JERRY HAAG INTERVIEW
November 4, 1997
Bob Brundage – Well hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today we are talking by telephone to Jerry Haag. He is down in Pharr, Texas and they call it Pharr because it’s far from anything. Jerry, nice to talk with you. Today is November the 4th, 1997. So Jerry, why don’t you tell us a little bit about life before square dancing. Tell us a little about your family background, etc.
Jerry Haag – Sure. I’m a native of Cheyenne. I was born and raised there. Went all through my school years there – through high school. My folks were in the restaurant business in Cheyenne. Nobody in the family decided they wanted to stay in the restaurant business after taking a look at it all of their lives I guess. None of the kids – I had 3 siblings and none of us decided to go into the restaurant business. When I got out of high school I worked at the railroad for a little while and then enlisted in the Air National Guard right out of high school. Went to work there and was a member in 1953. Then I worked there until I decided to take this on as a full time profession. That was in 1967. Those years I was in the Guard and I stayed in the Guard for another couple of years until I had 15 years in the Guard – 13 1/2 of that was full time. Then I went back 10 years ago – I was around 50 and put in another 5 years in the Guard so that I would have military benefits at retirement at 60, which I did. That was really my time in the Air Guard and that’s the only other job I’ve had except for this one. It’s not real exciting about all my jobs.
BB – OK. Well how did you get interested in square dancing? What was your introduction?
JH – Well, I was introduced to square dancing when I was in high school. I was dating my present wife – we went through high school – sweethearts you might say and ended up learning how to square dance in her parent’s basement while we were in high school. It was sort of like – if you want to take my daughter out you better try this. You know – that was in (aside to his wife – did we start in ’52 or ’53) – ’53 and then –
BB – Your in-laws were already square dancers, is that it?
JH – Yes, they had danced since 1947. So when we ended up getting married then – a couple of years out of high school in 1955, that was the year that I started playing around with square dance calling. I had learned a few square dance calls but I didn’t call my first dance until ’56. Then I was off and running and it wasn’t very long before I was calling nearly every night. Working my job finally got to be too much and I decided to go full time.
BB – Now this was in Cheyenne?
JH – Yeah. I called a lot in Colorado. Of course we were close to Colorado – we had clubs down there – also over to Salt Lake and the Utah area, New Mexico, Kansas – that’s about the range of my stuff until I started calling full time. I didn’t refuse – I was getting out – I’d take all my vacation time and I’d head down the road so I was getting out a little further each year. When I started calling full time I was actually booked for 2 years. If I could redo my booking that I’d be OK and that’s kind of how I went into it. I did enough places that I had enough contacts to keep me busy for a couple of years.
BB – Yeah, that’s a nice comfortable feeling.
JH – Yeah, well I hesitated for quite a while before I actually made the move. When I decided to do that then I spent a year before I quit my job altogether. My wife was naturally a big help because she did most of my correspondence. All those contacts we got a hold of and fortunately most of them took the dates.
BB – Well good. So, who were some of the people that helped you along the way?
JH – Well, at that time, when we were first dancing all the guys that came through – I tried to pick up whatever I could off of those guys – they were the ones who liked to know what they were doing. It would have been Bruce Johnson of course and Johnny LeClair – another Wyoming guy who came through our area quite a bit so I got to feed off of Johnny quite a bit and Frank Lane. Probably Johnny and Frank Lane were 2 of my closest mentors that I tried to emulate whenever I could. Like I say, I’d kind of like anybody that came through town. Lee Helsel did – he stopped in our area – Arnie Kronenberger – most of the guys who were fairly popular at the time – and Al Brundage, Ed Gilmore. So that’s where I picked up all my stuff probably – Les Gotcher, he was through there a lot too. I always wondered how in the world he ever kept everybody straight. That’s how I started sight calling pretty early in my career. I didn’t realize what I was doing but I got in trouble enough times that I figured there had to be a way to get out of all this mess. I started sight calling probably in ’57. It was pretty new in our area as far as callers were concerned. They were all memory callers. I was probably responsible for generating a lot of callers who started in our area. Vaughn Parrish was already calling there but Beryl Main and Don Franklin both danced in clubs I had down there before they started calling. We eventually started Wagon Wheel Records then Don Franklin was the one who actually decided to start the company and I joined with him and Beryl a little bit later and Ken Bower a little bit later and Gary Shoemake a little bit later.
