Wade Driver– May 9, 2008
Bob Brundage – Today is May the 9th, 2008 and today we are talking with a Milestone Award winner Wade Driver, down in The Woodlands, Texas. Wade is … I just found out and I read his bio … that he was born in Atlanta which kinda surprised me, but be that as it may, tell us a little about your early life before square dancing.
Wade Driver – All right. Well, I was born in Atlanta. I was actually raised in a suburb of Atlanta called Decatur, Georgia and I grew up there with the high school there. Well let’s see, a little chronologically I guess, I went to … I left in 1950 … actually I got out of high school in ’56 and then I did one year at Georgia Tech, kind of prep work, and then I left for Annapolis in 1957. I graduated from Annapolis in 1961 and stayed on as an instructor for the new plebe class and left and went to flight school in Pensacola. And after that I went into flight training and after that I went into special ops work for the navy and got out in 1966. While working … I got married in the meantime, during that time, and started having kids I guess in ’65. And then in 60, lets see when was it, in 60 … gosh, I left Atlanta and moved from Atlanta to St. Louis in ’66 and then to New Orleans. And during this time, my dad, he had started square dance calling I guess when I was doing my plebe year. So, when I came home Christmas leave of my first year at Annapolis I kinda of … of course back then we didn’t have any square dance figures as far as basics, and the basic 25 hadn’t even come about as yet. But I kinda jumped in and learned to dance with my mom as my partner and as a matter of fact on December 19th of ‘57 called my first singing call. I had a little rock band going at the time so singing was not a real issue. But then, when I’d come home, I’d jump into a singing call with my dad off and on over the next several years. And I finally moved back to Atlanta in … oh gosh ’69, went to Georgia Tech and got my Masters’ degree and at the same time my wife started taking square dance lessons and I started learning to call the other part, the patter call portion. I had been doing nothing but singing calls up to that point. And then I moved to Florida and really, in addition to my job, started calling a lot and, quite a bit as a matter of fact, 3 or 4 or 5 times a week. I moved to Houston in ‘74 and got transferred with another company. And then by ’75 I was so doggone busy calling and all I quit work and went full time calling. Been doing that ever since I suppose. Didn’t know how much … that’s up to when I still went full time … I didn’t know how much of that you wanted.
BB – Yeah, no that’s great. (Chuckles) That answers a lot of questions I was going to ask. So then one of the big questions was where did you … how did you get interested in square dancing and, of course, you did through your dad, right?
WD – I did, you know. The first part was I was just messing around doing singing calls and all, but then when I really started wanting to learn how, that was in ’69. When I got serious about it, he went through two years of intensive lessons and teaching me and so on and so forth. My dad was an outstanding … he was a doctor and called as a hobby and kind of as a pressure release, but he was an outstanding caller, good singer, and good hash caller. And it was kind of a Les Gotcher calling I suppose. So anyway he was just a very, very good teacher and he had two ways of doing things, perfect and wrong. (Bob chuckles) And so that didn’t cut me a whole lot of slack. (Wade chuckles)
BB – Yeah, right. Well did you ever go in any caller’s schools or anything like that?
WD – I did one after I started learning with him, I think it was in 1971, I think. I had heard Dick Jones call and I was really impressed with his approach to the presentation, not just the choreography but the presentation, and the way the whole … or it was the woven entertainment thing. So Dick and his wife Ardy came to Atlanta and did a three day caller school …
BB – Oh good.
WD – … and I just really enjoyed that and tried to absorb as much of his way of doing things as I could. As a matter of fact it was Ardy who hung the “Mr. Rhythm” tag on me many, many years ago and it just kind of stuck, you know. But I just enjoyed his approach and the way he went about the whole thing. So it gave me a good thing to go after. Other than that … no, not a whole lot. But I don’t mind asking questions, you know. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good friends in this business everywhere from Flippo to Frank Lane and all, and I don’t have a problem asking people for advice or opinions or whatever, anything I can to try to improve my product. And in addition to which, you know, it takes just a whole lot of practice.
