Jerry and Kathy Helt
November 7, 1996
BB: Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage. The date is 7th of November, 1996, and today we’re in Cincinnati, Ohio, talking with the primadonna of Cincinnati, Mr. Jerry Helt, who is a member of the Hall of Fame, and we’ll be talking about this. Jerry, give us some idea of what your early life was like before you got into square dancing in school and so forth, and you take it from here.
JH: Okay. This might be embarrassing you know. Actually, I was a doorstep baby. You know what a doorstep baby is? Okay; my mother left me on the doorstep. Locked the door and left. And, I grew up with neighbors, with grandparents, with uncles, with aunts; the biggest threat of my life was, “If you don’t straighten up, you’ll go to the children’s home.” And it’s a true story. That’s where it kinda started. All of a sudden through 4H work and scouting and so forth, I ran into a thing called square dancing. I thought, “Now, that’s very interesting.” Probably prior to that I listened to some country music, living in a community where it was a farm community and decided, “Well, let me try this square dancing” So, we went out and tried it at a couple places and went to a weekend camp, a 4H camp, and they had some square dancing, and the square dancing was used to, you know, wear you out so you’d sleep at night and wouldn’t be up roaming around all night long. We did the Virginia Reel, and we’d do some old time dancing, and whatever, so when I went back home, I thought, “I’m gonna look up square dancing” So I found out where there was some square dancing and decided, “Let’s take a shot at it. Let’s try this square dancing.” So, we liked it, and a mend of mine, a neighbor guy, drove a car, which I wasn’t old enough to drive a car–I was only 12 years old or something like that–so we danced, we had a good time, met a lot of good people, and the caller said, “You know, next week–I’m the mayor of this little community out here–I can’t be with you next week, so Jerry, you and Don over here, why don’t you two call next week.” I don’t know anything about calling; 1 never called anything in my life–called the hogs, maybe. And all of a sudden I had to learn some calls, and I learned two calls, my buddy learned one or two calls, and we went off to the dance the next Saturday night, and I called my two numbers, and he called his two numbers. I called my two numbers again, and he called his two numbers again, and all night long we alternated calling the same thing over and over, and that was kinda the start of calling. I didn’t like calling that much, because I couldn’t dance’ That was the drawback. After doing this through grade schooi and through high school, I had to go away to college, of course, because in the area we lived in we didn’t have any school to speak of as far as college level, so I migrated 100 miles away from that area to Cincinnati to attend the University of Cincinnati in a co-op program, because I didn’t have the finances and so forth to really get me through school, so I worked for a company and they paid tuition and so forth. To supplement that tuition, I did square dancing, because I knew I could make a little money with that, and I’d do church dances, I’d do bar mitzvahs, I’d do anything that I could make a couple bucks on to help get me through school.
BB: What was the going rate at that time?
JH: Oh, if you made five bucks a night, that was a big deal.
BB: Oh, you’re talking big time.
JH: We’re talking big time, man, I mean that was really it. And then it got up to ten dollars, and I thought, “Man, I’m getting rich!” Did a dance across the river here, because Kentucky is right across from Cincinnati, and a guy in a tough bar wanted to know if! wanted to call square dances there, and I said, “Sure.” He says, “I’ll pay you $5 bucks a night as long as they don’t have a fight. If you have a fight, flip the lights and you’re out the door, and we don’t pay you.” So I went to that dance; these people all got squared up, and the orchestra fired up, and I started calling. I looked out, and there’s four squares; they’re all doing something different Because each # I man in each square was calling individual squares out there, and I thought, “Boy, I’m in trouble.” So I’d yell “Do si do”, you know, “Swing your partner. Promenade – arown, da-down, da-down, da-down”, and I got by for that for about a month. The guy that hired me come in, and he said, “You know, I been watching you,” he said. “You call something, and I look out on the floor, and they’re doing something else. We don’t need you. You’re out the door.” So that broke up that little deal. But, it’s – you know – locally here there was one major caller who probably influenced me, Gus Hitesman was his name. He was a local caller, and I went to Gus’ dances, and this was sort of the introduction to, I’d say, contemporary or Western style square dancing, if you want to call it that, with singing calls coming in, and the only singing calls that I’d ever heard was a radio station that come out of Michigan with Henry Ford and his orchestra playing “Life on the Ocean Wave.” And that’s about the only thing that I knew singing-wise, so I went into Cincinnati, and here’s this guy calling here who’s doing all sorts of tunes that I’d never even thought of as far as square dancing is concerned, so that was my introduction to contemporary square dancing.
BB: This was live music.
JH: Live music, yes. And then all of a sudden the live music kind of faded, and I see records coming into view. Callers are using records, and I see this man using records, and the band is being kind of phased out. Most of the dances that I was affiliated with at that time had live music, and I – not until probably the 50’s, we started with some recordings. And the recordings were fair – not real good, but they were fair. The festivals would still use live music for their dancing in the area.
BB: So now you’re into square dancing pretty heavily, and – while we’re right in here, what else were you doing beside calling square dances then?
