MAX FORSYTH INTERVIEW
April 15, 1997
Bob Brundage: Well, here we are again, today we are in the big town of Albuquerque, the date is April 15, oh, income tax day, right, 1997. And today we have the pleasure of talking to Max Forsyth, originally from the Tucson area, originally from the Indianapolis area, and so, Max, tell us a little bit about your life before square dancing, where you were born and brought up, and so forth.
Max Forsyth: I was born and brought up in Terra Haute, Indiana. When I went through high school, I was sort of a jock. I did athletics three times a year so that pretty well kept me busy and kept me out of trouble. And then I went to Indiana State and finished the education thing. Then I was in the service and came back and did my Masters Degree at Purdue University in Industrial Mycology and, uh, botany, and that’s sort of the college; then I did a few other 6-weeks courses and that kind of thing later on.
BB: Well, then you got into teaching.
MF: Yea, when I came out of the service – well, I never wanted to do anything but teach, and I went from college into the service, and then came back, and I knew it was a good time to get my Masters Degree, but I never really intended to do anything but teach high school biology or zoology, or whatever they offered. And so that was what I wanted as a future, and it really is what I did except for 13 years. And when I was a junior in college, I was interviewed by the Chief Naturalist at the Indiana State Park system. He came to the college, and I happened to be an assistant to the botany professor, and so anyone with that kind of seemingly reputation, at least in the department, he interviewed; and he hired me as a naturalist in 1941; and I went to McCormick Creek State Park as a naturalist, and there were three of us there working and sometimes the Chief even came there to work with us. But in – long about the first of April of that year, 1941, I went to one square dance, and it was in a local recreation hall, and it was really a house made over. But all I can remember is I couldn’t understand a word that, that jabber guy was saying up there. And thank goodness it was single-couple progression kind of dancing where you could watch and pick it up and do it. But, if I had never gone to another square dance, I would have been just as happy. But, of course, all the time I had a good bit of musical training, why it was interesting what we were doing, and what it was the music, and if I remember right, it was all patter calls. I don’t think there were any singing. And then when I took my naturalist job, I went in to be, to go to work as this naturalist long about the 25th or 28th of May, and when I was there I was in a park where we had a large hotel. Again, centered around nature kind of thing, and it was well attended and they were full up every week with people who, back then, people didn’t drive a long way for their vacations. They came in from Cincinnati and all that. And the Chief Naturalist, he sort of handled the first programs. And then I learned that on Sunday night there was going to be a lecture and my buddies there could handle that because they had done it years before. And then on Monday night. there was a song fest and the other two people that I was working with really couldn’t sing at all. And so I was told that he would do the first song fest, and the next Monday night, it would be mine. And then, on Monday, he told me, now tomorrow night, there’s a hay ride out at the hotel. We usually, I think they put 25 or 30 on a rack. And there were usually about four racks, so it was a big gang of people. And said, we’re going out to Red Bud Shelter House, and we served everybody a dinner there from the hotel, and then afterwards, we square dance. And so we do some other play party games and all that and said I would like for you to learn this one. I don’t remember what it was for the life of me, but it was either a very simple singing call or patter, and he said I’ll take care of the dance, but I want you to do just this one. So that was the second dance I’d ever been to. I did one, and he said, just remember, next week, you do the whole thing. So here we were outside on a nice patio area outside the shelter house. We were always outside unless it rained, and usually, no fewer than six squares on the floor up to maybe eight or 10, and we were really squeezed in. No amplifying system, out-of-doors calling to that many squares, and what I did, I stood up on a little wall, and that’s what he did, stood up on the wall, and to live music. Now, luckily, the live music was not amplified, so I didn’t have to battle that, but it was live music and, I don’t criticize them. But the music – I remember we didn’t have a fiddle, oh yes, we had a fiddle, and I think a banjo, anyway, it was all sort of tinny, high pitched instruments. Well, I did that for the rest of the summer once a week. And then I knew I had to learn more about square dancing, so come Saturday night. I would go any where that I found out there was a square dance in the area, and I would drive over to another state park in Brown County, and just get in and dance with them. And then, we’d drive to Columbus, Indiana, and they had a good traditional square dance there, and so I visited lots of places. But, anyway, that got me hooked, and I kept calling, and I did a lot of parties for churches and that kind of thing in the winter. And then when the war was over, the one thing I wanted to do was to get back into the naturalist service. So I went to college full time and, but with the summer season off so that I could work as a naturalist, and I worked for about 4 years, and, again, I was the one who did all the calling. And along about the second year of that, let’s say 1948, some of the guests at the hotel from Indianapolis said they called me on the phone in the winter, and they said, we’d like to form a square dance club. And it was very interesting because these were very influential people. They had it at one of the nicest country clubs there, and these were people who were real estate people. They were younger, and there was only one couple