Casey, Joe: NE Yankee Clipper, SDFNE Hall of Fame


Joe Casey

November 20, 1996

Bob Brundage – Well here we are at again, this is Bob Brundage, the date is November 20, 1996 and today we’re in Dover, New Hampshire talking to Mr. Joe Casey We had a very pleasant evening with Joe and his wife Phyllis. We’re going to find out some about this old timers history about square dancing in the North Country. Joe tell us a little about what life was like before you got into square dancing, how you got in, who influenced you and one thing and another.

Joe Casey – Okay, I guess start out with the fact that nobody realizes but I’m a Bostonian by birth. My folks lived in Watertown, Ma and I was born at the St Elizabeth Hospital in Boston. But they moved up to New Hampshire when I was about three years old. We lived out in the boonies, went to a one room school house. We were so far out; we didn’t get electricity until 1941.

BB – Is that right?

JC – Yep and I went to Nute High School over in Milton, graduated at sixteen and at that age you couldn’t find a job so I acted as a waiter one summer, then I went in the woods logging. Along about January of that year I went to work for a sheet metal outfit and that became my trade. We worked home heating and then I went in the service to the Korean War, got one of those letters that says your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in the armed forces of the United States.  I wound up as a forward observer over in Korea, in the vicinity of Heartbreak Ridge. After getting out of the service, I went to New Hampshire Tech for two years for sheet metal layout to enhance my trade. I worked at a couple different places before going to work at the Navy Yard for Uncle Sam. After I was there three years, between my calling and working it was getting to be a bit too much. Particularly when they wanted me to work afternoon shift and midnight shifts. So I changed over to a training program in the Design Division and that became my trade until I retired.  Now when I was in high school, my love was ballroom dancing. Believe it or not, at the age of fourteen, I was allowed to go to the Saturday night ballroom dance by myself. That goes back to the fact my Mother loved music, had great rhythm, but as kid she was never allowed to go dancing, her religion wouldn’t allow that. My father was the type that had no rhythm what so ever so she never got to dance. When I showed that I liked dancing, she said go enjoy yourself. But working for the sheet metal outfit we were up in Vermont doing a job up there. It was a three week deal and we stayed up and on Thursday night at the rooming house they said are you going to the dance tonight. Not knowing what it was all about, we went. It was traditional square dance. They’d do three squares and then a waltz or polka or something like that, live music. I enjoyed it. I said gee, if I ever get a chance to learn this, I’m going to. The next spring Trails End Cottage Court opened up in Sanbornville, N.H. on Lovell Lake and they had square dance instruction on Wednesday and dancing Saturday also. So I went up and that’s how I got started in square dancing. Phyllis started square dancing with 4-H probably two or three years before I did. She danced with Guy Mann who was a 4-H caller. Did you know Guy?

BB – I remember that name.

JC – The caller in Sanbornville was Frank Plummer. Al Ruggero played in the band at that time. Al became a well- known caller in New England. While I was in the service, Frank moved out to New York State and Al took up calling. The way I got started was, back then you knew everything the caller was going to say before he said it.  I’d be dancing and singing the calls at the same time. So Frank decided I should try it. He talked me into trying calling and I was hooked But that how I got started. Of course we used live music all the time back then.

BB – Sure and no amplifier back then.

JC – No they had a humongous big thing. I don’t remember the name of it. This would be 1949. I called my first tip in November of 1949. So it was probably 1950 before I did any amount of calling. Originally I did mostly guest tips at Trails End. Of course I went in the service in 1951. I did get to call a couple times at the service club up in Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. The interviewer when I went in the service was a cousin of Dick Davis. I got talking with him and he put down the fact that I was a square dance caller on my Army records. So that’s how they happen to look me up. Of course I came back home, got married, went to two years of school. Now when did Kittery approach me? I have some of this stuff written down. I guess it would have been 1956 the Down East Westerners, which was the modern western square dance club in the area, asked me to be their club caller and at that time I did no patter at all. I’m not sure how they put up with me starting out. They had formed in 1953 and in the spring of 1954 they officially became a club. They used to dance to records. Les Gotcher’s hash and breaks, Jim York, Bob Osgood’s Rip Tide and that sort of thing.

BB – They were a challenge club?

JC – They were – believe me! As a matter of fact at the time they were a closed club and you were screened before you could join. But after I became club caller they started hiring national callers, Les Gotcher, Johnny LeClair, Bruce Johnson, Butch Nelson to name a few. I guess my first dancing other than Trails End was Seacoast Square Dance Assoc. which started up in 1949 with Mal Hayden as their caller. Probably one of the best traditional callers that we had. He was their host caller for the first ten years of their existence. He didn’t really want to make the switch to modern.