JH: Well, I was going to school, of course, and still trying to get through engineering school, and finally got through engineering school, and then because I co-opped with a company, I did owe them some time, so I had to spend an extra year with those people to pay them off and take care of them. And at that point, I said, “Well, you know, I can always go back to engineering; why should I continue this. I’d like to try the square dance end of it, because square dancing is coming in to its own. Things were happening, and there was a local recording company that said, “Would you like to do – cut some square dance records?” And I thought, “Well, yeah, why not. ” And so I signed on with these people, and we started doing square dance recordings. The recordings were sold through Sears and Roebuck. They were sold through some of the big chains like Woolworths and all that, and it was “Learn how to square dance in five easy lessons.” And these recordings were on 78’s, of course, and we used a man to narrate the flip side of the record so you’d get the walk-through and all that, and then I called on the called side. And it was such a low budget recording that we brought the orchestra into the studio. The fiddler – the orchestra would play an introduction; they’d playa Part A, a Part B, and an ending, and they’d re-record it. It was probably wire recording at the time. But they’d splice those all together. So the music was horrible; it was the same thing over and over; it was like a machine. And that whole album, all those five records, were recorded with that style of music, and its a wonder they ever sold — they were terrible! But they sold a bunch of them; they were very popular. You know, people could send in 3.98 and get the records and a little booklet with it – told you how to square dance. And I think that stimulated some interest in the square dance world, or in the community as far as people maybe getting in to square dancing. I later on found out that people had used those records to – as an introduction to square dancing, and then got into it on a little heavier scale after that.
BB: How far flung were these – did these records get? Do you have any idea?
JH: I don’t know. They were sold in the East Coast; they were sold in the New York area, because the one company bought out the company here locally, in New York, and they probably went up through New England. I’m not really sure. I do know that they went as far west as California; they were sold there. They went in to Canada, and that’s probably the extent of it. But they were through – you know, Sears and Roebuck was a big corporation, and they were sold through Sears, so Canada got them. You know, it was interesting, and then as time went on we took all those recordings and re-did them into an album – in fact, two albums that were sold LP albums, and they (?) were coming in to play.
BB: What labels were these?
JH: This was on Kentucky label, Hollywood label, Right (?) label, and, I’m not sure, there were probably two more. Because each – like Sears had a certain label that they used for those recordings, and Woolworths had a certain label, and they all – but it was all the same thing. Now, when it was sold to this company in New York, they wanted to change my name, instead of Jerry Helt. So they talked to me and said, “We want to do it with a different name on here because we don’t want to have any problems with Sears or whatever.” So they re-named me Holler Hawkins. So if you ever see a recording that says Holler Hawkins on it, you’ll know who it is. In fact, I think at that time I had an account under Holler Hawkins. So, you know, I didn’t care, as long as I got the royalty and residuals off of it, I could care less. And every once in a while I see those records floating around in some used store or a Salvation Army or something, you bump into them.
BB: Do you have any of them in your possession?
JH: Yes, I do. I have a set I’ve held onto them. Some of them I’ve lost and found again, so they’re still around.
BB: I sure hope they wind up at the Archives!
JH: Hey, you’re gonna get ’em one day, believe me. That’s where they’ll wind up.
BB: That’s great.
JH: I do collect cylinder records, and, you know, I gotta get a plug in here. If you know of anybody that has any cylinder records of quadrilles, I’m really interested in them. They’re pretty rare, and I don’t have any, but I now they do exist somewhere.
BB: Well, Bill Litchman asked me to ask Bob Osgood about cylinder records, and I don’t remember whether I ever did when I talked to him or not. That might be one source.
JH: Yes. I know Bob is interested in them, and I know Bob had some cylinder records and cylinder records players, and I’m really very much interested in that There’s also, speaking of older type music and so forth, there’s a – I don’t know if you’d classify it as a music box – it was half between a music box and a piano player type – it was a machine that had a piano roll – like a piano roll. And it had, as you would hand crank it – I don’t know if you’re familiar with this – you would hand crank it, and across the – as this roll would go across these fingers, or whatever, or air – I don’t know how it operated – it was like a player piano, it would play the music, and your calls would come off of the – you’d see them coming across like a – idiot sheet, you know, that you have in a tv operation. So as you cranked this thing – if you wanted to step up the speed, you’d crank it up a little bit. I’m looking for one of those. There’s two that I know of in existence, but they’re in a big time museum, and they wouldn’t part with them at all because it is a museum piece. I have no idea who made the machine or too much about it, but that was one of the early, home-type recording – dance-recording machines.
BB: That’s really interesting. Okay, so sometime around here you must have met Kathy.
