Decko Deck – 1996
Bob Brundage – Well here we are again. This is Bob Brundage still in York Pennsylvania, and today we are talking to Mr. Decko Deck and he is here enjoying the dancing and we’re here to find out about Decko’s life history if you will. So Decko tell us, oh by the way, I forgot to mention this is Nov. 29th today, 1996, so Decko give us an idea of what life was like before you got into square dancing. Where were you born and brought up?
Decko Deck – You know what, I’m always embarrassed to talk about myself. I just never like to do that but in view of the fact that we are trying to make this something for the archives I certainly will. Yeah, I was born in a little one room cabin in Oklahoma in the Cherokee Strip country. Soon as I was born my dad had built another house and I became the youngest of three children and we had a ranch in Oklahoma. He had been one of the few that did the run into Oklahoma. He was about 15 years old then and he made the run and settled in the place where I was born. We had a ranch there, a small ranch. We raised cattle, sheep and all like that. My dad wanted me to be a cattle judge and I ended up taking courses in becoming a pharmacist in Oklahoma University. That’s where I met Lou and during the time, the last year I was in college, 1941, of course you know what happened. So I had already gotten my commission in the ROTC and so I was called to active duty almost immediately in July of 1941. Lou and I married in October of 1941 and I was stationed with the Air Force in Randolph Field and then I moved to Ellington Field and did a lot of training, cadet training in the Air Force, Air Cadet training in New Valley, Texas, in San Antonio, and that. And then I was sent overseas and ended up in Europe and I was in guerilla warfare, sabotage, OSS, Wild Bill Donavan operations, cloak and dagger stuff, and got into Europe and became a counter intelligence agent. We worked the Russian cold war system and then about 1948, I was sent back, the end of ’48, to San Antonio again and we had our children. Well I guess I was a Captain at that time in the Air Force and we ended up in San Antonio, not much money, no anything, furniture, anything, so we had to buy furniture, buy the car, buy a house, raise the 2 kids. About the 21st of every month we were down to pig knuckles trying to eat. I tell you it was close. So, Lou and I we didn’t like to go out to the officers club and drink and dine and elbow as much. We weren’t much for that. So one day Lou, about the middle of July, and Lou was looking in the local paper and she said, “Hey”, it was the Alamo Heights Gazette I think it was, “lets go do square dancing” and I said “Naaa”, I saw it in Oklahoma and “noooo, I don’t think I want to get into that”. “Oh well” she said, “It only costs $4 a month for four lessons and that’s only 1 dollar a lesson”. Well, it ended up – I was reading the paper – and all right and sure enough I ended up square dancing in Alamo Heights, San Antonio, Texas. The caller and the teacher was a gal name of Lillie Lee Baker. Lillie Lee and her Fiddler named Henry. Henry was her fiddler and those two came in from Austin, and she gave lessons at the Lions club there in Alamo Heights. Well the first time I got on the floor, I just looked around and said “Hey, here is a whole bunch of people I never met before and they are not in the military” and we got started, and the next thing you know we’d made good friends with the couples that started to square with us and we had a great time for about – we had about 6 lessons – six weeks of lessons and that was it and after six weeks you could go out and dance. Well that was great, and sure enough about the time we graduated we had costumes, matching, the four couples, we were the biggest stuff that was. And we got out to this festival there in San Antonio, they had a festival. Well we never got through anything, we were absolutely disasters. People would come and try to help us and walk away and we laughed and had a big time and we went back to this guys house and this was in early ’49. We went back to this fellows house and we moved out the dining room table and sez, “Look, we’ve got to do some of these dances”. Well two of the dances they had were Jonsey Jones and his Four Gents Star and his Three Ladies Chain. Well we got to working on these dances and nobody could figure out what and I was sitting over in the corner and there was three couples working and I was sitting in the corner. I said, “Hell, I can do that and here’s the way it goes” and somebody said, “Well, if you are so smart get up and call it”. I went up, started it, we did the Three Ladies Chain and I showed them how to do it and I opened my mouth and there it was. You know, you could just, I just did know it, right like that. Here I am. My dad was an auctioneer and I picked up some of that from him. The rhythms of the call and all that. Well it wasn’t just a few weeks. We had a, well no, a few months I guess, late ’49 I got transferred to Washington, the Pentagon and we came in the Pentagon and we looked around and no square dancing. A fellow by the name of Wiley Goodsell who was a bishop in the Mormon Church, well Wiley, we got in to him. We found him, he was doing a one-nighter at the fire house and well, ok, lets go out, we’ll go out, and we went out all dressed up in our costumes and here was people in everything, sweat suits, sweat shirts, everything. And we danced, and Wiley picked us up and then we started, and we went to dance with him for awhile and pretty soon I got into it and I did a few calls. We were, a bunch of us, in a basement, you know how you do and the next thing you know, hell I was into it, and we started a class and in 1950 I started regularly calling while I was on duty with the Air Force in there. It was a kind of an avocation. For $25 you did a nights performance and you felt good. Well that’s how we got started into it.
