February 19, 2004
Bob Brundage – Bob Brundage – today the date is February the 19th , 2004 and today we’re talking to good old friend Randy Page back in Danbury, Connecticut – my old home town and looking forward to an interesting interview about his square dance experiences. So, Randy why don’t you give us a little information about where you were born and brought up and a little bit about your early square – your early childhood days before square dancing.
Randy Page – Bob, I was born and brought up in Norwich, Connecticut which is in the southeast corner of the state. It’s really hard to back too far beyond square dancing memories because – it’s interesting when I knew this interview was going to come up I said, “OK, what’s my first square dancing memory?” and my first one was – my parents were doing a dance demo at the Tercentenary of the City of Norwich, Connecticut which was in 1959. I remember riding in a coach to where they had the program. I went with my parents and I was watching them dance. You know, that was back when I was 5,6 years old.
BB – That’s interesting. Yeah. Go ahead.
RP – A couple of other particularly strong square dance memories from early on is I remember sometimes going with my parents to a dance and listening to the caller and then meeting him again many, many years later. His name is Paul Trowbridge. It is quite interesting because he’d always seen me as a little kid with my parents and then later he came and danced quite a bit to me. Another interesting remembrance is – down in my parents basement the first round dance club in southeastern Connecticut started so – called, “Anchors and Chains” and was started by Ray and Claire Anderson – Ray Anderson was from Rhode Island and was initially a caller and he had problems with high blood pressure as I remember and he was told that calling was too stressful so he moved on to being a round dance cuer.
BB – Right, right. Well, then how did you get interested in calling?
RP – Well, I started dancing as a pre-teen around 1960, 1961 to a person that most people think of as a round dance cuer and that’s Fred Gertner. When he first started he wanted to be a square dance caller and he started out with a group of kids in his basement. It was ostensibly to some degree linked with Ledyard Squares – Shirts and Skirts was his teen club but then he had this pre-teen club that was down in his basement. That folded after a couple of years when Fred went on to round dance cueing and then there was a teen club in Norwich that I joined called Rose City Teens – at that point in time I’d been calling a bit and I started fooling around at home with calling when I was 15, 16, 17 – I really consider I started calling when I was 17 because that’s when I really started to actually do it.
BB – OK. What were your first experiences, guest calling some club or –
RP – Yeah, I can remember doing my first guest singing call at Rose City Teens to the old Top, “Chinatown” laughs – the Ernie Kinney version and barely able to live through it – laughs – but like I said, the bug had bitten by that time – that point in time so I decided I’d go to caller’s school with Earl Johnston and Al Brundage.
BB – That was one of my next questions – who might be some of your mentors?
RP – Well, I had 3 or 4 different mentors – certainly you’re one of the ones on the list because when I was still a new caller and I was living with my parents in Heritage Village – you were calling for Woodbury Town and Country back then and I can remember going over to one of your fun nights and I remember you doing Uptown and Downtown – I’ve used that many times myself since then because it’s –there’s just so many things you can use at a one-nighter or just to entertain a group – sometimes today we forget so that’s one of mine – certainly Earl Johnston was a great mentor. He – you know, people always talk about Marshall Flippos timing but I still think Earl had better timing – laughs –
BB – Ah ha – OK. I’ll tell Marshall that – he’s going to be here in next week.
RP – Laughs – well, to characterize the difference is that with Marshall Flippo it always smooth and flowing and slick. With Earl I always like I was on ice skates. It was so, so you know smooth – it went beyond just feeling nice – it was almost an out-of-body experience – just do slick. Certainly when it comes to your brother Al – he was very insightful in terms of not just how you treated dancers but the way you entertained dancers – got them excited – got them interested so a lot of callers out there try all sorts of things to try and get the floor interested doing it very blatantly and what was something with Al was that he developed he had developed so many techniques that people just knew they were excited just to dance to him. It wasn’t like it was something bladed in front of them – it was the charisma and the excitement of feeling the inflections in his voice.
BB – Right. Well, when did you first go to caller’s school?
RP – I first went to caller’s school back in 1970 – it was actually – the first year I went was the first and only time that Earl and Al ran the school in Scott’s Oquaga over in New York. They only did that one summer and it was just a beginner caller’s school there that year. There are 4 of us out of that school who are still calling, that I’m aware of. One would be Rusty McLean – another would be Mike Callahan, myself and I’ll probably think the name later in the interview – there’s a gentleman out in Pennsylvania who was also at that school. There were probably – say there were 20 guys at the school so for that many of us still to be calling is really says quite a bit about how successful it was.