BB – Yeah, I used a lot of those Wagon Wheel records.
JH – Yeah, we had a good run. Unfortunately Don kind of decided not to do much calling so we started our own company then in ’74.
BB – What label was that?
JH – Chaparral. That would have been Gary Shoemake, Beryl Main and Ken Bower.
BB – Yeah. I wish Beryl was still with us.
JH – Yeah, he was a good friend.
BB – and a great caller.
JH – We maintained our friendship even though we’d been in business for all those years. Rather unusual when you take guys that have been together for 30, 35 years that are still together. In this business, looking around we don’t see it too much.
BB – That’s right. What about National Conventions?
JH – My first National Convention was 1959 in Denver. We made as many as we could over the years – we didn’t get to all of them. In recent years – I haven’t been to a National now in quite a while. We went to a lots of National Conventions and I think you pick up a lot of contacts, not only with people looked but just live in different parts of the country and they’ll pass your name around. All that helps too. I’m sure that young callers get pretty good exposure like that.
BB – Did you ever get to Pappy Shaw’s School?
JH – Excuse me, what did you say?
BB – Did you ever get to Dr. Lloyd Shaw’s Summer School?
JH – No. No, I never did. I met Pappy Shaw several times. He was really not doing too much at that time. He would come to festivals we had in our area – Denver, Fort Collins. That’s really my extent of being able to talk with Pappy Shaw but he was still around anyway when I was coming up in the business.
BB – Well he died in ’58 I think it was. Well, how about state festivals and other things like that? You must have been involved in some of them.
JH – Oh Yeah. I’ve called, oh golly, you mean in what I’ve called?
BB – Yeah.
JH – Yeah, I’ve been in – I’ve called in, I can’t imagine how many state festivals. I’ve called in every state and most of the provinces in Canada – and overseas in Sweden, Denmark and England over in that area and Australia, New Zealand, Japan – a lot of times in Japan – did a China trip.
BB – Well, you anticipated my next question and you’ve already answered it. Now, on these did you take other dancers with you or did you go alone?
JH – Some of them we did. Like the Australia, New Zealand trip. We took a group there and we took a group to China. I worked those through Bob Page – Bob and Nita Page. Most of the Japan trips I’d just go over there – Sherry accompanied me the first time. I’ve been over there a number of times.
BB – Did you have any problems with so-called non-English speaking dancers?
JH – No, not really. There’s usually somebody around that I can use for an interpreter. If I decide that I want to present some material or, like if I’m doing a caller’s session in Japan we always have an interpreter there to relate questions and answers from both sides going.
BB – Right. Right. How much caller training have you done?
JH – We do –you know, I do lots of things of caller training sessions at state conventions and that sort of thing where they hire me 3 or 4 times. I’ve done that sort of thing all over the country over the years. We do a regular caller’s school at English Mountain for a week that we do that one up there. That’s a little more gratifying because you could take them for a whole week and you see the progress. I really like that. I like teaching square dancers – I like teaching beginners. In my opinion that’s where we’ve slipped in the last 20 years. Our best teachers have not been teaching. Consequently we’ve missed 20 years to recruiters you know? You look around the square dance halls, not only down here, of course down here you’re naturally going to have the senior citizens but that’s about what we’ve ended up with all over the country. When you look at the age of the dancers – I usually said that because we had such an abundance of dancers at the time we kind of went into the multi-level system. Guys started teaching all the levels and they were leaving the teaching of square dancing to the inexperienced callers who couldn’t keep people in classes. The guys could make more money doing workshops and that sort of thing than they could teaching beginners. They’re running out of them now. They’re starting to see the problem. I’ve preached it for probably the last 15 years that we’ve got to teach – that’s the first thing that Ed Gilmore told me the first time I went to a square dance weekend with he and Al and Bruce Johnson on the staff. He asked me about my classes and at that time I had not had a class. I had only been calling about a year and I had not taught any classes either and he said, “Well, you’ve got to get busy. Get yourself a program together and you’ve got to be teaching because every caller has to be a teacher”. That stuck in my mind all the years – I never – there were a couple of years that I had to turn my classes over to callers at home when I was on the road. I always tried to keep beginners classes going because without them we’re dead. That’s kind of what’s happened over the years. Now it hard to – I don’t know if we’re going to get it back to where it was or not. It’s really scary.
