BRUCE JOHNSON TAPE TRANSCRIPTION
Bob Brundage: Well, this is Bob Brundage again. date is August 27, 1996 and today I’m in Santa Barbara talking with Bruce and Hope Johnson and I’m looking forward to an interesting story about Bruce’s square dance life. So tell us, Bruce, where you were born and brought up and take it from there. Give us all the dope.
Bruce Johnson: Well I was born in Marion, Ohio. June first, 1927 My father was, uh, retired.
BB: He was retired ???????.
BJ: He owned his own house. So during the depression with a $100 retirement benefit coming in and owning his own house, we were not so bad off during the depression. But my dad had a series of heart attacks and strokes and this left him partially paralyzed. So most of my knowledge of him was that. My mother was a nurse. She took care of him. I’m a kind of strange conglomerate mess. My mother was born in Russia. My father was born in Pennsylvania. He was Scottish and she was Russian. He, uh, since my dad couldn’t do a lot of the things that youngsters did as most fathers do I was pretty much reared by my mother. In so doing I had all of the advantage that a mother gives a child, like dancing lessons and music lessons and things like that. But, because I got heavily involved with these things at a very tender age, I didn’t get into participation in sports – because I was afraid my fingers would get damaged in some way. There were a lot of things I would rather have done. But, as time went by, I’m happy that I didn’t get involved except as much as I did. It’s been a joy to me and a psychiatrist to me. It’s something that I go to in joy and in pain and in sorrow or whatever.
BB: Well, was your mother musically inclined, or your father, either one?
BJ: My mother had been married before, and her first husband who I never knew at all, uh, had been a musician. A philharmonic cellist, I believe. I’m not sure. But, at any rate, I was sort of a boy prodigy and studied piano for many years – all the time I was in Ohio. I went down to Ohio State and played a piano concerto with their University band ah orchestra on the radio show. I took part in some contests run by some musical society and I won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and Oberlin in Ohio –
BB: Ah Huh
BJ: which we didn’t stay around long enough for me to go to. But I did have the scholarships there. It was pretty well versed for a person at that time. It was strictly classical music. For my mother and father, if it wasn’t classical music it was positive junk.
BJ: They were very upset when I even suggested to play something other than that. So, at any rate, we had to move to California for my father’s health. It didn’t help him and he passed away shortly after we got down to Long Beach. This was in the early stages of World War II. At this time I was sort of away from the piano for a time. I didn’t find a teacher in Long Beach. Well, I just kept going on what I had here. But it was World War II and my mother was asked by the government to assist them at the Douglas plant there in Long Beach which build Flying Fortresses and the C-47 cargo planes. And, uh, my mother was asked to come to work there because she spoke Russian. At that time we had lend lease stuff going and every once in a while the Russians would bring in a whole crew into the plant and they would walk up and down the aisles and there weren’t enough people around who spoke Russian. Our government was kind of interested in what they were saying to each other, so they positioned her along the line as an electrician so she could catch some of the between themselves talk and pass it along. So she was working for the government at that particular time and came summer, I went to work at Douglas as a riveter. I did more bucking than riveting. But we put the tops on the C-47. We had a skeleton –
BJ: framework there. One guy sat on the top with a rivet gun and the other guy sat below and bucks through to put the skin on then he pushed down to the next line and do it again. It was a boring job but I worked hard for the country even though I was just a high school kid.
BJ: Then, eventually, we decided to move in with my uncle. In Los Angeles housing, at that time, was pretty difficult. So we had, actually, three families. My mother’s two brothers, my mother and myself all lived in half of a duplex.
BB: Ah Huh
BJ: It was a very close family arrangement. We had in the children group – we had a girl cousin who was one year older than I was and myself and then another girl cousin who was about two years younger at that point. So we had a very tight bathroom schedule. There was only one bathroom. You had to do everything by schedule. And we handled that.
BB: Uh, I didn’t read someplace along the line. Now where am I here?
BJ: World War II time. I’m gonna skip ahead here. Uh, I went into high school. Didn’t quite graduate high school. I got up to the last six week and then enlisted in the Navy. And. uh, the Navy allowed my boot camp as being the final six weeks. And when I finished boot camp I was permitted to come back and graduate with the graduating class in uniform. So from that point on I went up to the Bay Area and , uh, in the Bay Area I was assigned to a ship and the ship got I think about 20 miles out and blew a boiler. It turned around and came back and parked there. At about that time they needed some help at the fleet post office and they asked for volunteers and so I volunteered at the fleet post office but in filling out the volunteer sheet when they asked if I could type I said yes because I knew how to type I had taken typing in high school. And that was it. They never let me off of the base at that particular time. I spent the rest of my stay at World War II at Treasure Island in San Francisco.
