Culver Griffin – Nov. 22, 1999
Bob Brundage – Let’s see, today I’m in the big town of Roxbury, Connecticut and the date today is November the 22nd, 1999. And we’re talking today with a gentleman named Culver Griffin who lives here in Roxbury …. been kicking around the square dance field in northwestern Connecticut for many, many years. So let’s start as I always do Culver, and tell us a little bit about where you were born and brought up, and about some school days, and whatever happened before you got into square dancing, and then we’ll talk about that.
Culver Griffin – Well, I was born in Massachusetts, Newton, where my father and mother happened to live in 1916, and moved a year later to New Jersey. Grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I was the eldest in the family, the only boy. Had four sisters and we’re all still alive, fingers crossed. Graduated from Ridgewood, New Jersey High School and attended school there in a building that is still standing and still used. And I’m still standing and I’m pretty well used myself. I went to Babson Institute and studied Business Administration and went to work for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. I blew it there. I had a chance to go with AT&T or the Singer Company and I picked the wrong one. Singer is out of business and AT&T would have made me rich. When I was a kid in high school my aunt had a farm in West Brattleboro, Vermont and I used to hitchhike, in the summer time, up to my aunt’s place and shack up there, and we went to square dances every Saturday night in a barn in Westminster, I believe it was, Westminster, Vermont. I remember that a farmer from up the street, up the hill actually, who used to come right from the cow shed to dance without changing his clothes or his shoes or …. I guess most everybody else at the dance was about the same. I think I mentioned that there was a little bit of tippling. You’d go out between sets and there was always something to refresh you in the trunk of the car or under the hood in the truck, although, at that point I, I guess … well we had prohibition and I never had any experience with it. I was a good boy. But that was my first introduction to dancing.
BB – So how did you get into calling?
CG – Well, very late in life … I didn’t start calling until I was 30 – Steve Hopkins from Danbury, who I believe learned how to call at Brundage’s dances, moved to East Norwalk and started calling with an accordion player named Bob Entwistle and on a small job it would be just Steve and Bob. Bob played the accordion, he played the harmonica, and he rang a bell with his foot at the end of the dance. Steve came to Roosevelt School where my daughter was in kindergarten, and I was on the PTA, and he called a dance, and at that first dance I said to him for no reason at all, Steve I’d like to call that dance. That dance was Darling Nellie Gray. He came back two weeks later – I guess it was a series of dances that he started there – and he gave me the words to the dance and I came back two weeks later and I had learned Darling Nellie Gray. And Bob played for me and my hand shook like crazy in front of this great big crowd of eight people. And my hand still shakes when I call Darling Nellie Gray. It doesn’t shake when I call anything else, but that tune is forever shaking with me. Steve had a lot of work. Steve worked at Silliman’s Hardware Store in New Canaan in the daytime and he went out … towards the end of the first year that I knew him, he was going out 3, 4, 5 nights a week. And about a year after I’d met him he died of a heart attack coming home from a square dance in the middle of the night, after he had already called 3 or 4 that week and worked all day long in the hardware store. Bob Entwistle and a couple of other musicians … Wally Peters, a bass player was among them … they said, “Well, you’re going to have to do his work”. Incidentally, during that year I had gradually learned some more dances and I remember one time when Steve called me on a Thursday and he said, “Culver, I’ve double booked for Saturday night. You’re going to have to call at the New Canaan Country Club with Dutee Hall and his Hillbillies”. And I said, “My God Steve, I only know four dances” and he said, “That’s all right, they drink. You call the same four dances over and over again and they’ll never know the difference”. That’s how I met Dutee Hall and his Hillbillies. Dutee Hall was a fiddle player and he had some girl musicians and he had a caller named Willard Thorpe. Willard Thorpe took a job in Washington as Assistant Secretary of State and he left Dutee in the lurch. Dutee didn’t have a caller, so…. so he inherited me and then, as I said, Steve died after a year and I inherited his band too, the Country Gentlemen and I inherited his calendar, which was full. I jumped from…. from 1 dance a month until suddenly I had three a week. I should have inherited his wife Bertha too but I didn’t know that at the time I was going to have marital problems later on and Bertha would have been a great replacement for the one that I had. But I blew that one. I didn’t get Bertha after all. So, here I was after one year, a full-fledged caller, if you call me that. This was in 1947. I was also going to dances at the time and I remember particularly being invited to come to an English Country Dance and Song Society dance in Greenwich, Connecticut where May Gadd was the mistress of ceremonies and Al Brundage called, and Dick Forscher called and I called. I don’t remember whether Bob Brundage called at that dance or not. I remember swinging with May Gadd and she was like a pole in the middle, and I was going around the outside hell bent for election. She was a terrific swinger. Swinging has always been a very important part of square dancing for me. That’s one of the reasons that I really didn’t go for Modern Western, because they do one quick little turn and then stop. That is not my idea of square dancing. And that’s not the way they did it in Vermont either.
BB – Sure, right.
CG – At that dance I believe Al called 6 Forward and Back, probably to Camptown Races, and that was the one that I had planned to call so I had to…. I had to settle for something like Solomon Levi I think, or Uptown Downtown with Golden Slippers. That was important in my life it turned out because in 1968, 20 years later, I started going to England. I went first on business, but naturally I looked up dancing when I was there and I discovered Sidmouth Festival. In 1969 I went back to England for three months. I’d already quit the Singer Company. I was tired of the way the Singer Company worked I was tired after 27 years of commuting; at least I thought that was what it was. So I took a job in Norwalk and after about eight years on that job I discovered that it wasn’t…. it wasn’t commuting that I didn’t like, it was working I didn’t like…
BB – (chuckles)
CG – …. and I was picking up a few bucks calling square dances and the mortgage was paid, so I quit work. In 1969, I went to England for three months. I took a farm cottage out in the country and I started circling it in a little blue English Sunbeam car until I ended up at Edinburgh music festival in September. That’s the full height of the English countryside with a bit of Scotland thrown in too When I was in Edinburgh that year I called with a band from the Isle of Skye at the Edinburgh Music Festival in addition to the Scottish dancing that I was doing down in the Princess Street Gardens.
