Catherine Elizabeth Macey – October 2008
Bob Brundage – Well, hi again, this is Bob Brundage and today we are in the midst of a financial breakdown in the economy. It’s October in 2008 and today wer’re having the pleasure of talking to Cem Macey out in Ohio. We’re looking forward to an interesting conversation about Grenn Records and Top Records and FTC and CEM. So, Cem, if I may, tell us a little bit about your background early days. Where you were born and brought up, etc.
Cem Macey – Well, I was born and brought up in Akron, Ohio where I still live. I was born in ‘42 and I remember my parents beginning square dancing in the late 40’s, early 50’s. They really enjoyed it and became enthusiasts.
BB – I see. OK. Now, I want to finish talking about your past experience before I talk about your parents and the recording business. So, I understand you’re a dancer yourself.
CM – I was, a long time ago.
BB – OK. You’re no longer dancing then?
CM – No, Mom and Dad and I did dance, oh golly, at several National conventions and Mom and Dad had a live television (show), I think it was a half hour show on a local station…
BB – Is that so?
CM – …and I danced on that once or twice at least.
BB – Do you remember about what year that was?
CM – Oh gosh …..
BB – Just approximate.
CM – Late 50-’s early 60’s I think.
BB – OK, that’s fine. Now, was it your parents that were busy in Roundalab or were you also?
CM – No, I never I never did learn round dancing and they were not
instrumental in …well, Dad was instrumental in helping to form Roundalab but he did not…he could not become a member because he did not teach round dancing.
BB – I see. Well, that’s very interesting.
CM – He was, however, involved in the …I’m not sure it’s even still around but the umbrella group, Legacy.
BB – Yes. Well, they’ve disbanded but I understand that you undertook to put together a scrapbook for Legacy.
CM – Yes, I did. I had all of Dad’s correspondence with …oh dear, what’s his name in New England, he was the founder, I believe, of the New England Caller magazine.
BB – Oh, Charlie Baldwin.
CM – Charlie Baldwin, Bob Osgood and, here in Ohio …golly, I haven’t …I haven’t talked to or been in contact with some of these people in many years.
BB – Yes. Right. Well, that’s fine. I understand at one time you had your own record label.
CM – Well, (both laugh) Dad had a record label that he named CEM, C E M that was more a ballroom label than …but of course, the music was …was used for round dancing as well.
BB – Yes. OK, but you were never a caller yourself.
CM – No and my one attempt to …to teach a beginning class at a … excuse me, local elementary school was kind of a flop. The teachers were interfering with the students too much and everybody was frustrated.
BB – Yes. OK. (Chuckles) Well, I understand your father was a scientist.
CM – Well, he was, by training he was a chemist, research chemist and during the second world war he tried …he tried to enlist in all four branches of the military and he was always refused because he was … his …he was an employee of B. F. Goodrich… (Ed. Note Joseph Hugh Macey was issued Patent 2378717 for Reuse of Vulcanized Scrap Synthetic Rubber in 1945, Patent 2597741 for Electrical-Conductive Rubbery Composition and Method for Making Same in 1952, and Patent 3264237 for Modification of CIS-Polybutadine with a Hydrocarbon … in 1966.)
BB – I see.
CM – …and they were attempting to develop synthetic rubber and, at one time, one of his experiments was on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago regarding rubber …the development of synthetic rubber. So, his contribution to that war effort was …was industrial.
BB – Well, that’s great. So, do you remember what his introduction, he and your mother … introduction to square dancing?
CM – Well, I know it was local. There was a local caller and he taught, I don’t know how many people but Mom and Dad got into it and interested and I know, when they started thinking about a possible business end of that. They were totally frustrated…really so were many …of many callers, etc. There weren’t any …well, the music was, if you could get a local band that could keep proper time, that was great. But nationally, the only music available was organ music.
BB – Ah ha. That was from Lloyd Shaw probably.
CM – Well, that and also I think Old Timer and possibly Black Mountain. I don’t remember for sure. And well …and there were experiments from the so-called pop …
BB – Records.
CM – …records. I remember, I think it was RCA, had a few experimental, if you will, records available.
BB – OK then …was he ever into square dance calling at all?
CM – No. Dad was never a caller. He and Mother taught for many years. I can remember they … at one point, they were teaching seven nights a week. Dad always used records and, as a consequence, the graduates of their programs, which they taught …well, in high school gyms, and later college …evening college courses, that their dancers could go anywhere and dance to any caller because they were used to listening to different callers on records …
BB – I see.