BB – That’s great.
DD – I got dragged into it and there it was.
BB – Never regretted a minute.
DD – And never regretted a minute and been at it ever since.
BB – So how did you make the transition into western style square dancing?
DD – Well when I was in San Antonio, that was Western, that was so called Western style, Herb Greggerson style, where you go out and he says Do Si Do and the Texas Do Si Do the caller goes out and gets a cigarette and he comes back in and your still doing Do Si Do. It was that country. Lots of arm swings, and back here in the east of course it was not so much the arm swing, Lloyd Shaw had his influence here with Wylie, and Evan Jenkins who was very much into that field, so I began to play with them and I danced with Evan and I danced with Wylie, and I did some calling and working and pretty soon the western focus began to take effect and soon we went from the patterns of the two head ladies cross over and by your opposite stand type of thing into the western things. And then during that period Evan Jenkins formed the National Capital Area Square Dance Leaders Association and I helped him for that. So I am one of the originals of that and it is still in operation here 45 years later. So I have gradually moved into the – when I came across the country I brought the western with me, or rather the western style of arm swing dancing. And about, oh, 4 years after that, I was sent to Staff and Command School in Alabama, and we went down and we got acquainted with the Birmingham crowd and I worked with them a bit and then I went to Ottawa, Canada, and Angus McMoran was the man trying to do Eastern square dancing and we got acquainted and it took off in Ottawa like wild fire. Yeah, the Queen, the Princess, she was the Princess then, she had been there about a few months before I arrived and she square danced the old traditional dance.
BB – I remember that, yeah.
DD – And that Ottawa was hot to square dance. They wanted to dance so bad. We opened up the doors, Angus and I, and good Lord we had, the hall was loaded just immediately and it just went from there. So I became a quite, quite a full time, so called full time caller while I was in the Air Force. And that went on through, I went in and was transferred, through Detroit. I did about 4 years in Detroit, built up considerably there, started calling, teaching callers what I knew. And we started a square dance camp up in Muskoka Lakes, above Toronto. Angus and I ran that for numbers of years. We would bring guys up for a week. We called them vacation camps, but we were the only ones up there. From there I went, from Detroit I did – well we did about 4 years in Detroit. Dave Taylor rose to fame in that Detroit area. I can remember when Dave was down, down in the basement were I was working with a couple of squares. Dave was looking through my records to see what he would call and the next thing Dave exploded and he became the very famous caller. And that’s how. Then from Detroit I came back to Washington. I’ve been there ever since, working.
BB – Right. Well, tell us about some of the big events you’ve been involved in like National conventions at some point.
DD – Well I’ve done a few things at the Nationals, I haven’t gone to Nationals in a while. I got involved with Callerlab the year after Bob started it you know and I got highly involved with Callerlab and I’ve been, I hate to say it, but Callerlab has been good to me. It has given me two outstanding extraordinary achievement awards and a Milestone Award and gad, I don’t know why, I have just worked with local systems. Somebody thought I was worth giving a Milestone so I am among those wonderful guys who got it. I still don’t know how I got to be a Milestone Award winner. I got involved with Callerlab a great deal and ended up, and now I am a Caller Coach. Jon Jones got me involved in being the Caller Coach Chairman of that committee and we organized it a lot. I got a little outstanding achievement award for that. And I got to working as working the Canadian border problems of callers coming back and forth and I worked with that a couple of years. It was very hard to get that loosened up and I failed and in failing they still gave me an outstanding achievement award, I don’t know how that happened. And they still got their problems.
BB – I didn’t realize there was problem, a border problem.
DD – Quite a lot of problems, yeah. Not so much has been, well it was initially for the Americans it was the Canadians and then they got to tightening up and now you have to get work permits and all that thing and fill out forms and pay taxes in both places. It’s still kind of a mess even though the free trade agreements started it. The free trade agreement involved everything but artists and the performing arts and they included us in that and therefore we couldn’t get this thing to work back forth across the border.
BB – I’ll be darned.
DD – It’s just one of those little things.
BB – Well I know on one of my tours one of my dances was in Winnipeg and when I crossed the border they said, you know, “What are you going to do”, and I said, “I’m going to call a square dance” and they said, “Oh you’re working for money”. I said “Yup”. “Show me your contract” you know, and, “Where is your work permit” and what, what, what, what. But they finally let me go as long as I promised to leave Canada the next day.
DD – They’ve really tightened it up.
BB – But then they paid me Canadian money, so I lost on that.
DD – You lost a little on that that time.
