RICH REEL – July 13, 2008
Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage. The date today is July the 13th, 2008 and we’re talking with Rich Reel out in Brisbane, California. Rich is a webmaster of all sorts of things and we’re anxious to find out more about that. In fact, I have been reading through your bio and I have so much to talk about that I hardly know where to start but, why don’t we start at the beginning. So, tell us a little about your early life.
Rich Reel – Well I was born and raised in Milan, Ohio. It’s somewhere be…. about half way between Cleveland and Toledo and my parents are actually still living in that house. I lived my whole life there except for about six months, where I lived … I lived in Huron and went to school in and around Milan. When I graduated high school I was interested in going to college and went to Ohio State University. Just about everybody in our family went to Ohio State University or, more correctly, THE Ohio State University, and (I) graduated in Electronic Engineering and started looking for a job. When I got the local paper there were virtually no jobs at all in our area. I think there were three jobs. One in each city about fifty miles away in Ohio that were of interest to me. So, I went to the library and got the San Jose Mercury News which was available at the local library – that’s the local paper here in California and I found six pages of jobs. And then I realized that all the Silicon Valley jobs and the high tech jobs that I would be interested in were located right out here next to San Francisco which is another place I’ve always been interested in living. So when I saw the whole combination on the map it moved from a distant dream to a plan.
So, at that point, right after I graduated college, my dad donated me his old junker van – that was his excuse to get a new one – and I basically drove out here to California. I knew no one. No relatives, no job, just headed out here and started a life. – I was actually a homeless person. I stopped in about probably every …gosh, two or three days …. I got a hotel room just to have a shower. And pretty much got along on one meal a day while I was trying to make it. I think I had…. gosh, $1200. I gave $600 to my dad. I took $600 with me and got out here to California and basically settled in Santa Clara. It was the first place that I drove through that felt like home.
BB – Well, that’s great. Then ….well, going back again, did you come from a musical family at all?
RR – I would say yes. My dad sang in the choir a lot. My mom wasn’t. We were in band. I played the saxophone – not very well. One memorable time I practiced the heck out of one very difficult passage and you were allowed to challenge people to move up in squad. I was always … I was always like in last chair in the band – there was also a marching band, the two were separate – but in the regular band I practiced this one passage and moved up to first chair which was totally not deserved because I’ve always been a bad musician. But, all the people in my squad were all the most beautiful women in the school so, a lot of people were very jealous of me sitting in first chair with the most beautiful women below me but it was a very memorable and humorous thing that I totally didn’t deserve. (Bob chuckles) That was probably my highest achievement in music.
BB – I see.
RR – I did practice the piano. I was forced to take seven years of piano lessons and I played piano like I have about two or three years of experience if that. But, I did write some of my own music on the piano and one time, at the end of a very long presentation, I did a little impromptu concert at the end where I just played solo on the piano and the crowd really liked it a lot. So, I felt, for the first time in my whole life, some sense of … oh gosh, maybe I do have some musical ability. But, I’ve always pretty much been last chair and laughed at and, you know, never really that good.
BB – OK. What did you …. did you get exposed to square dancing at all before you moved to California?
RR – I think so. There was some memories of us going to a campground. I remember this huge, tall barn that had a rope in it that was, I don’t know, a hundred feet tall and I remember climbing all the way up to the top of that without using my feet, touching the rafters and at that barn, that night, they had a square dance and was some old, tinny sound system but I think they had like six squares. But, when I got to my lessons, which, I think, started about thirteen years ago in ’95, it was my New Year’s resolution to try it, I didn’t recognize anything. (Bob chuckles) Circle left and Do sa do I think I heard from the cartoons but I didn’t remember how to do any of those moves.
BB – I see. OK.
RR – So it wasn’t a big part of my early life.
BB – Right. So, then how did you get introduced to square dancing there in California?
RR – Well, I am a gay man and, when I first got to California I started my life and I put all my effort into my professional life and I had a partner, and my first partner was very possessive of me and never really let me do very much social. I guess he was afraid he’d lose me or something. So, I concentrated purely on my professional …. my job which, by the way, I still have. There’s a couple or three jobs in there but I’ve been with the same company here for about twenty years. And we, my partner and I, eventually broke up and, at that point, I felt like a nerdy engineer with no social skills, no social circles whatsoever and, I was hanging out at a party and all these, what I thought were the In-happening people at the party that, you know, why don’t you check out square dancing? And I said, “Well great. If people like you are out doing it I’m into it”. so, I made it my New Years resolution – I’m going to start square dancing and I chose my club based on whoever offered lessons in January.
BB – Ah ha. That’s fine. Then, all right. Well, that gets us into the area of square dancing before we get too far away, why don’t we talk about your job? I know you’ve got a very ….I call it complicated according to your bio.