BB – Well I’ve heard that same thing about Dick Jones that people did like his approach. Well you partially answered one of the questions and that was, “Who were some of your mentors”? And you mentioned Flippo …
WD – Well Flip and Frank Lane they were … their approach, their regimen, their work ethic, particularly Flip because, you know, no matter what kind of style you have, if your timing is not good in my opinion it’s a waste of time and Flip has probably got the finest timing of anybody alive. And I remember in the mid ‘70s and late ‘70s when the Mainstream list was first created, Flip did a series of tapes put on the Blue Star label, of all the Mainstream figures calling, and I just took all those tapes and put them in my bathroom, and every time I went in the bathroom I’d just punch the play button. And (I) didn’t try to call with him … (I) just wanted to listen to get an idea of the presentation and the timing and how he delivered, and that was a huge help for me.
BB – Right, right. Well ok, tell me about … oh, National Conventions and festivals and things like that.
WD – You know, the National Convention has always been very, very good to me. I went to my first National Convention I think in 1971. That was in New Orleans and I really enjoyed it. And I think I went to every one after then except for oh … just three or four I’ve had to miss in the last few years ‘cause I’ve been busy, but I went to about 20 something in a row. And I’ve found the National Conventions to be a great showcase. There is a fine art to delivering one tip. And a lot of guys know it and a lot of guys don’t know it, but the National was very good for me because, if you pick and choose your spot and how you perform during that one spot … I’ve picked up a whole lot of bookings and a lot of reputation from the Nationals. You know in ’75 … I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve called in … oh gosh, of course the states, all 50 states, and Canada and Mexico and as well as, oh, let me think, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, … di di di di … Germany, Austria, England, Italy, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Holland … I think that pretty much covers most of them.
BB – Yeah, outside of that you didn’t have anything to do, right? (chuckles)
WD – (laughs) Not a whole lot. But at one time or another … very fortunately for me I have always … I’m not the worlds greatest singer but I have a kind of a commercial voice and plus I’ve been able to, I guess … I don’t know someone … when I started my record company back in ’75 I tried to produce music that no matter whether you were a good caller or bad caller or in between caller, the music would make you sound better than you normally would. And this was the kind of music I tried to produce, so that if you used it you would make the whole … the whole presentation sound better. And, you know, fortunately, or unfortunately, because of producing the records it increases your reputation and I … I have no question I have probably booked a lot of festivals and dances and things just for no other reason than I produced the music for the label. Because once you’re there you have to produce.
BB – Right, right. Well, I know I was impressed with your voice and your presentation the first time I danced with you and that was back in White Plains, New York, back in the mid ‘90s.
WD – When Tony and I did the State Festival up there.
BB – Yeah, yeah,
WD – Yeah, I remember that, I remember that. Yeah, that was a fun time.
BB – And then you were up in the Albany area the next year I think it was. And then we chatted again where was it, Tower Point, was that the name?
WD – Yeah, Tower Point down in Mesa. Yeah I was down there for 18 years all together.
BB – Right, right. Well, what about weekends? You’ve done some weekends?
WD – I’ve done, oh gosh, so doggone many. You know, I’m kind of pulling it now, I’m going to be 70 years old here in about 2 months so I’m kind of pulling in a little bit. But I really enjoy the weekends because you can start on a Friday and by the time you get to Saturday night you have built a rapport with the dancers and everybody’s just really cooking. And don’t get me wrong, I love club work. I love working at home but the weekends … it’s more like putting on a concert. It’s just really exciting and I enjoy those. So I’ve done quite a lot of … I’ve done a lot of camp work. At one time I was working McCloud, California, the resorts there, and Asilomar, and Fun Valley, and Kirkwood, all at the same time. Just different weeks of the year. And I enjoy that, again for the same reasons, you go in on Sunday night and you build a rapport with this whole group. It’s like having a mini club that meets once a year and dances for a week. And I just really enjoy that kind of atmosphere.