that had had some experience square dancing in California. And so they sort of gave advice and that kind of thing. But, I went over to call for them once a month or twice a month; I don’t know which it was. And it was very interesting that I could do anything with them, and we were doing some of the little folk dances, put your little foot and that kind of thing. And, they, incidentally, called themselves, and here are these very high class, influential people, and they called themselves the Dirty Older Club. Really, the DO Club, but it meant Dirty Older Club. And they were real fun people, and I had just a great time with them. And then I began doing special parties for churches, and there was one Christmas party in about 1949, that I did, and again, at a high class country club put on by the leading Realtor in town for his children and all of their friends but primarily college age. And we had this dance, and it was just great. And had this live band and it was a band that – they were primarily a Hawaiian band, but they were good musicians, and they had me there. This was between Christmas and New Years, and so we had a marvelous party. And so, after the dance, they said, we’re opening a dance hall on the south side, and it’s going to be a nice kind of place. There will be no drinking. As a matter of fact, the other fella who was promoting it with them who owned that hall, was a minister’s son, and he was sure what kind of place he wanted to operate, and they said why don’t you come out and dance with us and just see what it’s like. And just let’s call one tip for the people who were there. Well, they had a radio so they were able to get out a lot of publicity that they were coming, and went out there, and I did – and then they had me come back, and did it for about, I think they had four dances. And then, what they did, they called me and said we’ve decided that we are going to stop the ball room and we’re just going to make everything square dancing.
BB: be darned.
MF: A very unusual situation. But this had the bar room atmosphere of a low ceiling, and they put colored lights in it, and so we started having the square dance, and it was called Evergreen Terrace. And the, within a month, we had so many people coming, that they decided to tear out all the partitions and make it into one big hall, which they did, and they took the dormers and cut all they could out and made booths into the dormer windows and that kind of stuff. And, we just started out like gang busters. It was one of those dances where anyone could bring someone else and put them in the fourth couple position and get them dancing, and then, our usual crowd was 300 plus.
BB: Oh boy.
MF: I think the most we ever had was 410, but we passed 400 a good many times. And it was just a wonderful experience.
MF: And but again, for the first year, the single couple progression dances and I didn’t even know what a singing call was, and so we were doing all patter and I had a good style for patter that made them feel like they were really dancing. And then, the next, I think a year later – I can remember it was in April I heard about a rural youth square dance workshop in Ohio, and I’m trying to remember the men who were involved with it – Jerry Helt’s the only one that I can recall, and uh, Gus Heizman.
BB: Oh, yea.
MF: Gus Heizman and Jerry Helt. And I went over to that. And a friend of mine, Paul Brady, a caller from Indianapolis, went over too, and I can remember then I heard Red River Valley, Rose of San Anton, and My Pretty Girl, and a whole bunch of those things, Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, a whole bunch of those things, and they just – to me they just fit me to a tee, so I brought those back and began introducing them, a little bit at a time. Before that time, I had never – I had never called a ladies chain, a ladies chain was not in the traditional areas where I, you know, stole most of my material. No ladies chain.
BB: Is that right.
MF: No. Which was very interesting. Now there were areas of Indiana, and I can go over the areas of Indiana and what the square dancing was like. It was very different throughout the – so then I came and I began a slow interga, inter pause)
MF: Yea (laughter). And I slowly put that in and then we began – the program went very well. And then Eli Lillian Company contacted me and said we would like to have a dance on – no, this is about 2 years later – and the Hawaiian band decided they didn’t want to do it again, and I put together, found a friend and he put together a band in which we had a violin lead who also played piano, and he had studied to be a concert pianist. And he had played in a family country group all the time that he was growing up, and he could really play the fiddle. And he played the fiddle on the hoe downs and played the piano on the singing calls, and I very soon decided I didn’t like any melody behind me on singing calls, so we had a bass, and a good rhythm guitar man, and the piano, and that’s the way we worked. And the band, everyone loved, they called themselves The Polka Dots, and everyone loved them, and we just had a great program. And our – another interesting story, maybe this is all not too important, but our hall would hold exactly 29 squares. We had some posts in it, and by the time the main hall that we’d started with – was nine squares long and two squares wide, which was 18. And there was no other way to fit anyone else in, and then back in the back there were two sections, one section that we had people sitting in, and two sections where you could dance, but we could get up to where we could dance 29 squares. Well, we always had more than 29 squares at the dance. So, I started, you know, putting one group on the floor and when we were finished, I’d say next group. And, they all wouldn’t sit down. There’d be a lot of them – but enough would sit down that we could get the other group in there. And, we used to, did four tips just running one after the other, and then we’d take a break. And then we’d do four more tips, and the dances were always 9 to 12, they were always late night. That was typical of that era.