JH: Oh, yes! Kathy, my wife, my dear beloved wife, Kathy! In some of my first experiences in square dancing, going out of the area, I think the first time I went out I went to Colorado. Went to Golden, Colorado, to the Lighted Lantern camp and met Ray Smith. I met, Ray had a big influence on me as far as doing the business of square dance calling. I met Bill Castner for the first time, and Butch (?) Nelson, and – I’m trying to think of some of the other people. Paul Kermit was there, of course; he ran the camp. It was a real experience for me to go there and square dance and see what’s going on outside of this particular area. I got a real taste of Western style square dancing, or contemporary square dancing at that point. So the following year, a friend of mine locally here said, “Why don’t we go to,” he says, “I’ve been to this camp; it’s called Asilomar, in Pacific Grove, California.” This friend of mine, I think, went to the first two Asilomars they had, and about the third one – was it the third one? or something; third or fourth, I’m not sure; I had a chance to go there. So I went with this friend of mine. We got there, and I met this young lady. Actually I met her mother first, I think; I’m not sure. Anyway, I met this lady who was a caller. Her name was Connie Connamen (?) from Catalina Island, and she had a daughter named Kathy, a young girl fresh out of high school. And I met her, and we kind of danced together. It gave me a good partner to dance the week at Asilomar, and we kind of corresponded with each other, and we got a little thicker, and I think I went back again, and we met again, didn’t we? the second time. And I think that time that Johnnie LeClaire (?) was there, attending that camp. Asilomar. I’m trying to think of the callers __ Bruce Johnson, Jonesy Jones, Arnie Kronenburger, Joe Lewis, Bob Osgood, of course, he ran the camp, Maxheimers (?) doing rounds, Hamiltons did the rounds at one time.
BB: Frank Laine.
JH: Well, this was before Frank Laine. So it was a very interesting experience, and then I started, you know, corresponding with this young lady in California. She decided she would come back this way and see how the other half lived.
KH: Just for a visit.
JH: Just for a visit. Well, she wound up moving back here, and one thing led to another, and the next thing you know, we got a wedding in front of us. So we were married back in the 50’s–late 50’s, I guess.
JH: 58. I remember Chuck Jones, the creator of Bugs Bunny, his motto was “The Helts will mate in 58.” So that was getting married and having a regular partner and getting into square dancing, and I had a little family problem at that point – as far as my immediate family, my aunts and uncles, and everybody said, “Now, you’ve got to be an engineer. You can’t live off of square dancing. There’s no way you’re gonna make it. You’re getting married. You got a wife to support. You’re gonna have kids. You can’t do this. You’ve got to go into engineering.” And I said, “No, I don’t – I haven’t missed a meal. My family’s still here, and we’re still going.” So, I never went back to engineering. I thought I would at one time but, no, I never, never went back to it. And square dancings been very, very good for us. We have three daughters; at this point, we have four grandchildren, I guess. And so, square dancing is good, and I think I really hit it at the heyday of square dancing, in the 50’s. Being associated with some great people; Osgood was very influential (?), and in square dancing, and his philosophy is still with us. AI Brundage, as you know.
BB AI who?
JH: AI who. AI was influential with me. Ray Smith was influential. Lotta, lotta callers influenced me. Gonna go back to Windsor records, because Doc Allenbaugh had a big influence on my dancing and calling. You know, names and names and names of – Frank Kaltman; all these people had – Ricky Holden – that’s going back to some of the older ones – had an influence on me. I would try to pick, if! heard a caller or met a person, I’d try to pick all the good things I could pick from that person and try to apply them myself I think that probably helped me more than anything, as far as being involved in square dancing. Square dancing is kind of like a religion to me, actually. It probably saved me from going to jail’ If I would of continued going the direction I was going when I was young, I would have probably been in serious trouble. Square dancing is the thing that, probably, saved my neck. And I respect square dancing for that. And I appreciate that. And I appreciate the opportunity to do all the things that we did and still do.
BB: Well, before we get too far away from Kathy, we’d like to hear a little bit about Kathy. What’s your impression of this whole thing, Kathy, and your connection with.
KH: My connection started in the late 40’s. My mother was a square dance caller on Catalina Island. And the reason she started the square dance calling was because there was no recreation there. And during World War II, she was involved in the usa, so she felt that something needed to be done recreation-wise for the people on the island. And, as a result, my brother, and sister, and I had to go to the square dances, because – well, she couldn’t leave us at home – but it was good for all of us to be involved as a family. And as such, I grew to love square dancing very much, and met some wonderful people – married a wonderful guy through square dancing. But, growing up with square dancing as a background, it just gives you such a better outlook on life because you’re involved with people; you’re not involved – well, like children nowadays are involved with the computer, and they have no idea of how to converse, how to talk to people, how to even touch a person’s hand, and it’s very interesting to see the difference evolve through the years. And.
BB: Interesting thought.
KH: Yes. I think we’ll see a big change in people, the younger people, not being able to converse.
BB: Very interesting. Very interesting. Well, thank you, Kathy. Getting back to old man Helt, here. You’ve been involved with – in the staff of quite a few, like, summer camps and weekends, and things like that. Tell us about some of these.
JH: Okay. Actually, in the early days, folk dancing and square dancing – they were very close. Many folk dance groups danced contras and some easy squares and so forth,
and I’ve always had an association with the folk dance world.
BB: And still do.