DD – Yeah, I was with the RCAF up in Canada and I know the problems up there trying to get back and forth across the border particularly from the US side. You say what are big things I’ve been involved in. One of my dreams has always been to, was at one time and still is, to have the local callers in an area become involved rubbing elbows on the stage with men of national or fame that are really great people, great callers and leaders, so in the 1970’s I started the Washington Fall Cotillion. See, Washington, WASCA had its big Washington Areas Square Dance Cooperative has its big festival every year in the Spring and they had, after a couple of years, they got upset because – oh some of the local callers who were being a little nasty when they didn’t get their right slots and they didn’t get to call when they wanted to, so they threw them all out. So that was our own fault, the callers being greedy. So when I came back in 1960 they had thrown all the callers out of the festival and we went along a few years and I said, “You know, I would like to bring a festival together in the fall with national known callers and our local guys and select the local ones”. I mean, you could have some hard feelings, but I wanted to give our boys something to do, to get them moved up and give them a chance to rub elbows so for about, we did for five years. We ran the Washington Cotillion with about 2500 people, a three day Cotillion and it was great. We had, oh lets see, who was on my staff, Jack Lasry, Ken Bower, Beryl Main. We had Jerry Haag. I mean these guys are fantastic callers and still are. Well these guys came in and supported me year after year and the local callers got to dance and call off stage with them and they would work hard at it and by the end it just built their talents up, it is just a natural thing. But then the Washington Hilton was the place where we located and they got a little greedy and they wanted more rooms and more money and local people weren’t taking the rooms so I had to give up on it, but at least it was a (?) while it was running, it was a successful thing. And I was proud to do that, I did organize it. Probably the one thing that I am most proud of is just in the last five years has happened. It is not anything I did, it was, I had, I guess somewhat of a reputation in Virginia as an old timer, and they came to me, a bunch of people out of Norfolk Virginia, and said, “Would you” (Bob Worley was one of the callers that came to me) and he said, “Would you start a square dance callers association in the state of Virginia? We are starting a Virginia Square Dance and Round dance Association by the dancer people and they want to have the National here in Virginia some day and they say you have to have a callers association. Would you start it”. Well, I hum hawed around a bit and oh boy, here I am taking all this on, here I was, I guess I was 60 about that point and I, what am I doing getting back into this? And finally, Worley, I was standing on one foot and the other, and he says, “Look, quit stomping around. Are you going to do it or not”. So I did take it on and we organized the Virginia State Callers Association which by all the mistakes I had seen all around the country I knew kind of which way to go with this thing and we started and we had growing pains for awhile and the dance organization and the callers organization were like this and I got them together and kind of slammed them together and sort of stood my ground here and there and pretty soon we developed a very true dancer/caller relationship in the state of Virginia. It’s just marvelous. They are 100% behind us as an organization and they run a state convention every year and any caller that wants to sign up he gets on the stage. Somewhere we put him on the stage. Well that’s just been one of the greatest things I can see because it’s been so healthy. So when everything else is kind of going down the big festival style things are going out of focus. Then this sort of grass roots thing is starting to build up and as a result, in most of the state of Virginia things are building very nicely. They are building up. They are not great but they are healthy except where I am in Washington D.C. and it’s pretty much a desert there now. But that is one of the bigger things I have been involved in and enjoyed being a part of. I think I’m still in it because of Dick Leger. I know it. I had been calling about 30 years. I get off of into my soap box here a little bit, but I never was happy with the style of calling I learned to do when I was growing. It seemed to me there was always something missing. I could get the crowd. We could do it but there was something missing in the whole thing and I couldn’t figure out what to do. Well early in my career in 1949 when I was in Texas, I ran into Rickey Holden. You know Rickey Holden. In fact I am still in touch with him. Rickey was, of course, the legend at that time and there wasn’t anybody that could touch him. So, I went to Rickey and I said I was learning to call and I told him I said look, “What is the secret to calling?” Rickey looked at me and I’ll never forget what he said. It just took me 30 rears to figure it out. He said “The idea is to get the music and the dancer together and get out of the road”. I’ve figured and worried about that and stewed about that and the more I got tired of listening to myself the more I get to thinking about this. So when I was taking Callerlab, Caller Coach examination, why Jon Jones and Frank Lane were my monitors and they suggested that I go take another caller college. Go to somebody else’s caller college before I get my credentials so I would see how they worked because I had never run a so-called caller college like Bill Peters and them have set up. So I went up to see Dick Leger. I said, “Dick” – I had called with him many years before down to the (?). I said we’d get in touch. I said, “Dick I would like to come up and hear what you’re doing because you have something different”. At Callerlab he was always on the outside trying to get things, saying, “Look, this is the way to go“. So I said, “I don’t want anybody to know who I am, I just want to come up there and I want to take your little beginners thing and see how you work with the beginner callers because I am becoming a Caller Coach. “And besides” I said, “I am just about ready to quit”. So I got up there and the first day, second day, I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. I just couldn’t figure what in the heck, why is he, what’s this, I was trying to do what he wanted and I wasn’t very good at it, but I was catching a hold. Well finally one afternoon I failed it so bad I said “I’m going home, I’m going to pack my bags and get out of there. I’ll never be a caller. I’m through! I don’t want to call any more”. I just about got that bag packed, I don’t think Dick knows this, I just about got that bag packed and all of a sudden the light bulb turned on and I says, “Here is how you get the dancer and the music together and you stay out of the road”! Well Dick was working it that way. And that just opened up a whole new world to me. I went into prompt, uh sort of prompt calling style thing, and developed the ability to listen to the music and let that music take hold of ‘em sit back and out of the road. And then I got in – of course Angus McMorran got me into contra in Ottawa – and then I got into contras and thus I just went into all the disciplines. It’s been a God send to me. I would have quit 15 to 20 years ago. All of a sudden it’s all there and I just loved it. I just loved it.