BB – Yeah, well that’s one of the questions I’ll ask you before we get through. Getting away from square dancing a little bit, what do you have for hobbies?
JH – Well, usually when we have a chance we try to do some things together. We both play golf so that’s a good part. That takes a lot of time as you well know.
BB – Yeah. I just finished a –
JH – You can’t get a golf game in 30 minutes or an hour.
BB – That’s right. I just finished 18 holes.
JH – So, we do a lot of that.
BB – Have you played with any notables around like Frankie Lane?
JH – Oh yeah.
BB – I played with him once and got smothered.
JH – Yeah, We get at it quite regularly whenever we have the chance anyway. He used to wrap me up pretty good but I can stay with him pretty good now. He’s getting – he’s got 2 new knees and he’s getting a little older and I can get to him a little – a little bit once in a while. He doesn’t like it.
BB – Have you ever gotten involved in round dancing at all?
JH – Oh yeah. We used to. As a matter of fact when we came down here and started this program up – this is our 25th year – for the first 4 years we did both. We taught rounds, we taught basics and workshops. We cued between the tips and a half-hour before for 4 years until I built enough of a program that I could get a round dance couple to come down and take that over because that was a killer. I was doing 3 sessions a day. Then, with no breaks during the dance and a half-hour before and I was flying out almost every weekend. It was a very busy time. Of course I was the only thing they had around here then and we didn’t have very many dancers either so I taught a lot – like 150 squares in that first 4 years that I was down here. Of course, we made it look too good I guess because we have somewhere over 30 down here now and we have probably, I don’t know how many round dance couples but probably at least a dozen that are doing full programs. We’re strung out for probably about 70 miles along this Rio Grande valley – the Parks down here and I used to draw all the way from Brownsville which is about 70 miles from ?? – that’s where we started this at Peppermint Palace.
BB – Who were the round dance people you brought in?
JH – Ray and Dee Dowdy form Beckly, West Virginia was the first couple and then I had a couple from – Glen and Mary Nokes and after the Nokes I had – oh yeah, Ray and Gerry Balanger from the Cities and then the Kercheskies – they’re still down here – laughs. They were – you know, I always felt that the two went hand in hand and that’s not their philosophy to feed off the square dance program and want the process of splitting away from it. They have a strictly round dance activity and I hate to see that. I don’t have them any more. I have another couple who are just doing a great job – the Nelsons and they’re from Dysert, Iowa – Adrienne and Larry Nelson – a very nice couple. They like both.
BB – Well, over the years you’ve probably worked with some of the big-name round dance people like Manning and Nita.
JH – Oh yeah. I probably – most all of them over the years. Manning and Nita and the Easterdays – I could go down the list just about. Mainly at festivals you know where they had weekends and festivals and camps like at Boynton – Boyne Highlands.
BB – I was going to ask you what other camps you’ve worked at.
JH – The first one I did was a Lighted Lantern in 1961. That’s where I met Date and Dot Foster. They did the rounds there.
BB – I hope to see her next week.
JH – Oh boy. Well give her a big yellow rock for me.
BB – OK. She’s still busy you know – teaching ballroom.
JH – Yeah, she’s a piece – she’s a real kick.
BB – Yeah, I hope to see Elwin and Dena Fresh and Frank and Phyl Lenhert in Toledo – they wrote ‘Step, Close, Step’.