BB – Right, well. I’ve known you’ve done a lot of recording and I see you made your first record on the Rhythm label.
WD – Well actually that’s not quite true. Actually in ’74 I first recorded on the Bogan label for Norman Merrbach when I first moved here to Houston. As a matter of fact, the very first record I ever did… my first wife’s name was Gloria … my children’s mother… and she is still a very good friend of mine and she lives in Abilene … and the first record I recorded was a … an old Loretta Lynn tune called ,“They Don’t Make Them Like My Daddy Anymore” and it was a little bit too country for my taste, I was still East coast oriented, not big on country. So I just rewrote a song and I called it “Glory on my Mind” for my wife at that time. And it’s pretty good music and it did pretty well. And I did about … I think I did 1, 2 … 4 or 5 tunes on Bogan for Merrbach. And that was starting in like December of ’74 and then June of ’75 was when I decided to go full time calling. But about the same time Mr. Merrbach decided he did not like this new, what they call, hard country sound. The Waylon and Willie type sound with the banjos and steel guitars, and he wanted to go back to his mellow kind of music with vibes and clarinets and things and he and I had, for lack of a better word, philosophical differences (both chuckle) on our music, and we had … we got into a very lively discussion and he finally said, “If you don’t like our music go make you own”, and I said, “Ok, I will”. And so that is really where the Rhythm records thing came from.
BB – Yeah, well. What other labels have you been on?
WD – I’ve recorded … done some guest things on ESP, Hi-Hat and on Global, and oh gosh, Blue Star but as far as recording for somebody, when I left Bogan I went and did my Rhythm and I’ve not really been on the staff for anybody else but just my own label ever since then. And I guess it’s … oh gosh … it’s 33 years old now.
BB – Yeah, right. Well, ok let’s start a little bit about Callerlab.
WD – Ok.
BB – I know you were at one time on the Board of Governors and I’m sure you’ve been an active supporter for Callerlab for … ever since you got in, right?
WD – Well, I have. I joined Callerlab … well it was the second year, 1975. As a matter of fact, I still have my two invitations. You know it used to be by invitation only the first years and after that first meeting in ’74 different members sent out invitations and I am very, very honored to have an invitation from Flippo and I have an invitation from Frank Lane. And I would not give anything for those two invitations. And so I went in ’75 and participated every year and then back in … I guess three or four years later … let’s see, I’m trying to think of when I went in there. It was like ’79 or ’80 whatever, I went in as … on the Board of Governors and I was on the Board of Governors for about 15 years or so I guess, and I was on the Executive Committee for one term on there and then back in the late ‘90’s … ’98 or ’99… I got very, very ill, extremely ill, and I kind of pulled my horns in on everything really. And I didn’t attend Callerlab for awhile and I cut all my calling back to like once a week and it took me awhile to get over that. I had just a lot of illnesses and infections and things and anyway, by the time I finally got over that in ’03 and we decided to give up Mesa and move back here and I was about to get active again and then my wife Carla had a stroke and died in January of ’06 and so that kind of slowed me down again you know. And so I really haven’t been really active … I’ve been a member all the time but I can’t say I’ve been really, really active for awhile until I remarried about a year ago. I went back to Callerlab this year and I’m now in the process of running for the Board of Governors again. I’ve got my health back and I’ve got my life back and so I figure it’s time to get back active again. There’s some things that I would like to try to get accomplished through Callerlab and … you can either sit on the sidelines and gripe a lot or you can get in the middle of the fight and try to do something about it, so that’s what I’ve decided to do.
BB – Yeah, right. Well, I’m happy you got remarried and I’m sorry to hear about your other wife but … so you have quite a few kids you said?