BB: What happened to the piano all this time?
BJ: Well the piano was totally shot. I did play organ. Now I didn’t know anything about an organ. And I told them I didn’t. But they had a small contingent of Mormons there that wanted somebody to keep ’em on tune when they sang. They said if you can play just the keyboard part of it to keep us together we would appreciate it. So I did play the keyboard part of the organ for some Mormon services there. But I stayed there and then was transferred over to a place called Camp Schumaker which was, uh, near Camp Park inland a little bit. Out in the boonies. An since I was a yeoman by that time, they froze me and I proceeded to help all of the other guys out of the Navy. I was frozen in there for a little longer. And, uh, I had some interesting experiences while I was in the Navy. Even though I was there I remember V.J. Day I was in the San Francisco area. We had everybody who was ship’s company who was available at all on shore patrol duty. So they grabbed me for shore patrol duty. I didn’t even know that they would take a yeoman for shore patrol duty.
I was with, the guy that I was with was little short wiry guy that was tough as nails. And I was always worried that if we did get into trouble that I’d get the worst of it and I was not capable of handling it. But the only time any trouble occurred, unfortunately, the guy picked on the wrong guy. He picked on the little guy
BJ: and he was wiry and tough as all get out.
BB: Heh, Heh
BJ: Unfortunately, the guy also became an alcoholic later on. And while he was, while I was at Treasure Island there, he got into trouble drinking hair tonic
BB: Oh boy
B J: Geris I think it was had a high alcohol content he drank that stuff ah, whatever that’s another old story. But at any rate, I never did anything with the piano or musically except to play for the Mormons services there.
BB: Well Hope was telling me that you broke your mother’s heart when you started playing jazz.
BJ: Yeah, she, she reluctantly, of course my mother and I had a sort of tragic separation. Having been completely reared by her. I went through a period when I felt she was making too many sacrifices for me. And, ah, she was making decisions that were bad for her. Sacrificing, as mothers are prone to do and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t want to become a mamma’s boy so we had a separation that I’m sure was very painful for her for a while. And, ah, that’s when I went into the Navy, as a matter of fact. When I came out of the Navy, by that time I matured enough to the point that I realized that my mother was a fine person, as a person. Youngsters think of their parents as a whole different gender than they are. There’s friends and acquaintances and then there’s parents. And parents are something else.
BJ: When you get a little more mature you realize that parents are people. They have feelings, ideals and a whole lot of other things. And, after a while, we came back together again and decided that we liked each other very much. (Laughter) It worked out well was the whole point, but I did get separated from her and during that time the only piano that I played was jazz or popular stuff mainly because I could slop through it and it didn’t make any difference. On the classical stuff, I knew the difference, and I was unable to do it and it bothered the heck out of me. So I haven’t done anything with classical music since then. Although, every once in a while I’ll slurp into a Cherney finger exercise or something like that but the rest of it is – all pop music. Having survived WWII, I then went to college. I went to college at .. first I went to UCLA. And a UCLA I discovered that, at that time, they really didn’t have as good a music department as Los Angeles City College did. Uh, and Los Angeles City College had music courses that led you into pop music which was unusual for some collegiate type schools. So I went over to City College and took two years there. And then heard that Santa Barbara had a very good lower division college and I transferred up to Santa Barbara. And before that time, while I was still going to City College, uh, I was interested in girls by that time. And ah, there was one girl that said she liked to bowl, and I liked to bowl. So we made a date one night to go out bowling. And little did I know that she had already cagily planned that upstairs above this bowling alley there was a place where they held folk dancing. She was very much interested in folk dancing. And, uh, I found when I got there that I was succored into this and I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like it at all. But I was going to go along with it because I was interested in the girl. And I found that I liked it very much. It was fun. And I got pretty heavily involved in folk dancing. Now, at that time, in Southern California anyway, square dancing was largely done in folk dance groups. They weren’t separated any at all.
BJ: But I got, ah, I became one of the partners of a lady who developed into the director of the southern portion of the folk dance federation. And through her, and some of the square dance things we were doing there we, we developed about one square of people in this group that enjoyed square dancing more and we decided to do some extra curricular activity and get away from the folk dance group and go over to .. We had heard uncle Carl Miles some square dancing in one of the parks of the Parks and Recreation District of Los Angeles. And also Ray Shaw .. Carl, I believe .. he was some relative of Pappy – a brother-in-law or something like that. And Ray Shaw was Pappy Shaw’s –
BJ: brother. And, uh, we danced to both those two gentlemen. And in both cases they had live music. And enjoyed it very much and came back. And, uh, tried to pressure our folk dance group into doing more square dancing. At that time the stuff that was available on record for .. the stuff with calls wasn’t really very good. Wasn’t very clear. And she said she’d schedule more square dancing if some of us would learn to call. So we drew straws and I got the short straw. So I had to learn a couple of square dance calls, Patter calls. Which I did. And I got into through the back door that way. Later on I left the Los Angeles area and came up to Santa Barbara. We got more heavily involved in square dancing then. And went into square dancing. And I called … My first professional calling was at the hotel here in Santa Barbara which has changed hands many times since then but it’s still there. However, the room that we danced in is no longer there. They remade it … changed the whole room around a little bit so that it’s not that room. But I had a live band. It was almost a Polka band. The leader of it was a clarinet player. We had some good times there. It was on Saturdays. Are you going to insert something here?