RR – It’s not too bad. Once you learn how to do anything and you’ve done it a long time it gets easier. But when I first came out to California I wanted a high tech job. In fact, I wanted to design integrated circuits. That was my ideal job that I imagined as a kid because I used to design with all these chips and I used to imagine what could be done with chips and I always liked to do that. But, when I came out to California, nobody was hiring …at least, maybe my skill set wasn’t fully developed. I didn’t quite have all the courses they were looking for, so, for whatever reason, I ended up not being able to get a job in high tech. In fact, money was running out. I took any job I could get. I circled every ad with a phone number and I finally ended up going to a copy machine place. I took their little test and did very well on it and they hired me right away. I worked three months there and, while I was fixing copy machines at all these different high tech companies, including many of the ones I wanted to work for, I talked to people and at one particular company, a very small company, nobody even knows what it is, they liked me and talked to me and offered me a job. I worked there about two years and a guy at that job left that job before I did – I was still working there – and he went and worked at the job I’m currently at now, which is Applied Biosystems.
BB – I see.
RR – Before I left that other place where I met that guy and, by the way, that … if it matters, that guys name is Mark – before I left the company where me and Mark were working I went for a start-up company and ended up getting a lot of very valuable experience. I did field service. I did manufacturing and testing. Just about everything except marketing in the company and that company, although it was an exciting job, the funder pulled out and I ended up only working there I think less than a year. I went and had lunch with that guy Mark, and Mark said, “Why don’t you come over and work for Applied Biosystems?” Basically, the interview was more or less a formality because Mark liked me and had worked with me before and he told the boss he should hire me so, I’ve been there ever since. It’s like I’m still there. It’s been almost twenty years. This coming January it will be twenty years with Applied Biosystems.
BB – OK. Well, you list your skills as quite a few different ones, Systems Engineer, Software Developer.
RR – Well, the company has been very good about that. I started out in Electronic Engineering and, in fact as close to a technician, I had to solve an issue with one of the existing products and the company basically let me do whatever I was interested in, and I chose different things over the years and, as the bio points out, the various skills that I have been able to amass with this company. Basically, the way it works with our company, if you do a good job and people like you, then a lot of people want you to work on their stuff and you get a lot of choices of what you want to do and, if you don’t do a good job, of course, then nobody wants you and you’re pretty much left over doing what else wants. That’s pretty much how our company works. What do you call it, meritocracy or something like that?
BB – OK. I see you even did some optic work.
RR – Optical engineering?
BB – Yes.
RR – I actually spent three months working two days a day. In the morning I went to work in manufacturing. I lowered myself. You know normally an engineer is like a step above the assembly people. But, they had a special area in the assembly area where they did optical components for our company. So, I basically checked in at 6:00 in the morning, talked all the dirty talk with those guys and hang out and was their friend and worked as an assembler in that optical facility. Then at 3:00 o’clock, after they all went home I came and I worked my regular engineering job until like 7:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening doing engineering. That three months of training basically convinced my management that I would be ready to do an optical design. So, I started dong some optical design and got some success and, very surprising to me, the lead project on the big genome project equipment that we ended up doing – we did the very first sequencer that did the human genome, that finished the human genome, they actually tapped me to do the optics design on that and I really hadn’t had very much skill – only what I could amass doing a couple of projects – but they were convinced that I was one of the best people in the company to do it and the rest is history.
BB – Well, that’s great.
RR – It’s been a very, very important product and I was very lucky to get hooked up with a very good vendor that turned out to do some pretty incredible things with that product.
BB – Right. I notice you also hold a few patents.
RR – Patents come with the territory. If you’re working in any kind of a high tech company and you’re solving problems and ….the company itself makes sure that they have what’s called ‘freedom to operate’. Whenever you make up a product you need to make sure that your competitors aren’t going to be able to do it and or, more importantly, aren’t going to be able to prevent you from doing it. So, a lot of those are system patents. Otherwise, I did have a few of them with just my name on it. Mostly just optical concepts in ways of doing different stuff that I’d be doing every day anyway.
BB – Right. OK. Well, let’s get back into square dancing. Let’s talk first of all about your web page, all8.com. You’ve got a …I’ve printed out this format and you cover a whole series of things. Tell us a little more about all8.