BB – Right. That’s for sure. Well, as long as we’re on the subject of caller’s schools tell me how you finally wound up to be proud owner of the caller’s school that Al and Earl used run.
RP – Well, that’s very interesting. Of course, it happened over a period of time. I was calling at Westurners and we were fortunate enough to get Earl to come over and do a dance for us there – a Mainstream dance. If you remember Westurners was a Mainstream group but we had a lot of very good dancers and Earl came over and did a really terrific dance. I remember talking to Earl that night and saying, you know – I had been thinking about doing caller education and I had a couple presentations worked up and I would like to try one at Caller’s School. Earl said, “OH that’s great”. He and Al set it up with me and so I came up and did a presentation at the caller’s school. Then of course I got invited back another year – “Well why don’t you come back and do another presentation” the next year then for a few years I just did presentations – we’d come up and fully work on staff. I also had started to work on the procedure for becoming a caller/coach at that point in time. I finally got eased into becoming more and more until I finally a regular member of the staff and then in terms of actually getting the school I think Ken and I were both in shock – laughs. Earl and Al took us to dinner one night. We all met and had dinner and they were discussing what we were going to be doing you know, to set up the school for next year. They said, “Well. we’re going to ask you to do a little bit more this year” and they went through, you know what they wanted us to do and they said, “ Part of this is because we’re trying to get you ready because this is going to be the last year that we’re doing the school. The two of you are going to be taking it over”. We were certainly overjoyed at it but it was also quite shocking.
BB – I can imagine. Right
RP – It also is – it has been a challenge for myself and for Fran and for Ken while he was still involved with it and even Mike now because the school always had a reputation for being one of the best in the world – not just best in the country because – I was down at Florida Sunshine Festival this year and up walks one of the students from Japan a couple of years ago. He’s planning on coming back and we’ve had people from New Zealand and we’ve had people from Taiwan as well as Japan – we have somebody coming from California this year – we had somebody from Minnesota last year – somebody from Texas so they come from all over. I’ve always felt driven to deliver the absolutely best school that I possibly can.
BB – Right, right . Well, I’m sure that’s the feeling of the people around the country too. Well, getting away from the caller’s school tell me about some of the caller’s associations you’ve belonged to. I know you’ve belonged to Connecticut for a long time.
RP – Well actually I’m doing duty as President of Connecticut again this year partially because Connecticut had a couple of rough years so I kind of said, “OK, I’ll step up to the plate because it takes – you know, we all have our time when you need to step up to the plate and that was my feeling this year. So, I stepped up to the plate and said I’d do it and in addition, what I’ve done this year is I’ve been out trying to twist different callers arms who have fallen out of the association getting them busy and active in it. A couple of examples would be Rusty McLean hasn’t belonged for a couple of years and Rusty is back as a member of the association.
BB – Good. I want to talk to he and Clint too.
RP – Well, absolutely. Bob Brundage, not Bob Brundage Bob Paris – I actually talked him into joining this year.
BB – Well, that’s amazing.
RP – Yeah. Well you know I’m basically the other prime caller in the Hudson Valley at this point in time and over the years Bob has mellowed. He realizes now that you can’t (garbled) and still keep them. The way I approached him was I said, “You know, none of us are always going to agree but I think it’s better if you’re inside the association that outside the association”.
BB – You’ve got that right, right.
RP – He agreed with me and said, “OK Randy, I’ll join back up”. So I got Bob to join the Caller’s Association – I don’t think he’s been in for 20 some years. That’s recent bur certainly Connecticut callers have learned a lot because we have so many really good callers in it. The other caller’s association that I’m active in is the Callers Council in New Jersey. Something that I found interesting about it was you know, they had asked me to join and I said, “Well, won’t some of the guys feel uncomfortable about having me you know, won’t they consider me almost a carpetbagger or whatever?”. They said, “Well, you actually call in New Jersey more than a lot of our members”. And then, when I went to join somebody kind of raised that question and Dot Levenstein said, “No, no, no – Randy’s not the first member from Connecticut – Al Brundage was the first member from Connecticut”. So, at that point in time and since I’m from Danbury you know, Al was from Danbury and moved on to Stamford but it certainly made things much more comfortable down there. I’m still very active in the Hudson Valley in New Jersey in terms of calling.
BB – Right. OK, well tell me about some of the festivals you’ve been to – maybe National Conventions.
RP – Well I’ve been to like 3 National Conventions. I don’t get to go as much as I’d like because I work a real job. I went to the one in Anaheim in 1988 and actually took a group of dancers to it. We went out and we did a whole week’s trip. That was when the national was still really large.