JH – Yeah, I know them well. I’ve worked with them a lot. Like I say, over the years I’ve with, gee just probably most of the people that are very prominent in the round dance field. The Wylies – we did a lot of stuff with them.
BB – Oh yeah. I interviewed them – and the Easterdays? In fact it was a year ago I saw them – I go out to the contra dance weekend in York, Pennsylvania which is fairly near the Easterdays. Had you ever gotten into contra dancing?
JH – No, well I had a little contra club that we danced with in Laramie – a couple of guys – Ed Bradley and Louie Lutz.
BB – Oh golly. I haven’t heard that name in a long while.
JH – No. Well, they had a little contra group over there and we used to all get together and do contras. I taught them for a little bit at home until I started on the road and then I kind of faded away out of the contras although we always really enjoyed them.
BB – Do you get a chance to dance at all?
JH – Yeah, we go – it seems kind of – people say, “What are you doing at the dance ? You get a night off and you go a square dance?” but we still enjoy that. My knee is giving me a little problem so I’m kind of going to go and see if I can’t get it fixed in December. That kind of curtailed our dancing a little bit – that was the result of a motorcycle about 25 years ago.
BB – Oh dear. Tell me about your affiliation with Callerlab.
JH – Let’s see. The first meeting I went to was pre-Callerlab of course when it was being organized out in California at Asilomar. That was with all the guys I’m sure you’ve interviewed – all the Hall of Famers – Jerry Helt and I. I don’t remember exactly what the number was that were there and that would have been ’71 – I think it was ’71. Then in ’72 I didn’t make that particular meeting – they added I think it was a total of 22 including me that expanded to and then the first year I think was ’73 in Chicago was when we had our first convention. I was aboard from until – I should have those dates down but I don’t have that – probably 10 years or better.
BB – What about ACA? Have you done anything with them?
JH – No. You know, I – as a matter of fact one of my best friends are members of ACA but, for some reason nobody has ever asked me. I guess they figure I’m too pro Callerlab to be interested in what they do but – maybe I should take the initiative but I figure, maybe they don’t want me. I feel there’s room for anybody that’s got good ideas about what we can do for square dancing. If they can come up with things that we’ve missed more power to them.
BB – That’s true. I’m not sure we covered everything that you did recording wise, Jerry. You mentioned Wagon Wheel and Chaparell.
JH – Yeah. Well, the second one I did on Wagon Wheel – the first one I did was an obscure song that nobody ever heard of – ‘Smoke Along The Track’ and it sold a fair amount but the second one I did was ‘Hey, Li Le Lillie’.
BB – Oh yes, I’ve still got that in my box.
JH – Yeah, that became a real classic and probably one of the all time sellers in this business anyway. I got a Gold – the first Gold – I think the first Gold Record that was ever issued in square dancing. When we started Chaparell – I think my first 2 records were both Gold Records too – ‘There’s Something About You Baby I Like’ and ‘Rockin’ In Rosalee’s Boat’ – many recordings over the years.
BB – Did you make any records with anybody else like Sets In Order or anything?
JH – Yep. I did some Sets In Order stuff.
BB – That was promotional, right?
JH – Ah ha. You know, that was stuff that Bob used for promotional – to help the – to get a little series of LP’s. That was all the guys on Chaparell. And I’ve been featured on the cover of both magazines I guess – both American Squares – twice I think it was on that one – I think it was either 2 or 3 times, I know it was twice – then also on Sets In Order.
BB, – I see – I’ve been watching the clock here a little bit Jerry. I think we’re almost down to the end of this tape on one side so if it stops us all of a sudden you’ll hear it click but don’t jump out of your seat or anything. I’ll take a minute to turn it over. What do you say – what do you find appealing about calling squares.
JH – Well, you know I’ve always enjoyed music anyway. So this was a way to enjoy singing and the use of the music along with the fellowship of square dancing. Square dancing is a real equalizer. It’s probably one of the few activities that people very seldom even know what the people in their square do for a living – could be a doctor – could be a plumber – could be whatever – they socialize and have a good time together and that all kind of gets lost in the shuffle. It always amazed me that people could have that much fun and forgot the fact that, most of the time socially they didn’t associate with people that weren’t at least their peers. I always felt that square dancing was a great equalizer and made lasting friendships for people in a social setting that didn’t have to be taken into a night club.