MF: And we, so that’s the way we did. Then Eli Lillian Company said we’d like to have a special party on Friday night, first and third Fridays. So they had a good recreation department, and they rigged up this, and we went a year with Eli Lilly’s, and we just had employees running out our ears, and we had a huge group. And the next year they decided they wanted a second group, so we had first and third, and second and fourth Fridays with Eli Lillian Company, and they, I had the hall rented then, and they rented my hall, hired my band, and hired me to call it. And then Allison General Motors they decided they would have a Thursday night program, so we started the same thing with them. But that was roughly what it was. Why was it so large? Well, think because we built on the fact that we could have new people come in every night and take care of them, at least through the first few tips.
MF: And got them, and I still, for several years, only called single couple progression dances, and then, about all you had to add was a ladies chain, and we could do Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, and we could do My Pretty Girl, and still do dances like Rose of San Anton and Red River Valley which was my theme for, gosh, they wouldn’t let me stop calling Red River Valley when we were doing Teacup Chain, which was much later.
MF: But, anyway, we had that, and then I taught classes. I taught, during this 7 years, I never had a class of under 15 squares.
BB: Is that right.
MF: No. And we only taught lessons for 4 weeks. Four weeks and that got them all they needed to know, and we’d have so many people when you had 15 squares there wasn’t room for them to add them to the other program, so I started a club on Tuesday night that I called Grand Squares and put the next class in with that, and the next class I started another club on Monday night, and to where we were going 6 nights a week. So the Minister that I rented the hall from, Minister’s son, would not allow me to do it on Sunday night, and I was just as well off. So, we had a 6-night-a-week program going working to capacity of people, and I thought, I’m just going to have to give up teaching. Oh, by the way, in 1950, I became Chief Naturalist for the Indiana State Park system.
MF: So, it was my job to hire and fire, and go around, and I had to train naturalists all over the state to call square dances to lead the song fest, the best way to do nature lectures and park lectures, and all that. So I did that from ’50 to ’54. And at the same time, I was running the dance, and at the same time I was teaching school. And I finally decided I just can’t do all this.
MF: So I’ll stick with the one that pays me the most money, so I’ll operate the hall. Well, that summer, after I’d given up teaching, and I’d gotten involved in trying to get some, some programs set up, that – and I’d built a house on the south side near the hall, the hall burned down. It was an all wooden frame, beautiful big thing. The bottom floor was all dressing rooms for the swimming pool and all that kind of thing, privately owned. And, there I was, high and dry, and no money because I had every penny invested in the house. So, we found another hall to rent. But it didn’t have the personality. It was just – I, I can only say it had a bar room atmosphere with none of the bar room things, and the people just left. So that left me high and dry and about all I could do was operate this hall, and you know, when you change halls, you lose 40% of your people, which we easily did, and the same thing with Eli Lilly’s, and Allison’s, the program just didn’t go as well because they – the other part of town, and they didn’t like to travel. So, I used the other hall again for 10 years, and it was just a slow dwindling, and so what I started doing was I’d take a 4-day period of time and eliminate my things on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and fly out and do 3 days in New England or 4 days in New England and fly back and do my program. And only once a year did I do a longer trip. That was always the 10-day trip that I did to California in which I went to Kansas City, Tucson, Phoenix, and then California towns. And, so that was basically my program, so I was, uh, running the hall, not doing as well, and having to supplement it on the road, and back then, we weren’t paid very well on the road. But after 17 years of operating this hall and doing that kind of thing, I decided that I had to get back where I had a little security. It was time to start thinking about retirement and all that, and I didn’t have, I didn’t make enough to buy the stocks like a couple of other friends that you know, and get their investments, so I went back to teaching school, and I taught for another 15 years, and then retired when school got to be a little tough.
BB: Yea. Well, that’s certainly a, it’s a different history.