BB: Well I was just going to ask what the instrumentation of that band was.
BJ: Well, they had a very good accordion player.
BJ: And a string bass and Bob on clarinet. And I think they had a banjo. And piano.
BB: A six piece band. That was very nice.
BJ: It was pretty good, yeah. They made pretty good music, really. Bob was very good on the clarinet and he would play something that we could do round dances to. One of the dances that we used to do there was called the Oklahoma Mixer. Except in Oklahoma where it was called it Texas Schottische. Every place else they called it Oklahoma Mixer.
BJ: We did it to Country Gardens which is the (Bruce sings the melody of Country Gardens)
BB: I don’t think I ever knew the name of that tune.
BJ: After that I sort of laid low. Some of the people in town here found out that I did call occasionally for square dancing. I went out to some places in town where they did square dancing and most of it was what they called old time dancing which was more close to the traditional square dancing than the so called western style.
BB: Visiting couple dances?
BJ: Yeah. We enjoyed them. We had a good time.
BB: Now you’re talking the late 40’s and early 50’s?
BJ: Yeah, that’s right.
BJ: Well now in the late 40’s I was involved.
BJ: In ’48 I taught.. this is when I figure that I actually began calling because that’s when I first produced square dancers. I taught my first class in 1948.
BJ: So I put something back into the activity at that time. And I figure that when I started as a caller. And, uh, my first class graduated in January of 1949. And we have lived in the same school ever since. As a matter of fact we had the principle of that school square dancing with us and she fought tooth and toenail to get a good wooden floor for the auditorium. It had no grates in it or anything like that. No posts. We still have that hall today. Still use it.
BB: The same club?
BJ: The same club is still going (chuckle) They’re all considerably older than they were at that particular time. And they have a major attrition problem.
BJ: Plus the fact that young people are not strongly attracted to that club because of the predominance of older people. But as a club it still goes .. Now we went through many years every Saturday. In all that time the only Saturday that I can remember that we ever took off was the Saturday that Kennedy was assassinated
BB: Oh Yeah
BJ: That time we shut down. But, uh
BB: What was the name of that club?
BJ: Fairs and Squares. It’s still going.
BB: There you go.
BJ ‑ They’re in their forty nineth year now.
BB ‑ All right, beautiful.
BJ ‑ They’re struggling, but they’re still there.
BB Oh sure.
BJ – It’s really more of a family affair now
BB – Right
BJ – because, although the people don’t really all individually like each other necessarily, they all tolerate each other well and they don’t care that much about it. They accept each other as they are, for what they are. And I think that’s one of the marvelous things about square dancing. You get a great opportunity to learn toleration. And uh.
BB – and teamwork
BJ – teamwork, yes and uh accepting people in spite of little idiosyncrasies that they have that annoy you. You accept it and realize that you do things that annoy them too. For the good of the whole you get along together. Sometimes agree to disagree but still go ahead and play. We have a nice feeling about that club. It’s a nice club to. I enjoy calling to them. And like many of the old time callers, we did squares and rounds and contra all together, and we still do.
BB That’s great.
BJ We don’t do as many contras as I would like to. But I’ve always been so endeared by the contras that I was scared to death that I would either get too long winded or not instruct properly and they would dislike contras. So, rather than push them, I held back and held back to the point where they would come up and request that I do contras. That’s what I wanted. I wanted them to ask me to do it rather than for me to say “we’re gonna do contras and that’s it. In the older days people didn’t know any better. When you said we’re gonna round dance or contra dance they didn’t know any better. They got up and it was all fine.
BJ And then later on they found out that everybody doesn’t like all things and they’re free, white and 21 and could choose as far as that’s concerned. But in respect of the people who did enjoy it we hoped that the people who did not care for it that much would keep their mouths shut and not spread any negative thoughts.
BB Right, right
BJ We’ve always done squares, rounds and contras and we will continue to do that. We got our variety through changes of formations, changes in different types of music and uh rather than more complicated choreography.
BJ And this I hold true to this day. I see people going on to A1 and C1 and what have we and we don’t need it. We can get interested enough with the other things. I find that most people who go to more advanced choreography don’t involve themselves with round dancing or contra dancing.