RR – Well, I started all8 because, while I was excited learning calling all the details of learning were very ready in my mind and, I figured if I didn’t write them down I was going to forget them and I figured, well, where am I going to write them down? Am I going to write them down on a piece of paper? Am I going to get on the computer and type them into a word processor? Then I sort of got the idea well, if I just typed them in in HTML, then I can leave it on the internet and maybe other people could see them too. So, that’s kind of how that started. In some ways my web site is more or less teaching callers how to teach ….I’m sorry, teaching callers how to call and teaching and callers how to teach. Those are the two areas that I’m interested in and I put all8.com up as a ‘teaching callers how to call’ web site long before I had any credentials. However, if I would have waited ten years or twenty or however long it takes for people to have respect in you and then did it, I would have lost all the details. They wouldn’t be ready in my mind. So it’s kind of ….it was the only way that it could have gotten started. Every time I kind of look back and kind of see what my idea was and try to correct a little bit. It takes so much time it’s probably, even now, there’s out-of-dateness. I don’t think I have all the Plus calls and the Mainstream calls all sorted out on the right list on every page (Bob chuckles) that sort of thing.
BB – Yes. Well then. But anybody can check into that web page and find a wealth of information and, as you mentioned in your bio, you can learn all your secrets.
RR – I pretty much don’t have any secrets. In fact, if I have any secrets at all I do kind of have … little bit have a secret … it’s music in the queue. We haven’t gotten into music production but I would say one of the …. one of the things that sets me apart from other callers is I think I have some of the best music in square dancing and, my dancers know it and I’ve really worked on collecting music, processing music. In fact, when you called me right now, I’d been working through ‘the queue’, which I have music in the queue that I work through, which I can explain a little bit more, to build up a very … a very diverse set of music. The music – the final music – after it’s done is available on my web site. So, that’s one secret that I’ll admit that I have.
BB – Are these reproducible like an MP3 or something like that?
RR – Well, I use a little MP3 player. I call without notes except maybe having a list at hand. I don’t call from cards at all. I don’t use the record sleeves. I don’t use any singing call lyrics or any of that kind of stuff. I call 100 % entirely from memory and that’s discipline. It’s not easy for me. I force myself to do that.
BB – Right. I was a memory caller myself. Anyway … how about recordings? Have you done any recordings?
RR – Just starting on that. The very first song I had any hand in at all is called ’Misty’ and it’s coming out. It’s originally on Riverboat Records and I have just, in fact, it’s on this months tape, ’Mist 232” has come out and, while I’m not that proud of how it came out, there’s a few things I would have done differently. It was, you know, baby’s first steps and, really what it was, I found this …. I have a huge queue of music. Is that OK if I get into this now?
BB – Sure.
RR – Here’s how my queue works. Any record that I like, any alternative song that I’ve ever heard when I’m listening to the radio, I’ll make a little note on my voice recorder and music is filed into a list. It starts out as a list. Then I go search online and I find songs and as I’m searching through songs if I find songs that I want I just take them and put them in a directory and they just sit there in the directory. And that …. I look for like a karaoke version, I’ll look for instrumental versions. If I hear a caller at a dance using a song that’s alternative and, I can’t figure out what it is I’ll ask him and I’ll put all this music in a queue, it’s a file folder. I keep working it through all these steps. Vinyl records have all those steps and I think I have an article on that on the web site how I do all the taking the noise out, doing the eq and rearrangement and all that kind of stuff. And for alternative music it’s the same sort of thing. It is like getting rid of vocal or lowering the vocals or rearranging it or making it formatted for me because I like my patter to be twelve minutes long. It’s sort of like being my standard. So, every song that I have that I use for patter, including all my square dance records, are all pre-looped twelve minutes long. I just push ’Play’ on my player and then when the song ….there’s always something in the song, and I make sure there’s something in the song about 32 to 64 beats from the end of the song that says, you know, “This is kind of towards the end of the song” which is my mental note that I have been calling too long. Wrap it up. (Bob chuckles) So, I don’t worry about record reset and I have very professional loops. When you loop into the music there’s no, I’d like to think, there’s no way that you can tell that it loop’s back. It’s a very, continuous, steady stream of music and then it ends after twelve minutes something like that. So, those songs that are working in the queue, the very final step is converting them to MP3 and putting them down on the player. And, of course, I keep my data base on the web site. I call it a data base but all that it is a list of the music that I have and that’s available for everybody to see what music I have. What’s not available is, because of licensing issues, which I don’t fully understand yet, I don’t believe that I can sell that music.
BB – I see.
RR – At the moment that’s annoying but it isn’t a priority job. I’m not faced with tons of people coming up to me and saying,
“Where did you get that song? Can I get a copy?” Maybe the people in our area have a lot of respect or restraint, whatever you call that, and I’m not getting those kinds of requests for the music. If I did get a lot of requests then it would be an issue that I’d have to solve. I’d like to find some way to do that. In the meantime, I have, over the last year – two years, put together a music studio. I do have an electronic music studio and it’s pretty nice. It’s got most of the latest, very professional software in it. Pro Tools and Logic. I’ve got a Macintosh. I’ve got lots of plug-ins including wave plug-ins and stuff like that. Very top quality stuff. I’ve invested a lot of money and I’ve also invested a lot of time researching to find out what things to get and, just last year I took a year of music production school. We have a local school here called Pyramind in San Francisco and I completed their music producer certificate program. So, that’s sort of in the works.