I skipped a lot of years. I’ll go back to 1948. In 1948 I was working with two bands and I was commuting still. Square dancing saved…. saved my life. I had so much to do for the Singer Company that I had to bring it home with me. I had to have a relief valve, like a big boiler, and square dancing and calling, that was…. that was the relief valve on…. on my business activities. Steve’s band was called the Country Gentlemen, I believe I mentioned that. Dutee Hall worked a lot in Weston because he lived there, and I did jobs at the Weston Field Club and I started a series of dances in the Darien School System. A friend of mine, who was on the school board, thought that maybe one square dance a month would work for all the schools in Darien. As it turned out, the first dance I had down there was so crowded that I had to keep half the kids in the hall, standing there, while I called for the other half inside. So we quickly changed that series into a once a month at every school in Darien, which kind of kept me busy. I think there may have been four, five or six elementary schools and we had a dance there every month, in every school, and that went on for years. I also started calling for a Christian Science group down there. You know about Christian Scientists, they don’t drink and they don’t smoke but boy they danced. They had a good time and that dance went on for years and years and years until the 19 … oh, I’d say 1986. That started in the very early 1950’s and every month had a dance that ended up in Wilton actually, rather than Darien. But it was the same group of Christian Scientists plus anybody else that wanted to come in. That was the best dance I had, I used Paul Post on the piano, Freddy Voelker on drums and George Gulyassy was my fiddle player for years and years. He never could find the place where the dance was. I always had to pick him up at the Athletic Club, so called, in Stamford and drive him to the job. And no matter what condition or what state of health he was in he could always play up a storm. He was a terrific fiddle player. Before he moved to Connecticut he lived in the Boston area and he was on records that I have here with Bob and George and Phil for Ralph Page.
BB – Yeah, that was the Gulyassy brothers on Folkraft … Folk Dancer.
CG – Yeah, I have it on a 12 inch record here and it says George and Bob and Phil. They were brothers. I also started in 1951, between Christmas and New Years, doing a job in Wilton for a family named Keiser, in their barn, on their property, with their kids. And that job, that gig, has gone on every single year until this year and we’re still having it on January 8th, 2000. The 49th year in a row that I have called for the Keiser’s. Mr. Keiser has died since. He was Chairman of the Board of the Cuban American Sugar Company and he was Chairman of the Board of the New York Philharmonic. And at his Christmas parties I met people like Tossy Spivakovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Winthrop Rockefeller, because he had a lot of connections. There were probably twice as many other important people there whose names I didn’t know. I’ve seen…. I’ve seen his daughters and sons born, and grow up, and get married, and their grown children are now still coming back to that dance. I still use Paul Post on the piano at that dance. Mr. Keiser has two grand pianos in his barn back to back, and Paul loves that job because the pianos are kept tuned even though he’s not alive any longer. I used to use George there, but George unfortunately died. And Freddy Voelker sold his drums, so now it’s Paul Post on the piano, and Stacey Phillips is the fiddle player and he really carries, he carries a tune so beautifully. He is all over the map with the tune. It’s not that boring old stuff, repetitious. I like music. I can’t play anything although I did play the bass fiddle for awhile with my band … I had the music transcribed for me so that I could play the bass … but it’s the music that I like. I sing ninety percent of my calls; that’s due to a deficiency in my own makeup. I can remember the calls if they go with a tune, because I can remember the tune. Patter calls, when they came in, when…. when Al came back from Colorado in, in 1949, and brought patter calls back with him, they never appealed to me particularly because I couldn’t remember the patter, and also I had a full plate. I had all the dances I ever needed and I still have all the dances that I need.
Square dancing, people say, “Has it revived in your area?”, and I say, “It never died in our area”. As long as I remember there have been plenty of dances to do, more work sometimes than I could handle. I work with records now occasionally, when it’s a one or two squares at a church couples club. I call for senior centers. I have a wonderful group that I have called for, for ten years in Brookfield, a group of seniors. They’re the ones I try out new dances on. They’ve… they’ve learned how to dance, they’re good and they’re lots of fun. And when I say seniors I’ve had most of them in their 70s and some in their 80s and we manage to dance. And on my record player I have three speeds indicated. 33, 45, and 78 but I also have down here somewhere, what I call “senior speed”. (laughs)
BB – (chuckles) OK.
CG – I called for … oh lets, lets backtrack a minute … all through the 50s, the 60s, I worked five days a week and did homework from work but came home to a dance every Friday night and every Saturday night, and that way I forgot all my chores, all the damn work at the office, and was able to survive. I’m getting up now to 1969 when I went to England for three months and I discovered Sidmouth over a weekend, Sidmouth Folk Festival. In the wonderful little town in the southwest of England on the Channel. The next year I came back and I went to Sidmouth for a whole week. And I managed to con a couple of callers into letting me call and thereafter they hired me and paid me to come to Sidmouth, and I was on staff for about 7 or 8 years over there. They put me up in nice English hotels, and I was separated from my wife at the time, and they introduced me to a lot of nice English girls, and particularly to a … at least a handful of wonderful English bands….. Redbridge, Arden Folk, and I met a lot of wonderful musicians, and they all worked with me … made life easy for me. The English people that were at the dances, for some reason or other, they were intrigued by this brash American who came over and gave them geography lessons. Like, Marching Through Georgia, and Alabama Jubilee, and Texas Star. Every time I called a dance over there, and of course when I was staff I called maybe two a day, for the whole week, I would have a yellow pad on the edge of the stage with a pencil or a pen and ask everybody to give me his name and address. When I got back to the states, come Christmas time, I would send Christmas cards to everybody on the lists and I would always put, “PS, would your club like me to call a dance next summer?” And the first thing you know I was going back to England every year and I was working there every other night. In one year I remember specifically I had 28 dances in two months that I was there. It’s nice to go to England, all expenses paid.
BB – Right.
CG – And I took my new family as they developed. I got a wife here in the states and we immediately, almost, had a little girl, child, and then later on another one and the four of us would all go to England and stay with folkies, with people who dance, people who arrange dances for us. The English don’t pay as much as the Americans do, but when you’re having five meals a day and sleeping in their beds it doesn’t matter whether they pay you or not.
BB – Right.
CG – Have I skipped anything important?
BB – Well, let’s see. I wanted to talk about dancing around in the Connecticut area now. Around in these Litchfield Hills here, there’s got to be a lot of dancing.