MF: It is a different history, you’re right. I’m amazed that you were not doing Ladies Chain. No Ladies Chain in Indiana. Let me summarize Indiana. Indiana has a hill country in the south. Well, now the people who migrated into that hill country were primarily from the mountainous country of North/South Carolina and down in there, and they came in with their clogging, and they came in with their circle, running sets. That was in one little area. Then, across southern Indiana, but you have to get way south in Indiana, there was the cloggers, and oh, some of them were so good. And that was great and that was down there. And that was all hoedown, and, or as I call it – patter. And then in central Indiana, especially from Indianapolis down halfway through the state, this was an area in which, if you called a square – a singing call – they’ d – you know I’ve had it said to me two or three times, that ain’t square dancing.
BB: That ain’t square dancing (laughter).
MF: Yea, so it was all a patter, very successful, and I went to – I used to go to every dance I could go to. And some dances, there’d be a caller in every square, people were calling. And, then there were the dances in that same area to live music and this, everyone’s heard about, the band started playing and the callers started calling, (. . ) if there was more than one callers, and then the band decided it was long enough and they’d stop, and you would all stop where you were. But we had some good country bands, and we had a few country callers who could yell loud enough without losing their voice.
MF: To cover them. And then they finally did go to P A systems.
BB: Did you use a megaphone at all?
MF: No, no. Megaphone wasn’t good enough. It had to be too wide, you know. Your voice just had this – I had them all spread out in front of me, and, of course, I used to lose my voice at the end of 1 night. Then I, I learned what I was doing. I was pressing all the calls, and I was bringing them from the voice box, and I finally got so I could call 2 nights in a row without getting a little hoarse. And then finally three, and I finally learned to breathe from the diaphragm and then I never had any trouble. And I also bought a P A system. So then – to finish that – in Connorsville, Indiana, which is the eastern Indiana, and the only thing I can say is maybe it is closest to New England, we had typical New England style dancing.
BB: Is that right.
MF: And there were some areas where there were only singing calls. There were the ( … ) and that kind of thing. But that was all that was in that little area, and nee’r the twain did meet, between these two areas butted up against one another. And then, there was Fort Wayne and South Bend, and those influenced – were influenced by two callers who went to Pappy Shaw’s.
BB: Oh, yea.
MF: And they came with Pappy Shaw’s influence and had great programs – great programs but that began to be the center of the square dancing, and I never saw any of the traditional dancing in that area. But as I went to dances, one different thing – and I think maybe I exaggerated in the past, and I’ll try to come down, but as I went around in Indiana, I know I found five different things that were done when they called Do-si-Do. Uh, of course, Pappy Shaw changed it to Do Pass So to separate them out, but it was Do-si-Do, and we had Do-si-De where it would be partner left, I mean partner right and corner left, and partner – partner left. And then we had the Do-si-Do which I learned in the area that I had, always started with the comer – corner, partner, corner, partner. And then they had ones, they had the back-to-back Do-si-Do which was really not in the area where I was at all. That was in Connorsville.
BB: I see.
MF: And up north. But I can remember there were five different Do-si-De’s, and of course, I ended up doing the four-hand Do-si-Do sort of a Do Pass So, what we call a Do Pass So with an extra hand turn, the comer. And, uh, then it all evolved, and I do have to tell you because this should be on tape. There is a little town just south ofI-70 in Indiana, I’ll think of the name in a minute.
MF: Where I went – I went to a dance and we took a square from our Indianapolis group, and we were – we were then dancing in our big hall at the very beginning of the program. Okay, our tape ended there so we just flipped over, and we’re talking about a little town in, around, in Indiana about halfway between Indianapolis and Richmond. And maybe I’ll think of the name. I hope I do. And we went to this dance. And we stayed in our own square. We, you know, there was no trying to get in with these people who really knew a lot. And the dancing was something – again single couple progressing, and he called some dances that we didn’t know, but by watching one time through, why two of us being callers we picked it up pretty fast and had a good time. But, there was one thing. When we did the Allemande Left and the Right and Left Grand, no one could understand what he was saying. And, we’d gone through several tips, and I finally thought I figured out what he was saying. It’s obvious his voice wasn’t that clear. So I went up to him, and I said, is this what you said when we did the Allemande Left and Right and Left Grand. He said, yes, he said, that’s the way my Daddy called and that’s the way I calls it. He said, that’s the way my Daddy called it and that’s the way I calls it. And it was Adam on a ding dong, when you come down, make that big foot jar the ground. That was Allemande Left and a Right and Left Grand. I think that’s – I think that’s unique. And I don’t criticize him for it at all, you know. I thought it was great. And I went back and told the group, and they could hardly believe it. But that was – that was an experience out there.