BB – Right – I called for Seacoast many times.

JC – Yep, they used to have you, Charlie Baldwin, Abe Kennison, and Joe Perkins of the North Shore.

BB – Back then they kind of screened the callers they had. They didn’t want to get into real hot shot world. They were gradually switching over to some of the western figures. They enjoyed the traditional at the same time.

JC – As a matter of fact at the same time, Mal use to include contras and we did folk dancing in between the squares before we had round dancing. I taught my first class, square dance class, in 1957. That was a deal where there was two classes every year, each ten weeks and after the first of the year do another ten week class. That was in Kittery. Phyllis and I ran our first round dance class in 1958, which was one of first ones in the area, I think. Anyways over the years we’ve become quite involved in leadership in the organizations and what not. I think one of our first involvements; Phyllis was executive secretary of EDSARDA when Ralph French was the head of it.

BB – For the sake of the tape EDSARDA was the Eastern District Square & Round Dance Assoc.

JC – We also served on the Round Dance Screening Committee of EDSARDA at the same time as Ray & Claire Anderson, Chet & Barbara Smith, Dick & Evelyn Doyle and Ginger & Lou Brown.

BB – Not callers. They were strictly Round Dancers. The Browns, Ginger & Lou got the first Atlantic Square Dance Convention organized in the Mechanics Building in Boston.

JC – We were there.

BB – We were there in live music.

JC – In the main hall they had live music, yes. That was quite the thing for this area. We had always had the New England Folk Festival and the New Hampshire Folk Festival. Of course after two years in Boston they moved to Atlantic City, Washington and Toronto, I think. We made Atlantic City and Toronto but we didn’t make Washington D.C.

BB – That was quite a big convention at that time and they turned out thousands of people.

JC – After they moved to Atlantic City was when the EDSARDA Festival started, which Lou & Ginger were very instrumental in as well as John Kobrok. That became the New England Convention. One of my ego points is that, as far as I know, I’m the only caller in New England who has called at all of them, including the EDSARDA festival, right up through today’s convention. There is some who have done them all since it was the New England Convention. We haven’t missed one yet. We’ve had a lot of good times.

BB – ­Were you involved at the New England Folk Festival at all, Joe.

JC – We use to go. I really wasn’t that involved. I did at the New Hampshire Folk Festival. One year I served as emcee. But I was never involved in the leadership part of it.

BB – I know that when I was at the University of Mass working, I was on the board of directors of the New England Folk Festival for many years. That was at the very beginning of western style square dancing coming into the area. At that time that was the only big festival going on. I guess they found a home in Natick, Ma.

JC – And as I understand it they’re very successful. The traditional field is alive and well in our area. We haven’t managed to make one yet, but eventually we’ll get to one to see what they’re still doing. But even though we made the switch from traditional to modern western we remained on good terms with the traditional people. They didn’t seem to resent the fact that I made the switch, people like Ralph Page, Mal Hayden we remained quite friendly with.

BB – Ted Sannella?

JC – Yes, Ted.

BB – Connie Taylor a few of the people we were associated with and still are. And as you say, in this area traditional dancing is alive and well.

JC – I think Connie Taylor is still active in this area. I see her name occasionally.

BB – I wish we’d had a chance to talk with Ted Sannella before he passed away. He has been very instrumental in writing some interesting choreography.

JC – A lot of good traditional material. Of course when Jim Mayo, Warren Popp and myself got together. The three “name callers” in the area got together and formed Tri-State Callers Assoc.

BB – Now what three states would be?

JC – That was Maine, New Hampshire and Mass. We had membership from all three states and we still do.

BB – I would assume that would be eastern Mass?

JC – North Shore really. It went as far north as Conway and Portland, Me. We were delegates from Tri-State when NECCA was formed (New England Council of Callers Assoc). We were in on the ground flour of that starting out.

BB – NECCA has been very active through out the years?

JC – Yes, Up until five or six years ago. We also were present when NECORTA was formed New England Council of Round Dance Teachers Assoc). Through the years we’ve always remained a cuer as well as a caller. All my clubs I did my own Round Dance Cueing and still do for my Auld Towne Squares. We’ve served on the board of both NECORTA and NECCA. When Charlie Baldwin stepped down as Chairman of the Co-operation Committee, which is a committee made up of delegates from EDSARDA, NECCA & NECORTA we became Chairman for about twelve years. They oversee the running of the New England Convention, among other things. As the name implies, it is co-operation between the organizations.

BB – I think this is one of the few areas in the country where you find that type of co-operation.