BB – I see
RR – I very interested in music. I’d like to do more. I also realize that my skills are very limited. I have worked with Carl Kaye, who a number of people … a number of callers are using and he’s done some work for me. And I’ve got … in fact, ‘Misty’, I had him play bass on it and I really respect Carl Kaye but his timing is very – it’s frustrating and sloppy for me. However, with digital tools you can clean all that stuff up on the computer. So that’s a lot of the work that I’ve done to try to put that together.
BB – Well, that’s interesting. Well, I’m interested also – I think you said that the first time you started calling at all was with a tape group, a workshop group and you were calling C3.
RR – Yeah. Well, in the very beginning I went to Mainstream class just like anybody and I was there for people. I wanted to make friends and, to this day that was the coldest, least friendly group I have ever been associated with ever.
BB – Is that so?
RR – I just stuck it out because I wanted it. I liked the square dancing and I figured that it would come in time. So I just trusted that it would come. Part of it was, probably that I was not socially adept. I was not a person that was, you know, refined socially. I probably said inappropriate things or bothered people or whatever. I had to develop those skills. So square dancing was in fact part of my growth and development. And, the people that probably encountered me the first time said – (chuckles) – you know, I’d rather not deal with that person, let somebody else deal with him. So, I went to Mainstream class for – I’m going to say – six months just ….
I went on, what is it, Tuesday nights and when I went home and I did other things. I thought it was great but I didn’t – there was no fog or whatever that I caught. But, right after I graduated Mainstream, after about six months, a friend of mine – another friend there, took me to another club and they danced Plus. I was actually really good friends with another guy that never even told me about this club because he danced Plus and I was only Mainstream at that point. So, the second friend took me there and I was wonderfully received. I felt like I had great friends. People really liked me and, I went home and I read the book. I would say it took about three weeks and then we had a Fly-In. That particular club had a Fly-In. It’s like a festival where you have a weekend dance. I was full Plus after those three weeks. What I did was I read the book and then just jumped on the floor and started dancing level. During that convention or during the Fly-In they had an introduction to the other gender because I originally learned as a girl, believe it or not, and I learned introduction to Boy. So, I went home after that convention and re-read the entire Mainstream list and Plus list trying to focus on what the boy’s part was. The following week I felt, I felt so successful dancing ‘Boy’ that I decided, well what the heck, I’m going to sign up for an Advanced class. So, I found an Advanced class that was starting in August. I think were about June right now.
So, in August I was planning to start this Advanced class. But, between June and August, I had not only learned all of Advanced but I’d actually started with C1. There was a C1 class that started the week before in August and I was already about three or four calls into C1 when that Advanced class started. So, when I started the Advanced class I actually asked them and they accepted me as an angel, because a lot of them had seen me dance C1 the week before in the class. So, three more months goes by and I was actually full C1 and, by the time the one year anniversary rolled around I was full C2 at speed. Hard, Ross Howell C2. We danced down in southern California and I was also attending the tape classes. So, I developed a way to do the ….to learn, how to learn on the book and then just jump on the floor and start dancing.
BB – That’s crazy.
RR – I kept going. I went up to C3A and then I took caller’s school and that was at, I think, my year and six months point. But, I didn’t do anything with calling. So I think we’re up to ‘96 now. ‘96 I took calling school but I didn’t do that well. In fact I would say I didn’t do very well at all. To me it seemed like it was one more thing I wasn’t ready to handle. But I was interested in it.
So, another six months goes by and, let’s see, no, we’re about June the following year. I was just …. I had practiced my C3A and C3A is a pretty hard level. C3A I jumped in a weekend. There was a weekend that welcoming up for a C3A weekend and I had not done C3A at all. No practice. No phantom tips. Sometimes I practiced the level dancing phantom but in C3A I was literally thrown in from zero. I did so well that weekend – in fact I asked the floor – I asked the caller, “How come you keep giving the same part of this other call because I hadn’t danced all the part of all the calls yet. It was only the first time. Another…. A C3B tape group, which is now apropos to your question, invited me to attend their C3B class which was already 20 calls underway and they had confidence that I would be able to dance in that club which, of course, was no problem. It was a pretty soft 3 club. But anyway, on that tape club I would say two or three months later that the caller needed a sub so I worked up some cards and taught that class. He’d given me the next set of calls to teach. By the way, I was already full C3B at that point anyway. I’d already danced several weekends. He gave me that chance which was, I believe, my very first chance to call. So I taught the 3B class, more or less sight calling, but sight calling from little bits and pieces and the students loved me. They really gave me a lot of encouragement to go and learn. So, when I say my first was 3B that was that. When I started all8.com in 1998 that is the moment that I would say I really started calling and that’s what’s located online or noted in the files that I started calling Santa Cruz Squares one tip a week. And at that point I would say I started calling, so that’s about ten years ago now, coming up on ten years.