CG – There is. I work with a band from Sharon called Country Spice. I am their only caller and before they take a job they call me to see if I am available. If I’m not, they switch the date. It’s a fiddle player, a lady fiddle player in her seventies, her husband is a veterinarian in Sharon … it’s a guitar player from Litchfield and a bass player from Bantam. They’re a real country band. They’re not…. they’re not polished like Grammy Award winners or, like the English bands, they’re country. But we do Grange Halls, we do schools, we do churches, we go over into New York State, we do private parties. Incidentally, while I’m thinking of it, I had a record job last … summer with, no, it was not a record job, it was with them, for Ivan Lendl who is a famous tennis player who has won a million awards. He is a Czechoslovakian, married a French/English lady and they have five daughters and an eight million dollar estate up in Goshen, Connecticut. Went up there and did a dance for them. I saw all of his awards. He has a great big room full of cups and medals and all that sort of stuff. We run into interesting people in the Litchfield Hills. In this little town of Roxbury we have … they’re not dancers so it doesn’t matter perhaps … but we have Dustin Hoffman, Arthur Miller, and Bill Styron, and Joe Califano. My next door neighbor right here, is Pete Gurney who wrote Love Letters. And once in awhile, one of these characters will show up at one of my dances at the Roxbury Pavilion which I have every summer, two or three of, for local residents ….for local people and their kids. I do the Girl Scout dances at the school. When some of the old timers in town, that danced when they were kids, arrive at their 80th birthdays, we have dances for them generally. On my 80th birthday I went back to Sidmouth and I called a couple of dances as a guest caller in Sidmouth on my 80th birthday. That was the last time I was over but I had to promise them that I’d be back for my 90th (Bob chuckles) so I’m planning on doing that. That’ll be about two thousand and six I guess. I’m planning another trip to England then. You remember the old Kent Grange?
BB – Yeah.
CG – The Kent Grange used to run a train out of New York City and they had the band on the train. The band went into New York and switched trains and came back with the people that they signed up to go to a square dance and a pot luck supper at the Kent Grange.
BB – Right.
CG – That series died. I don’t recall who….. who called. Maybe you would Bob, but it has revived recently without the train ride. And that poster that you see up there is one of the Kent dances and I did that Kent dance in the community hall Lab … no Columbus Day weekend, and we’re booked for next Columbus Day too. So in a sense they have revived that dancing up there and it’s very popular and its lots of fun. And like most of the dances up in these Northwest Hills as you call them, there is always a wonderful dinner first. I’m not like the opera stars who can’t eat before they sing. (laughs) I find that the more dinner I have before I call a dance the better dance I call.
BB – Well, talking about that train trip, it was the Pioneer Trio that went on that train.
CG – I think maybe it was. You know, that it was?
BB – Yes Louis told me that. You do also work with the Pioneer Trio now?
CG – I work with the Pioneer Trio. I do Roxbury dances with the Pioneer Trio. I also book them for gigs for themselves without me, for instance, at the PTA Festival. I’ve done jobs in Bridgewater with them and every year I do a job in New York State in a barn with the Pioneer Trio. It has to be in June when all the old hay is used up and the new hay hasn’t come in yet. It’s…. it’s upstairs in a tremendous barn. The guy parks a truck on the outside of the barn and then he builds stairs from the truck bed up to the dance level. Governor Pataki came to one of those dances. He is a neighbor of theirs. He had a body guard with him and he had a daughter with him too. They go on that job with me. What else …
BB – This tape recorder stopped without our realizing it so we’re going to stop and back track just a little bit.
(Recorder stops and starts again)
CG – So I believe I was talking about being able to call dances now to other than the original tunes. And I was going to cite an example … I have a record here of Bob Brundage calling Six Forward and Back. But not to Camptown Races. What was the name of the tune you used on that record?
BB – You know I don’t remember. I remember the tune though. (Bob hums the first bars of Camptown Races)
CG – No, that’s Camptown Races. Well that’s number 23 right here? And this is a record (getting record #23 out of box) and this is…. this is a record … the only record I have … it’s the only record I have that my senior square dancers in Brookfield can dance to. They can’t understand any other caller, except me and Bob Brundage. And every once in awhile we get some old person in and the first thing we ask them is, “Do you remember Bob Brundage?” And they always remember Bob Brundage.
BB – There you go.
CG – One series that I didn’t mention was in the 1950’s in a barn in Westport. We had…. we had dances there for maybe 5, 6, 7 years. It was a barn that had no heat, Andy Bissett’s barn. We were going through a western clothes stage at that time with Dutee Hall, who I’ve mentioned before, the fiddle player, Frank Rignola on guitar, Don Gall on the accordion. He originally came with me when he was 17 and when he quit he was a grandfather three or four times over. He played with me whenever there was no piano available. He used the accordion. This happens to be Johnny Crocker. These people in Bissett’s barn, in the middle of winter time, and this barn had just one layer of rough wood on the outside of it. There weren’t just cracks, there were holes. These people would come in and do the first dance with their coats on, the women with fur coats. But after the…. after the first dance the coats all come off and they danced all winter long once a month. This guy is a lawyer in Westport with his first wife. He is a lawyer too. As a matter of fact, he handled my divorce for me.
BB – Yeah. I should have mentioned that we are looking at pictures while we are talking.
CG – You notice how they are swinging. That’s the way I taught them to swing in those days. And look at the crowd we had. This dance…. this dance went on for a number of years. And the … you might notice, yes you can notice, it was so cold in that barn that the guitar player wore gloves with the fingers cut off, trying to keep his hands warm.
BB – Probably the accordion too probably.
CG – That might be. And we had to climb up a ladder with all our gear. But it was a wonderful dance. I don’t know who took the pictures but they were wonderful pictures too.
BB – Sure, they’re beautiful.
CG – Isn’t that nice? Look at that. (Pause while looking)
BB – And then there was Schrader’s Barn.
CG – Fred Schrader also learned to call from Steve Hopkins at exactly the same time I did. Fred Schrader and I called a New Year ’s Eve dance during this learning period. We got $3.00 apiece. Fred Schrader owned a barn in Darien and he ran dances there. And the state came through with I95 Highway and took his property and left just the barn on a little tract. They changed it at that time into a Masonic Hall and Fred moved to Maine on the proceeds that he got from the state.
(noise in background as pages are turned)
CG – There’s Fred’s barn. That’s Fred himself. That’s Wally Peters, the bass player with the Country Gentlemen. This is Bertha Hopkins, the one I didn’t marry after Steve died.
BB – Yeah, OK.