CM – …whereas some people who only had a local caller had trouble understanding the calls from other callers.
BB – I see. So you’re saying he taught square dancing by using called …records with the calls on them.
CM – And he didn’t use necessarily the whole dance. In the beginning he would use sections from different records for teaching different maneuvers.
BB – That’s interesting, yes. And did he do the same with round dancing?
CM – When it came to round dancing, which came along later, this would be in the 50’s I think, by that time they were, if you will, importing traveling callers and cuers and, oh heck, what was the name of that very famous couple in round dancing that….oh, they were icons in the round dance world,
BB – Was it Manning and Nita Smith?
CM – No, it was before them.
BB – The Easterdays?
CM – No, before them (Both laugh) – Irene and …
BB – Oh yes.
CM – Stapleton.
BB – Stapleton, my favorite dancers when I danced with them out in your area.
CM – Yeah and, by that time, they had a regular program at the local high school. I can remember the basketball coach having a fit because they were ruining his floors with their dance wax.
BB – Oh dear, yeah.
CM – But the booster club told him to keep quiet because, (coughs) pardon me, because they were making so much money for the booster club through the square dance program. (Both laugh) At that time traveling callers were, well, by the time they were at the high school it was fairly well along. But I can remember when they were teaching at an elementary school gym, Bob Osgood was one of the first traveling callers and they had him one evening.
BB – Yes. That’s interesting. So, do I understand that before you got into, or before your father got into recording business that he owned a distributorship?
CM – Yes, Twelgrenn.
BB – Twelgrenn, right.
CM – Twelgrenn was, if you will, called our so-called estate (laughs) we had twelve green acres and most of it vertical.
BB – Right. Well, Twelgrenn was a contraction then.
CM – Yes. It started that way in, I think, in 1954 and in 1959 they launched Grenn which was an even more contraction and they …Dad was really lucky because, in Cleveland they had a recording studio and Al Russ was …I don’t know whether you call him the leader or the conduct…no, he wasn’t a conductor.
BB – I think, arranger.
CM – Yes, exactly so. And, depending on whether they were going to record square dance or round dance music, he would assemble the instruments …well, the players …the instruments needed for the band and it varied pretty much, although some of them were pretty regular.
BB – So actually, all of the recording was done in Cleveland then, is that it?
CM – Yes. And our original pressing plant was in I think Poughkeepsie, New York.
BB – Oh, is that right?
CM – Yeah, RCA. And, of course later down the road we had to find a replacement because they weren’t interested in our small quantity any -more and so, we were lucky to find Queen City in Cincinnati to do our pressing. So, we never had, if you will, we were record producers rather than oh …we didn’t actually do the pressing ourselves nor did we have a studio of our own.
BB – I see. OK. Well, that’s very interesting. So, eventually you took on some regular callers.
CM – Yes.
BB – And I have down Earl Johnston and Johnny Davis and Ron Schneider and from there they were sort of your house callers if you will.
CM – Yes, and at some point we added Dick Leger and those were the Grenn label‘s major contributors.
BB – Right. Well. I went to Dick Leger’s house after he passed away. In his basement we found many, many Grenn records along with others and I was able to salvage them and send them back to the Lloyd Shaw Dance Archives so I’m very happy about that. You also had Willard Orlich doing some choreography work for the callers.
CM – Yes. I think he was the major force in the area of choreography.
BB – Yes. Well, I called for his group one time rather unsuccessfully because his dancers were far above my knowledge of the advanced type of dancing.
CM – Well …
BB – It was an interesting evening when I was there. (both laugh)
CM – Yeah, I’m sure they were his guinea pigs and they would….they would be up on all the latest things he was testing.
BB – Right. So, let’s talk about Al Russ. He sometimes used the name, Russell
CM – Well, to sort of give the band another persona for Top, Dad called them Russell’s Men ….
BB – Yes, right. I remember that.
CM – …as opposed to the Al Russ Orchestra.
BB – Right. OK. And they played for both squares and rounds.
CM – No, Top was always rounds …I mean squares.
BB – That’s what I …right.
CM – Well, there was a secondary line of Top, and I think there were only about ten releases that were, I think they were rounds. That was so long ago I don’t really remember.
BB – Yes, right. Well then you also had FTC.
CM – Yes. The difference between Grenn, Top and FTC are, Grenn had the, what … the five if you will national guys. Top was for…anybody could submit an idea for choreography and music and if Dad accepted it, then he would arrange for them to record it and that was open to anybody who was reasonably competent. However, Top did have some classics…
BB – Yes, they did,
CM – …and FTC stands for Full Time Caller, which came a lot later in Grenn’s history and was limited exactly to that. People who traveled and maybe their…I’m sure their sole income wasn’t calling but they were calling on a regular schedule.