BB – Right. Then, somewhere along the line your interest turned back to Mainstream.
RR – It did. Well, the first class was Plus and I’d always called one tip a week or, you know, the here and there odd pickup dance. And, it wasn’t until Western Star said, “We don’t like our instructor. We want you. Would you come and teach our Mainstream class?” At that point, I said, “Absolutely. This is my break. This is the one thing I‘ve always been wanting to do. To call fulltime or, you know, every week at a club” and that’s when I turned to Mainstream. I felt that, because I had been collecting choreography and because I was really focusing on Mainstream in my growth and development, attending class, I went to like, twenty classes. I’d been in twenty Plus classes at least during my….some of those middle years like ‘96, ‘97, ‘98 and maybe even ‘99. All that time period I’d danced ….there was three years where I danced eight times a week. I danced twice on Wednesday and twice in Sunday and I had Saturday off. (Bob chuckles) In fact, I think I’ve missed dancing forty days in a row three times by one day. So, I never quite made forty times in a row. But I was very serious about learning to dance and learning to call. Most importantly learning how to teach. I wanted to attend classes to hear what the instructor said and how students learned.
BB – Yeah. Well then, after your interest along that line, now you say you’re getting more comfortable with Advanced?
RR – Advanced is the same thing where they asked me to teach an Advanced class out of the blue. I wasn’t trying to do Advanced. I wasn’t even that interested in it. But they said they wanted me and I said, “Well, great. I’ll do Advanced“. That has been about two and a half years ago. But, my real problem with Advanced now is that I have two apprentices and the apprentices – how do you say the plural of apprentice – however, my two apprentices are interested in Advanced. So I let them call the Advanced tips and, consequently I don’t get any practice. When I started calling – I hate to name names – but, there’s a caller in our area that did not, absolutely did not give me any encouragement whatsoever, and I felt like it was very hard to get calling opportunities with all these other clubs that wanted … you know, that wanted my services or wanted to support me. Almost always other clubs. In fact, I remember at my main club, which was El Camino Reelers, by the time they asked me to call, the very, very first time I think I’d already been calling like three or four years and I was very good by then. I could sight call and resolve and there was flow and timing and singing calls and all that stuff was almost completely, fully developed. But, pretty much nobody in that club knew I was even a caller because, this particular caller was not supportive of my calling.
BB – I see. Jealous…
RR – And I’ve always felt like that’s not going to happen when I get up there, so, I’m the exact opposite of that. I, in fact, reach out to people. I encourage callers and I look for people that have the interest and the talent to do it and encourage them as much as I can. It may actually be .… we have a third person in our club that’s going to be interested in apprentice calling. So I have three apprentices in our club that I can support.
BB – Well that leads us into this ….. I see in your bio that calling ….. you call it a Newer Caller Workshop and Hoedown.
RR – Yeah. That’s something that started when I went to a caller’s school. In the beginning…. well, let me just say this…. I don’t think that I’m compatible with caller’s school. I like learning and I don’t mind learning in a school, but I think I learn a lot faster than other people and I also learn by doing and one of the problems that I’ve always had with caller’s schools is, is the students talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and then you get a few minutes at the microphone. OK, now sit down and it’s someone else’s turn. I never like that at all. So, the very first ….well maybe the second school … the second school that I went to ….. maybe it was the first one …. I said, “Guys, as soon as this school’s over, let’s go into a room and let’s just take turns calling. That’s all I want. You can do what ever you want. Nobody’s going to judge you. Just get some mic time” and we got a bunch, probably five, six or eight guys … there was at least enough guys for a square and that’s all we did. I think it was like two to three hours and the energy was great. You call for five minutes, you sit down or go dance in the square and the next person would come up. And I said, “Gosh, what a great idea. I’m going to do this when I get home”. So that’s really what started it. I got home and, because I live in the Bay area, just about any time there are ten or twelve callers that are probably wanting more practice. So, I announced it and people showed up. And we’ve had actually had some pretty good dances. It’s been a very successful thing. I’ve had some unsuccessful ones. I think was a hoedown. I think we barely got even got one square, if even that. Then I’ve had some with like three squares with a huge turnout with good support from the dancers and good energy. So, it mixed. I don’t do it on a regular schedule. I just kind of put the feelers out and, if the people are interested in it then I’ll do it. In fact, I think there is probably some feeling in the air to do it … if I announced one now I could probably make a ….I have to make sure it doesn’t interfere with my job and my other obligations.
BB – Yes. Well, you’re not calling this a caller’s school though?
