decided that’s no way to make a living very early on. I was retired and going back to it.

Not making a living at it, but I’m just having fun with it.  So, I’ve always had that kind of personality. I enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate showmanship.  And my calling style and my attributes as a caller are related to that very directly. And I don’t look down at that, I’m a ham, and I think every caller, all the successful, all the good ones are.  Whether they admit it or not.  Even Flippo.  You know, we have this desire to be center ring.  And can do that without over doing it, without keeping the, your audience in mind first.  That’s a great asset.  So that’s the most appealing for me.  I’ve also had the feeling that, in trying to analyze where our numbers are going, why they came in the first place, and why we don’t have them now, I have no answer. But for me, the appeal to square dancing is also its downfall. I’m sure you’ve heard the history point made that there was a point in time about 40 years ago when it was discovered that it’s fun to know what’s coming next. It’s also fun to not know what’s coming next.  And, when you turn that comer, when we decided to make square dancing a game where the dancer must follow, now, in real time, what the caller is asking them to do, and do it in concert with seven other people, as a team, as a joint venture, cooperative activity, and when you succeed, that’s a high.  That’s a glow.  We have carried it, this is opinion now, not fact. We’ve carried it to the extreme. We’ve gone overboard in that direction. In callers schools, I tell people square dancing is a mixture of three things, three basic human needs.  Social sensual dancing, moving to music, and intellectual, that combination. If you haven’t got all three, you haven’t got square dancing.  It needs all three. Our problems arise that we don’t all want to do the same mix.  Some want more of this, some want more of that, some want more of the other thing. And, we are, we’ve been trying to find some combination that’s going to fit everybody, and I doubt that we can.  So this ability to present the puzzle to the dancer in a way hat he has to work at it but makes it.  That ringsmanship that we provide, that to me is also a very appealing thing.

Don’t always make it you know. That’s what I strive for.  And it’s a pity, it’s too bad that we’ve gone too far the other direction.  We really have, without getting on a soap box about that. And I was one of the ones early on who, in the foreground, you know, I was leading the parade, but I was wrong.


BB: Right. Well, you’ve been talking with Jim Mayo, I know, because he told me exactly the same thing, the three parts of


BP: Oh, well, you know I, it’s hard to tell at this point, any of these ideas, which is Jim’s, which is mine.  We’re too close together with this.  We had a debate one time at the Miami Callerlab, about how much puzzle do we want in the activity, and he was, he took the side of not having any. I took the side that you’ve got to have some, and we knew it going in. We both saw it from opposite points and came together.  And we did that deliberately you see. So Jim and I have been having this discussion for years

and years and years, and we both have found a very convoluted ground you know. Unfortunately, I’m (?).


BB: Well, I don’t know any two people that are farther apart in geo, geographically.


BP: Oh, well, yeah. But back in the days we were working, when I was working, we had callers schools east and west, you know, our callers schools.  And so I worked on the east coast a lot.


BB: And he’s been out here a lot.


BP: Oh sure absolutely, absolutely.


BB: So. Well, I’d be interested in sort of an overview, Bill, of, most everybody I’ve been asking to expound a little bit on where do you think square dancing has been, and where do you think it is now, and as far as you know, you’re kind of out of it now, and where do you think it might be going.


BP: I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea. I’m out of what, I’m still aware, you know, of the figures. Not as secure in the pulse as I used to be, but I keep track of things, and most of my friends are still square dance connected, so we talk to each other. I have no idea where it’s going. I’m convinced it’s going, it’s going to be cyclical, it’s going to fade away just like it did before Ford’s book, “Good Morning”, you know, and it’ll come back. Through something like that or something else. It’s not going to die.  I’m not quite, you know, if we had the answers to these things, it’s very easy. The ideal thing, of course, would be for us to, what you’re doing is important because maybe people in the next cycle will be able to listen to this kind of thing and understand where, what’s happened to us.  Another interesting point, Bob, you know, that I think might be