BB – Yes. OK. Well, to round it out then we had the CEM label.
CM – Yes, and that was begun …at some point people in round dancing were crossing over and crossing back and forth between ballroom and round dancing. And the CEM label, I think it only had eight releases, sixteen dances or sets of music and it never made much impression on the ballroom people but the music was often used for round dancing.
BB – I see. OK. Do you have any idea how many records altogether were put out by Twelgrenn or by Grenn
CM – By Grenn? Well let’s see. Grenn square dances were I think almost three hundred …
BB – OK.
CM – Top had almost four hundred.
BB – Is that so? OK.
CM – …and FTC , oh golly, under a hundred. ….
BB – OK.
CM – …and the Grenn rounds, oh boy, almost four hundred.
BB – Is that so? That’s great. Well, that accounts for, certainly, a big bunch of the recordings that were being done at that time.
CM – Yes.
BB – A big percentage actually.
CM – And we’ve been blessed with several classics that people still learn. I think the old cue sheets don’t work any more. I mean, you’d have to translate them into modern choreography usage but the dances are forever.
BB – Yes. Well, I think the Stapletons were responsible for some of those classics, weren’t they?
CM – I believe so.
BB – Yes. They’re a great couple. So, when Grenn folded up its tent you must have had several records left.
CM – (Chuckles) Yes, we did have quite a few left.
BB – Yes. What happened to them?
CM – Well, Tracy Brown has them
BB – Tracy Brown, OK.
CM – I believe he’s somewhere in southern Ohio and one of the things … what he’s trying to do is establish an archive. I mean, he has more than Grenn. I’m not sure how many labels he does have but he’s trying to digitalize the masters or the tapes and have them so that people can access them.
BB – I see. OK, does he have the masters as well?
CM – Well, I don’t have …I didn’t have any masters. All I had were tapes and one of the reasons I’m glad that he has them is that he found a way to preserve them – pardon me – preserve the old tapes that are in a fragile condition. Then he can transfer them to digital.
BB – Probably MP3.
CM – Quite possibly. I’m not …I’m a low-tech type. I’m not up on the latest technology but the idea is to preserve them, as I said, so people can access them. But he does have the remains of the 45 stock also.
BB – OK, Well, all right. Let’s talk about the actual recording process. You say you were physically not involved in that yourself because it was done in a Decca facility in New York State?
CM – Yes. The pressing process …we went to the factory one time and it was fascinating to watch…
BB – I’m sure.
CM – …because (it was a) huge warehouse room with hundreds of these presses. And it was mostly women employees running, operating these presses, and gosh, kind of like watching, you know, …making what I suspect is making a tire. They would take a disc of PVC and it was just kind of a blackish lump …oh, about what …3 by 3, and they would put it in the center of this machine which was round. It looked kind of like a waffle press. Only considerably bigger …very hot and once …their free hand was handcuffed to the machine so they couldn’t get it caught in the press and the operating hand then had to move the handle to bring the press down on this disc. Let me see, when did they put the label on? I think maybe they put the labels on, you know, one on each side …put the back label on and then the PVC piece and then the top label and then bring this press down and that would create the record but then, of course, they had to trim the excess. But it was fascinating to watch.
BB – Yes. So the record was still hot when it was finished
CM – Oh, yes. And I’ve forgotten exactly what happened next.
BB – Yes. So, when they brought this press down on top of this PVC that had the grooves …were already in that? That would be what you call the master I guess.
CM – That was the master. To create the master you had to have the mother and the mother, of course, was the reverse of the master. So you were doing …well, first you would have the tape and they would use the tape to create the mother and the mother I think was wax, possibly silicon later. I’m not sure how long those masters were good for. I think quite …quite a lot.
BB – Were they made out of…they had to be made out of something harder than PVC.
CM – Oh, yeah. Well, they were metal. It looked kind of like …well, I wouldn’t call it tinfoil …kind of aluminum looking, which it probably was. Well, the machine had…was terrifically hot and it was hot to melt the PVC so it had to stand up to …it’s funny, those masters that they used in those machines were really pretty flimsy if they weren’t in the machine. You could bend them very easily.
BB – Yes. In fact I remember seeing a master at one time and you’re right. They are almost fragile.
CM – Yeah. But they seemed to …well, they certainly did the job and they would last a fair amount of time.
BB – Yeah. Did they do …did they make both sides at one time or did they have to turn over?