WD – Well, I’ve got three children of my own, and they’re all grown, and then I have two step children. My oldest lives in San Francisco. He’s a drummer in a rock band, and my next boy is a … lives in New York and he’s an electrical contractor. My daughter works as a materials purchasing agent for a semi-conductor company here in Houston. And then my stepson is a … he just got back from Iraq. He’s a helicopter pilot in the Army and he’s just been re-stationed in … oh gosh … down in Fort Rucker, Alabama as a flight instructor, and then my youngest girl, stepdaughter, is a general hygienist in Mesa, Arizona, and I have four grandkids, two girls and two boys.
BB – Any of them do any square dancing?
WD – You know, not one single one. It’s kind of a funny thing. My oldest boy danced for maybe six months but then he went his own way. You know, I was so involved that, from my kids prospective, dad just went to the office. And that’s basically all it was, you know, that’s how I made my living. That’s what I did. I never put any pressure on them to… to dance. My daughter clogged. My first wife was real big into clogging and she was in the clogging group for awhile, but other than that, you know, my oldest boy is a musician, my daughter was a cheer leader and stuff like that and my middle boy was quarterback of the high school football team and they just didn’t have the time.
BB – Yeah, right. Well how do you stand … well what’s your opinion of this new ABC program?
WD – You know, I have to be honest with you, I have not used it. I can’t … so I’m not going to tell you about something I know nothing about. My feeling is that if it works, if it gets new dancers in, then I think it’s wonderful and if it doesn’t then we’ll find something that does. You know we’ve been struggling for several years to try to find some way to get the busy American citizen into square dancing and I don’t know what you can do because now days in order for the families to have what I call “the toys” the BMW, the Mercedes, the cell phones, the computer, the internet, you know, all those things that they have to have, is requiring husband and wife to both work and so the only quality time they’re going to have with their children is when they come home at night. So it makes it really tough to get those people out of the house and into a square dance hall, you know. So I think … I think from that perspective, I think something like the ABC program is what it’s going to take, ‘cause you’re going to have a lot of people that get into the A program and never leave it because they want to get out once a month, get out and have a good time.
BB – Yeah.
WD – The once a week or even twice a week like they used to years ago is very, very difficult. I know, I’m graduating a class one week from tonight and we’ve got, let’s see, there’s four … eight … nine couples, that’s it, and that’s considered a large class.
BB – Yes, right.
WD – You know, and it… it’s really, really difficult. You know, I know Mike Seastrom is doing something in LA called team dancing, and so he doesn’t even call it square dancing. He gets them out and gets them involved and from that … I think he has 160 people show up, and from that he got maybe 25 or 30 that would go into square dance lessons itself.
BB – Right, right.
WD – From my perspective I don’t care what name you give it, if it works it’s wonderful, if it doesn’t let’s find something else. I just love this activity. I still maintain it’s the greatest family activity in existence and it’s probably the best kept secret in the world. But you know a perfect example of how it’s hard to get the busy person … I did a one-nighter and I do a lot of benefit stuff for like the school. I’m doing one like next Friday morning going in for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, doing a one hour presentation on it. And I did something for the Girl Scouts last year and we had about six squares show up. It’s called, “Me and My Guy Dance” where the little girls bring their fathers as their partners and we do like about a three hour thing where they dance and do line dances and this type of thing. So they wanted to do it again this year. About two months ago we did and I said, “OK kids, we’re going to have some more of a good thing. We’re going to invite a lot more“. We had 62 squares
BB – There you go.
WD – 62 squares of girl scouts and their fathers. Now, would you like to know how many people signed up for square dance lessons? None.
BB – Yeah, right.
WD – Right, now, because they just … these were all … it was age 25 to 40 year olds that just don’t have the time…
BB – Yes, that’s true.