RR – No, I think my – what do you call it – syllabus is online. I kind of thought that if I put my syllabus online other people would just copy it and do the same thing and then, you know, I wouldn’t do it any more and I had this little thing – “am I giving away my business model? Am I going to put myself out of business?” (Bob chuckles) But, I’ve actually heard a number of people asking me to do this caller’s school because they don’t like the way these other people are running their schools. The last one that I did, the dancers … the want to be callers booked the hall for me, picked the date, got the insurance and said, “Rich, just come … just come do this thing”.
BB – OK. Well, I encourage you to keep that up because it certainly sounds like a wonderful program to me.
RR – It’s something that can probably only work in a major metropolitan area. I’m sure that if I was in, you know, northern Nebraska … well, probably not Nebraska but, you know, North Dakota somewhere I would have trouble getting enough callers to support something like that.
BB – Yes, that’s true. Or, in a place like Connecticut where cities are close together.
RR – There you go.
BB – Yeah. Can we shift gears and …. Do you do any contras?
RR – No. I tried it. It wasn’t my thing. I like the people that are in it. I think there’s like Kris Jensen and Bill Eyler and Andy Shore. Those are people that I’ve known through square dancing that have pretty much gone gung ho on the whole contra thing. It’s just, what I don’t like is the repetitiveness and it’s always easy. It’s not … it’s not …. like choreographically interesting or engaging for me. It seems like memory. If I were going to be a contra caller then I would be just memorizing a bunch of stuff not necessarily doing what I enjoy about square dancing.
BB – How about the musical aspects of contra?
RR – I like the rhythm and timing. I’m trying to bring that into my squares. I have to admit, a bit unsuccessfully but I want to call with that kind of rhythm that gets you to balance and go with the time of the music. I do feel that, when I call really well, which is not all the time, but I’ve had moments of it, the dancers really do click in. When the dancers kind of click out and I see that they’re a little off the beat, I can see it’s need. I can see that I didn’t quite time that right or I didn’t line it up with the right cues or whatever ahead of time so that it was successful it’s just something that I’m working on.
BB – Right. Now, how about round dancing?
RR – I took a round dance class. Pretty sedate for me. I appreciate it but, I guess, I just don’t have enough time for that kind of stuff. My current partner is …pretty much lets me out of the house two nights a week and that’s it and I call for two clubs. So, all I do now is square dancing. I used to do lots of stuff. I used to do ballroom. I even taught country western and west coast swing and line dances and stuff at the local country western bar but, since I’ve my current partner I haven’t been back a single time. Oh well.
BB – Yes. Well, tell us about some of the big festivals and conventions and things like that that you may have been involved in.
RR – I always go to the gay convention as a dancer but I have this little insecurity thing. I will never, or virtually never, ask to call and I don’t ….I never reply to cattle calls. Somebody says, you know, get your convention slots and get your thing in early. I never, ever do that. If someone personally calls me and says, “Rich, we’d like you to call.” Of course, I would consider it and do it and Eric Henerlau was very generous and offered me a chance to call at the state convention, which I’ve never called at before and I had to turn him down. I was doing something else that weekend. I think it’s out there and my chance is coming. I did call one very successful asymmetric C1 sight calling that was very fine and the dancers had a blast. In fact, one or two dancers came up to me and said, “ When are you going to call C1 again. Remember how much fun we had back in …. I don’t even remember when it was. It was just a crazy thing. I think Bill Ackerman and I were sort of like taking turns doing stuff and it was just sort of crazy. But, that’s about it on my convention and festival calling experience.
BB – Well, I think you said you’ve been out of the country too. You mentioned China.
RR – That was silly. That group went to China. It was a square dance related group. I just impromptu called and we called a lot of unique places like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Gardens and all that. We did all that stuff. I called one tip on the Wall … on the China….on the Great Wall of China where I climbed to the top of one of those buildings, each one of those little platforms, those castle-top things that has a building in the middle of it. I stood at the top and the heads couldn’t see each other and the sides couldn’t see each other and we did like all four couple things that were kind of crazy, around the building where they couldn’t see each other. But that’s just … that’s silly.
BB – OK. I still have a few more questions but I’d like to take the time to turn this tape over so just hold on
End of Side A – Rich Reel Interview
BB – OK. I’d like to get a little philosophical.
RR – OK
BB – What do you find appealing about calling?
RR – Gosh. It’s karaoke. It’s solving Rubik’s Cubes and social and music and stuff all rolled up into one. You get to boss people around. You get to be the center of attention. It takes you into musical … you know, looking for music and all those … and gosh, there’s an endless number of things. You know, being a leader, getting respect from people. I’m not even sure I can list all the things. There are just so many things. So, at one time, even dancing was enough and calling is all that times ten.
BB – Yes. Which reminds me, are you dancing at all now?