CM – No, it was one operation.
BB _ Made both sides at the same time?
CM – Yeah. And when they … I seem to remember vaguely that when they took the record out of …out of the press they just put it in a sleeve and it was ready to go to be packed.
BB – There you go. It’s a very interesting process I’m sure. You don’t … did you by any chance save an address for this Tracy Brown?
CM – No, I didn’t and that was stupid of me. I don’t even have his phone number.
BB _ Well, your friend over in …Bob Howell …
CM – Yes. Oh, Bob would know probably.
BB – Yes, because he was …he was contacted by the …has to be the same guy.
CM – Yes. When he was here last week, Tracy was, he visited Bob Howell and he was very much in awe of Bob Howell.
BB – I see. Well, aren’t we all?
CM – (Laughs) So, oh good. So Bob can help you there I think.
(Editor Note: current address we think is 3017 Sterns Dr., Maysville, KY, 41056.)
BB – Yes. All right. So, how active was your mother in all in all of this?
CM – Oh no. Mother (coughs – excuse me) when they were teaching Mother would help demonstrate for the classes. The various, you know, on how to twirl the lady properly and the proper way to promenade, etc., etc. and swing and, of course, when they started the business she was….she and Dad were it. It wasn’t until much later I think …I think it wasn’t until the 60’s, 1960 or so that she sort of went into semi-retirement and he took on some help.
BB – When he was producing these round dances, do you have any idea how he chose which ones to use and how he obtained reasonable material, etc.?
CM – Well, since Dad was not himself a very …well, he didn’t feel confident to judge. He was pretty good on the squares but he didn’t feel confident on judging the quality of round dances so he had a committee and he would …he would send a record of the music that they had written the dance to and the dance to the committee and, if the committee approved it, then he would go ahead and make arrangements to have it recorded.
BB – I see. Were the Stapletons on that committee?
CM – That I don’t remember. I think they might have been at one time.
BB – Yes, OK. Well, I think Grenn went out of business long before these mini-discs, etc. came into …as they are today.
CM – Well, let’s see. Grenn officially closed, if you will, in ‘04, which is the year Dad died, but, prior to that we hadn’t been putting out any new music. All our musicians were union …
BB – Union musicians, yes.
CM – …and we couldn’t afford it any more.
BB – Sure. OK. So, I suppose the callers themselves chose the music to be used, etc. and Willard helped them with the choreography and that took care of that.
CM – Yeah.
BB – Great. Well, that’s all very interesting. Well, so you say, you’re no longer dancing?
CM – No, well I, you know, as you’re growing up…let’s see. After high school really, I didn’t dance. I went off to college and when I came back I didn’t have a partner, for one thing. And for another, I kind of went into the family business, if you will, and got busy with that. So, I was still involved in a way but not dancing.
BB – Yes. OK, did your father or your folks have any particular hobbies?
CM – Well, let’s see. When we were kids we all loved to go camping. (chuckles) Beyond that …well Dad was a great reader. He was always reading books. He wasn’t really into sports or…well he didn’t have time for one thing. Between his, you know, day job and the business he was
pretty busy. Mother was into crafts and things but raising a family, you know how that is.
BB – Oh yes, Yes, you get busy doing a lot of things and you wind up that square dancing is …this is your life.
CM – Well, that and then too, later on, my sister was into horse showing and that kept our summers busy. So, yes I can remember at my other sister’s wedding, the guest list included square dance friends, business friends, horse show friends (both laugh) you know. So, it was interesting.
BB – I’m sure it was. Well, I see that my tape is about to run down, run out I should say. Is there anything else you’d like to put on tape for posterity about the recording business or your father?
CM – Well, no except that he was busy and his mind was clear up to the end for which we were very thankful.
BB – Yes. Well he certainly made a huge contribution to the square dance activity through Grenn and the other labels and square dancing would like to thank you and your family for producing them.
CM – Well, I can’t take any credit but I’m glad that, oh, you know, your parents legacy is always kind of important.
BB – Sure, that’s true. All right. Why don’t we call this a day and I want to thank you for taking the time this evening to sit down and chat with me for a while and tell me all about Grenn and Top and FTC and CEM records. So, thank you again and, if you’ll stay on the line I have some other things I’d like to ask you.
CM – OK and I’ve enjoyed it and I thank you very much for your interest.
BB – Thank you and I’ll talk to you in a short while. Bye, bye.
CM – Bye.
(End of tape -End of Interview with Cem Macey about her father
Joseph Hugh Macey and his recording businesses)