CG – And this was Fred’s barn.
BB – Beautiful
CG – Nice shots.
BB – We should be doing this on video tape so we could show the pictures. (laughs)
CG – That is Joe Stukowski. Joe Stukowski had connections with the Polish community in Norwalk. I remember one dance that we did for them at the Pulaski Hall, where they served pizza. I had never had pizza in my life. Number 1, I burned my tongue, and number 2, when I got home I told my wife, “I don’t know what we had to eat. It was sort of a strawberry pie”. (both laugh) That’s when Italian cooking was just beginning to be popular.
BB – Yeah.
CG – Before that in the olden days, we seldom had fresh food. We only…. we only had canned goods and we had an ice-box that dripped ice water and we had, in Ridgewood, we had garbage trucks that weren’t trucks at all, they were wagons pulled by horses, and in the winter time they were on skis because they never plowed the roads. They just packed the snow down and it made for wonderful…. it made for wonderful sleigh riding. But I’ve jumped off the subject haven’t I?
BB – That’s all right.
CG – That’s the kind of memories that you have.
BB – So you had a group called the Farmhands at one time?
CG – The Farmhands was the name of my group no matter who was in the group.
BB – Yeah, I remember you used to have people come and sit in.
CG – Yeah. Paul Post was the pianist. He’s played for me over forty years, I think – maybe forty four, forty five years now. I don’t work with Paul so much anymore because he’s way back there in Norwalk and I’m up here in the hills. Frank Rignola, the guitar player I talked about, originally came to me as a fiddle player. But then when we got a fiddle player he switched to guitar and he wrote out all of the music we used.
BB – I’ll be darned.
CG – I have three- or four-hundred pages of music that he has written out and that I have xeroxed dozens of time. The fiddle player you see there in England has had copies of all of my music including the dance music, the fox trots, and waltzes, and that. John Patrick, he is a wonderful fiddle player. He…. he started in a pit band in theaters in London and he ran into folk dancing and decided he liked that better and he ended up running bands … he was a … his bands were featured, headlined at Sidmouth over the years.
BB – Have you worked with any French Canadians?
CG – I’ll tell you about a trip I took, my wife … not so long ago, maybe 6 or 8 years … 6 or 8 years ago perhaps. My wife and I and the girls went to Prince Edward Island. My…. my Anne was interested in Anne of Green Gables so we went to Prince Edward Island. We rented a cottage for a week. The first night we were there I found a dance at a trailer park and I went over to the dance and there was a band … terrific fiddle player. I’d call him hot, you know. But there was no caller, and the people were just jumping up and down on a tennis court out in front of the band. So I, being bashful and reticent as I am, I went up to the band and I said, “Where is your caller?” “Well, we don’t have a caller right now”. I said, “Well, would you mind if I called a dance or two?” ”Oh, that would be great.” So, the whole rest of the evening I called for this group of people. I got them in big circles, I got them in squares, we did the Virginia Reel … my regular stuff and the band, they knew what to play or they played something that worked fine. At the end of the dance, the organizer came up to me and he said, “Would you come back to Prince Edward Island?”…..that’s a thousand miles from here you know…. “next year and call at this party for us?”. It was during the Anne of … or Lucy, the lady that wrote the book, Lucy Montgomery week. It was a week that they celebrate there every year. “Would you come back next year and call this dance for us?” “We’ll give you a cottage for a whole week for you and your family”. Well, we made plans right then and there. “We’ll be back.” The next year, when I came back, the fiddle player invited me to go on three or four gigs with him beyond the one dance that we had committed for. And we had a wonderful time and the last…. the last night we were there we went to a … well it’s not a fiddlers convention, but it was a fiddler’s sit-in thing where there were about 10 or 12 Canadian fiddlers all playing, taking turns, and then playing together. It just blew…. just blew my top. That fiddle music was so great.
BB – I was going to ask you about … if you could remember back in the old days what were some of the figures you used to use, some of the dances that you used to use. You know the names of them?
CG – Well, you mean what did I call last week?
BB – Well you’re doing the same ones right? Well, I know you do Forward Six and Back, and …
CG – I can tell you my whole program for a one night stand.
BB – Good.
CG – First of all I do a great big circle, with couples. You walk seven steps, you back up 4 steps, you do-si-do, you swing and then move on to the next and I try to get everybody up in the first dance. This teaches Promenade, Do-si-do, Swing. That’s all. And after we’ve gone around the hall maybe a dozen times, with the present partner, it doesn’t matter who it is, we fall into a Grand March or Paul Jones. I march them up and two go left and two go right and march them up four and I march them up eight and then I say the ends of the lines join hands in a circle and now change your circle into a square, one couple back to each wall.” Where’s the fellow that said he wasn’t going to square dance?” Well, he is with somebody else’s wife and he can’t very well say, “Dear, let’s sit this one out” so they are committed. So then I do Marching Through Georgia, which is designed to make them listen. And I use Bob Dalsemer’s old version … not so old version which has a Hip, Hip Hooray in it so not only are they learning how to listen but they’re beginning to laugh and cheer and when I say, “You’re going the right way”, some of them are turning and going the other way … you know how it is … it eases people into it so neatly.
BB – Right.
CG – Then I do Duck For Oysters…. Skip To My Lou and I always award a prize if it is kids. I say, “Who can name this song that we are playing now. You get a yellow Cadillac if you can identify this, or a free trip to the Bahamas“. And somebody in the back always says “Skip to My Lou” and everybody laughs, and I tell him to go see the committee for the prize.
BB – (chuckles)
CG – And then we do Skip to My Lou which teaches them visiting couples. The second set I do is Uptown-Downtown to Golden Slippers, which teaches them switch partners, and then I do Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight which I explained on the email but I’ll tell you now for the tape.
BB – Yeah, I wish you would.
CG – It’s, “Everybody bow to your partner, everybody face your corner. Gentlemen put your right hand in your pocket”. And some guy will say, “Hey, I found a quarter”. “Everybody give your left hand to your corner, that is NOT the hand in the pocket. Everybody hold left hands with your corner, walk around your corner holding hands, go back and face your partner. Let go of your corner”. That’s for that guy over there, you know, (laughs)…. “You can’t have two at once. Now you may gently withdraw the right hand from the pocket and give it to your partner. Don’t worry, you’ll get it back. Now walk right by your partner, don’t turn, let go and give a left hand to the next one you meet and a right hand to the next and meet your partner and stop. You must be able to recognize your own partner”. You see, they have there own partner after that mixer was over. “Do-si-do your partner the way you did in the first dance. Now Promenade your partner home”. And we got that one licked.