BB – That’s really great.
DD – It’s fantastic. It’s an accident I guess. Everything that happens is an accident.
BB – Yeah I guess your right.
DD – That’s was kinda the way it went for me
BB – Have you been doing anything with round dancing?
DD – Yes, I do, I am cueing, I cue rounds. I don’t try to teach. I leave that up to the people that are truly round dance leader, teachers. I cue Phase II. Maybe over into Phase III a little bit. I cue all my square dances, and I, well, thanks to Dick and then you learn to read the music better and feel it so. Every time I’ve done, now that I’m doing contras, I have my contra clubs going and my round dancing a bit. It has just spilled over into my square dance calling so it just seems to flow now and I’m so relaxed with it. I’ve found out something else to. When you can handle this, this prompt style I call it, I know what I’m doing. It is not necessarily at all prompting but when you fall into this you don’t have to have so much complicated mechanical choreographic puzzle solving type of dances. You can back off and do the nicest, smoother, simpler things and the people don’t know. They’re happy with that music. They can feel that #1 beat hit them in the foot and away they go. It’s made all the difference in the world Bob, it really has, just to say how it is. I am so involved in training callers, I have the Virginia State Callers Seminar. I have a symposium every year through the callers association. I hold the seminar and direct it, and we bring in people to do various phases and various things about calling and round dance leading and line dancing now. I am into lines so we have a western line dance teacher in but I keep trying to tell the callers it is just one simple thing you have to do. I don’t care what you call it. You’ve got to start your command or whenever you start your command, I don’t care whether you do it 6, 7, 8,1, 2, 3 but I want you to have your voice stopped. I want to have you shut up totally when beat 1, 3, 5 or 7 hits. Anyway, there’s four places you can put your call. Everything is built on 2s, 4s, 6s, 8s and they will sit there and nod and I say, “I want you to shut up before the next heavy because that belongs to the dancers“. Those anchor beats you know. 1, 3, 5, 7, those are the 4 places where the dancer wants to put his foot down and hear it for himself. Just like we do out here you know, here in York. You know, you feel the music. The guys will nod their head and nod their head. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. I don’t get much of it across. Once in a while I’ll find a Christian, some guy will take a hold of it, yeah that’s it. Now I know how to do it. That’s my big pressure now is to try to get callers to give those commands inside of those anchor beats. If they do that I think square would take a new birth because it sounds and feels like contra, feels like a round, feels like dancing instead of clowning and stomping around.
BB – Yes let’s get off square dancing for a minute.
DD – OK I’m sorry I’m on a soap box there a bit.
BB – No that’s ok that’s just fine.
DD – That’s my philosophy.
BB – Now I’ll ask you more about that as we go along. But you were involved in flying for awhile.
DD – Yeah, I wanted to fly badly when I was sent to the Air Force from field artillery at Fort Sill and they sent me to Randolph Field and boy I wanted to fly so bad. I took the physical and everything and it ended up I was so color blind they wouldn’t let me in. I still wanted to fly so I just went out and I could pass the hearing test and I could pass the color test but not enough for the Air Force. So I started flying and I flew all light stuff, light planes, finally got to flying twins, sometimes a Cessna 310s, 210s, those kind, the Piper Apaches. I flew just for fun. I would once in a while fly up to square dances you know. I’m no longer flying, I had to quit last year, age. Diabetes caught up with me a little bit, my pancreas decided to retire a little bit early so the FAA said no I think you better not.
BB – We had a little interruption there with a key turning in the lock with big brother Al just came in and so we had a little interruption so let’s see if we can finish up. Have you done any recording?
DD – I’m not much for it. I did, oh, in the 1950s I did a couple of recordings on RCA. Then in the 60s I recorded a little bit with Grenn/Top, one or two records. I never really enjoyed recording. I didn’t feel good. I just didn’t feel I was that good, you know, and I didn’t want to sound bad. I recorded a contra about 8, 9, 10 years ago and then I said “Naah, I’m not a recording artist. I’m just kind of an old hack caller and I get up there and bang away“. Lou used to say, “Do like Les Gotcher. Spread your legs and yell”.
BB – OK I hadn’t heard that one. Let me ask you something serious. What do you find is the appeal of calling square dances?
DD – Appeal to calling?
BB – Yeah.
