Buddy Weaver – May 30, 2008
Bob Brundage – Well hi again, this is Bob Brundage, and today is May the 30th 2008. And today we have the pleasure of talking with a gentleman out in San Diego, California, Mr. Buddy Weaver. And we’re interested to find out all about the recording business and we’re also looking forward to trying to find out a little bit more about Buddy’s personal life. According to the bio, it calls your home state Hawaii, is that right Buddy?
Buddy Weaver – That’s correct I was born and raised in Hawaii.
BB – Ok. Well, tell us a little bit about life before square dancing.
BW – (laughs) … life before square dancing. Well, I come from a whole family of square dancers. My dad was a caller, Dick Weaver, and during his heyday, which would have been probably in the early ‘60s, he did a lot of traveling over on the mainland and he recorded for High Hat records back when Merl Olds had the label. My mom’s family also square danced, that’s my grandparents and my grandfather on my mom’s side, he was also a caller back in the ‘50s.
BB – I’ll be darned.
BW – And he was really the impetus for me getting into calling. He was my mentor, so to speak, even though he had been away from calling a long time when I decided to get into it.
BB – Ok. Well, so what about school and things like that?
BW – Yeah, I went to school. (both laugh)
BB – Was this in Hawaii.
BW – Yeah, yeah. I went to school in Hawaii and we … my family and I moved here to California in 1995 … excuse me … yeah, 1995 that’s correct.
BB – Yes, well, all right. And well I know you’ve done a lot of calling around here and there and I see you’ve done a lot of calling overseas.
BW – Mm hmm.
BB – Ok, tell us a little about that. Some of your …
BW – Well, square dancing’s been awful, awful good to us. It has been awful good to me. I’ve been able to see the world in many cases. I was able to go into Poland, as a matter of fact, very early on in the post cold war years, and I was hired in there actually to do a dance camp for a group of Swedes, folks from Denmark, Germans who had come to Poland and were trying to learn more advanced forms of dancing. And I also had the opportunity to introduce square dancing to some of the Poles themselves. That was one of the few times we actually used the interpreter to get the word across. But it was very effective and it really was a neat experience to be there. I’ve got to say the folks in Japan have been awful good to me over the years, I’ve been able to go back there quite a bit and enjoy and appreciate the fact that those folks over in Japan not only enjoy me as a caller but enjoy the music that we put out on the record labels. So doubly I’m…. I’m very appreciative of… of those folks out there too.
BB – Right. Well, you’ve mentioned your grandfather being one of your mentors, what about other mentors around the country?
BW – Well, I came into square dance calling and I was pretty much self taught. I… I taught myself from listening to some of the old Sets In Order records from back in the early … mid ‘60s. When I first started out calling one of my earliest … I… I listened early on to Kip Garvey and… and he was an early experience that, I would say, kind of molded me as a caller.
BB – Right.
BW – I was very fortunate over the years to have become friends with fellows like Dave Taylor, Dick Houlton, Dick Leger, Les Gotcher …
BB – Yeah.
BW – … those guys really … Dave helped probably mold my idea of the business side of square dance calling more so than anybody else. Dick Houlton really showed me a lot of how to… to handle people. Dick Leger, you know, the whole timing aspect and appreciation of music and musical phrase and the difference in musical rhythms. And… and Les Gotcher, you know, even though I met Les … it was probably late in the 1980’s. And he had gotten out of calling, but came back into calling and I had been calling for quite a while at that time. I still learned so much from that guy and… and so much of what I saw him do I use in my program today.
BB – Yeah, well. You must have met Les when you were still in Hawaii then?
BW – That’s correct.
BB – After he retired and moved to Hawaii. Yeah.
BW – Yes.
BB – What about … did you go to any caller’s schools?
BW – Nope, never went to a caller’s school.
BB – Have you ever run any (chuckles) yourself?