BB – Yeah.
CG – We really … it’s licked, it’s no big bugaboo, it’s no problem, it just works fine. And then during the course of a one night stand I’ll always call Six Forward and Back. I do a ladies chain figure which is: chain the ladies over and back, sides do the same. And then I have the sides forward and back, and the heads do the same. And then I get complicated and I say,” The heads chain across and the sides chain across and the heads chain back and the sides chain back and all four chain” and we have chaining all down pat. That’s all you need to know. From then on I do dances like … Dip and Dive to Red Wing, I’ll even do a Dip and Dive Triplet if I have to with my seniors. Ted had a triplet that has Dip and Dive in it. Then … Hurry, Hurry, Hurry … Solomon Levi. That is another one I use fairly early in the evening. “The first couple face each other back to back. Separate go around the outside track pass right shoulders, get home, pass your partner” (that leads them to facing their corners) “Everybody face your corner, everybody smile at your corner, everybody wink at your corner” …
BB – (chuckles while anticipating ending)
CG – … “Everybody bow to your corner, everybody swing your partner”. Which is fun. They have fun and I tell them right out right, “The only thing you can do wrong is not have fun”. Once in awhile, in the very first dance maybe, when I get them to circle left and then I get them to circle right the other way back. “This is a test. This is just a test to see if you know your place”. Or perhaps, “Gee, that was great. You haven’t made a mistake yet”. You know all they’ve done is circle left and right.
(Both laugh) “The only thing you can do wrong is not have fun.” And we have fun, too.
BB – Now do you do anything like the old original Paul Jones?
CG – Criss-cross marching, once in a while. Where the ladies go left and the gents go right or vice versa rather, and from that corner they diagonal across, that’s part of a Paul Jones.
BB – Well you’re talking, well a Grand March. No, the old Paul Jones. I remember way back, years ago, Paul Jones would be a circle mixer kind of a thing and then when you got a new partner the band would change into a waltz and you would waltz one time through.
CG – I am not a keen waltzer. I tend to tighten up and raise my shoulders when I waltz. And my wives have always said, “Relax, put your shoulders down” and in my mind waltzing and square dancing are two different things.
BB – Yeah.
CG – Now I am sure that I am in the minority, but I will not call, (in waltz tempo calling) “First couple up center and there you divide“.
BB – Waltz Quadrille?
CG – I don’t call the Waltz Quadrille. I have a happy combination of dances to end the dance with. One of my favorite…. favorite dances is the Cumberland Square Eight, partly because of England, I guess. I learned that one over there.
BB – But you wouldn’t do that one with a small crowd though, would you?
CG – I would do that with any kind of a crowd. Oh, I love it when there are 20 squares and they all get to banging into each other and we pick up the tempo a little bit on that. But I always like to end on a high note when we finish that dance. I turn around and I tell the orchestra, “Go ahead and play Goodnight Sweetheart, or a waltz” but I’m so keyed up and the band … the dancers are so keyed up generally. I’m thinking about last Thursday night … there may be two couples get up and waltz. And I don’t do round dancing except …… I’ve got to admit … I’ve got to make an admission here. The consulting job that I had after I left work took me to Tennessee. I flew down every Monday morning … American Airlines … I got to know the hostesses and got seats and coffee and so on, tea rather, and I flew home every Friday afternoon. For nine months on a consulting job. I produced the catalog, the parts catalog, as a matter of fact, for the Singer Company after I had left them and I had Monday night and all the way through Thursday night with nothing to do, so I looked for dances. I went over to Gatlinburg and did some great big circle dances up in the hills. But I also took lessons. I had previously taken a few lessons from a guy named Al Brundage, in Norwalk I guess, and I did graduate from the Tennessee Running Horses Square Dance Club and MSD, what Modern Square Dancing … MWSD. And I did have a badge but I never went beyond that. And we did some round dancing there but …
BB – Do you remember about what time, what year that was?
CG – Yeah, that would be 1960 … 5, 6, 7… somewhere in there. Of course, I don’t know who the caller was, but I came home and I immediately started calling my own dances all over again the way that I always had. I never felt the need for it. I was one of the Charter members… I was not an organizer…. but I was one of the Charter members along with Al and Earl Johnston, of the Connecticut Square Dance Callers and Teachers Association. The moment I heard that they were getting that off the ground, I sent a wire to Al, a telegram, and told him that I wanted to be a member of that organization. And I supported that organization for … in my…. in my own small way that is…. for a number of years.
BB – Let’s think about some of those members. Do you remember Kip Benson?
CG – Yup,
BB – And uh, uh …
CG – Fairfield, I think.
BB – No, he came from Berlin.
CG – Berlin.
BB – And uh.
CG – I went to some of… some of Al’s dances in those days and I went to some of Earl’s. But they weren’t full of made up figures, they were mostly genuine old square dance figures. The first one that I met that I didn’t really like was Do-Paso. And I think that’s been dropped, hasn’t it?
BB – No. Well, it’s still done.
CG – Well, it used to be the staple of every dance in those days, in the early ‘50s.
BB – Because everything was arm turning.
CG – Yes. I went to Stepney a number of times before the motor cycle crowd took over (chuckle). I do English Country Dancing but not avidly or not with a great love or spirit, even though I’ve been in England so much.
BB – Well, you do some Scottish too, don’t you?
CG – I do a little Scottish. I’ve been to England 20 times, and when I go I go for the minimum of a month or stay two months or three months and dance all over the place. I’ve been to festivals … after Sidmouth other festivals started hiring me, and I’ve been to festivals in Eastbourne, and Broadstairs, and Whitby as staff, which broadened my experience. I got to know a lot of callers, got to know a lot of bands, and I got to know a lot of dancers who would then in turn invite me to come to their clubs and call dances for them. I’m still a subscriber to Jack Hamilton’s Folk In Kent. Do you know it?
BB – Yes. Yeah, we have a pretty complete collection actually.
CG – If there are any issues that you don’t have …
BB – Oh good, I’m glad to know that.
CG – … I have a collection of them. This is 1989.
BB – There you go.