I can remember I only got a couple of spots at that national but one of them was in the Plus hall like at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I had like 177 squares dancing to me. That was kind of neat. It seems like I had to sign autographs for more time than I was up there calling – laughs
BB – Right, right. Well, you’re active in the Connecticut festival probably and how about the New England.
RP – Active in the New England and actually I was going to mention another one that I did one year. I did the Hunter Mountain Country Music Festival. Actually I did that with Mike Callahan. It was interesting because unbeknownst to me I was doing, “Brown Eyes Blue” as a singing call and I did a reasonably good job but I’m glad I didn’t realize that Chrystal Gayle was behind me listening to it –
BB – Oh, gracious
RP – Laughs long – since that’s one of her songs.
BB – Yes, I remember – she was one of my favorites.
RP – You turn around and then she’s there – she was really very gracious. She said she liked what I did with it and had never heard it used as a square dance and was very pleased – she said, “You know, you kept the right tonality to it”. So, that’s always neat when you get to see the original star see you do something like that.
BB – Well, she was very gracious about it, right?
RP – It was something I had observed from my festival having been backstage, having a backstage pass was she was as gracious and nice backstage as she was onstage as she was elsewhere. There were other performers who did not have that level of professionalism.
Let me tell you, she was just an absolute sweetheart. I have a funny story around that festival so I’ll include this – about 3 months before that festival Bob Burassa always had a camping weekend and I always did one day of it every year. Mike Callahan always did the Friday afterwards and Mike hadn’t seen me at that point in time for probably 20 years. We’d stayed for Mike’s night of dancing – so we’d stayed there. I’d borrowed Derek’s Century Club Book and I went up and I had Mike sign the Century Club Book. You know, and I said to him, “You know I’m trying to do a little calling too”. So he said – he was talking to me for 4 or 5 minutes and he said, “By the way, what’s your name ?” –and I said, “Randy Page”. He said, “ I’m going to kill you” laughs long.
BB – Ah, that’s priceless. That’s good.
RP – Oh yeah. It was all in good fun and I don’t know if you realize that Mike is now the Assistant Executive Secretary of Callerlab –
BB – Yes, I did.
RP – which means he’ll eventually be the next one.
BB – Right, right. Which brings up the point – what’s been your affiliation with Callerlab?
RP – Well, I go back to 1976. I was invited by Earl Johnston to join Callerlab. That’s when it was – it’s the first year it started to get big but it was still relatively small – a smaller, exclusive organization. Getting an invitation of somebody like that was really quite pleasant for me. I think it was a case where Earl and Al probably sat down and said, “Well, which of our guys that we think are going to develop over the years , let’s invite them”. I remember Al had invited Clint the year before. We were all getting opportunities – quite honestly, I think they were very smart by the way they realized that we were going to be their legacy.
BB – Right, right. Well, have you ever been out of the country calling?
RP – Well, actually yes. The most unusual situation I’ve called in would have to be one of these. We took a group to the Greek Islands – we did a Greek Islands Cruise and then we actually had a square dance at (??) St, Marco in Venice. So, that was really neat. I also, while I was in college I actually called in a couple of square dance clubs in Germany when my Concert Choir was doing a tour. Chris ?? was over there at the time and he gave me – they were doing a festival and he said, “Oh gee, we’ve got to have you call with us”. So, that was really neat. I remember who was a round dance leader in the Heidelburg area – his name was Auggie and I can’t think of his last name. He had also set up a dance for me to call. It was actually part – they had a program during the summer which is when I was there at the Castle on Heidelburg. I got to do a couple of tips at that so that was really neat too.
BB – Great. How about recordings.
RP – Haven’t pursued that. That may come in the next couple of years. My son Derek has always square danced – he’s a music major in College. One of his specialties was voice and the other one was composition and he’s actually taken some square dance music – I actually have a couple of pieces of music of his that I’m using right now and everybody is enjoying it because it’s – technically it’s synthesized but it isn’t synthesized the way that you would think with a really, really synthetic sounding music – it’s using a new technique called ‘Sampling”. What they do they actually take the instrument playing different pitches and they can bring it into the recording and every place there’s a musical note the computer will plug in the sound of that instrument playing that note.
BB – I’ll be darned. Huh
RP – It doesn’t sound – it still doesn’t sound as good as Louie and Eddie and Jimmy – laughs –
BB – Yeah, the old Pioneer Trio, right. Well, I’d be interested to know – have you ever done and round dance cueing?