DD – There are several of them, several appeals. I probably shouldn’t say this but I am going to say it anyhow. I think that the majority of guys at least who come out into the calling field are, they’re not quite what they think they’d like to be. They’ve got a job, maybe it’s not a high paying job, normally it’s not, and they may be thinking about adding a little supplementary income if they can develop some talent but they more want to be up in front of people and be recognized. There is something lacking in their life that they would like to have a little more recognition. Some more than others but I think the money aspect is not in most cases the major problem, although it ciphers into it. I sense more a need to just be up in front of people and be recognized a bit. They will never say it, but I sense that’s what it is, and then sometimes you get someone who just purely likes the rhythms and is just a natural. I don’t think you can ever teach a man to call. You can teach him the mechanics. You can put it out there in front of him like you say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. And if the guy hasn’t got it, he’ll never get it. All you can do is lead him. A callers training thing I feel is just, give the guy the mechanicals. Try and let him try it. And if you can call you’ll do it on your own. You’ll learn it on your own by listening to others and emulating other callers. The problem today is most callers start, turn the record over and listen to the guy on one side and they turn it back over and copy him and make all his mistakes. Everything he is doing wrong he copies, thinking that’s the way to go and that’s been one of the bad factors in young callers, trying to train them. But you know, the guy who comes up and starts nosing around your record case and seeing what you’re doing this way, that’s the guy who might be a potential caller, or gal, in this case and once in a while you find one with some natural talent and when you do, all you can say, “Here is the way” – you give them a little hint of the way to do the mechanicals and he takes off. I’ve never been able to hold on to but one or two callers long enough to teach them the art of calling. They just get out there and start hammering. But the guys with good talent see, they can. That’s about how they learn.
BB – But as a caller coach what’s your take? Ddo you think callers are listening to themselves very much?
DD – Oh Yes. Oh yeah. Rickey Holden told me the first year I was calling you listened to him and he says (?) to themselves? I think most of the callers do want to sound good. That’s the reason they start on the first beat, so they sound like the music, when they shouldn’t be. They should be back in the background where the dancer doesn’t look at them up front. They need to be behind the music instead of up front of it, and I don’t know whether they tape themselves. I guess young callers do. Once in awhile I will have a young caller tape himself and then I‘ll have a session with him but that always, it hasn’t had a lot of effect on them. They still go back to their habits. Once a caller has called three years, I think his habits are so established, unless he has good music and is tired of listening to himself, then he is done. That is all he’ll ever be.
BB – Do you do any caller coaching by mail, critiquing tape choreography and so forth?
DD – I haven’t done but one. Yeah, and it was some guy named, a young caller in England. But, I’ve written a little manual on the art of calling that I’ve kept, and when I have a student or apprentice or something, I give them that and explain it, and then have them go through the exercises with it. If a guy can find the music fine. If he can’t then, you know, it’s hard. There is one guy said, “How come you’re saying that we should do all this and 99% of the people I hear are doing the other way” and I said I understand what you’re saying. You’re going to follow them, you’re going follow them. Here they go, making everybody’s bad mistakes again. But it will straighten out. People will begin to learn. I think that Leger’s system of calling, his ideas, his concepts are beginning to catch hold. I know I’m feeding them through. I got a letter from, I did a seminar down in Texas, to the Texas Callers Association a couple of years. I went down there and I did this Art of Calling thing and trying to give them the listen and feeling of timing, and I got a letter from one of the callers the other day and he says, “What you tried to give them I begin to see taking hold around the edges”. Some of them were listening. Some of them, some how I had an effect on them. That makes me feel good. At least he listened to the timing and they are not trying to run all over everybody.
BB – Now we are talking, actually, we’re talking the CDP program.
DD – Yes, we are. In my sense I think that isn’t so much until square dancing becomes as such, per say, ‘tunnel square dancing’ – becomes so down, and they see things like Cal is doing and I am doing and others and Dick and things and they will say, “Hey, these guys are still running”. How am I still calling at 46 years of calling, if I hadn’t done something to change to something different. I’m convinced that a caller’s got to develop a lot more talent. He has to learn to prompt. He has got to learn his contras. He has to learn his rounds, possibly rounds, line dancing, circles. My God, the circle dances are wonderful but in the early days the round dance people did the circle dances and made them so complicated the people would walk away from them. Now days you get simple circles that are just wonderful. There is so many different kinds and they should be a part of every callers program because if you don’t they you’re just tunneled. There you go right on up into the sky and all the dancers are gone.
BB – You get up there and there is nobody left to dance with.
DD – There is nobody up there anyhow. Then they drop off the end of the cliff. But
BB – I think it was Jon Jones told me about, he was calling a festival with one of the old timers, with Red Warrick or somebody and another guy was throwing his floor constantly. Red said to Jones, “Look at that guy. You know, that guy is such a good caller that nobody can dance to him”.
DD – That’s true. Warrick had a sense of humor didn’t he?
BB – Oh, I tell you.
DD – I met Red one time I was calling down in Ohio somewhere and Red showed up at the dance.
BB – You’ve pretty well gotten into one of the questions I asked everybody, where do you think square dancing has been, where do you think it is, and where do you think that it’s going? We’ve talked about this a little but what is your overview.