BB: Yea. So getting away from square dancing just for a second, Max, where did your wife come into this picture?
MF: Well Kay and I’ve only been married, we’ve been together 14 years.
BB: Oh, okay.
MF: And she started square dancing when she was 8 or 10, in Atlantic City, and her parents square dance, and they took her along. So, she began dancing, probably during the war, I don’t know that, and then continued to dance and never ever stopped dancing. But that was her background starting with the traditional and then going up into the modem square dancing.
BB: Well, we want to get into talking about your RV park down in Tucson, but before we get that far, Let’s talk about recording. What about the recordings you’ve made?
MF: Well, I recorded for Windsor, back when – Windsor, I think, was sort of the top label
BB: I believe so.
MF: Uh, the top label in the country, and uh, uh, recording was always interesting. I had first been asked by a folk dance fella who put out records, and, uh, I went down, and I called in Evansville. I went down really to a callers training session down there, and I called a little bit, and he came up to me, and he said you know, I’d like to record you. And, I can remember my exact thoughts. If anyone is dumb enough to want to record me, he’s so dumb I don’t want to record for him.
MF: You know. I just – I just couldn’t believe it, but I did have, uh, I think he wanted me to record Red River Valley as I can remember, because that was a key note thing of mine. And then, Doc Allenbach contacted me from Los Angeles and said he wanted me to record on the Windsor label. And so, each year, what I would do, uh, actually my pianist, he, I – I said keep your eyes out for good tunes, and he said I know some good tunes that I learned when I was a kid that I think would make real great tunes. And, there were also tunes that I recorded that were old Jimmy Durante tunes. And, uh, Jimmy Durante had interesting style, and he always had good, positive upbeat. I don’t like to do anything negative if I can do without it. So, I recorded out there, and did, uh, recorded what was claimed to be a couple of them, uh, Ragtime Piano, and what was the other one. Well, anyway, and I’ve had, as I go around, I’ve had someone will say I still carry those in my record box, callers.
BB: I do. (Laughter.)
MF: And, uh, uh, but anyway, I didn’t like recording. To me, it um, I don’t know, 1- I just didn’t like recording. But what I would do, Allenbach would – we’d decide on a tune, or often he’d decide on the tune and send it to me and say would you do it, and, uh, most of the time they were sort of mistakes because they didn’t really fit me, but then on my 1 O-day tour through, uh, the west and California, I would stop in with Doc, and we’d go to the study there, and dub over and have that. Then he started sending me the tapes, and I would go to Chicago and, uh, uh, dub in. But I – I didn’t feel like I was that good at it; and back then, people did dance to – but I will admit, I – I did have an insecure feeling about my calling. You know, I always was glad these people were dumb enough to want to dance with me.
Bb: Do you remember the name of that folk dance teacher, the one they wanted you to record.
MF: I think – I think he had the folk dancer label.
BB: Michael Herman?
BB: Okay, because Michael Herman had the folk dancing label.
MF: Yea, either folk dance, or what was the other one that sounded like that?
BB: Folk Craft.
MF: Folk Craft.
BB: Frank Kaughman.
MF: That’s who it was. It was Frank Kaughman.
BB: Okay. He’s the one I recorded with, and I didn’t realize that you recorded with him.
MF: No, I didn’t record – he wanted me to.
BB: Oh, I see.
MF: And, uh, and I turned him down, I, you know, I just couldn’t see how I could be on a record at all, and uh, never did.
BB: Well, he made a lot of pretty good stuff. Eventually.
MF: Yep, oh yes, oh yes.
BB: Urn, okay. One of the questions I’ve been asking people as I’ve interviewed them, uh, what did you find appealing about calling square dances. What do you think is the big appeal?
MF: I don’t know, I – I’ d sung all my life, and I sang in, you know, choruses and, uh, octets, and, uh, never sang in a quartet; I always sang in something where they had two tenors; one who was good, and I was dependable. But, anyway, I always sang, and I don’t know, I just – it just made me feel very happy, and all these people are having such a good time. It just appealed to me. Oh! By the way, I better mention that I also recorded with Johnny Wycoff on the Blue Star. I sort of got side tracked before that.
BB: Oh, okay. Right
MF: And, uh, enjoyed that. And, uh, Johnny’s music was good, but I never particularly enjoyed the work that I felt it took to really make a number good, and I just decided not to – Johnny would like to have recorded me more.