JH: And still do, yes. We still are associated with folk dancing, and probably a third of our business is in the folk dance world. I always feel like I’m a missionary, going into the folk dance world with square dancing and contra dancing and doing traditional dances. I’ve never forgotten about the traditional part of it. I like traditional dancing. I like vintage dancing. Contras are a part of our activity, and that’s really through the folk dance world and even into the square dance world. I’ve always felt that folk dancing and – certain types of folk dancing and square dancing are compatible, and contras are compatible with square dancing, which it is today. And also round dancing. That’s another area – they’re all compatible. All these things fit together, and it makes a full-scale type dance. And probably the most enjoyable dance is to go to a dance where you do a little bit of folk, maybe, a little bit of round, a little bit of square, a little bit of contra, a quadrille. All those things put together make a, really, an interesting program. And that may be lacking sometimes in our activity today, I’m not really sure, but I think maybe that little – the old spice oflife idea is kind oflost along the way.
BB: Right. Well, you’re approaching the CDP program, the Community Dance Program that Callerlab has been pushing for a while. And this is the type of a program you’re talking about. Right?
JH: Right. Probably, 12-15 years ago, we could see some problems within the contemporary square dance world, as it drifted off, it pulled apart to a certain extent. The round dance program kind of went off on its own. The advanced went off kind of on their own. The challenge went off on their own. Mainstream and plus and all those things were introduced to the activity, and it kind of splintered the group a little bit. And at that time we were not on the high side as far as dance population. And I could see this thing being splintered a little bit, and we had – you know, we have to make our living off of this, so we took a look and said, “Wait a minute. They seem to all be going to advanced and challenge and all this. What’s happening below that? What’s happening before people get into mainstream, or before they get into a basic contemporary dance?” That’s that there’s a void here. People would come to me and say, “Where can I dance on a once-a-month basis?” And I was embarrassed, because I didn’t have anything on a once-a-month basis. “Where can I dance twice a month?” I don’t have it. Well, we developed it. We decided to pioneer a group, to try a group that would be just a very basic, basic dance group and do it on a regular basis. And it was a success. And we thought, well, if this works, let’s go on with it. Let’s go a step further with it. So we decided to go in to retirees, people who are retired, who have nothing to do during the day. And we started daytime programs. And we went into it with tongue-incheek, because we thought, you know, maybe these people won’t really buy this. And all of a sudden, we’re looking out – I remember a class that we had — and this hasn’t been too long ago, we had five squares in the class and one man. So that presented a problem. What do we do in a case like that? So we started saying, you know, ladies can dance a lead part. There’s nothing wrong with a lady dancing a lead part. And we developed that program with that _ ladies dancing lead parts. And to this day, a lot of those ladies still dance the lead part, the man’s part, with no problem. But it has to be a very limited program; it has to be a program that they can do, they can walk away from it for a month, they can take a vacation, they can come back and still dance. And this may go back to some of the traditional dancing that’s probably been going on for hundreds of years, where they do the same program over and over and over. There’s nothing wrong with that. You know, the problem that I see in it that callers get bored with it and say, “Oh, I ought a change it.” Well, if it – the only thing is that ifit ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. And that program has really baled us out as far as being busy and doing a program. I think that even the line dance program, we’re sort of working in that area, that’s developed for us, too. Where people can go and do solo-type dancing. They like it for the exercise. You’re looking at the exercise element there. You’re looking at the social part of it. A lot of these people – widow-ladies who lose their husbands – sit back in a chair — I had an aunt who did that — sit back in a chair and wouldn’t associate with anybody – they were not social people at all. And I think through this activity you can draw some of those people out of that chair and get ’em up and get ’em moving mentally, physically, help them out a little bit. And that’s kind of a mission that we’re on right now. And we’ll continue that because it seems to be very, very popular.
BB: Right. Well, there are an awful lot of people around the country who are envious of your position, and a lot of them are saying, “Well, I wonder how he does it!” And I guess it’s a long – because it’s been a life-time project with you, it developed over the years out of – well, number one, out of necessity.
BB: And are there any secrets of how .
JH: Oh, yes. I’ve got a secret for you. Well, it’s called hard work. That’s one of it. But I think you have to go back to what I said in the beginning I went to callers, and I picked their brains. I still do it to this day and find out what’s going on in their heads and try to find the good things that I can use. And look through material, look through ideas and thoughts, of things that look good and that will work and that has a future. Some of these things are good _ maybe, flash-in-the-pan-type thing – might be good right now, but what’s it gonna look like 20 years down the road. That’s where I wanta look at. I’m working for the future. I’m saying, “Okay, if we do this and this and this now, what happens to us 15 years – five years – 10 years – 20 years down the road?” And, again, I was mentioning the fact that you have to kind of put square dancing up front as a caller, as a leader. You’ve accepted this activity, and it’s your responsibility to keep it alive, to keep it going. And you were talking about the secret of doing it. There’s really no secret to it. The idea is to do a program that’s appealing to the people, a recreational-type program that people enjoy and people have fun doing Now, you get flak from some people who say, “Well, people like challenge.” Yes, they like – everybody likes a little challenge; everybody likes a little musical thing. You have a variety in your dancing; variety is the spice of life. Variety is what people will buy and what they’ll enjoy. And you also have to hit the social side of it, too. It has to be a social activity. People can’t just walk into a hall, sit down in a chair, and never socialize with anybody. We have that problem in this country. Our society is like that. Some people live in an apartment; they don’t know who lives next door, and they don’t associate with the person next door. That’s a barrier that I think you have – as a leader and as a caller _ that you have to break down within a class situation, within a teaching situation – is to break down those barriers of – it’s alright to hold this lady’s hand, it’s alright to touch this guy, it’s alright to do this and do that and communicate with people. It’s perfectly alright to do that. As a leader, that’s part of the job. And that’s what makes square dancing unique. It’s an activity where you can walk in and be very social within that group. You can travel the world over – and we have traveled the world over – and any group you walk in to as a square dance group, very sociable, very nice. It’s rare that doesn’t happen. And that is unique.