WD – … and I don’t know what marketing tool we can get. We need to go after the 45 to 55 year old people where their kids are old enough not to need a baby sitter and they can make enough money to be able to … they’re not on the way up, they’re not yuppies, they’ve already settled and they can afford to go out. And I don’t know what the marketing thing is going to be, but I know this, we need, in my opinion, we need a sponsor desperately. Someone like Coca Cola or a Pepsi or something like that and to give us a million or two million dollars every year for an advertising budget so we can properly advertise for people. And from my perspective that’s one of the things that I’m going after if I get on this board because I have the contacts. I can get the sponsors if we can get people to be willing to put a Pepsi logo on their flyers and things like that, but it’s going to take cooperation. But my goodness, if we could get one, two or three million dollars a year just to use to promote square dancing it seems to me, if it’s a proper sponsor … you know, we’re not going to use Budweiser but we could use Coca Cola.
BB – Yeah, well. That’s a good point.
WD – So, I don’t know. -So again, we have the multi levels, we have the ABCs, we’ve got all sorts of names but the bottom line is our callers need to know how to teach well if they are going to teach at all.
BB – Yeah, that’s true, yes. Right. One of the questions that I’ve been asking people, “What do you find is the appeal to calling”?
WD – Do you mean for new callers?
BB – No. You personally, what do you find appealing about calling?
WD – It’s you know … I don’t know … I think that covers a pretty broad spectrum Bob. From my own personal opinion, I started singing in church when I was what, six I guess. And I just love to sing. That’s the first thing. Second of all, I started … I was in rock and roll bands and things from the time I was sixteen and seventeen. I love to perform. It’s an ego rush. It’s as simple as that. And then you have from the point of view of almost every caller is some type of a control freak. I know I am (Bob chuckles) and most callers are. They want to be in charge. I mean I went through Annapolis. I wasn’t trained to be a follower (laughs) you know… and so … I think that, from a callers perspective, 1) the enjoyment of the music, 2) being able to teach, and 3) they get the ego rush and then being able to be in charge, be the boss.
BB – Yeah, yeah.
WD – A lot of callers aren’t going to admit that probably but it’s the truth none the less. You know, we like to be in charge.
BB – That’s about the way a lot of fellows talk about. And the other one is, “Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently in your experience”?
WD – Yes, there is, but it has not … it really doesn’t have anything to do with calling. If I had it to do over again, one of the very few changes I would have made … one of them would have been not to have raised my children in… in the large, large metropolitan area that I did in Houston. Because I think it puts too much pressure on kids growing up from everything from peer pressure to drugs to everything you can think of. I think it’s really difficult for a kid to grow up, and my kids grew up a lot closer to downtown than where I am now. I’m 40 something miles away. If I had…. if I had it to do over again I think … you know, back in ’74 and ’75 is when the retirement parks were really starting to grow big. South Texas, Hemet, California, Central Florida, and down in Arizona. And I turned down many, many, many parks with the excuse that, you know, my children were young and I didn’t want them to live in a retirement park, but they wouldn’t have. They would have lived in another house. But I really should have done that because, between 1975 until about 1982, a lot of callers who did that managed to put away enough to retire for life and the cities that those things were held in were not huge cities. They were a good environment for children to grow up. But if I had anything to change I would not have stayed in Houston and stayed on the road, I would have gone to one of those parks and worked the winter program down there.
BB – Yeah, right.
WD – But, other than that, I really can’t think of a great deal. I’m very … I’ve got friends world wide that I would not have had otherwise. By not working a 9 to 5 I was able to go to my kid’s recitals and concerts and ball games and things like that, and that I really do … I’m really happy about.
BB – Yeah, yeah.
WD – And so I … there are some things in my life that I wish hadn’t happened. I wish my wife hadn’t died, I wish I hadn’t had to get divorced from the first wife, you know, but stuff like that is light, experiences that is going to happen, but I don’t think anything that was done … you know, caused that. So no, I really can say there is not a whole lot of changes I would go back and make. I’ve been very, very fortunate I’ve had a very good life and I’ve got some very, very good friends.
BB – Well that’s great. Well, the other question I’d like to get your opinion on is, “Where do you think square dancing is going”.