BJ So we just prefer to get our variety a little different way. That’s all.
BJ And I choose to ‑ if I’m the only one in the area that does it that way, why then so be it. That’s find and dandy. It doesn’t bother me at all.
BB Sure. So when did you start getting involved with traveling and uh when did you hear about Sets In Order. It must have been around about then.
BJ Well that goes back. I’ve got to backtrack a little here.
BJ Exhibition show of American square dances with the emphasis on what he called the cowboy dances. And uh this whole thing I think was arranged pretty much by Bob Osgood. Uh I know the program for that particular performance was the first issue of Sets In Order magazine.
BJ Later it became Square Dancing Magazine, the organ of the American Square Dance Society. Uh, we had a couple here in town, Dale and Ruth Garrett, who helped organize a organization called A Square D, Associated Square Dancers. Dale was the first president. This was in 1948. Dale was at that time living in the San Fernando Valley. He had a furniture store there and a son and a daughter. The son Tim was an exhibition dancer with Ralph Maxheimer’s Levis and Laces group. And uh, Dale and Ruth moved up to Santa Barbara and uh bought a furniture store up here and were up here and were members of that Fairs and Squares club that we talked about. And uh, as long as Dale was with us. When he passed away his son, Tim, took over the store and I think the store has since been sold. Tim also called. At any rate, Sets In Order was born about that time ‑ 1948. And uh, this Ralph Maxheimer that I mentioned earlier, was a ‑ one of the leaders in square and round dancing in the Los Angeles area. He took a lot of ribbing from square dancers because he was billed, they hired him to call at the Hollywood Palladium. This was at the time when ballroom dancing was dying off, or it looked like it was dying off and the big ballrooms were closing down and they were wondering what was going to happen. And on Sunday afternoons they got a huge square dance crowd there at the Palladium with Ralph Maxheimer. He had a live band there, Johnny Downs and His Rhythm Riders. And uh, then around 1950 the Diamond Jubilee ‑ I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about that from –
BJ Now, just to put it into perspective with what’s happening in
the world about this time, uh, this was the time when Harry Truman was writing notes to Washington music critics because they didn’t care for his daughter’s singing. It was the year that MacArthur was fired. It was the year that Alger Hiss was convicted. And the Diamond Jubilee came along about that time. Uh, one of the callers in that area offered what he called high level dancing, a fellow by the name of Carroll White. I have no idea what ever happened to Carroll White. I have lost track of him completely but it was something around those days. In 1951 uh, this was the first Asilomar Sets In Order Institute. This was the year of poodle hair cuts and Joe Lewis knocked out Rocky Marciano and Leo Durocher switched to the Giants and the White House was redecorated. In 1952 the first National Convention was held , Square Dance Convention was held in Riverside. Uh, Ed Gilmore had a lot to do with that. He got together with uh, the names escape me, there were three people, three major callers involved. Gilmore was one of them.
BB Gilmore, Osgood and ???????. Bob mentioned it on his tape that I got yesterday, who the third one was.
BJ His name ????????? this is the people who were in on that first National Square Dance Convention. And this was, incidentally, the year that chlorophyll was discovered.
BB There you go
BJ A boon to square dancers no doubt.
BB And they turned out about 5000 dancers
BJ For what?
BB The first National
BJ The first National. I don’t have any figures on that. I know the one that was in Santa Monica, they had a fantastic crowd for that. I think it was the most exciting experience of my life to stand up on that stage and look out seeing three long blocks, these were LONG city blocks up Wiltshire Blvd, up that way and three blocks of Ocean this way and three blocks of Ocean that way and they were absolutely solid jam packed with dancers. When you looked at them standing still it was interesting. You couldn’t tell where one square stopped and the other one began It was just a sea of heads.
BJ And you may want to edit this out of the tape, but the nearest thing I could see when you started calling, it looked like the look that when you look into a garbage can that has maggots in it. And it’s just the whole thing started to work. You couldn’t tell except that it was all moving. It was a very fabulous thing.
BB Well that was the Diamond Jubilee.
BJ That Diamond Jubilee was absolutely fantastic.
BB You know, a thought just occurred to me. As you stood on the stage and looked down those, what was it, four blocks, was there a time lapse. Well I suppose you couldn’t really tell the reaction of the dancers that far away.
BJ Uh, though there wasn’t a time lapse as such because the way they had the sound hooked up, they had on every light post going into the streets they had speakers and the ones that were facing were out of phase with the ones that were going this way.
BJ The sound was very good. There was no problem with the sound up and down. They had put some white stuff on the street
BB Yeah, powder
BJ that was a pretty good surface to dance on. The only problem was that streets have natural slopes over to the side
BJ and people tended to start in the middle and drift out toward the outside
BJ I remember one particular thing that I thought was so very clever. One of the ladies there had a very long, uh, I guess you’d call it a prairie outfit like.