BW – Yes. (laughs) I have run a few caller’s schools. In fact, Les and I ran a caller school there on the big island of Hawaii about the time that he was getting back into calling actively.
BB – Ah hah. Well that’s interesting. So did you have a pretty good turn out? These were all what … native Hawaiians mostly that came to your caller’s school?
BW – You know, we had a lot of transplants from the mainland. We had a good turnout there, on the big island. Everybody out there had some … had a more … had a great experience in square dancing itself and so most of those people also had some background in calling. It was interesting to hear Les’ approach to sight calling which, of course, everybody wanted to learn sight calling at that time. And then I would come, in to my approach, to the FASR aspects of it. Very interesting. I learned a lot from working with Les and if anything I use a lot of Les’ old principles which I teach callers today.
BB – I see. (chuckles) Well, it’s interesting that you’d learn sight calling from Les because people say that he wrote a book about how to do sight calling but he never did really tell you (chuckles) in the book how to do it.
BW – Yeah, his approach was … you know there is a whole school of thought out there now called C-R-a-M-S, the CRaMS program …
BB – Yes.
BW – … and a lot of that borrows off of the original principles that Les used to expound on back in his old books, and that he was still expounding on back in the eighties. Very basic approach to sight calling. I was already sight calling before I met him, but I liked his approach to teaching sight callers. He was a lot simpler than … it cut to it, shall we say, in a much more direct manner than my way did.
BB – Yes, I get you. Ok, well (chuckles) that’s really interesting. I’m sorry that I never got a chance to interview Les even though I’d met him a few times and I’ve danced to him a few times when he was out East. But, ok shall we start thinking about the recording business? (chuckles) Before we start, my only experience with recording … when I recorded on Folkraft we did it in Frank Kaltman’s living room. Frank Kaltman was the owner of Folkraft records in Newark, New Jersey and when I recorded on Mac Gregor they sent me the music and I went into RKO Studios in New York City to record. So you must actually have started your recording business while you were still in Hawaii?
BW – Yeah, I was very fortunate again to get hooked up with people who had record businesses. I started out with D&R records back in ’81, and shortly thereafter I recorded for Hugh Macey for Grenn Records, and I recorded for Norm Merrbach at the time that he owned the Blue Star label. And I recorded for Bob Elling on Riverboat and Ernie Kinnie. And Ernie and I have become great pals over the years and he had me on High Hat for many years.
BB – Uh huh. Tell us a little … can you expound a little bit on the intricacies (chuckles) of the recording business. In other words … I’m sort of interested in, you know, what goes into producing a record, where do you start, and how about where do you get the music and what are some of the physical things that you have to go through to do a recording?
BW – Well, yeah, the record business has certainly evolved over the years. I know you mentioned starting out recording in a living room and finishing up in a studio. I think in many cases it’s kind of gone full circle now (chuckles) …
BB – Yes.
BW – … a lot of people are doing their recordings in their, in their living rooms. For my labels, I have … I acquired Blue Star records and Blue Star came with Dance Ranch, Bob Cat, all … all of those subsidiary labels and then shortly thereafter I also acquired High Hat which also came with Blue Ribbon and other subsidiary labels there as well. Musically, we have an outfit out of Houston. I’ve used a band out of Austria. I’ve got a guy in Japan that does music for us. We’ve also been fortunate in finding tapes that were done back … from some of the old masters back in the sixties so that when I say “old masters” … guys like Jimmie Bryant who was a brilliant guitarist. It was music that was just never released and just sat, literally sat, in the vault for years. And we found that through modern technology we were able to take those tapes and resurrect them, really, and come up with a sound that is just as good as when the guy was sitting there. You would almost think he was sitting in front of you playing the guitar live. It’s just that clean, it’s just that good and we’re able to remix it and come out with something that’s just absolutely brilliant. The square dance record business, the recording business, has certainly changed from what it was even when I first came into it. And I have been in it maybe over the last eight years or so as a producer. To me, it reminds me of when the record companies were evolving from 78 RPMs to 45 RPMs and how a lot of companies were going back to a lot of their old 78 RPM recordings and bringing them all back out as a … as a brand new library on 45s. That’s happening now with the digital transition, and where we have this whole library of music that in many cases just disappeared. Maybe it came out as a record once, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and then has vanished. And we have this ability now to bring it back out on digital format be it CD is my choice of digital format, and the music … and what we can do with it now and be able put it onto a CD as opposed to a record, it’s just magic. I mean I’ve listened to pieces that we’ve put out on CD where we had an old piece of vinyl on it and I’m listening to the CD and saying “I didn’t know those instruments were playing in there”, (Bob chuckles) until I heard it on the CD.