DD – For the future?
BB – Yeah.
DD – Well square dancing started, in my feelings, it started with a lot of the cultural elements strong in it. It was a cultural. It’s a people thing. I learned a lot of that from Evan Jenkins. It’s a lot to do with the togetherness of getting people together and giving them just a simple evening of fun. Well maybe the simple, simple evenings of fun we had 50 years ago have changed a lot. People are more sophisticated now. They want a little something more than just two head ladies cross over and by your opposite stand, as I gave you before. But it’s, I hope, returning to its cultural roots. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but I think it started, I think square dancing is going to get worse. It’s going to go down more before it comes back and when it comes back it will come back in a new direction with CDP, so called CDP being the element they want. I like the idea of the Community Dance Program that Cal and them, and I think it was Jim Mayo started in the Callerlab thing and Cal of course, has pushed it on and on. I liked the idea but I felt they kind of straight jacketed it a bit. The idea of the concept was perfect. Let’s diversify. There wasn’t a farmer ever or a rancher that never made it if he didn’t diversify his crops. We’re in the same position. The caller just stays with square dancing is going to lose and drop down to nothing. I see it now. Basement groups starting again in Washington and that’s where it was when I started ‘48, ‘49. Just basement groups and once in a while you had a little dance and then it exploded. I saw Evan Jenkins go with that in Washington and it exploded under my eyes into 100 squares in about 3 years, from just little dance groups. Then we took it and started to run with it and we callers got a hold of it and the dance hobbyists would follow it one step saying more, more and more and the callers went better, more and more and if it hadn’t been for Callerlab coming in at the time it did, I don’t know. If Osgood hadn’t started Callerlab going with Lee Helsel and that group of, you know the guys, the old timers I’ve all mentioned. If it hadn’t started I don’t know where it would have gone because it was just going completely crazy. Erupting everywhere in volcanic stuff. Just junk coming in and we haven’t completely cleaned that up yet. It is coming but it may come with the older folks wanting to dance, you know. At this point, maybe we never will again get back to its cultural roots until the age of the population becomes a great part of the population rather than young ones. As they get older and people begin to look back to the cultural roots but they are socialized. I guess they call it more socializing. I think socializing has to be a very heavy part of the dance action and I say this. Where you can dance and laugh with each other and joke and tell a little thing and have fun going on in your group while you are dancing. When it gets too complex you got to concentrate too much on it the fun element goes out of it. Therefore the social element goes out of it. You dance with some, like in the lines down here, some poor person if it’s a complicated dance and he’s new, he’s lost I think you’ve lost him. I think he’s gone. These people have got to keep him and they do and we do in the contra keep ‘em simple enough and I’m in squares. I got back to the point I even feel a Mainstream program is a little heavy nowadays, you know it is. The program I’m working with seniors, it’s exploding again because in my area there is a lot of seniors who have retired or looking for outlet, looking for social activity and I hope the younger crowd, and they’ve got to. There isn’t any way the younger ones get older and not want to be together. I’m hoping the computer age will get so, well I think the computer age is already here. Everybody is so involved with their computer they don’t have any social outlet. There is no social intercourse between people, they are on that machine all day and they go home, if they got a home, and sit, get on the tube and sit. I hope as people get older they will realize hey this isn’t the world. We are the people and I hope it gets back to some of its cultural roots. I think some of the traditional dances like they do here. I know one fellow in my group, a senior group, is a historian. He says, “Would you do one traditional dance every time?” It’s just a basic program, 48 basics and that’s it. With all the other dancing and disciplines we do and he said, “Would you do it?” So, I said, “All right, I’ll try”. So, I went back and dug in and got some old traditional, some of the nicer things, not some of the trash they had, some of the nicer things and the people absolutely loved it. Visiting couple, and they said, “You know, that’s great. Let’s do that every time, just have one”. Fine, that isn’t going to be the whole movement but it’s getting back to roots a bit, I think. And the music, because you know, you can get it going and you can shut up and they will dance the thing. Everybody says, “Hey, think of that. We did it”. A feeling of togetherness. If we don’t foster that there is no way to go and I think you have to go back to the roots. That’s my feeling.
BB – Of course the record companies are not contributing very much to that cause because everything is
DD – No, no there not.
BB – Because everything is a 2 beat.
DD – Everything is plain old beat beat, beat beat, beat beat.
BB – You can’t even find a phrase in a lot of it.
DD – But I heard the other day some of the record publishers are saying our crowd is older we have to get back to their music and I noticed there is some of the companies, recording companies are now coming back with some old songs that people can relate to and there is, that maybe will have something to do with helping help bring it back in that sense. But the record companies have gone to, what, what, not anything. Neutron or something that they did and oh gad and the young callers just thought it the greatest. I danced to it and I said, “Good night, I can’t even find a place to put my foot down”. With the record companies I understand they are looking strongly at appealing to the older crowd now because the gray heads are the dancers. I think we, as square dance groupings or associations and all, we the callers, have got to start looking to those people and working toward them.