JC – Yes I think it is. It’s a unique organization. I believe the Conn. Square Dancers have a similar one. We were one of the invitees to the first CALLERLAB get together. The first meeting of LEGACY, which came before CALLERLAB. We did serve on the executive committee of LEGACY for awhile. The last six or eight years we kinda backed off from all the leadership. Let the younger generation take over.

BB – Rightly so. I know you’ve been good friends with Jim Mayo through the years. Jim is Vice-Chairman of CALLERLAB at the moment.

JC – Jim was their first Chairman.

BB – You probably attended quite a few of the CALLERLAB sessions?

JC – I haven’t made them all by any means. Now if I make every third one I’m doing well. That’s mainly finances, not because I’m not interested.

BB – How about National Conventions?

JC – We’ve made a few of them, Atlantic City Philadelphia, Baltimore and 76 in Anaheim, Ca. That was a biggie!

BB – I worked on many of the earlier ones. I know the first one I attended was San Diego. I think that was the fourth and after that I got pretty well acquainted with the national leaders – NEC (national executive committee) Carl Anderson, Bud Dixon, Howard Thornton, but then we got off the touring circuit and stopped going then. I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are about ACA (American Callers Assoc.)? I know you’re an avid member of CALLERLAB, Some people belong to both. Some people are antagonist on one side or another. How do you stand?

JC – Well to be truthful with you I’m a little bit neutral. I’m not sure they’re doing any thing particularly that CALLERLAB couldn’t have done had they remained in CALLERLAB. I’m not upset with them nor or am I enthused. There are some who are very emotional on both sides. I always thought if these people had stayed in CALLERLAB, they could have accomplished the same thing in one organization. No factual basis – just my thoughts.

BB – It’s interesting. There are people angry on both sides.

JC – Which is too bad. Let’s face it; we’re all for the activity or we should be anyhow.

BB – I forgot to ask you earlier. Were you from a musical background, your family?

JC – Not really. I never had any voice instruction. When I was in school I attempted to play the cornet. A couple times I’ve tried to pick up the guitar, but basically I’m lazy and never did anything with it. But I was very fortunate to call to Live Music a lot. A group of square dancers who got together in the Portland area who were professional musicians. They selected me as the caller they would like to play for. Over twenty years we would have live music probably six or eight times a year when the clubs could afford it. I think the high-light of the group and myself was when we were approached by Peter Zoucouskus, Chairman of the Baltimore National. He actually came from Quincy, Ma and he use to come to the New England Conventions. He approached me and asked if I could bring the band to Baltimore and call a New England style dance to kick off there fund raising. That was quite an experience. The hall we were in was so big that the man who was from the union was driving Phyllis around in a golf cart checking the sound. Here we are with a three piece band and myself in this hugh hall. But it went very well. That was quite a feather in the cap for the band.

BB – Did you fill the hall?

JC – We must have had twelve or fifteen hundred dancers. Like I said it was the kick-off for the fund raising.

BB – Outside Jim Mayo’s influence anyone else around who influenced your career?

JC – I wouldn’t say Jim influenced. Jim and I were equals as we went along. Undoubtedly we may have influenced each other to some extent. Philosophy wise I’ve got to mention three, Charlie Baldwin, Bob Osgood and Ed Gilmore. I think one of the influences on my calling early on was Bruce Johnston, his calling records. I think like many successful callers developed our own style. Those who were successful you could tell who was calling from out of the hall, You walk up to a hall where Earl Johnston is calling you don’t have to see him to know whose calling. I thing those who try to copy another caller sometimes don’t do themselves justice. It is much better off to have your own style.

BB – Which brings us up to – You’re still working with live music today?

JC – Some, but not as much. Age sort of caught up with us. I did one recently with a Blue Grass Band. Two of my former band members are in this band so they did alright by me.

BB – One of the fiddlers I worked for in Conn. Played regularly in a Blue Grass Band but when he worked with my band or other musicians he got out of the blue grass style. When I did the Arthur Godfrey show, they had a blue grass band and expected me to call to it. These are all union musicians. That was experience I tell you.

JC – I had one funny one, I was at a Wedding Reception, for a square dance couple, they had a group there who had been playing music and they had played Blue Moon of Kentucky so when I got up to call I used Blue Moon of Kentucky, but I didn’t think about tempo. They started in just like they were going to play for regular dancing. It took a couple of minutes to get that squared away – once we did we were all set.

BB – You don’t have the voice the blue grass people have. Their all high and yours is in the low registry.

A break was taken and the tape turned over. For some reason nothing was recorded on the other side.

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