BJ Long skirt and in the bottom of the skirt she had sewn in little lead fish things, fish weights, fish line weights. And when she swung the skirt spread out like so. And boy the crowd backed off real quick because they’d get hit with those things once in a while. It really let them know. But they gave her room. It was no problem. It was wall to wall people
BB You only get hit once.
BJ Absolutely fantastic.
BJ Soooo then National Conventions were in. Square dancing was in. Things happened. And along the line here someplace in about April of 1970 I was honored to be elected to the American Square Dance Hall of Fame. And, uh, I was a member of the Board of Directors of CALLERLAB. I started recording in 1951. This was an interesting tale. How I got started recording.
BJ Uh, In the first place, I would never have had the guts to do what had to be done to get started recording. But there was a gentleman here in Santa Barbara who was of Dutch descent. His name was Killian Van Rensler Lansing and I think he had something to do with one of the old cruise ships back in New York ages ago. But his family ?????? But Killian was very much enthused with my square dance calling and he thought that I had a clear voice and I should be on record. After we had a round up here where we had brought in live music from Los Angeles. He hired the band to come over to one of our square dancer’s house that had a concrete floor and a big living room. He invited them over to have a little after party after that to record. He had a gentleman here in town who was a very fine recording artist. He had recorded Segovia a lot ‑ a classical guitarist.
BB Oh yeah, I know Segovia.
BJ He was the epitome of sound equipment. That guy had the state of the art equipment all the time. And he recorded a trial record, I guess you would call it. A couple of them . And gave them ‑ they recorded on disk ‑ and gave it to Killian. And Killian went down to Los Angeles and the first place he went to I think, he went to MacGregor, C.P. MacGregor.
BJ And C.P. MacGregor said “No, he wasn’t interested.” He had Jonsey on there and Jonsey was selling like hot cakes and nobody¼. and he didn’t need any more ??? And as a matter of fact then he went over to Windsor Records. And Windsor, incidentally, Doc Alumbaugh who owned Windsor Records had also gone to C.P. MacGregor earlier to be recorded and C.P. MacGregor said “No way, we have Jonsey and we’re happy with him and that’s fine and dandy.” So Doc says “To hell with ya, I’ll start my own company.” And he did. He was a kind of a gutsy little guy that uh. I don’t know. He sort of a flair about him.
BJ He had a flair of writing too. His advertising was, it set a stage for a whole new type of square dance advertising. But he was a very good businessman and he was very good for square dancing. He did some things that I don’t know a great many people know what it was but Doc acted on behalf of square dancing and square dance callers with the musicians’ union. And, for a time there there was a battle about whether square dance callers should be musicians and should belong to the musicians’ union. Or whether they should be actors and belong to the actors’ union or what have you. Doc Alumbaugh sold them on the fact the square dance caller is not a singer as such, though sometimes he sings. He’s a prompter of dance action. And sold the various union officials on that and uh talked them out of forcing the square dance callers to join the musicians’ union. And he also interceded when he started Windsor Records. There were a lot of record companies that were started in people’s garages in non-union situations. And he wanted to go into it absolutely on the up and up. He started off legal like. He did a lot of battling with the musicians’ unions and stuff and things that occurred. And uh, I don’t think the public ever hears about some of those things. Doc was a good little guy. He was a very astute businessman. And uh some people thought he was the worst thing that ever happened to us and other people thought he was the epitome of whatever –
BJ which is the same thing I can tell you. I can tell you this about your brother. Your brother Al, there were also some people who thought Al was the worst thing that ever happened to square dance callers and other people who thought he was the best thing that ever happened to square dance callers.
BB Including Ralph Page
BJ Yea, so it was one of those things. Al had a very good business sense –
BJ and uh he knew what was right for the time and I think Al had the most highly developed sensitivity to a crowd of any man I have ever known. Boy, he could look at that crowd and know just right now what was right to do for that crowd. Absolutely magnificent. And he had a presence on the microphone that it’s hard to explain. But when he got through calling he didn’t immediately turn away and do something. He stood there and smiled at the people and they smiled back at him.