BB: Well, a lot of the people – I’ve talked with the dancers around Albuquerque, and other places, too, I’m sure, they’re all saying, “Well, it’s tough to recruit.” And do you have any …
JH: Oh, man, do I have. (?) . recruiting ideas I
BB: How much time do we have?
JH: Yeah, we got about 4 hours here? Well, I think we have a marketing problem as far as recruitment. We’re trying to recruit – we’re trying to sell some things that I don’t think are saleable in the 90’s. Now, this is a little bit of a put-down. I can’t sell to a 30-year-old man a white belt and white shoes. And I see a costume that a man wears who has white shoes and white belt. I can’t sell that. And we’re going out to do an exhibition and here’s all the people, and the guys are all dressed up. And I also can’t sell petticoats up to their knees or above to young girls who are 30 years old. They look at that and say, “I wouldn’t wear that on a bet! You couldn’t get me in a costume like that!” Now, that may be a little touchy. That’s a sensitive area, I realize that. But if you want to sell square dancing, you have to make it marketable. You have to sell it with the idea that you can go in a prairie skirt, or a long dress, or a short dress, or whatever, and dance and have a good time. When you start putting costume restrictions on people before they can get into the activity, then you slow down the growth of it, and you slow down the people getting into it. Just an example of that: some time back I had a little party with my brother, my son-in-law had a party; and they invited me, and they were 20 – late 20-year olds, 30-year olds and square dancing come up. And he said, you know, “What do you think about square dancing?” They said, “Well, if! didn’t have to wear those silly clothes, I’d probably try it” And then the next question come up, “How long does it take to do it?” And I was really embarrassed, because I can’t tell this person it’s going to take once a week for a year out of your life to learn to do it. And that’s what we’re – that’s the situation we’re into right now. And, I think to solve that problem – going back to the thing, how we can recruit – is we need reservoirs of people to recruit from. We need a program out here somewhere that does a once-a-month, a one-nighter, whatever you want to call it, fun night, or one-nighter, where people can just relax and go to a dance and do some very simple things and have a good time. You create a pool of people, a reservoir of people. You can do it on a twice-amonth basis, or whatever. You’ve got people who are casually dancing. That’s where you’ll draw, if you want to draw people into the activity to go through a series of lessons and so forth. You may draw them out of those reservoirs. Those reservoirs will probably dance, and a lot of people will not go into the activity, because it’s frequency, it’s the time involved. The average couple today that has two kids, or three kids, or whatever, really don’t have the time to go once a week to dance. They’re lucky if they can go once a month and dance. But we don’t offer that program. And that program should be there. A nice easy, simple recreational-type program where they can go and dance and relax and have a good time. Later down the line, when their kids have grown, and they’re sitting around at home with nothing to do, saying “What do we get into? We need exercise. We need to have social contacts,” square dancing, at that point, will probably attract them into it. The big bone of contention today is, “We don’t have any young people in square dancing.” How many young people do you know that can give up two nights a week, or one night a week on a regular basis? It’s very hard to do. I don’t think we’ve filled that void of doing one-nighters and so forth. As you know, you’ve done one-nighters, onenighters are not the easiest thing in the world – you walk – I don’t care how good you are or what your reputation is – when you walk into a one-nighter, you lay your reputation on the line – there I You have to prove yourself that night. A lot of callers, it scares them half to death. They just don’t to, “Oh, I don’t want to do that!”, you know, or “I’ll embarrass myself” Hey, you have to have material, you have to have some recreational background to get up and do that to a group of people, and let them have a good time and enjoy and walk away with the idea that “Hey, square dancing is great I” The other bone of contention here is that we do a lot of, I’m going to call it, square dance show-casing, where we go out to a mall somewhere, and we take a whole group of costumed square dancers. The caller gets up, and he calls “relay the deucey” and “spin chain the gears” and “tea cup chain” and whatever he calls with them. And all the people are watching this and going, “That’s interesting. These all must be professionals, because I don’t understand a word that callers saying, and they’re going through all these (?)” And, all of a sudden the caller says, “Now, folks, we want to get you involved in it. Let’s have our dancers go out and get you” These people leave like flocks of sheep getting away from a sheep dog, man, I mean they’re gone, because they don’t want to be embarrassed. I would like to see plain clothes, and I think they’re doing this, maybe up East somewhere, a plain clothes group to come into a shopping center and do a little dance, very simple, and walk over and say “Come on in and join us. You can – if! can do it, you can do it.” And I think you would