RP – Yes. I cued for quite a few years – one of my first groups – when I was in college in Ohio there were only 2 round dance cuers in the area and all the callers were responsible basically in their own clubs for doing Rounds of the Month. The one fortunate thing in college was we only had the 2 cuers in the area but one of them was Frank Lenhert and I got to dance with Frank but Frank also worked with me on cueing. I was extremely lucky to have somebody who was one of the best leaders in the country at that point in time and help me. So, when I came back to Connecticut and I was doing one group and they said, “Well, the reason I got Greenwich Square Dance Club – they had 2 or 3 callers they were looking at – when they found out I could do rounds too I got the job. Part of it was, if you stop and think about it Al Still had Stamford at that time and al did the rounds at Stamford.
BB – Right. I used to do the rounds at Milford, right. Yep. Well, how about contra dancing?
RP – I have not – I can call a couple simple contras like, “On The Road To Boston” – if I’m doing a fun night I’ll do 2 or 3 simple contras. I terms of dancing contras I really used to love it at caller’s school when we used to have Duke Miller come over. I’ve also danced to Dudley Laufman. I can also remember – well, they still have some contras at Callerlab but I can remember several years ago at Callerlab we’d have an evening and we’d do contras and the first half of the evening was the easy contras and second half of the evening the New England Triples and Duples and Triple Minors and everything that took some real skill to do and you’d see some of the other people stop.
BB – Yeah, I hear you. Right. Well, let’s see, I’m just looking at the tape machine – it looks like we still have a few minutes left on this side.
RP – OK. Can I tell you about a couple of unusual dances I do here.
BB – Oh yes, Sure.
RP – I have probably what your brother Al has said is probably one of the ultimate fun nights he’s ever heard about to be able to do. About 8 years ago my wife had this woman called up and said, “I’m Sissy York – I’m Mrs. Watson’s secretary and we’d like you to do a square dance for us up in Maine you know, we have this end-of-the-summer party”. Fran is looking at the calendar and she’s saying, “Well, you’re all the way up by Mt. Desert Island, Maine. We would love to do this but there’s no way that I can think of that Randy can get back to Sturbridge, Massachusetts for noon time tomorrow you know, to be – the next day to be able to do the caller’s school”. The lady said, “ That’s no problem, our jet will pick you up wherever you need and drop you off afterward wherever you need”. Come to find out that this is Thomas Watson Junior’s widow and Thomas Watson Junior was the – his father was – took IBM from a tiny little company to a international business machine company and his son Tom Junior was the one that took it into computers. So, they fly me up there in their jet every year – I’ve done this for 8 years and it’s a fun night for the rich and famous. I did find out – I found out this one really, really interesting fact last year at a wedding – I doing usually 2 dances a year for the family and this past year they one of their young ladies get married and for the rehearsal dinner they wanted to square dance. It was funny because one of the guys there was cussing the groom about – how can you ever be a successful corporate chieftain if you are interested in or you like to square dance.
So, I had my chance later in the evening and I talked about Henry Ford and what was interesting was Tom Watson Senior’s Granddaughter – you know, Tom Watson Juniors daughter said to me, “Now I understand why we always have square danced every year”. Thomas Watson Senior was good friends of Henry Ford and had danced – you know, if you went out there and were there on a Saturday night – they had a square dance. And so –
BB – – over and we’re still talking with Randy Page back in Danbury, Connecticut so, I know you were – had a very interesting story – we were just about to complete that so, was there anything else you wanted to add before we continue?
RP – No, not really. It’s been nice because it’s given me some opportunities I got doing these dances – I got to meet Pierre Dupont and I’m actually going to be going down and doing a dance in the Governor’s Mansion next year in Delaware.
BB – There you go. Well, it’s going to be before long you won’t be talking to us mere mortals any more. Both laugh – OK, one of the things I’ve been asking all the callers that I’ve interviewed – in your long time experience with square dancing, do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wished you’d done differently?