BB – Well I’ll be darned. Well, it must be getting more and more complicated in that now you’re trying to produce on vinyl, and then on CD and now on MP3.
BW – We do a limited amount of MP3. And yeah, I’m still one of the producers out there who still does vinyl. I appreciate too the fact that tastes have certainly evolved over the years and there… there are a lot of callers, like me, who really enjoy the traditional sound. I … I enjoy that … that whole orchestra playing and I enjoy hearing the classic tunes played like Get A Long Home Cindy or Old Joe Clark. But there is also a large market out there of people who want to hear the more contemporary, the more pop sounding pieces, and so I try to be very careful and appeal to both types of musical tastes that are out there. And, when we put a vinyl record one side of it will have a traditional side and one side will be more contemporary. And the same thing with our singing calls, which will try to run that gamut … which will try to get something for everybody, so to speak.
BB – Right. Well that’s interesting. So how do you choose who … who does a recording for you? I know you’ve done a lot yourself but you’re also recording other people … artists, aren’t you?
BW – True. And again (I’m) very fortunate to have surrounded myself with such brilliant callers who are out there. Everybody that records for me is a buddy of mine. And everybody just comes out and chooses their songs and we’ll just keep doing it as long as I … until I run out of friends (chuckles).
BB – Right.
BW – But then I’m done. I do want to say too what were trying to do … or what I’m trying to do with the record business is … where I’ve seen the evolution of calling over the years has gotten … the art of calling has gotten away from the … what I would consider the true musical appreciation. Music seems to be just a slight accompaniment in back. And, and we’ve lost that ability to hear the differences in … in … not only if your playing a simple boom-chuck piece of music but there are differences in the orchestration. We’ve lost that ability to hear what a four-four shuffle for example would do for the dancers. Not only does it sound different but it has a different effect on the dancers. And 6/8 rhythm … and Bob you could certainly appreciate that… 6/8 has a completely different effect for the dancers. Most dancers kind of convert their … that 6/8 to kind of their own little 2/4 rhythm but …
BB – Right.
BW – … what a neat effect. And we don’t have that out there any more, that callers aren’t really paying attention to it. And I’m trying to educate callers to come back to that and use music more in their program and choreography less, if that makes sense.
BB – Huh. Well, that’s great. Yeah, I always used to like to call in 6/8 tempos. I always try to make sure that I use it at least one or two times during an evening of calling because hardly anybody … you know, everybody’s using 2/4 and 4/4 and that’s about it, but … . So, well that’s certainly very interesting and I’m happy to find out a little more about the recording business. Let’s get on a little bit. Are you doing anything with contras at all, even as a dancer?
BW – As a … oh gosh, I can’t remember the last time I was out dancing. That sounds terrible, but with young kids at home we just … we find that the time is certainly short in many cases, but, as a caller I do enjoy contras and I’ve … and I can remember, you mentioned your Folkraft records and I have that series as a matter of fact. That was your progressive contra series …
BB – Yes.
BW – … that you did on Folkraft and I still have those, as a matter of fact. I learned an awful lot about contra early on in my career from listening to those records.
BB – Well great.