recruit people into the activity and say, “Here’s what it is. Here’s – it’s having fun, and you don’t have to the have fancy costumes on.” I’m not against the costumes. You know, I wear the costumes and all that, but I don’t think you recruit in those costumes. I don’t think it really sells square dancing. Maybe at one time it did. But this is the 90’s, and I don’t think it’s selling square dancing. We haven’t proved that. But, you know, somebody said, “We’re running out of dancers. We don’t have any more people.” But they’re still having babies at the hospital. We’re still, you know, our population is growing. But our square dance population is not growing at this point. And it’s going to take some good, hard work with callers. And we have another little problem, too. A lot of callers, their classes haven’t been good; they’ve failed. So they say, “Well, I’m going to drop the class. I think I’ll do a workshop on AI, or I’ll do a plus workshop over here, or I’ll do this or this or this, and just forget that class because it’s not going to make it anyway. So we have a lot of callers who have dropped out. You talk to callers about, “Are you doing current classes?” And the guy says, “Well, the one last year wasn’t too good, and the year before that, so we haven’t done one for about two years.” So that is – that hurts us. That really is not good for us.
BB: Well, that certainly – it doesn’t cover the entire subject, but that certainly gives us a lot of good background. And alright – well – let’s – tell us – you mentioned that you’d been out of the country.
BB: Tell us about any of the trips you’ve made along this line.
JH: Okay. Probably the current trip that I’ve had was into New Zealand and Australia, which is a … They have a very unique program there. It’s kind of a basic-type program. Mainstream is very big there. There crowds seem to be good. They seem to be recruiting, but they’re going through some growing pains that we’re going through. They’re trying to expand and get, you know, plus, and advanced, and challenge, and all that’s kind of eating away at their main program of mainstream. But they still maintain the mainstream idea. They have good mainstream dancers there, and the people seem to enjoy. square dancing is part of their social recreation over there. And that was a very interesting trip over there, and we did several festivals there, and I was real surprised and really enjoyed being with those people. I kind of feel sorry for a caller that might walk into that situation, and he is not much of a mainstream caller or basic caller, he’d get in real trouble. Several have gone over there, American callers have gone over there. Whoa, they’re hit with this festival, says this is basic, mainstream. And they’re. got the problem, so I can warn any caller that goes over there, you better be up on what you’re doing, and use basic and mainstream dances. Anyway, this coming – let’s see, this is 1996 – we’re going to be celebrating our New Year’s Eve in Switzerland. We’re going over to do a folk dance, square dance week for the Swiss people. And we’ll be there for – we’re doing a week of it, and we’re doing a weekend festival for them. I’ve never been to Switzerland in the winter-time. Been there many times in the summer, and the fall, and the spring, but never in the winter-time. So that’ll be a new experience for us this year. Had the pleasure of going to the Far East, which was very interesting. Middle East, too, but some of those – the Arab areas, square dancing is verboten over there. And you have to do some square dancing within a compound, and if the Arabs knew what we were doing, I’d probably be beheaded – or they’d chop my feet off – I don’t know – I probably wouldn’t be here now! But that’s some of that experiences that we’ve had. But, we’ve traveled through most of West em Europe and a little bit of Eastern Europe, cal1ing over there. And, it’s a . the Czech Republic is very, very big in square dancing right now. They’re into cowboy clothes, and the guys walking out with the two guns on, and all that kind of stuff. And they’re really – it’s kind of a Lloyd Shaw program re-enacted again. Kind of like the Shawtype dancing, the exhibition dancing that he had. So that program is going great guns.
BB: Well what – how about non-English speaking dancers?
JH: Non-English speaking dancers, okay. There’s really no such thing as a non-English speaking square dancer. If you stop to think about it, our square dance language isn’t English anyway I Allamande, promenade, do si do, sashay . those are French terms. And we have found that most people can . where there’s square dance American square dancing, know the square dance language, but they might not know English. This holds true through Asia, through Japan, I understand now there’s a pretty good-sized group going in China – where they maintain the square dance language, as far as we know it, if you want to call it English or French or whatever it is, and. but they do their teaching in their native tongue. It’s very interesting, because a lot of the callers in . from those areas, speak no English whatsoever, but they can get up and call. Which is not unique, because think of all the songs that you may know that’s not your language. (Singing)”Alouette, gentle Alouette.” We all know it; the kids know those songs. So we know a certain. we have a certain amount of foreign language within our language that holds true.
BB: That’s true. What about association with CALLERLAB or ACA?