BJ Just a marvelous thing. So now we’re into recording. Well, at any rate, I have recorded for Windsor, I recorded for Sets In Order. I recorded for MacGregor. I recorded on my own label, Pulse and I served two years as production manager for Windsor Records when Doc Alambough passed away and his wife decided to take it over. But she didn’t know much about the square dance calling stuff so she got me to help her do that. And then, uh, Ed Lowery, now you have to know that C.P. MacGregor was a big Masonic man. Very high in the Masons and he wanted to travel around the country doing his Masonic stuff and he wanted a business that would run itself. And he hired Ed Lowery and Ed Lowery ran his business and was his production manager and he ran the whole thing. Some place along the line here Ed Lowery got somebody else to put up the money and Windsor Records was sold and Ed Lowery came over to Windsor. Now when Ed Lowery came over to Windsor, uh this left C.P. MacGregor without anybody to do the square dance stuff. And he tried to do it himself. And he did a not a satisfactory job at it. He hired me to come over from Windsor to MacGregor. So Ed Lowery and I switched jobs at that point and I became the director of Artists and Repertoire for MacGregor Records. And at particular time I told C. P. MacGregor that I was interested in starting my own label. And that it wouldn’t be in competition with him. It was all right with him. He was a very nice man to work with. And so there we were. What do you need to know now that we haven’t covered?
BB Well tell me a little more about Asilomar.
BJ Asilomar, well I would think that you would have..
BB Oh, I’ve got all this
BJ everything you would need to know about Asilomar
BB Well I know you..
BJ Asilomar is and was at that time , of course when you say Asilomar you’re thinking in terms of Bob Osgood’s Sets In Order Institutes at Asilomar.
BJ There are other Institutes at Assilomar run by other people. They’re not the same. The thing that was done by Bob Osgood was .. He was sort of a missionary. Bob Osgood is a marvelous person. And a deeply religious person and a good man.
BJ He set up the Asilomar Institute as an ideal and it became that. And the people who came to Asilomar in either a leadership role .. He frequently ran two sessions, a leadership session and a dancer session. And the people who came to both of those sessions became leaders in their own end.
BJ And Bob had a way of indoctrinating people without them knowing or realizing that they were being indoctrinated.
BJ It was a thing of beauty to behold. And he had such a nice way of saying things that there’s no way you can argue with him about it.
BJ He was just a marvelous person. To get people from all over the country to dance a standardized way of dancing. And when they came to Asilomar they danced the standardized way of dancing. That was it when they go back home, of course there’s no control of that. But the experience that you have when you go to Asilomar as a dancer, and you go there and you start off with the very first introductory dance that you have, you’ve got styles from all over all over the world and its a sort of a hodgepodge and you do whatever comes at you sort of you know. You take whatever hand holds and whatever is there you do. Then as this, under the guise of quote styling Bob would sell, a very soft sell, standardized dancing in a gracious manner. And he accomplished that to the point where about the third day at Asilomar it was a real joy to be out on that floor and dance. And you just wished that the club at home would dance this way.
BB So, uh, one of those attendees (cough) Excuse me was Chuck Jones and I’m sure you got to know him quite well.
BJ Yeah, Chuck, Chuck is a very talented person. When he first got involved, of course I didn’t know him when he first got involved in square dancing, Bob did but he was a rather shy person. And square dancing brought out Chuck in some ways as it frequently does to people. But they lose this fear of other people standing up to you. You have officers who take office in a club and they take ahold of a microphone and they are just shaking, absolutely shaking, terrified.
BJ And then after they’ve done it for a little while then they are old pros and hams. Chuck was a marvelous humor. He had humor about everyday things which in his cartooning you always knew with a Chuck Jones cartoon who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. There was never any question about it. And while there was things that people could call violence in his cartoons, it was always the bad buys that got it in the end. And you always knew the good guys would win. Chuck had a fantastic sense of humor. He could take little things and make them fun, hysterical things. One example of that, Chuck at the earliest Asilomars, would get up and give a certain little talk, like early fireside chats, held between the evening meal and the start of the evening dancing. People sat down and listened to whatever was happening at that particular time. And, at that time things would be brought up in a humorous vein like the fact that this was single wall construction type of building that many of them were in. The walls were very thin and when you sleep you’re frequently sleeping closer to somebody else’s husband than you’re own in the case of a woman or man. Either case, you’re almost back to back wall wise and if you’re a bad snorer, boy those snores came through like mad. We had couple there from Santa Barbara named George and Ruby Glass and they were early goers to Asilomar and they became friends with Chuck. There was another guy, Sal, I can’t remember Sal’s last name, he was a horrible snorer that you can imagine. It was really obnoxious and at one time George was in bed, lying there absolutely awake, you know, and Sal’s in the next room snoring. And all of a sudden his wife was about to pounce on him and he says “It’s not me, it’s not me. We had Sal at some of our other institutes later, that I did with Lee Helsel. And we always managed to book him, roomwise, far away from all of the square dancers. Because we knew that his snore was absolutely fantastic. Chuck could take little things like that and make you conscious of the humor in it. Another thing I liked about Chuck and some of the friends that Chuck had. At Asilomar we would have after parties. Originally, I don’t think the after parties were planned. I know they weren’t originally but each one of these lodges had a big fireplace and a sitting room. When the dancers were though for the evening they were a little reluctant to go right into bed. They felt a little up high. And they would gather together in these rooms in these fireside rooms in the lodges. People would start to tell jokes. And sometimes the jokes would begin to get pretty raw. And it’s interesting to see how guys like Chuck Jones could watch this thing start turning and insert something to turn it around and get it headed in the other direction. Very subtly without anyone knowing what was going on.