CG – Jack just retired from this, you know. I’ve stayed with Jack. I’ve stayed with the fiddle player. Jack and Trish are good friends and Jack has come over here. Whenever English people come over here they manage to find our place and come visit. We return the hospitality.
BB – Well, we just had an English caller in Albuquerque, I forget his name now. There is another one that came a few months ago and his name was Bernie Chalk.
CG – Bernie is a very, very good friend of mine. I stayed up all night with Bernie in a pub the night that his father died; he was in Sidmouth. Bernie also has done me some favors that he didn’t plan to do. I have gone to a number of Bernie’s dances where Bernie was still in the pub and didn’t get to the dance on time, and I’ve called the first 3 or 4 dances…. the first set maybe, or maybe even two sets at some of Bernie’s dances. I’ve called at places where we couldn’t…. we couldn’t turn the electricity on for some reason or the other and it turned out you have to put a 50p piece in a meter box. Bernie remembers that dance. An interesting experience in England. I ran out of socks one time and I bought some socks in Woolworths. They have Woolworth stores over there. They were pink, they were orange and colors like that and I remember one of the dances where I filled in briefly for Bernie I was up on the stage and my orange socks were quite obvious and I was asked by somebody in the audience, ”Where did you get those socks?” I said, “I bought them in Sidmouth, right here in England, in Woolworth’s store. Actually, they were the only ones they had”. “Oh, well that explains it. No Englishman would buy socks like that”.
BB – (big laugh) That’s funny.
Recorder clicks off – End of side 2
BB – …. here Culver.
CG – We were talking about Bernie Chalk.
BB – No, it was interesting I just … He was one of the gentlemen I interviewed who was dancing in Albuquerque. Very nice, slightly different things, you know. (lots of noise of shuffling papers)
CG – Back in the Dutee Hall days we had a job in Westport when William Benton was running for Senate for the State of Connecticut. Benton came to our dance in a helicopter and landed in a field outside somebody’s Westport farm house. And Jacob Javitz was there with him and Benton wouldn’t dance but Jake Javitz got up and he danced up a storm. He really had a great time. We had a job for the Rockefellers in 1948 over in Westchester County. It was a house that someone had moved out of, a great big mansion, like a 12 bedroom house. There was a carcass of a deer hanging on the front porch. They had…. they had a slide, like a … I call it a Kelly slide. Do you know what a Kelly slide is? It’s a slide like kids have in a playground and they had a slide from the second story down to the first floor and people were sliding down that. They had chickens in cages, the house had been empty. We had a little …. Oh here is something else too. When I…. when I was still working in New York I used to go to Folk Dance House. Michael and Mary Ann …
BB – Herman.
CG – … Herman. As a matter of fact I’m bragging now. At one of their Tuesday night sessions Mary Ann said, “I’ve learned a new dance …. the Salty Dog Rag”. And she and I went through the first two parts of it and I said, “Well, how about the third part”? and she didn’t know it. I taught Mary Ann …
BB – There you go. (chuckles)
CG – … the third part.
BB –The chicken tracks, right.
CG – Yeah, with the heels. Yeah, the heels and toes. You call them chicken tracks?
BB – I always call them chicken tracks.
CG – Well, I taught Mary Ann that part of that particular dance. At that time I was running a folk dance session in Norwalk in the Cranbury Chapel every week. Every Friday night I had a group of people come in. Well, I was working in the city so every Tuesday. I went…. I went to Folk Dance House and Michael and Mary Ann taught me another dance or two and then I’d come home and I was the expert on Friday. I taught them the dance that I’d learned on Tuesday and that’s how I got to do dances like … that I still do … Salty Dog Rag, Troika, Road To The Isles. I did that in Scotland. I’ll mention that to you too. And I know what I would call a staple group of old traditional folk dances…. most of them are old…. and most of them are traditional and I still use those for a crowd that I have for a dance every summer at Stony Brook in Weston. I just had that dance a month ago for this year. Originally, down there I used to have a dance every two weeks with a band and we taught all the kids how to do these folk dances. It is a group of people from New York City whose background tends to be folk dances as well as squares. Of course, my business is square dancing. And then the kids started going away to camps in the summer and then they started getting married so it has evolved into a once a year big, big dance. I still use a lot of those folk dances at Stony Brook. I also use folk dances when I work with the seniors at a place like Almost Family. Do you know Almost Family?
BB – No.
CG – It’s an adult day care place.
BB – Oh, I see.
CG – There is one in Danbury and there is one in Middlebury. I go to Middlebury once a month and Danbury once every two or three months. And these people are in wheel chairs there, in walkers and they’re depressed. They’re sent there so their caregivers can get a little bit of breathing space. But I always manage to get a big circle up and we circle left we circle right, we go into the center and back and we make stars. I don’t like do-si-do because you can lose your balance doing a do-si-do. It’s better when we are holding hands, dancing like that. And I work with … these people are in their 80s and 90s a lot of them and I go over there for an hour and a half on the fourth Thursday and oh, they love it when I come and we have a lot of fun.
So, I jumped from Michael and Mary Ann Herman folk dances and my folk dance group … and for the graduation … take it back. I also ran a contra dance group…. this is in the early ‘50s… every Saturday night. I’d learn a new contra dance and then we’d do it and I’d learn another one and then we would do it. All the classic dances, Chorus Jig, Lady Walpole’s Reel, you now the lot.
BB – Petronella?
CG – Petronella, I love Petronella. I have Petronella done by that band, it’s a fantastic tape. I can play it over and over again. And then for graduation from the contra dance group that I had I invited Ralph Page down. I knew Ralph because my in-laws had a house in New Hampshire by the river and I used to dance at Lake Walpole and Peterborough and places like that where Ralph called. I had danced with him a lot. And I invited him down to Norwalk for my contra dance group graduation and he came and stayed overnight at my house and when I sold the house 10 years later it still smelled of cigar smoke.
BB – Yeah, yeah. (chuckles)
CG – I think you know what I mean.
BB – Yeah, yeah. Did you remember Duke Miller?
CG – Duke Miller.
BB – From out in Gloversville, New York.
CG – Only by name. Only by name.
BB – Well, he was a protégé of Ralph’s but … that thought just occurred to me. There was one other question I wanted to ask you. (papers rattling)
CG – I wanted to talk about Ralph a little bit more.
BB – Go ahead. I’m just about finished with my questions. Go ahead.