BB: Uh huh. Okay. Urn, tell us about your involvement with Caller Lab. I know you were on the Board for a while.
MF: Yeah, I, uh, I didn’t go into Caller Lab for some personal reasons right at the beginning, and, uh, I should have. Yea? Clicking.
BB: Yea, we’re just talking about Caller Lab and had a brief interruption. Go ahead.
MF: Yea, and, uh, then when Caller Lab was established and I could see that I wanted to find out what it was all about, and I went to a Caller Lab meeting. I think the first one I went to was in Chicago, and enjoyed it immensely. And then, I was teaching, and I didn’t feel like I could devote any time to it, and so, I went to all the Caller Lab meetings at first, whenever I could, it was at our spring vacation, which was a good idea, but sometimes they changed it not Caller Lab but the school system. And then, I knew that one thing I wanted to do in my life was, uh, see if I couldn’t get elected to the Board. I just wanted to understand how, uh, the organization worked, and I ran luckily I ran once, and was elected. I never could quite figure out why, but anyway, it was a marvelous experience. And you’ve all heard how people say that the Caller Lab Board is, uh, a marvelous thing, and I felt honored to be able to serve with them, and I was impressed and will never be other than impressed by what they do and their dedication.
MF: And they gave a good many programs there. They seemed to dub me in as an after-party man, which I did several sessions on after-parties for them, then asked to do others and declined because I just didn’t feel like I could get there.
MF: And, then, they used to especially have me in, in teaching clinics which was also fun.
BB: Yea. What about national conventions, I know I’ve seen you at more than one.
MF: Well, I went to my first national convention when it was in Houston, Dallas, Dallas, and I think that was like the third one.
BB: That’s about right.
MF: I think it was like the third one. I went to it. I had a wonderful time. Again, went with this other caller friend, and uh, and another couple, and we just had a wonderful time. And then I went to all the conventions for a period of time. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and uh, then it ~ I don’t know ~ 10 or 12 – and then I sort of drifted away. They were a little farther away, and uh, to me, they got ~ they got a little over organized, and, which is nothing wrong with that. It had to be organized. And I, uh, I finally stopped. When I stopped going, I just decided I wouldn’t go anymore, and so I didn’t. But I thoroughly enjoyed the national conventions.
BB: Did you go to the one in Miami?
MF: Yes, yes.
BB: If I remember, you can verify this story for me that I …
MF: I hope you didn’t hear what I’m – go ahead.
BB: No, no. I, uh, you were calling in the evening out of doors, and a couple of fellas walked up on stage, and, of course, everyone knows that, uh, once in a while a couple of guys will come up and wrap the caller in toilet paper like a mummy. But they took this one step a little bit further, and two of them reached over and turned you upside down, and uh, and you never missed a beat and kept calling the whole darned time, and they held you right there upside down during the whole singing call. Do you remember that?
MF: Yes, I remember that well.
BB: Do you remember who did it? It seemed like it was Vaughn Parrish to me.
MF: You know, I don’t remember.
MF: I don’t remember at all.
BB: It doesn’t really matter.
MF: There was one other time that something like that happened, and if I remember right, it was Dave Taylor; and it might have been Johnny Davis, I don’t know. Dave Taylor always tells the story about what they did to me in Detroit outdoors, and 00, they did something similar, but, yes, that happened in Miami.
BB: Beside the nationals and other state festivals and that, what other big events have you been involved in? Anything particular, anything special?
MF: Oh, well, the, the, uh, Delaware Valley Festival I can remember. Oh, the first festival I ever went to which I remember very well ~ seems like it was, I don’t know, 1956, 1957, they had a professional staff, and I forget who they were, I know one of them was Al Brundage, and they also hired what we called a sub staff, and that was Dick Ledger, Earl Johnston, and myself. And, they, they worked us, they worked us in there, but we definitely weren’t the main staff, and we called, and I remember that with such pleasure because I fell in love with Earl Johnston, and Dick Ledger, and later on worked with him. Then I did the, uh, I did the New Orleans Festival, and, uh, Memphis Festival, and uh, all across the south, Mobile, and I used to do most the Alabama Jubilee. I was sort of a fixture on the Alabama Jubilee for a good many years and thoroughly enjoyed it. And then I ~ a couple of times I did the Golden State Round-up, and I was always very proud of that because that certainly was one of the greatest of the festivals around. And then I; you know, I did festivals here and there, lots of them, I can’t even remember where they were. I wish I’d kept records of all that.