BB That’s great!
BJ Oh, he was just a totally remarkable person.
BB Wonderful interview and conversation, Bruce. Uh, I wonder if you would give us your overview of what you think about where we’ve been, where are we and where are we going.
BJ Well, uh, let me say this. I think where we’ve been is interesting. I am very grateful to my creator that I was created when I was. And I had the opportunity to be with the people that I’ve been with at the times that I’ve been with them. I think if I had known when I started square dancing, square dance calling and round dance, when I say square dancing I mean square dance, contras and BB Right. BJ If I had known that it was going to be as complicated as it has developed into, I don’t think I would ever have gotten into it. I don’t think it’s productive in a number of things. The Community Dance Program which has been proposed by CALLERLAB I think is a marvelous, marvelous thing. It runs more toward the philosophy of the Lloyd Shaw Foundation also. Originally, some years back I was not sure I was in agreement with the general philosophy of the Lloyd Shaw Foundation and I find as I’m getting more and more older and time goes by and I see more of our problems that I get more close to the Lloyd Shaw Foundation approach. I don’t know that there’s any solution but we have several problems involved which have no doubt been talked about by other people a lot. One is that we have a product but we do not make it readily available to the public. A grocery store that is trying to sell particular things, will place things in aisles to make it more convenient for you to grab their product. And in square dancing we are not making it more convenient, we’re making it less convenient for people to involve themselves with the product. We need a place where people can be occasional dancers and not feel like second class citizens. And the Community Dance Program, I think would do that and would do it well. The only thing is that you can’t start it within the square dance picture as it is today. It must be started completely independent of the hobby square dance as it is today. And it must be, as we did years ago, given time to give people the chance to dance what they do well and to gain enthusiasm and knowledge and comfort in their dancing to the point where they are interested in, perhaps, a little more. Perhaps not but they aren’t required to do a little more. Unfortunately, in our society, we have an activity that is basically a cooperative activity completely. Where you have eight people cooperating with music and with a caller and with each other for a successful completion. And when they get done with that successful completion they usually put their hands together and clap. And they’re not clapping for the caller or the music. They’re clapping because it was a pleasant experience and they enjoyed it and that was that. It was a self expression. More and more, nowadays, people don’t clap when they get through. It’s unusual to find a group that will do that. And it used to be common. Uh, years ago, uh, when round dances were played by live music, if people really like it they would keep clapping and they would play it over again. And they would dance it again. You don’t see that today. I think callers who have maybe been bored with themselves because they get tired of saying somewhat the same things over again don’t realize that the dancers were not in that position. Sometimes dancers can’t come regularly every week. And sometimes they can only come once a month or something like that. And just like any other activity, if you only do it once a month, all other things equal, you’re not gonna be as accomplished as the person who does it every week or even twice a week. And it’s just a matter of how much time you involve and this doesn’t mean that you are a better dancer or a worse dancer than somebody else. It’s just where it fits into your lifestyle or what have we. And I don’t think we can make everybody into a particular schedule into a particular mold. I am not against the more advanced dancing. I think for those people like in retirement communities where they can dance three times a day at different places. For those people who have nothing else to do and the time to do it, it’s a marvelous thing for them. But I don’t think we can run our whole square dance activity for those people. And, unfortunately, our square dance activity as it is today in the hobby program, does not have a place for the person who is an occasional dancer. We need to have a place for that. I think that callers can provide a place for that but not within the square dance hobby activity. They’ve got to do it separately. Maybe through churches or through recreation departments away from the average hobby dance program. And this does not conflict with the hobby program. It’s a matter of letting it go but it’s just a different thing. As a matter of fact, I think it could probably save a lot of dancers that are lost if they took part in a, for want of a better expression I’ll say for the Community Dance Program. And they took part in that for quite a while until they were comfortable with that and knew those very fundamental things very well. If they did that, they would have a much better chance of surviving the average square dance class where they’re hit with so many things to do at so much time that the average person starting from point zero where they know nothing is almost shot down before they ever begin because of the volume of things that there is to cover.