BB – Right. Yeah, it’s interesting, I talked to someone – I can’t even think of who it was but they were calling for a fairly large corporation party and he said to the CEO, “ How come – why do you put this on every year/” and he said, “ It’s the only chance I get to dance with the janitor and his wife”.
JH – That’s about it. It’s the equalizer of people – they don’t even realize it half the time who they’re dancing with – what they do or how much land they have or they don’t have or –
BB – I’ve been asking people – there’s a little bit – not a controversy really but discussions going on about costuming in square dancing. How do you stand on –
JH – Well, I guess we’re still sort of from the old school. We like square dance attire but I don’t mind the changes in – some of the changes in – we still keep all of our evening dances with square dance attire. Then our workshops and daytime stuff we let them come casual, especially down here. It’s a little warm and even in our – some of our weekend things that we do around the country anymore at some of the workshops are casual or optional. We try to put it as optional but I guess I don’t mind if they come to workshops that way. It’s pretty hard for people to go to a square dance weekend if they’re going to have to change clothes every session. If they do dance for and hour and a half in the morning they don’t want to dance in the same clothes in the afternoon so it’s a little easier for them to pack and to – especially if you’re doing a whole week at Kirkwood or English Mountain or one of the big square dance resorts they don’t have to haul as many clothes either. We don’t mind that but I think the prairie skirts look good. They can go most anywhere and people don’t give them the double take like they do in square dance clothes. That I don’t mind. I can go with that but I still like them to look like square dancers.
BB – I assume Sherry goes along with you on that too.
JH – Oh yeah.
BB – And she probably always dresses, right?
JH – Yeah. You know, like our day sessions here she usually won’t have on prairie skirts or that sort of thing but at evening dances she usually has a square dance dress or sometimes a prairie skirt. She makes a lot of them. Some of the gals get together and make them.
BB – How many session a week are you doing down there actually?
JH – I’m doing about 10 a week.
BB – Ten a week. How does that compare – afternoons and evenings, etc.?
JH – Normally – like I’m at the age now –
BB – Well, basically I think we’ve covered pretty much of everything. There’s only one other thing I’d like and you’ve touched on it already. I’d like to get a little serious and find out what you think about where square dancing has been and where do you think it is now and where do you think it might be going.
JH – Well you know, as I reflect back over the activity in the years that I’ve been in it – I’m coming up on my 43rd year – from the time that I got it in was steady – basically steady growth until probably 10 years ago. Then we started seeing a fair amount of decline and a steady decline in the programs. I’ve put a lot of thought into what I consider the biggest problems were. The biggest problems I think was because we developed such a perfect system but nobody used it the way it should have been used. If we had stayed with the idea of the multi-program and guys would control the dancers to the point that they couldn’t move from one to another without first becoming proficient dancing in one level before they would even consider taking them into the next. As I watched it they didn’t do that. They absolutely did not do that. They would just take you right out of class – even classes that they weren’t teaching and they weren’t producing the dancers they were just taking some of the dancers who were being produced which didn’t set well with the guys who were still teaching. They were running workshops and stuff on all of the – and the minute they got them dancing the Plus level just half way decent then they start getting them ready to go into another night and take A1. So It just – nobody, nobody – I say nobody – but for the most part guys weren’t teaching dancers to dance to the music, dance to the rhythm of the record. And they weren’t calling to the rhythm of the record like they should have. Consequently the nice, smooth flow has left a lot of places. There are still guys that do it of course but not generally speaking. So I think that the whole thing contributed to the decline in the present status that we’re in right now and basically it all goes back to the caller ourselves. I hope that it can find it’s way back and the only way that it will is if the guys that are just coming in will just ignore it and will learn to hear it or not. Anyway, I think what they’re going to have to do in order to turn this thing around is everybody is going to have to get serious about teaching. What’s happened is, even the guys that I talk to about it, that haven’t had classes for several years say, “Well, I can’t teach. The club can’t afford to pay me”. My theory on that has always been that it is our responsibility to produce the dancers not the clubs necessarily and if they can’t afford to hire you that ought to be telling you something. There’s not enough people there to make the club healthy enough – there’s a message there that should tell you to get out and get some people into this activity or you won’t have anyone to call to and that’s what’s happening. The clubs are folding up left and right all over the country. We never had a club that paid us for lessons. We did our own lessons and then we fed them to the clubs. They just cannot see that. They just can’t see it for some reason. They have to be paid every time they give up 3 hours of their time. They’re not going to do it unless they get paid for it. They’re going to have to beat that. They’re just going to have to get that out of their heads.