RR – Laughs. During the summer at El Camino I’m off. They have guest callers come in which I fully support because it really teaches the dancers to hear other dancing styles. And I was dancing and my own dancers that I trained myself were correcting my mistakes. (Bob laughs) I didn’t think that I would ever lose dancing but, maybe I am.
BB – Yes. You can very easily.
RR – I have to laugh. At convention I actually tried dancing C1. I think I’ve danced like two tips of C1 in the entire last year and I kind of didn’t do that bad. There was one or two calls that I didn’t know what they were but I had that look in my face like, “Help me please” and somebody reached out their hand and I ended up in the right place.
BB – Right. Well, another question I have been asking – do you have any regrets? Anything you wish you had done differently?
RR – Well, not any big regrets. I remember being so, so interested in square dancing and my enthusiasm for square dancing hit a peak when another club leader, I’m not even sure what they were, board member or something, basically curtailed me and said they didn’t want me doing – I don’t even remember what it was – and it just really, it just knocked me because I was so emotionally interested in it and wanted the best for everybody. It was devastating to me to realize that not everybody agreed that what I was doing was the right thing or, you know, in everybody’s best interest. So that really kind of shocked me and slowed me down. You know, do I have any regret or that’s something I have to learn.
BB – Right. Well, I had the same problem years ago but, be that as it may. I notice you list some other interests. You’ve already mentioned editing music and composition and recording, etc. I see one little item in there that says flying.
RR – Well, I did fly for a while. If the budget allows I’ll start it again. In fact, I’m all the time thinking like when I’m sitting on the john and stuff. I kind of picture … picture an airplane coming in for a landing, the winds from the left and it’s shifting to the right. How do you feel it and how do you push the rudder. I’m thinking about all that stuff but, at this point, it’s just…. I think it’s just thinking and not action. That’s just total me and just total money and time. Probably mostly
BB – So it’s just recreational then?
RR – Correct. At this point. I think I’m right teetering right on the edge of getting my private pilot’s license. I’ve got enough hours and I think I’d just have to take the test and get it done and I haven’t done it.
BB – Good. Well, you know you’re talking to and old World War II pilot.
RR – Oh, my goodness. I didn’t know that.
BB – Yeah. I flew in the Eighth (actually the Ninth, Ed.). I flew three missions out of England on D-Day…..
RR – My goodness.
BB – ….in a P-47.
RR – Did you have faith in it?
Bb – I’m sorry?
RR – Did you have faith in your aircraft?
BB – Oh yes. Absolutely.
RR – Well built.
BB – Yes. Really great. And I see you do some wood working?
RR – Yeah. I think I’ve always been just handy with my hands in general. I have a shop in Hayward. My address is in Hayward and I own a house there, although I’m renting it out now. At that house – we bought that house because of the beautiful shop. I think it is 22 by 25 feet, polished floor , two 220 volt, 30 amp service out to it. Roll up door. It’s just a great shop. I basically bought the whole property because it had this shop and they just threw the house in for free. And, it’s all loaded. I’ve got everything you’d ever want – radial arm saws and band saws and a full metal shop and a machine shop with lathes and milling machines and a sheet metal shop. Breaks and shears and all that kind of stuff.
BB – And you do some counseling?
RR – I’d like to do counseling because I think I’m good at it. I don’t know as I have credentials per se but I listen to people’s problems and I can very quickly point to the … point to the issues.
BB – OK. Well, the question – the main question today is, where do you think square is going in general from your standpoint?
RR – Well, in my own local situation my numbers are good. In fact, ever since I started calling for my club, attendance has been up. Of course it averages. It comes and goes. Last year in my El Camino club I think we had like one or two dancers at the end so that wasn’t a particularly entrusted year but, over all I’ve had pretty generous sized classes and, in a historic sense we’re as close to attendance levels that I remember back when Andy Shore was the caller. I feel that, you know, the sky is not falling in my own local sphere. However, when I go to convention I see that where gay square dancing always seemed to be resistant to the changes in the straight community. I think even that’s shifting. I think we’re cheating too which is one of the posts and I’m waiting for the lists to get quiet then I’ll send out on this particular subject, that I believe the reason that gay square dancing is holding its own isn’t because there’s more gay people in. In fact I think it’s less, it’s because straight people are starting to support it. But I think that gay square dancing on its own is down and, to me that would mean …. I think it’s going down and I don’t believe it’s because square dancing isn’t as relevant as it once was. I think it’s just diluted by so many other things. There are more things but there are even more things to do. I was kind of thinking that, with all this virtual stuff that people are doing that they would get tired of virtual things and that they would want the real things – real social things where you actually can interact with people.
BB – Good thought.
RR – I was thinking there would be a resurgence at some point but I haven’t seen it yet and can’t predict when it might come. I’m undamped … my enthusiasm for square dancing has been completely undamped by the numbers going down or any of that kind of stuff. To begin, my clubs are doing well, historically doing great in fact one club that’s pretty much growing a square a year for the four years I’ve been there.