BJ And by the same token, because of the volume of things that are there to cover, there’s no connection between round dancing and square dancing and contra dancing. You’re talking three separate programs rather than all one program of Community dancing. I’m very much charged up about Community dancing but I haven’t been able to get enough people to get started in the thing And I’ve been doing this for what, forty, forty-nine years now and I don’t hardly know anybody that isn’t in square dancing. So you got to get away from these people to start something else I don’t know how I’d ever make it in this town as far as halls are concerned. You can’t get halls except for schools and the only schools you can get you have to be a non-profit organization. You have to have $2 million worth of public liability insurance. A number of these things make it difficult. I, as an individual, can’t go out and say “Hey, I want to start a group, can I start a group here.” Uh, no you have to have so many things. So it’s difficult but I think, on an individual plane, if the dancers would recognize how marvelous the square dance activity is but also how big it is not in numbers but in expanse of the differences and the different kinds of square dancing from here to there. There are many, many, many little different variations. The people who have father and son or daughter and parent dances together are a type of dance that is fun square dancing. And completely different from the hobby square dance picture. This is not to say that one is better than the other. And the people that are involved in one shouldn’t pooh, pooh or downgrade the people that are involved in the other. They need tolerance with each other. Tolerance with their difference in viewpoint and this is somewhat the same situation that the political parties are in now. We have so many divergent opinions at this particular point. And, incidentally, as you tape this in this year, we have Bob Dole in town here in Santa Barbara with Mr. Kemp. At the same time the Democratic Convention is going on in Chicago. So there are, it has been almost two years of politicking and I think the general public is up to their neck in politicking on this stuff and they’ve about had it. That’s neither here nor there but it is a factor involved in our square dance picture. We’ve got to learn that there are some things that need dancer assistance. The callers can’t do it all. The dancers can’t do it all either. There needs to be cooperation and respect for opinions. I think one of the best, one of the best men that I have ever known for group relations and understanding and the ability to find out what people really think and what is really right for the situation. This is a gentlemen by the name of Mr. Jim Mayo who is heavily involved in CALLERLAB and is a very smart thinker and when he was working – I think he’s retired now – but when he was working he was working at the Lincoln Lab of MIT up in Massachusetts. And he was part of their labor relations setup where they ran into any labor things that had to be settled, uh Jim was involved in that. He was a fine man for listening to other people’s point of view and discussing with them and pointing out weaknesses without backing them in a corner. And I think this is the qualities of leadership that are needed for the leadership to get along. To get along with each other and to get along with the world. Part of our problem in square dancing is the inability of the leadership to get along. This has always been a problem. Years ago, when CALLERLAB was being formed, nobody thought callers would ever get together and agree with anything. And in the beginning it was a very carefully guarded entity because it was very precious to those of us that were involved in it. And we didn’t want it to be hurt. It was just like a parent with a child. And then, after a while, you get to the point where you have to allow the democratic process to take place. You may not like what you get from it but, nevertheless, it has to be. This is the stage that CALLERLAB is in I think. And the ACA, which is another caller organization also – personally I can’t see any reason for the two. Why they can’t get along together. I think it’s just personalities probably. But, uh, I think that’s about it. Did I cover anything that you wanted in that process?
BB You did it beautifully. I’ll tell you Bruce. Just great. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful interview and I’m happy to find out some of these deep dark secrets of your past and you’re contribution to a tremendous recreational activity.
BJ It is a tremendous activity. It’s a marvelous recreational activity. It has so much to offer if people would just recognize that it’s a recreational activity. It can also be a hobby activity but they’re not the same.
BB Excellent point.
BJ They’re two different things. I don’t think we can guide our whole activity around what the very most experienced dancers do. When you start off at point zero knowing nothing and people learn about an activity. The more you learn the more complicated it gets the smaller your group becomes. On ski slopes. The ski slopes that make the money are not the ones that have these horrendous professional like trails. They are the ones that have the clunker slopes. And they’re the ones that are doing the great business when the snow is right and everything is going with the clunkers up there. We need a place for clunckers to square dance. And they need to do so without hanging their heads that they’re doing it this particular way. This is the way they like to do it. This is their choice. It’s not necessarily that they are limited to that. This is what they choose to do. If they choose to do something else that’s fine and dandy. We think if it’s done correctly they won’t choose to do anything else because it will be about the best thing that will ever happen to them. Whole personalities change through square dancing. People that are absolute in a little shell of their own come out and blossom through square dancing. Chuck Jones is one of those, is one of the best examples of this.
BB Right, and he was already accomplished in what he did.
BB Well, I want to thank you Bruce, golly. Number one for your hospitality. Number two for taking the time to suffer through this little interview.
BJ It’s not suffering, Bob, but I’m just questioning how much you’re going to get out of this – is something else.
BB Oh well, sometime fifty years from now somebody’s going to listen to this and say “Isn’t that interesting.” And it certainly has been. I appreciate your taking the time and the effort and I’ll certainly look forward to seeing you around here and there.
BJ I hope so.