BB – Do you feel I should say that we, no way are going to be able to convert our present day dancers back to the CDP program?
DD – No, no they’re lost.
BB – In other words we’ve got to start over again.
DD – When you start a class you’ve got to put a little of circles in it, a little something different along with the squares and then they begin to say, “Yeah this is the way it goes”. I do and I’m seeing a great deal of acceptance of this. Even if you do nothing but, as good as contra is, if you do nothing but contra it can get stultifying. I don’t care how much you change the patterns of music it’s stultifying, you need that change, change of formations and change of music even.
BB – Change of rhythm.
DD – Change of rhythm, yeah. In my line dance program I’m doing line dance teaching now. I started out working with country western and I did a little of it but then I found out what two step line dances and waltz dances are. I may Saturday night, I may go out and do a waltz solo dances that I’m teaching. Theresa’s Waltz, one of the most beautiful little movements. People just loving to get out on the floor and do it. You’ve got to have change of rhythms. Well of course, Don Armstrong has been long, I’ve pulled his article many times that he wrote, you know, several years ago, says that if you don’t diversify your rhythms you’re just, it’s just nothing going on. It’s got to change. I’m a hundred percent with it and I guess I’m still here because I have gone that route. But again I go back to Dick Leger and say, “If I hadn’t a gone up there that day, If that light bulb hadn’t been turned on I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be gone”.
BB – Give us that philosophy of Rickey’s again.
DD – Rickey?
BB – Yeah.
DD – Oh yeah. That stuck with me now for 45 years. He says you, “If you learn to put the dancer and the music together and then get out of the road you can become a caller” and he says, “If you can do it only 50% of the time you can be an excellent caller”. Yeah, and it’s true and in another way I heard Leger say the same thing. He says, “If you can get those people back on that first beat of a phrase about every 16, you can let go of 8 or you can maybe let go of 16 but you’ve got to be there every other time at least” and I’m convinced of that and that was Rickey’s approach, and I thought that was great. It is about the simplest thing you could ever tell a guy and it took me 30 years to figure out what he meant, you know. Yeah he is a great guy. I saw him here a couple of three years ago. He came back through Washington.
BB – Did he really?
DD – Rickey used to phone. “Hey this is Rickey”. I hadn’t seen him in 30 years, you know. He had his new daughter with him, little daughter and he was taking her through the states. But he is living in Belgium and the last time I heard from him he was in Bulgaria doing Bulgarian dances. That guy is just traveling all over the world.
BB – You know the progressive grand circles I did on Folkraft?
DD – Yeah.
BB – He was the one that created the music in Belgium.
DD – He did?
BB – Yeah.
DD – Well I’ll be darned. We do sort of link then. I’ve never let go of him. He always was the one that I looked back at and say, “You had the answers” and he did. He really did. Well of course, I had one of the greatest compliments in my life when I was calling about 2 years. I had been calling about 2 years and Ev Jenkins had a big festival and I got on the festival with him. They could dance and he brought all the local callers in and we were calling and Pappy, and what’s her name, Mrs. Shaw?
BB – Dorothy.
DD – Dorothy. Pappy and Dorothy were sitting there and they were, this was the thing, here they were sitting and we were all, just like awed. Here is Pappy Shaw and I got up and called some dance, I don’t know what it was, and I remember I got done and then I got to see Pappy and Dorothy and she said, “You know, you sound like Rickey Holden”.
BB – There you go.
DD – I copied him. I didn’t realize that I had copied him to a large extent. That was a great complement.
BB – I guess so.
DD – My mentor, so to speak. But I had, a lot of people have had a lot of effect on me, I give credit to a lot of guys that I have rubbed elbows with. You know, Les Gotcher’s style of razzel dazzle calling. I picked up on that amalgamated with eastern and things. There are so many things, you know, as you go along Bob, you don’t realize till you look back, Hey! I got that from them. I got my philosophy from Ev Jenkins. I got my education from Bob Osgood’s magazine. I got this from, who was it, Ed Gilmore. I got the feel of music out of Gilmore and from the eastern. So when you start looking back you’re only an amalgamation of what everybody taught you. Maybe you didn’t know they were teaching you. But in rubbing elbows and in touching base and all that you either last of you don’t, and the ones that have gone out were the ones with tunnel vision. “Here is the way, and that’s the way I am doing it and that’s it” and you can’t do it. You have got to go with the times, you really have. And I don’t know where we are going. I think it will, I think square dancing will go back even more down to where we’re back to the roots again, where people come together to enjoy each other rather than come together to learn more. When get to that, when we get to that as leaders and begin to move our new dancing people into that fold and not push them so hard. There is always a few that’s going to want to race horse. Let them go. I think the callers have got to stay down where the masses are happy and, you know, you know the old way, the old philosophy when you’ve done a dance and people grab their coats and run it wasn’t a good dance. If they stick around and you have to drive them out of the hall it was a great dance. Here’s another one. You know Flo Caldwell?