Oh yea, right, we all do, right.
MF: But I – but, uh, all my records that I had back then I threw out a long time ago.
BB: Sure. What about overseas?
MF: Overseas. I never really called overseas other than when we took groups. We’ve taken lots of tour groups, you know, to China and to Europe, uh, Central America. We usually did about two a year, and I think we had done 14 in Tucson, and then, while I was in Indianapolis, we did a couple of tours to Hawaii and a couple of tours, uh, to Mexico City, and enjoyed them and called there in Hawaii. But, I, uh, when I’m overseas, I just never wanted any deadlines, and uh, because I’m pretty much an outdoors person, and I don’t want to have to plan all of my things I find out about around square dancing. So, and I could have called in summertime in various places around for the last 14 years, but I, I just didn’t want a deadline. I did go back and call in Indianapolis once, and, uh, uh, for a group that brought in, uh, a singles group that brought in callers. It was just great to see that you could come back after all these years and then really have a crowd. I thought that they, uh, you know there’d be so many new people and they would have forgotten the past.
BB: Right. Well, which brings up the fact that, uh, in your naturalist endeavors over the years, you became a bird watcher.
MF: Well, I became a bird watcher in 1941, the first year that I worked as a naturalist. And, uh, my ear for music was good, and I, I just tried to see, I’ve tried to see every bird in North America that I can, and back then, I was busy learning all the calls, because that was the most fascinating thing to be able to recognize every twitter, and uh, up until my sound began to, my eyes began disappearing out of my ears, why, I was sort of a specialist in sound. But I bird watched; I think my total number of birds north of the Rio Grande is 600 and something and probably in the world about 2,200 to 2,500. I don’t have them all categorized yet. I’ve just started putting them into the computer …
BB: Is that right.
MF: But bird watching is, and then mammals and, we’ve done all those things. We’ve done Antarctica and all the seven continents. We’re going to do a bird watching trip in about a month and a half to Belize and spend a week on a coral reef that I’ve been to before, and then a week in a great rain forest. But that’s what we do. Spent year ago Christmas in, uh, our – we spent last Christmas in Venezuela down in a couple of wilderness places, and the Christmas before that we spent in Antarctica.
BB: Well, let’s talk about when did you retire and move into the Tucson area and tell us about your R V park.
MF: Okay. I, uh, when I was traveling, I – the first time I was out I had an extra day in Tucson, uh, because I couldn’t book it, that’s the main reason. And I can remember driving out and driving up Mt. Lemon, and I thought this is the desert around Tucson is just not comparable with any of the other deserts, it’s just so wonderful. And, as I drove up Mt. Lemon – you started at desert and ended up in the high mountains, so you were going through all these life zones from here clear up to arctic, almost arctic, it wasn’t quite, quite that far. And, I – then every year I planned to keep – I always did Kansas City on Sunday and Tucson on Monday and kept Tuesday off for bird watching, and at that time – I did that for, I don’t know, 13 years, at least 10, and uh, I decided when I retired, Tucson was the place I wanted to go. So I went to Tucson with no connections, or none, and the first year, the first winter I was there, I only called one dance. I was asked to call one dance. It was a little hard for me to believe that they wouldn’t want to try this guy, but anyway, uh, then, uh, a singles club asked me to call for them the next year, and the next year I started my own program by renting a hall and all of that, and luckily the hall we rented was almost, you know, four blocks from where they built our hall so it was no a big problem to transfer those people from there.
BB: I see.