CG – Being summer times up there and dancing with Ralph … when I went to Boston … I was a traveling auditor for the Singer Company for awhile, so I went all over the United States and Canada, and I found dances everywhere I went. That’s …. that’s why I liked that job, the only reason I liked that job. I was at the Arlington Street YWCA at one of Ralph’s dances where he called Ted Sannella up and put his arm around this young fellow and he said, “Ted Sannella has announced his engagement today to Jean“, and Jean was there. Well, how long ago, you know, how long ago was that? Because when Ted died he was a grandfather about six times.
BB – Sure.
CG – I was at Ted Sannella’s engagement party and Ted did invite me up to the Scout House at least once to call a dance and I stayed at his house and I … two things I remember about Ted. One is that when I called at NEFFA (editor’s note: New England Folk Festival Association) one time, which I did a number of years, Ted said, “Culver, I got the feeling that you were watching just one square”. That’s the most important lesson I ever learned probably in my whole career. It’s certainly the most important one I learned from Ted Sannella. So now I watch every square in the dance and I don’t cater my calls just to the one that happens to be down front. That’s a mistake usually, usually because they are the good ones and you lose them in the back if your watching just the square in front of you. So you cast your eyes all about. The other thing that I got of course from Ted was his wonderful book, his first book “Honor Your Partner” and I have the second book too, that was given to me as a gift. Ted Sannella wrote in my book, the first one. He said, “To a fine traditional caller”. It was like tongue in cheek. He put me right where I am.
BB – Well, that’s fine.
CG – That takes care of that one. Tony Parkes. You mentioned Tony Parkes.
BB – Yeah.
CG – Tony Parkes lived in New York City, you know, before he went to Boston and one night I had a job out in Queens and for some reason or other I couldn’t get a piano player. He was sick or something. And I heard about Tony Parkes and Tony Parkes came and he was just a pianist then. He wasn’t a caller. He came and he played New England style, which was alright. Paul Post plays melody. Paul plays fantastic melody. Tony didn’t play melody. I was carrying the melody myself. But in true Boston style, he was pounding away on the bass, you know, and that was…. that was…. that was before Tony Parkes was known at all in the field. I didn’t have anything to do with making him but the next thing I know he turned up in Boston and started composing and started writing books and then he got married and he’s turned out to be quite a guy.
BB – Oh yeah, and his wife also. She’s quite a gal too.
CG – We had a job in Weston in a barn way out in the woods once. Henry Wallace for President. It was a campaign. Well, Henry Wallace was skirting on the communist line or socialist line at least and I had a Catholic girl piano player, who was about 18 years old, Chickie O’Marra from Norwalk who was going to do that job for me and at the last minute her mother wouldn’t let her go because of the politics involved. Henry, Henry Agard Wallace for President. That was after … he was Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture first and then he was his Vice President and then, for Roosevelt’s third term he was up against Henry A. Wallace. (Ed note: he was apparently reading a note) and oh, another one. I saw on the email site mention of Margot Mayo in New York City. Did you ever know that lady?
BB – I knew the name, I never met her.
CG – I’ll play one of her records for you. Not right now maybe, unless you want it now. Margot Mayo ran a … series of Quadrilles in square dancing. But it’s historic formations that go way back to the French dancing masters who came over here to teach the rich plantation owners’ daughters how to dance. Which, that, incidentally, is the way I describe square dancing. People say, “It’s a western thing, isn’t it?” “Hell no” I say. I’ll give you another diversion too … I’d go to a dance and somebody on the committee when I’d walk in would say, “Where are your western boots” and I’d say, “Western boots? That has nothing to do with square dancing. Hell, I don’t even live in West Norwalk”.
BB – (chuckles)
CG – Any…. Anyhow, Margot Mayo’s Quadrilles were held in a big apartment in New York City … not an auditorium but in an apartment that was lived in, on Sunday afternoons and she would play the music. I guess it was recorded, I’m not sure, and callers that were dancing would toss the calls back and forth. One guy would call for maybe two or three or four minutes, like some of the jamborees that you go to where they do that, except that this is in the 1950s and they dance set dances. I’ll play one for you later. They are 12 inch ‘78s that I got back then. Margot Mayo.
I went through the dance didn’t I from the beginning to the end. What else do you want to know?
BB – Well, let’s see. You are 83 now. Right?
CG – Yeah. Can’t believe I’m 83. I got here so damn fast.
BB – Well you’re going on 59 then right?
CG – Well most people guess I’m not over 79.
BB – Right (all laugh). Like the fella says, “You don’t look a day over 85”, right? (all laugh) . Well, this has really been a real pleasure, Culver, and a great reminiscence and I am happy to hear about some of the old times around. I know you have been up in this area a long time. I never realized that you had ever gone through Modern Western Square Dance classes.
CG – I don’t brag about that. (laughs)
BB – Well OK, that’s all right. We won’t tell Al then, right?
CG – Well, Al knew that I was in a class and it was at Nathan Hale school which my early kids went to and they called it Nathan Jail.
BB – OK.
CG – I went to a dance of yours one time, and that was in Wilton, I’m quite sure, and you probably had your ‘Anybody Can Play’ because there were about 10 musicians on the stage I think. And you know what, that might have been…. it might have been at my … 25th anniversary …
BB – I think it was.
CG – … it was my 25th anniversary and we had to open the other gym. It was such a big party. It was my 25th anniversary as a caller, and they gave me a Brooks Brothers shirt that has red stripes, and yellow stripes and green stripes and purple stripes … a Brooks Brothers because one of the Christian Scientists who was in that group worked for Brooks Brothers. They gave me that shirt and I wore that for 20 years probably just to dances. It’s…. it’s Egyptian cotton and I have to iron it, which I do. I don’t let my wife iron it. I used to iron it and it wore out after about 20 years and a very nice lady in Roxbury knew about that and I was taking care of her father because I do Meals on Wheels and she got another Brooks Brothers shirt just like it for me and I still wear that.
BB – Well, I’ll be darned.
CG – When I have an outdoor dance I have a denim version of the same shirt.
BB – There you go.
CG – That and the red sweater and the Captain’s cap have been sort of trademarks. My hair has changed, it used to be dark…
BB – Yeah, mine too.
CG – … like yours. It’s gone a little bit on the white side. I tell my daughter that…. that it’s brown and she doesn’t agree with me. That’s one thing we don’t agree on. I have a wonderful collection of records here.