BW – I’m a big fan of using contras to enhance the overall dance that we’re doing whether it’s a modern western square dance or a first nighter … I especially love Trios and Sicilian Circles. I just … Jerry Helt was another guy who was a very early influence and introduced me to Sicilian Circles and … absolutely blew me away … my socks rolled down and rolled back up again when I saw what he was doing with people who were beginners, and I’ve simply taken that and just kept it going and put my own twist to it, so to speak.
BB – Right. So, well how about round dancing? Do you cue rounds at all?
BW – I do cue the rounds for my groups but, here again, I don’t consider myself a round dance cuer. I pretty much stick to the dances that have stood the test of time and are popular amongst the dancers.
BB – Right. So, well, tell me what do you find is appealing about being a caller? What’s the appeal to calling?
BW – Now that’s a loaded question. I think it’s like being the appeal of square dancing; it’s different for everybody, in my opinion. For me, right now, what appeals to me the most is to be able to take a group of people who may be having a terrible, terrible day, maybe a terrible week or a month and really make them feel good about themselves. It’s a … over the years, I’ve been doing this now for… for a little over 31 years, and we’ve had folks who may have made their stop at my dance their last outside stop in this world period. And I want to look back and think well, I gave them a really good dance and I really left them … and they left the dance feeling good about themselves. They were… they were uplifted, and if was their time to leave and … leave this world, then hopefully it was a good experience they left with. And that is kind of how I view square dancing. I view square dancing as a mix of the social and …. I don’t know how to, how to phrase it … less puzzle solving I guess if anything … ‘cause I know there are a lot of people out their who really enjoy that puzzle solving aspect of it and I just don’t see that as being more than maybe about 1% of the entire program.
BB – Ah ha. Well, have you done anything at all with this, so called, ABC program?
BW – Very early on before it was an ABC we …. I took what used to be Jack Lasry’s Limited Basics, and it was a ten week program, and it used just a handful of basics. And I ran that successfully in Hawaii … we had that program going for about … I want to say about five years.
BB – Hey.
BW – Unfortunately, I was not able to sell any of the other callers on getting into it, but it was successful for a good five years. It was a neat way to bring people in quickly and at most, I say that 75% of the people that came into the program chose not to go any further than just that and just wanted to keep dancing at the ten week level and they were very happy with it.
BB – Right. Well that’s… that’s… that’s certainly interesting. One of the other questions I’ve been asking everybody – “Where do you think square dancing is going” and where do you think the recording business is headed?
BW – Ok. There you go. Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it. Well, I think square dancing has become an activity of enthusiasts. If … I know … at least here in Southern California, with the entry level being Plus, you are asking people who… who do not square dance to come in and dedicate themselves to being there at least once a week for approximately a year without fail. Now, that pretty much excludes the folks who are hobbyists, the ones who can give you three nights out of a month or two nights out of a month or maybe only five nights out of eight. Because those folks quickly realize they are not able to keep up and are told to come back a year later, but a year later their schedule hasn’t changed. They’ll still struggle with it. And I’m afraid that what we have built with square dancing, modern western square dancing, is something that is for enthusiasts and it’s enthusiast driven. And our callers are very much on board with that. We all are enthusiasts, and we fail to see that we don’t have a program that’s really set up for the hobbyist square dancer. The folks who just want to come in every now and then and we don’t have a large program … we… we… we’ve drifted away … I… I… I want to say evolved but it really is not … it’s not evolution when you think that we’ve gone to the enthusiast side and lost so many hobbyists. I don’t really consider that evolving.