MF: Anyway, this is a marvelous park. There are two great parks in Tucson, one is Voyager, and we are in C … ) Country West. They are about the same size, and they have very complete facilities. You know, we have a classroom, we have a full post office, we have the most wonderful wood shop I’ve ever seen, they have everything there. We have a painting and ceramics room, we have a coffee room, we have a card room, we have a very extensive library, we have eight pool tables in a room, we have a sewing and crafts room, we have a dark room, we have a short-wave radio room, uh, and all that to choose from, plus we have a big recreation hall which is a tile floor and then this big dance hall that has a wooden floor. And, uh, I happened, I happened to be going to a mobile home park near there, trying to see about possibilities of having square dances there. And we looked out across the way, and I said, what are they building over there? They said, well they’re building a new RV park. I said, yea, and I inquired who, and they said, uh, George O’Reilly uh, O’Leary, was, uh, building that park, and so I went to check into it. But eventually, I talked to George out there, well I was just out looking at it, and he came over to talk to me. And, lID, uh, they were having a New Years Eve dance in which one lead caller asked all the callers to come and spend it with him at the air base. And, we were there at the dance, and a guy came up to me and said I hear you’re going to be the new caller at ( … ) Country West. I said what? I said that’s news to me. Where’d you find this rumor. Well, he said I was talking
to George O’Leary before we had dinner and he said you were going to be the new caller so that’s how I found about that. But we had a Sunday night through Wednesday night program, and, uh, then half the year Thursday morning. We had a great program. We could dance 25 squares and still leave our tables set up around the outside. And I prefer tables because they are so sociable, and they add to the friendly atmosphere rather than people sitting around the wall with their wife on one side and someone that they mayor may not know next to them, and they just don’t get to visit enough. And, uh, we, uh, we had a big problem. We had big classes, and uh, uh, we were usually running 20 plus squares. We were competing with Voyager which, they had Johnny LeClair for a while, and then they had Ken Bower for a while, and now they have Randy Dorrity. And, we were just real happy to be able to, to hold our head up and say that we’ve, uh – I, I think our friendly atmosphere is what really made our program great.
One other question I would like to ask before the tape ends. Do you have any regrets
BB: about your career?
BB: Anything you wish you had done differently?
MF: Only one slight thing. Uh, I would have loved it if I could have had 34 years of teaching experience instead of 22. It would have made about a thousand a month more on retirement. No, no. I loved every bit of it. I never – I never felt sorry that I hadn’t – I spent a lot of time preparing. I didn’t have quite the memory that lots of guys had, and I had to work a little harder at it. But no, I loved every bit of it, and, 00, I hated to quit this spring. Uh, but I have a little heart problem, and my wife really thought that I should slow down, and so I went with her advice and did it.
BB: Max, I know we’re just about at the end of this tape, and I want to thank you whole heartily for taking the time to put these thoughts on, on tape. It certainly has been a very interesting conversation. If we don’t run out of tape, I’d like to ask one more question, and that is where do you think square dancing might be going today?
MF: Well, I have a distinct, a couple of distinct opinions on that, uh, as to why I think it has dwindled. One, I think the callers know too much, and they have to call it. And, in other words, I think the choreography has gotten a little, uh, a little bit out of hand, and it’s not that the people can’t dance it, but I think they’ve eliminated all the people who really couldn’t and don’t want to dance that much, and so when you eliminate the bulk of the people at the bottom who don’t want to dance three times a week, I think that’s, I think that’s one of the things. That the caller always has to hold back and hold back and just because he has that little thing in his pocket, he doesn’t have to call it. And the second thing that I still cannot understand is how they can possibly publish that the average dance speed is 32 – 132 beats a minute. I know that some of the first recordings we had were 136, 134, 132, all of those dicky stone things, I can remember how fast they were. But, uh, we have, we’re now getting to where we have a higher age group of people. The callers just must slow their tempo down. And I would say my usual patter tempo is 124, and occassionally, as slow as 120. It’s not that I’m an old man caller, I think I call, I think I called better last year than I ever have in my whole life, and I mean that seriously. But, I’ve just found that if you really get them dancing rather than gyrating, I think it cannot be done at 132, 136 beats a minute.
MF: And I think that’s what square dancing has, you know, we have to put the dance back into it instead of just all choreography and say, that choreography was great because all we’re ending up with is that group of people that used to go out and dance Advanced. And they went into their basement groups because we didn’t call to them. And now, they’re trying to call to them and so they’re losing, ah, 60% of the bottom.
MF: Uh, for no other reason then they can’t keep up.
BB: Yea. Well, I’ve heard it said by more than one person that a lot of people think that the dancers have gotten bored with programs and that’s why the interest has gone to the higher levels and that these people are saying no, it’s not the dancers, it’s the callers who have gotten bored.
Mf: The dancers bored? My gosh, that’s farthest from the truth. The dancers who are bored, let them go into Advanced. I never called Advanced because I felt, and this sounds egotistical, but I felt like that when I was in Indianapolis, and I, I was number one man there for just many years, I felt that the number one man should not call Advanced, because he would be drawing all these people into Advanced who had no business there. Just because he was teaching. So, I never called one word of Advanced in Indianapolis because I felt it would be a negative to the dance program. And, they could go on out – these other callers did it and did it well, and, uh, so that’s – I don’t think the dancers are bored at all. I think, I think the callers know too much, and they, they call too much, and sure there are a few people who think (tape ends).
(End of Tape)