interesting here, calling overseas has given me another insight. I’ve been to Germany for the last five or six times in the last 20 years. Each time, 3 or 4 years apart, okay. The first time I went there, all the dancers were aged 20 years old, 20, 25, five years later, they are all 25, 30, five years later, they’re all 30, 35.  So they’re going to have the same problem, (?), they make a great case about keeping it to Mainstream. Well, they’re trying, but they’re losing. The other activity, the other, the higher levels quote, are gaining ground, Very rapidly, and the point being, they’re falling into the same trap that we’re in, The same thing is true in Japan, I called in Japan, the first time in ’72, 5 years later, same age phenomenon.  Of course, they’re out of their minds with Advanced and Challenge dancing.  So that there’s some truth, some basic fundamental truth there that I don’t understand. I don’t even know how to use.  Because I think it’s human nature for people to want to succeed, you can’t tell anybody that Mainstream is the only square dance there is because there are other kinds.  On the other hand, what we fail to do, again I don’t know how to convince people, Plus 2 isn’t better than Plus 1, A2 isn’t better than A 1, it’s different.  And it’s happening all over the world just like that.  Whatever happens here, Europe is 20 years behind us. But they’re following the same path.  So where we’re going, I have no idea. I’m convinced it will come back. I’m convinced it will. I think it will come back in time, appealing to an age group in the 20’s and 30’s originally, who will probably get older again.  Another hard thing to factor into this whole thing is the computer you know. I don’t own one, as you notice.  I’m afraid that the trend is put all our recreation on keyboard, and that’s unfortunate you know.  I watch some of the e-mail on the caller’s page, some of the conversation going on there. And it just boggles my mind, you know.  So, that’s got to be factored in, but, I don’t know how.  I wish I had a more definite answer for, or an opinion, a stronger opinion.


BB: Well, that’s


BP: I can turn around in hindsight, this is the way it’s been. I can recognize that, but what to do about, I have no idea, absolutely none.  An interesting thought.  My neighbor just a week or so ago, asked me about, would I do a beginner class some day for the neighbors.  And my first reaction was no, I don’t want the weekly commitment, you know. But, I mentioned it, and she said we don’t have to have it every week well, we can do it whenever you want to do it which was an interesting and appealing thought. Then the thought arose, shall I, if I do this, do I bring them into the Mainstream of the activity, or keep them locked up in my garage, you know. Shall I expose them to what’s been happening and give them the same virus that we’ve all caught.  Interesting question.


BB: Yes. Well, I’ve had that same thought. I always thought some day, I’m going to find a little village on top of a mountain. I’m never going to tell them there’s a magazine or a square dance any where.


BP: Well, there you go.


BB: But, well, you know Callerlab this year, at their final meeting, voted to resolve that they’re going to try to establish a Basic program which, and try to keep people in that program for a year. So, as we all know, is what we’ve been trying to do right straight along. But, uh we’ll see what comes.


BP: I wish you all kinds of luck. We tried to do that for years.  The problem that I see is that, unless we deal with peer pressure, unless we deal with the fact that, oh, yeah, but the real fun is in A1 you see. Unless we can deal with that, I don’t know.  It’s

doomed to failure.


BB:  Yeah. There were some objections to the idea there.  Tony Oxendine is an example, was opposed to the resolution because he said well, that’s what we’ve been trying to do right straight along. (?).  We’ve spoiled the Mainstream and Plus program, and we’re probably going to do the same thing with the Basic.


BP: One of the biggest disappointments I have with Callerlab, and, it’s a heartfelt disappointment, I’m really, I have no solution to that. It just disturbs me, having been from the year one, from the very beginning, we spent 75% of our time changing lists, that’s all we’ve done.  And, I’ve always said, give me a list, keep that list, and that’s all.

Don’t add anything else to it And they keep adding.  Well, we can’t do that.


BB: Well, Bob Van Antwerp just mentioned the same thing. He said in a 1-year period, there were 38 changes, and, either eliminations or additions, or changes.


BP: I got to a point where I stopped voting.  I didn’t care.  Just give me what the list is, tell me what it is, and go with that.  And to have spent all this adrenaline on these insignificant efforts, they mean nothing.  It’s too bad.


BB: Well. so I guess the day we came up with the chicken plucker, and it changed the whole activity now.  Suddenly began to realize that you could move people around

outside of circles and lines and stars.