BB – Yes.
DD – I’ll bring Flo into it too. I’ve known Flo ever since Detroit 35 years ago. And Flo is an excellent, excellent caller. She is. She is I think a perfect phraser. She’s just got it. Beautiful contra. When she is prompting I want to get on the floor. You know, she always says, “I don’t know much about calling” but she says, “I can tell whether a caller is doing a good job or not because I sit at the side of the floor and I watch people’s feet. If people’s feet are hitting down all over the place and nobody’s together he isn’t doing a good job but if they’ve got their feet together and everybody’s running with the music and you can see the feet coming down together that’s doing a good job”! She had a good philosophy.
BB – Yeah, a good time.
DD – I don’t know what he is doing wrong, but he can’t be doing much right because his feet are going everywhere and people are slamming around all over the floor and 90% of it is now because the caller takes beat 1 and he says, “OK, 2 ladies chain”, and where is the dancer going to start, beat 2, 2 ½, 3, 4? No, he has got to wait to 5 or he’s got to start so he starts and everybody starts on different feet and I can’t get that across. I don’t know. If he’d just shut up and let that heavy beat hit them in the foot, the guy will go. I done a one night stand one time.
BB – Then get out of the road.
DD – That’s right. Get out of the road. I did a one night stand one night. There was an old Italian guy and it was in a big old mill and we was stomp’in and everybody was clobbered you know, a wedding reception and I had an orchestra and we were going away at it and you know, one of those circle left dances, it’s about all you can do with them and everybody was slogging around and this old man got up and he says, “You got ‘em in the feet buddy, you got ‘em in the feet”. That’s the answer. You got their feet going together.
BB – There you go.
DD – Wonderful memories. Good Lord. Square dancing has been very good to Lou and I. Lou has always worked the other side of it. We’ve always been a team. Lou is, Well, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have carried on if Lou wasn’t with me, with it. She loves the people. She loves the social aspect. She tries to make everybody coming in the hall feel like it’s her home and greet ‘em and get ‘em and take ‘em and talk with them and listen to their stories about their children and she really is intensely interested in people. So, we have had a good relationship that way.
BB – That’s great.
DD – Oh God, I could never have been without her I wouldn’t have made it.
BB – Sure.
DD – I would never have done it. Yup, she has been very much a part of my whole career, I wish she were here this weekend with Bob and you and Al and all comin’. I’m going to call her tonight and tell her, “Yeah, you missed it”!
BB – OK. Well look Deck . I really appreciate your taking time to put these thoughts down on tape.
DD – It’s the first time I’ve ever had a chance to do it. I hope I haven’t bragged too much. I don’t like to brag though. It hurts me.
BB – A square dance caller that brags?
DD – I have one of those egos that doesn’t like that. I like to put them together and get out of the road and then they never ever know I’m up there. Just dancing, that’s the idea. That’s the way you do it. Even here you know. This contra. You forget that Don’s up there and you just dance and the music is talking to you and something comes in your ear and you say, “Oh I got to do this”. That’s the way it ought to be even in square dancing. We’ve just gotten too complicated. The mechanics took over the art. Choreography became the God. Everybody, that’s the first thing they want to do is get all this choreography and they don’t know what to do with it. Once you can get it put to music fine. You don’t need all that choreography, choreographics, so called formation management which is a nice term but you don’t need it if you, so much heavy stuff. If you’ve got that music pumping at them. You know, you’re right. Some of the younger callers today, some of the music they select to call to just, I don’t understand where it comes from and of course the record companies are doing it cause they’re buying records. I think they will go back. They will, it just takes time. Maybe we are all getting older and looking back and saying, “It ain’t like the old times”. Well, in many ways it’s better than the old times. It really is. But we have to reset our sites and get back to where people are and get back to even smaller groups. Any time you get more than eight squares in a group it becomes a crowd, you know. A six to eight square club is about the ultimate in what I am talking about, the social environment. If everybody gets a chance to about dance with everybody in the group every night and yet it’s big enough that if you don’t like somebody you don’t have to dance with them but once. And I think that is the ultimate. The big stuff is, I think going. I think it will go. Maybe the National, there will be a National once in a year to get together, but these festivals where they are hiring all the hypers and the big ???? guys that get up there and screaming and everybody goes Hi and Hi and screams and yells and has a big time. I think that’s done.
BB – Well I hope so.
DD – Well it’s like any other culture, the good stuff stays and the bad stuff gradually fades away. And we can’t dictate it Bob. We can’t do anything but hang on to it like a bull by the tail in a down hill pull. You’ve got to go with it. You’ve got to do it, OK.
BB – OK Deck, thanks very much.
DD – You bet.
BB – Golly.
DD – I’m glad to have a chance to talk to you. I hope this gets through to somebody, somewhere down the line a 100 years from now.
BB – Well I hope so.
DD – OK.
BB – Thanks Deck.