JH: I’m a full-fledged member of CALLERLAB, of course, because I was there when the thing was sorta started, being on the founding Board of CALLERLAB. I’m near and dear to CALLERLAB. Again, it’s a good organization, but I don’t agree with everything there. I’m not a member of ACA. I would probably join ACA, but I’m just doubling up, you know, as far as the ASCAP licensing and BMI licensing. I can see both sides. I. there’s some good points that ACA has, and there’s some good points that CALLERLAB has. I think there’s room for both of those groups. There’s bickering now and then but, hey, we have those. we just went through that with the Democrats and Republicans, didn’t we? And the Liberals, or whoever they are. So, but I believe in both organizations, and I think there’s room for both of those organizations. Again, I think, with CALLERLAB, because I’m closer to CALLERLAB, they have a series of guidelines that are very important in our activity. And I think if you follow some of the guidelines – the guidelines weren’t just dreamed up overnight. Somebody just didn’t sit down and say, “Now, this’s gonna be our guidelines. We’ll do this and this.” There’s a lot of thrashing and a lot of meetings to – and I was there for a lot of those meeting – to establish some of the guidelines. The CALLERLAB programs will work – if they’re handled right, and if they’re done like they’re prescribed to do. But sometimes we say, “Well, you know, all those callers are trying to dictate to me what I’m supposed to do, and I’m just gonna go off and do my own thing.” I think that’s – that’s not real bright to do that. I would look at their system and guidelines and so forth, and look ’em over, and they’re usable, and they work, they’re workable. I think CALLERLAB has really standardized square dancing, which has its good points, because you can go in any part of the country and dance and get pretty much the same, dance the same calls, which is real unique. We need that because at the time CALLERLAB really established that, we were getting a lot of people travelling, going to Arizona, going to Florida, living in Texas during the winter, and then north and south, you’ve got a cross-over of people. So that standardization has paid off
BB: Getting away from square dancing a minute, do you have any other hobbies? JH: Oh, do I have hobbies. I have things called addictions.
KH: Jerry is a collector.
JH: I’m a collector. I’m a junk collector. I collect beer steins. I collect Edison record players, cylinder records. I’m interested in old dance prints – got any old dance prints, send ’em my way. I’m interested in steel engravings. Whatever. Steam whistles. I’m into that. I’m into taste (ven?)s, wine-tasting cups, all sorts of things. So I’ve got more hobbies and more things to do. I figure it would take me 180 years from right, this day on, to keep up with all the things that I’m really interested in – as those side lines. And that, that’s kind of, I think that’s a vital part, I think, as a square dance caller. We are in a service, and I’m getting, philosophying a little bit here. We’re in a service business, of serving people, but I think you need some other activity to off-set that, some other hobby, to off-set that, like painting, or sculpturing, or writing, or something, so you’re a better caller, you’re not burned out on strictly square dancing. You need a diversification in your life to make it – to have a good life, I think
BB: Very interesting. A little while ago you mentioned Windsor Records. What other recordings have you done?
JH: Well, since you’re on Windsor Records, I’ve got a story. . can I give a little story in for you?
BB: Sure, why not.
JH: Okay. Back in the days of Hamilton; does that name ring a bell? Who was a . Frank Hamilton, who was a round dance leader. Did a weekend with him, in Canada. And he said, “Would you present some kind of a mixer or something?” And I said, “Sure. I’ve got one here that we’ve fiddled around, we’ve been doing for a long time.” And we got up and did this little mixer, and everybody ate it up. It was a good setup, because these people’d been beating their brains out doing rounds, and all of a sudden here comes this little hotshot caller with this circle thing, and they’re all jumpin’ around, just having a good time with it. And he said, “Gee, that’s good,” he says, “Why don’t . I have a connection with Windsor Records,” he says, “Why don’t we get that recorded.” “It’s kinda silly, but if you want to record it . okay, ‘s good Let’s record it!” So, they recorded it. They sent me the dub, and I tried it out, and it worked pretty well, and I gave them the dance description. But I didn’t have a name for the dance … and I thought, “Gotta get a name for it. It’s so stupid and so simple, what. you know; what can I call it.” And we thought of names, and all of a sudden I get a phone call from Doc Allenbaugh, with the record. with Windsor Records. “We need the name of this. Give me a name!” I said, “Give me a couple days. I’ll get a name.” So we’re driving to this dance. There’s this big truck that goes by us, big semi that says “Jiffy Cake Mix.” That’s the name: Jiffy Mixer. So that’s how it got that name of “Jiffy Mixer. ” Well, there’s a little more to this story, too, which. I had the pleasure of working for the Netherland government in Holland, and they have a big festival at which I went to this festival, to work the festival as a square dance caller. And they had about a thousand people in this big, huge area, and all kinds of music and . a lot oflive music. So on the Friday night, I had off, and I had to work Saturday and Sunday. So the Friday night I went out to see what the lay of the land was. And all these halls were jammed with people, and they’re doing folk dancing; they’re doing Dutch dancing, and they’re doing German dancing, and Scandinavian. They’re doing the whole thing, and all of a sudden this orchestra starts playing “Jiffy Mixer.” And I look, and they’re all doing this Jiffy dance. And I thought, “Well, that’s kind of weird.” I go to another tent where they’re playing music, and all of a sudden they’re doing itl So I start checking around, and it’s kind of their national dance over there in Holland. Can’t believe it. But, you know, it’s one of those little quirk. one of those things that happens, and you’re proud of it, and you say “Oh, look, it’s. there they are, they’re doing.. ”
BB: So, any other companies you recorded with?