BB – Well, looking back on your career Jerry, is there anything you would have changed? Any regrets?
JH – No, I have been so fortunate in this business. It has been so good for us. It was a little bit of a hassle – that’s why I came down here to set up this kind of a business at least to give our family half of the year to be together and I took them on the road with me in the summer most of the time anyway so we spent a lot of time as a family together and that’s the only reason I could do that was to set up a winter program. That was the benefit of it – that program for sure was the best of it. But the activity has been good to me. I have reservations about whether I would ever try to do it now at this stage of the activity – I don’t – I think the young guys coming in now are going to have their hands full. I don’t encourage that at all to them – I tell them they need to do it on a part-time basis and they can probably do as well – if they’re looking for financial gain – they can do as well by having a regular job that give them a retirement someday and do this on a part-time basis. Out there on the road is really tough any more. It really is. You can’t afford it – there are not enough dancers. Well, you know what expenses are from the time I started doing it in this business – and we’re still basically, I’m charging basically about what I did 30 years ago. I had to work percentage so I still book a lot of dances except weekends. I’m up to $200 minimum – a lot of guys are higher than that for their high but the clubs can’t afford to hire them so they don’t go anywhere anyway. I still work through the week $175 or 60% which ever is greater. It used to be I could really do OK you know. The percentages nearly always kicked in. Now, a lot of clubs, they don’t even make enough actually at the dance to afford the base of $175. Their hall rent it up to $150 a night. All the expenses have gone up but ours hasn’t changed that much. I just can’t see how it’s going to become a full-time profession for a lot of guys in the future. That’s not going to hurt the activity any. I don’t think it will. As a matter of fact, it might leave some of the guys who are potentially really good teachers to stay at home and teaching.
BB – And get a good – teach people how to dance again. Right. How much traveling are you actually doing now?
JH – I still do about 40,000 a year on the road and I fly in addition to that quite a bit but I’ve cut back a lot. I don’t know, this kind of gets in your blood you know. I don’t know if I’ll retire lately. I just keep cutting back to where I’m still having a good time at it. As long as I can still do that and people have a good time at my dances I’ll probably keep calling.
BB – Well, Al finally retired last November. He’s enjoying himself now. So Jerry, I think we pretty well been through your career. I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me this afternoon and putting this down. I think – as far as I know I think you are the last one of the Milestone people to be interviewed. I’ve covered them all and I’ve still never interviewed my brother but I’m going to see him in Pennsylvania Thanksgiving. Then I’m going to catch Cal Golden on the way home. Out side of that I think I have pretty much covered the gamut.
JH – Well, we kind of hit the high spots here but you know how that goes. You can’t write a book. If you think of anything else or if I think of anything else I missed that might be important I’ll just give you a buzz.
BB – Yeah, OK. I’m going to be sending you a release. I’d appreciate your signing and sending back just for future protection for the Lloyd Shaw Archives, you know? It’s just a form, you know? I’ll get that out in the mail to you. So again, thanks very much and for the sake of the tape I’ll say that this concludes our interview with Jerry Haag down in Pharr, Texas and who also lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming part of the year. Again Jerry, thanks very much and we’ll be talking to you again.
JH – OK Bob. Thank you.
BB – You bet. Bye bye.
JH – Bye
END OF INTERVIEW