BB – Yes you do.
CG – I have 78s, 10 inches that I got in 1935 when I was at NYU, going to NYU nights. I did that after Babson when I started work. A friend worked for the Decca factory in Brooklyn and he used to bring me records that were extras, or cast offs, or maybe he stole them, I don’t know.
BB – You must have known Dick Krauss then.
CG – I knew Dick Krauss because I danced to Dick Krauss. And Eddie Durlacher I knew very well.
BB – There you go.
CG – Eddie came out to Norwalk. He did at least one dance in Norwalk. Steve Hopkins got him out there and I’ll tell you something that I’ve said about Eddie and I hope he apo … I hope he forgives me. At least he’s not around to hear me say it anymore, but you can hear him clicking his false teeth on the records. Did you know that?
BB – Yes, yeah.
CG – I remember him standing out in the middle of a circle, a big circle, he was teaching Swing maybe or Promenade, some complicated figure like that, and he pointed over, not to me but to someone else over there (imitating Eddie), “Oh, red sweata’ not like that”. (both laugh)
BB – He was a character.
CG – He sure was and his records are all over this country. He and his wife traveled in a trailer and they went to schools and for years, school teachers, gym teachers, used his records to teach. I also went to Central Park a couple of times like Al and you did, and danced there with him. I said on the email, “That’s were Uptown Downtown comes from”….
BB – That’s right.
CG – …. and I think you guys said the same thing.
BB – Because you could indicate the direction because everybody knew …
CG – Everybody knew which was uptown and which was downtown.
BB – Yeah, that was interesting.
CG – You talk about Eddie Durlacher and his son called too.
BB – Yeah, Don.
CG – Don. But mostly he didn’t travel so much. He was on Long Island.
BB – Frank Kaltman?
CG – Yes, Frank Kaltman.
BB – You know him?
CG – Folk Dance House…. that’s where we got the records from … Folkraft
BB – Folkraft.
CG – Folkraft. I have a number of his records…. also Floyd Woodhull’s records.
BB – Yeah, right.
CG – I’ve got a bunch of them.
BB – Have you really?
CG – I’ve got maybe half a dozen or more.
BB – We have some of them at the archives. I don’t know how complete our collection is.
CG – Well, I could catalog these for you someday and you could see if there is anything you wanted. I went to California once. I had to drive a car, a brand new Cadillac from Atlanta to Los Angeles for a customer of the Singer Company, back when cars were rationed and hard to get. We got one for this good customer and I drove it out there. And I met Bob Osgood and I danced to Arnie Kronenberger and Arnie (telephone bell rings and then the sound of an electronic phone) (tape switches off)
BB – Ok the phone rang there temporarily. Go ahead.
CG – I danced to Arnie Kronenberger and at that time he was … this was the early 50s, and he was doing dances that I can still do. I have records of Arnie Kronenberger and … Five Foot Two. His Five Foot Two is one of my favorite dances with my seniors in Brookfield. There aren’t many people who can do it. It’s a fast dance. I have run out of names. I have maybe three or four other of Arnie’s records and I subscribed to Sets in Order for a long time and I cut all the pages out and I never called any of the dances but I still have the pages. And that was a wonderful trip, you know. It was a business trip you understand. So I knew Arnie and Bob Osgood I knew. Who else was around? I’m thinking of musicians too. Tude Tanguay was always a favorite of mine. Tude played over his shoulders and under his legs …
BB – I wish we had a video tape of that.
CG – That would …
BB – Did you ever remember Pop Benson and Tude doing where they played each other’s instruments?
CG – Yes, I remember that. He was an undertaker wasn’t he? That always struck me as an incongruity.
BB – Well, for the sake of the tape, Tude would sit in Pop Benson’s lap and Pop Benson played banjo and so Tude, who is the fiddler, would strum the banjo.
CG/BB – And Pop would handle the bow.
BB – Right. And pop handled the bow and they each fingered their own instrument, but the two of them did it together. That was quite an act. I’ve never seen anything like it.
CG – Tude’s son turned up at one of my dances in Bantam about three years ago, plays the bass fiddle now.
BB – He doesn’t call though.
CG – No, he doesn’t call. Well, Tude didn’t call either. Well, up here … on Route 109 between Washington and … New Milford, tell me the name of the barn.
BB – Oh, Medlicott’s.
CG – Well, Medlicott’s burned down before we moved here. We moved to Roxbury 13 years ago. But I had come up to Medlicott’s beforehand several times and danced, and I find loads of older people up here they met their wives or husbands at Medlicott’s. I did a job for the … what do you call it … Heart Therapy Department of a hospital up here at the White Memorial place and these were people who had heart attacks and were recovering and in therapy. I did a square dance for them which they figured would be good therapy and I’d say out of maybe 20 couples were probably 5 or 6 couples who said they had had met at Medlicott’s….
BB – There you go.
CG – ….and subsequently married.
BB – Well, Louie Rosato, the accordionist, used to play there. Probably Eddie Munson did, the guitarist.
CG – Yeah, Eddie was …
BB – But Jimmy Gilpin, who is the fiddler of the Pioneer Trio, he was way down in Shelton and I don’t think he played there.
CG – Well, that’s right in Eddie’s home ground. He lived in … Morris.
BB – Morris. Well, I’ll tell you what, we’re almost down to the end of this tape and I do have a luncheon appoint with this same Louie Rosato which we were just talking about, as a matter of fact, so, and then I’m on my way back to Rhode Island, but I certainly want to thank you very, very wholeheartedly for your very interesting interview …
CG – You can tell it’s a pleasure. I enjoy talking about dancing and I’m flattered that you would come and want to come to interview me.
BB – My pleasure, my pleasure. So I’m going to shut off and shut up as they say.
CG – You shut up, I shut up.
BB – Ralph Page says his mother taught him years ago, if you ever gonna speak in front of people, she says, “Stand up, speak up, and shut up”.
CG – There are a couple of other sayings like that. Winston, Winston Churchill was once asked to speak and he was told that his subject was sex and he got up and he said, “Ladies and gentlemen. It’s always a pleasure”, and he sat down. The other one is,” Why is a speech like a wheel ? The longer the spoke, the greater the tire“. (all laugh)
BB – There you go. Well, thank you Culver. I’m going to turn the tape off.
CG – Please do.
Tape clicks off. End of interview with Culver Griffin.