RP – Bob, I think there’s a couple of things – I think that – I think Callerlab itself is a wonderful idea – a wonderful organization – I think we made some mistakes back in the 70’s. I think that the mistakes was not coming up with the Mainstream program – I think the Mainstream program was wonderful. I think our mistake was coming up with the Plus program. The reason that I say that is that unfortunately dancers have a tendency to perceive that just like buying gasoline – if you can get Plus of High Test for the same price you can get Regular well you must be getting more for your money with a Plus dance. I think that that was the start of the downward spiral to some degree. Mainstream dancing – one of the things a lot people tell me is, “Oh, you’re such a good Plus caller” and what they don’t realize that they’re telling me is that when I call a Plus dance they like the interesting Mainstrean that I do from the non-standard applications. The Plus that I throw in just to keep them happy – so that they know it’s a quote/unquote Plus dance. One of the interesting techniques that I’ve done the last couple of years is, if I’m doing – if I’m calling at a club as a guest – what I’ll do sometimes is I’ll do an unannounced Mainstream tip. I’ll ask the people at the end of the tip what I did different. I’ll get things like, “Well, that tip was a little faster – that was more exciting where the material was a really different” but I’ll never get that it was a Mainstream tip. Then I’ll tell them that it was a Mainstream tip and I’ll have people say, “No, that was too interesting – it was too much fun – it couldn’t be Mainstream” and I said, “No, the problem is that we’ve taken Mainstream level and made it like it’s class level”. If there was something I was going to redo it would be – that would be the first thing I would redo. The second thing that – we’ve started to deal with it in this area is – the Hudson Valley has a club in it called Dragonwood. Dragonwood is a club for people to walk in off the street and dance and the idea of Dragomwood was – Slim Sterling was always busy in that area doing that type of dancing. The feeling was and my feeling still is that square dancing – the problem is right now that we’ve knocked the bottom out of the pyramid and the bottom of the pyramid is fun nights and one-night square dance parties and walk-in dances like this where people don’t have to have experience and they don’t have to dance every single week – they can dance twice a year.
BB – Right, that’s a Community Dance Program type of thing.
RP – Yeah, well it really isn’t even Community Dance.
BB – I hear you.
RP – It’s absolutely walk-in. What’s interesting is that some of those people then later decide they’d like to join a regular square dance group but there are some who are just going to stay there. One of the things I’ve been doing the last several years – I’ve been using the multi-cycle lesson program and that’s been very successful – I’ve been doing it at the Danbury club which is your old club. In fact, I’ll mention this to you while we’re on the line – I doubt you’ll be out here in May but they’re trying to see how many of their callers that they can get to show up – laughs – at that May dance.
BB – Well, have them send me a ticket.
RP – I’ll tell them to send you a ticket – laughs – you mean a plane ticket – laughs –
BB – I’d love to go.
RP – Yeah, I said to them, “I’ll mention it to Bob when I talk to them or send him an email”. I’ll mention that to the President of Mad Hatters. This interesting thing about multi-cycle is that – what it does – for years and years as callers we talked about well, what we really need is holding program and it’s worked in effect that way and it’s worked extremely well at Mad Hatters. Mad Hatters is ostensibly a Plus club but it’s really not just a Plus club, it’s really a Mainstream club and a Plus club at this point in time. With the multi-cycle we have basically 2 semesters of lessons going on all the time – old Basic program and then Mainstream program and what we found out over the years is that – it goes back to the way round dance teachers have taught for years – easy and intermediate on the same night. We’re doing the same thing with square dancing and what’s happened is somebody completes cycle A and they start cycle B and they start to get a little frustrated – it used to be they would just drop out now what we find out is they just stop coming to cycle B but they still come to the easy – sometimes later they move up and sometimes later they don’t but what it does it gives us multiple groups in the one but the most important thing being that we’re holding on to more dancers. My feeling is the more people we keep inside the activity regardless of the program that they’re dancing – people inside of the activity are much better salesmen than people who feel that they’ve been forced out because they couldn’t do the level or whatever.
BB – Yes. Very well said. Right. Well, getting back to Dragonwood do you foresee this as any kind of future for square dancing?
RP – Absolutely. I think – one of the interesting things that happened this year, my being President of Connecticut Caller’s Association is we’ve just offered CASDC a $2000 promotional grant for square dancing asking them to participate financially in it too. One of the things that’s come onto the table that we’ve discussed is doing a couple Dragonwood type of programs in Connecticut. I’m wholeheartedly in favor of that and I’m hoping that’s one of the things that we’ll get out of it is just a simple walk-in square dance program because I believe that that’s what it’s really all about is we need to rebuild square dancing from the bottom. I think too often we try to rebuild it from the top down – it doesn’t work that way.
BB – No, you’re right. Yep, you’re right. Well, this has all been very interesting Randy. I’m real happy to have had the chance to talk with you about all this and I think we’re about finished for the evening though unless you can think of something else you’d like to add.
RP – No, nothing else on the tape. I do want to mention one other thing to you when we get done.
BB – OK. Very good. All right then in that case let’s call it this the end of our interview and thank you so very, very much for taking the time to talk with us this evening so just hold –
RP – Well, thank you Bob for giving me the opportunity. I feel blessed to be able to talk to one of the founders of the activity.
BB – Oh, thank you very much – so