BP:   Well, what happened was, when we discovered that it was fun and Gotcher was one of the instrumental guys in this, when we discovered that it was fun to be surprised, not to know what was coming, we had to change our whole calling strategy, our whole, all the calling activity, all the calling techniques had to be reinvented, you know.  Sight calling came about as a result of that.  To fill that need we developed sight calling, which was a great thing to do. But, it’s a blessing and a curse, you know. I remember, well, I’m sure you do, going back to when I started to call, I learned a poem, eight-line poem.  Everything rhymed, and if I knew one poem, that was twice for the heads and twice for the sides.  That was a tip. And to become a caller, literally, you learned eight poems, eight tips in a dance, you learned eight poems, and you called them twice for the heads and twice for the sides, you were a caller.


BB: There you go. I hadn’t thought about it that way.


BP:   It was, it was that simple.  It was that simple. I remember, talking about Gilmore,

Gilmore came to San Jose one time, and he wouldn’t allow us to tape. We fooled him. There was a balcony in this hall, and we had a wire recorder.   A wire recorder, that’s how far back this goes. And we taped his dance. And I feel guilty even now telling, talking about it.  Because, I saw Ed after that and never had the guts to tell him, we did that to him, but, because that tape was gold, you know, it was valuable for us.  That’s research in those days.


BB: Right. Bill, we’re just about to come to the end of this tape.


BP: Oh, good.


BB: So, let’s take a break.


BP: Okay.


BB: Okay, we’ve turned the tape over, and we’re just, during the interim there, a little intermission, we talked about traveling callers and so forth, so Bill, tell us one of your stories.


BP: I remember doing a dance in Idaho, with Cal Golden.  And the way it was set up, he had the Friday dance, and I had the Saturday dance.  And I flew in for my dance. He was on the road. He was traveling.  He had this old Cadillac where he had taken out the rear seat and put a, a rod across with all his costumes and all his records and stuff. He had, he carried a whole menagerie around with him.  And he picked me up at the airport on Friday. I came in on a Friday, and he took me to the motel. My room was adjoining his, and the first thing we did was get (?).  And Cal was in his underwear sitting in front of the mirror, shining up the sequins on his suits.  And been on the road for about 40 days he told us, something like that, and he looked just beat, just plain, flat tired. And I thought he was carrying these two big suitcases with his costumes back to his car, and I thought of the Death of a Salesman picture, the salesman with the two suitcases. And I saw that. He was, he was just tired.  Just absolutely tired of that.  And his last dance had been 500 miles away the night before.


BB: Is that right.


BP: And his next dance was 250 miles away.  And just, but Cal thrived on it, too. He enjoyed it.  He, he liked that stuff, not for me.


BB: I know Gilmore told me before, at the end of his career, he said, “I tell you, I’m never going to plan a tour any more where I have to travel more than 300 miles in a day.”


BP: Oh. It’s impossible. I did a 3-week tour, 3 weeks. I went from San Jose, up to the Northwest, into Canada, across Canada to the Maritimes, down through New England, into Florida, back across New Orleans, Texas, and the Southwest back to San Jose again. In 3 weeks.  And a dance every night.  And it’s just too much, never again.


BB: Never again.


BP: Never again. I don’t think there’s so much of that going on any more. I think Flippo and a few guys do travel.  Does Frank still travel like that, Frank Lane?


BB: No. No. He’s doing, he does his favorite weekends and things like that, but not all the time. Gary Shoemake and Ken Bower are still traveling. Then the upcoming boys down in


BP: Oh, I guess they


BB: Down in Mesa they’re, Bob Fisk is still on the road a lot, and Wade Driver, and then the newer guys, Randy Doherty and


BP: That’s an interesting thing. I never got involved in that. I had the opportunity a couple of times to get involved with the snowbird camps, and recognized that it’s just too much, so I never did.  But that’s an interesting phenomenon. But also what’s interesting there, that the counterpart to that in Europe. The British go to Spain, and on the Spanish Riviera, there are square dance camps with the resident callers, British callers.  So interesting thing.


BB: Well, Bill, I think we’re winding down on our discussion, and I want to tell you I really appreciate your taking the time to


BP: Well, I’m very pleased that someone is doing what you’re doing. This is


BB: Well, thank you.


BP: A great job, great concept.


BB: Well, I know you’ve made a great contribution to the activity over the years, and you’re winner of the Milestone Award, so thank you again for taking the time, and


BP:   Thank you.


BB: And I’m on my way up a little bit farther north before I head back to Albuquerque, and, so we’ll look for you around the square.


BP:   Thank you, Sir.

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