WD – You know, I don’t really know. It’s difficult. I think we’re going to wallow in mediocrity if we don’t do something to give it a jump start. I don’t think it’s going down a great deal more than it already has, but I don’t see it going back up until we change … 1) change the public image and 2) get the message out, just plain pure old advertising. Ok, you can have the greatest candidate in the world running for president but if nobody knows he is running they’re not going to vote for him. And I just really and truly think that square dancing … the actual truth of square dancing, is one of the best kept secrets in this entire country.
BB – Yeah.
WD – The problem is, there is no one … advertising is expensive. It’s incredibly expensive and Callerlab, neither the Legacy, the NEC (National Executive Committee for the National Square Dance Conventions), none of those people have that kind of dollars to go out and do that. The people that have that kind of money are your major product people. You know, I would love to tap Exxon or Chevron right now but they’re not on everybody’s top ten love list. (both chuckle) So, I don’t think I should do that. But you know, you’ve got people that … for example, I now Pepsi Cola spends millions and millions, and millions every year just in advertising NASCAR.
BB – Sure.
WD – Now what they give one guy to put a patch on his back to drive in a race car would almost be the salvation for square dancing. So, a dance solution … in my opinion, if we can get the financial backing to properly advertise, publicize and make square dancing … and make the nation aware of it, then I think square dancing would be the very best family activity in existence once again like it was 20 years ago. If we don’t, were just going to wallow along in the same mediocrity like we are now.
BB – Yeah, right.
WD – That’s my opinion, you know. Ben Franklin says if I start every sentence with, “In my opinion” I can never be wrong. So, that’s my opinion. (both laugh)
BB – OK. Well, as busy as you are do you have any time for a hobby?
WD – Well, I like to play golf but I haven’t had a whole lot of time to play because, when we moved … when Carla … my late wife Carla … we moved back here in December of ’03 with the intent of retiring, and through various and sundry things that happened we weren’t able to and so about two or three months into 2004 she went to work and I found that I needed to find some way to increase my income because I had cancelled a lot of my bookings and I had stopped calling in Mesa and things like that so I picked up real estate as a hobby. And then a year and a half later, when she died, real estate became my vocation so I’ve been doing that for about three years. But the real estate market right now is just not really doing really well and I found that when the job market goes down the wives go out and get real estate licenses. Now none of them sell a lot … but it’s kind of like a square dance town. If you’ve got 150 clubs all over with one square nobody is going to have a decent size club. It’s the same thing with real estate. So I’m in the process right now of trying to start an on-line internet business but that, hopefully, is going be generating income. But from a hobby point of view I just play golf, I just love to play golf That’s just about the only hobby I have.
BB – Ok. (chuckles) I did play one round with Frank Lane one time …
WD – Really? He’s a good golfer.
BB – … and I only beat him one hole. (laughs)
WD – (Laughs) Well, if you beat him one hole you’re ahead of the game. That probably made him mad as competitive as he is.
BB – Well, I see were just about to the end of this tape Wade and I know you have another appointment so I want to thank you in case the tape shuts off.
WD – Well, I do appreciate it. You know, and like I said, anything at all … if you don’t get enough of whatever just feel free to call, I just appreciate it so very much.
BB – Yeah, well. I’m going to send this tape to another fellow to transcribe and if he has questions about, you know, names and stuff like that to spell, why we’ll get in touch with you by email.
WD – That’s great.
BB – Did you do much flying at all?
WD – I flew… I flew F8 Crusaders when I was in the Navy. I did… I did a few sorties early on in the early Vietnam era and then I came back. I had met President Kennedy when he was a Senator and I was still a midshipman and we became friends. So I came back in the early part of ’63 … actually it was the late part of ’62 and the early part of ’63, on a special task force for President Kennedy and was still doing that when he was assassinated. I stayed in and worked …
(tape shuts off abruptly) – End of interview with Wade Driver