On the record side of the business I … what I’ve seen happen over the years is… here again, we’ve started to lose a lot of the dancers who used to buy into the records. The record business started for the square dancers. All of the original recordings were done with vocals only because these were for… for people who did not know how to dance or knew how to dance but wanted to teach their friends how to dance. The musical side of it came along within about two to three years after the records started and then we got away from that and it became for just callers only. I’d like to see it come back to being … dancers buying into it. Especially now I think that you can look around the country and see there are a lot of areas that have now lost their callers and have nobody to keep the square dancing going. And maybe through this record business … I know through my own experience we’ve put out CDs that teach people easy steps … well for example an easy Sicilian Circle or an easy Trio. And it’s put out on a CD and so folks who know how to square dance and even those who don’t know how to square dance can just simply pick up the CD, and they can find themselves dancing the whole night off of a CD. Kind of bringing square dancing back to where it used to be, back to being for the hobbyist and hopefully it will spread more that way.
BB – Right. Well that’s an interesting concept. A slightly different way of looking at it and I appreciate your telling us that. You mentioned that word Trio a couple of times. Can you explain … it’s a little bit different than the square formation, can you tell us a little about that?
BW – Three people facing three people. In most cases set up like wagon spokes around the hall, in some cases you can have all three people facing in the same direction be it clockwise or counterclockwise.
BB – Yes.
BW – And just begin to become interactive from that point on. One of my favorite Trios just uses two calls. It uses a circle and uses a do sa do, and I’ve gotten more mileage out of that Trio. I think it was written by Bob Howell. I use it at one nighters and I use it at modern western square dances especially if it’s a singles club and there is a disproportionate number of women to men. And rather than having a lot of people sitting out it’s a wonderful way to get everybody up on the floor and dancing. And the modern western square dancers just absolutely eat it up.
BB – Right. And actually sometimes it is not male/female oriented anyway. Anybody can join it in any position, right?
BW – Correct, correct. In any gender arrangement, any age arrangement. If you’ve got a mix of young kids with teenagers and older folks, it doesn’t make any difference. Three people. If we have a young kid in there I kind of like to put that little … the little ones in the center of the group of three and maybe sandwiched between mom and dad. And then the whole family gets to dance together in one neat experience.
BB – Right. Have you looked into Ted Sannella’s books? Ted Sannella from Massachusetts who passed away a few years ago.
BW – I’m familiar with his name but I’m not familiar with his books.
BB – Well you ought to look it up because he’s got a lot of Trios and that type of thing. But, so.
BW – All right.
BB – Do you have time for any other kind of hobbies, Buddy?
BW – Well, I love golf and I wish I had more time for it. (laughs) Someday when I retire I’d like to be like Ernie Kinney and golf nine times a week, but for now I’m happy if I can get out once a week. By golly, we… we… we do keep busy. Of course, you know, I mentioned that I still have young kids at home and so I really try to spend as much time with them as possible before it’s time for them to grow up and start families of their own. I want to give them as many memories as they … as I possibly can.
BB – Right. Well. Well this has been a very interesting conversation Buddy and I appreciate your taking the time this morning to put it on tape and I’ll get it back up to the New England Foundation and. So, unless you can think of something else that you would like to add for posterity …
BW – Well, all I can say is Bob, I really appreciate what you’re doing out there. I think it’s so important to talk to the people who are out there, and I certainly appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to… to record your conversations with some of the … well the people who I consider to be the legends in the business and record their thoughts. It’s sad too that in the modern generation we have today we have not only lost that hobbyist view but we have also lost touch with our history. There are so many people who are out there who have built square dancing up. We stand on their shoulders, we stand on the shoulders of giant people such as yourself, your brother, and Jonsey and Gotcher, and all these fellows … Osgood, and we really need to have that touch … we need to have that touchstone with history and that’s what you’re doing and I appreciate that.
BB – Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your saying that. It’s been a labor of love. So, unless you think of anything else I think we can call this a day and let you get on with your day and let me get back on the golf course.
BW – Very good. Thanks Bob, appreciate the conversation.
BB – Ok Buddy, I appreciate it and we’ll be talking to you again sometime.
BW – Very good.
BB – Yup, bye bye.
BW – Bye.
Tape recorder turns off. End of interview with Buddy Weaver