JH: Well, I . yeah. I started with MacGregor Records, and I might just mention the fact that when I started with MacGregor Records back in the 50’s, I was really interested in contemporary square dancing. I felt that maybe the country, the sound on square dancing wasn’t quite the right thing and wouldn’t sell. So I got myself in a little trouble by taking, I took a Chubby Checker tune, a Fats Domino tune, and I recorded those. Well, I caught flak – people saying, “We don’t want that kind of music in our activity. It’s no good. You gotta keep it country.” So, I caught flak from that. Later on I did some other things. But, currently, right now, the big time record, or as you probably know, I record for Blue Star. Our symphony, our pops had a down-on-the-farm symphony. That was the title of it, and they said, “We’d like to have you call for the symphony.” Which I did, and we did about four or five shows, whatever. And they said, “We want to do a recording session.” And this is on Telarc Records, which is a classical record label. So, we did this recording, just a little bit of a recording, on the Telarc label. It’s on a CD; it’s also on a cassette tape. And it’s called “Down on the Farm,” and that was probably the thrill of my life, was to stand up in front of 100 musicians and do a square dance, live, and record it. And the thing that really kind of blew my mind is that, as I got up to do it, one of the stage people come up and said, “Can you kind of hurry this a little bit; we don’t want too many re-takes on it;” he says, “we’re looking at a thousand dollars a minute.” That puts the fear of the Lord in you, you know? But that’s the current one that we have, and I’m very, very proud of that recording, and I’m proud to be affilliated with the Cincinnati Pops. It’s a fine orchestra.
KH: You’re also recorded on Sets in Order.
JH: Yes, Sets in Order label. I don’t know, a bunch of labels, there — Scope, Gateway, I don’t know, more record labels than I know.
BB: I ought to make that parallel there. You talk about a thousand dollars a minute. a little bit different than $5 a night.
JH: Yeah, oh yeah, that is! Yeah, that’s. I never thought of it that way – $5 a night to a thousand dollars a minute.
KH: How soon we forget.
JH: Yeah. How soon we forget.
BB: Well, Jerry, we’re getting along, and I gotta be on the road pretty quick, but would you sort of give us a little overview of how you feel about where square dancing has been, and where is it now, and where do you think it’s going.
JH: Well, I think at this point, our contemporary square dancing . I think we’re going to have to make a change to, again, go back and market more people into the activity. Square dancing started, as you well know, as a barn-raising, social activity where people really – square dancing was a secondary thing. The social part of it, the eating, the socializing was really the major thing, and the dancing was a little extra, like the dessert. And we have developed this square dancing, through the years, as the major thing, and sometimes the social end of it gets lost in the shuffle. And I feel that within the future, we’re going to have to look at it a little more as a social recreation, to get people to join, and I think it would be interesting if somebody said, “You know, square dancing really is fun. You meet nice people. You go there to have a good, social evening.” instead of saying, “Well, I’m a plus dancer. Are you a plus dancer?” Or, “I’m a mainstream. Are you a mainstream?” Weget into the social end of it. They’re turning it into a status symbol-type dance thing. I think we have to kind of break away from that and make it a social activity.
BB: Okay. What do you think what do you consider the appeal to being a square dance caller?
JH: The appeal to being a square dance caller? Well, I think you have a certain amount of power, of standing before a crowd and directing people. That’s kind of an ego thing, which that wears off after a while, I hope (?). You are a social director. You’re a teacher. You’re a musician to a certain extent. All these things are part of this, you know, it’s being a square dance caller. You have to consider all these things, and you have to have that talent, I think, to do that, or if you don’t have that talent, develop that talent to do all those things. An electrician . you go down that list. it’s nine miles long. But I think being a leader, a social director, good voice of course, musical background, all those things add up to making you a square dance caller, and I think it’s that challenge. for me, it’s that challenge of doing that and working on it and trying to develop new ideas. to develop something . to this day, I still work on it. I work on it every day. To develop myself to be a better caller, better teacher,
KH: And to keep the fun …
JH: And to keep the fun aspect in the activity. Yes.
- Well, this has certainly been an interesting conversation with you, Jerry. I’m going to ask you to hold it open, because even though this tape may be ending at the moment, hopefully we can come back some time and talk with you further.
JH: Sounds great. I’d love to do it. I appreciate you being here, Bob, and appreciate being on tape. And if it will help you anyway, please let me know, I’ll be happy to do whatever I can for the activity. I’m dedicated to it.
BB: Well, great.
KH: Come back any time.
JH: Yes, come back.
BB: Thank you, Kathy, and thank you, Jerry, and we’ll be talking with you again.
KH: Thank you.