BB – Well, that’s great. Do you have any thoughts on something like the ABC program or CDP?
RR – Yeah, and I post on that kind of stuff. I was originally intrigued by it but here is where I think the true…. I guess fallacy. Basic has not been a success, and Mainstream even I would say has not been a success. I’m seeing Plus as being what people that are going to stick around in square dancing want to do. I believe that if you’re going to do entry level stuff where anybody can come any night they want and just, you know, they don’t have to invest a lot of time, you’re only going to get so many people and they’re going to get bored quick and, the people that just drop in casually are not strong supporters of square dancing. So, I don’t see it as being a recipe to save square dancing. I appreciate the basics. In fact, I’m a better caller on the lower calls than I am on the higher calls myself. But, I’m not seeing people wanting to do square dancing a little bit, in big numbers. But there’s barely more people who want to do square dancing a little bit than want to do it a lot and the people that I’m finding there’s more of, or the most of, are the people that enjoy learning with your friends. Join us and we’re going to learn for a whole year and you’re going to have fun. Every week it’s going to be something new and a whole group of people are going to come through together and, it’s not a year of annoying lessons until you get to the fun where you can start to do something. In fact, it’s actually the process that’s fun. That’s where I’m putting my effort and my emotion because in making the process of starting square dancing and progressing all the way up to the Plus level fun, all the way along.
BB – Right. Do you do any one night stands Rich?
RR – I used to and I tend to give them away now. What I don’t like is the extra effort that it takes to give up your schedule, planning the schedule, going there and then I don’t like the unforeseen things that happen. I think the last couple that I went to some mom, just totally excited, wants to bring her two and three year old kids in. Of course, all the kids want to do is run to mommy but they’re breaking down the whole square. I can’t do anything. I can ask them to leave but I’m not that kind of a person. I just don’t like the whole scene. There are two or three people in our area who seem to enjoy them and I think, “Great. I’m going to give them to you”. I think they’re fine but I prefer to let others do that.
BB – OK. Well, I think we’ve pretty well covered everything I wanted to cover. Is there anything you’d like to add to this tape?
RR – I was just trying to think of what all of my square dancing assets were. You’ve hit on a lot of them. You didn’t quite touch on the lists. I have …. I picked up about three years ago all of the lists that were on the dms-home, run by Doug Sewell, if you can remember back there. The list I remember for like a year or two years before they went off the line. Any time there was an issue or a problem you’d write Doug Sewell and nothing would happen. He’d either abandon it or the account was disabled or who knows. But when they finally went off line, I think it was a whole month, I just thought, ”You know, I could do this. I could just …. I could get the mailing lists and I could send out a note and ask people who want the list back. So, I did that for one list. I think it was just for sd-callers and the response was just overwhelming. “Yes, we’re so happy you’re taking this on. Go.” So I set up the sd-callers and I quickly took all the rest of the lists too which was GCA, a challenge list, the lesbian/gay communication list and, I think, about three or four other lists that were on. And I’ve picked up a couple of other lists along the way and I think maybe I’ve even lost one along the way, that are lists that I have as part of my web site, all8.com server to do that. I enjoy seeing to it that the discussions are handled in a civilized way. I like to see that there is no spam on the list and I like the ….the people that I don’t like aren’t in charge – did I say that right? I’ve seen a lot of people try to run lists. They like, censor the discussion, which I don’t like. I like every point of view included. They upgrade to all this HTML or smiley faces or all this other kind of gobbledygook which to me doesn’t add value. So, to keep it from going down hill, that’s why I took them on. So I continue to keep them.
BB – OK. Then why don’t we call this a day?
RR – OK.
Bb – I really appreciate your taking the time for this Sunday afternoon and I hope I have the chance to meet you some day.
RR – Absolutely.
BB – One of the friends of mine who does some transcribing for me is Gardner Patton says he’s met you at Callerlab. So, if there’s nothing else I’ll just say, “Thank you very much” and…
RR – Well, I’m interested in you and I probably could put some comments on Callerlab…..
BB – OK.
RR – …. Quick comments on Callerlab?
BB – Sure.
RR – I signed up for Callerlab at the very first minute. I think back in 1996. I said if I’m going to be a caller I need to be a member of Callerlab and I need to get involved. So I signed up for Callerlab and I think I tried to get on some committees and nobody signed me up. I went back the next year and I kind of felt like I had a cool reception, like you have to at least call for three years to be anybody. But the moment that I was finally able to … that I had met, that I called fifty dances a year for three years is when they changed the rules to make it easier. Now it’s a lot easier to get on all these Callerlab committees and I don’t really have the available time and effort like I used to have. I’m getting some feeling, now this is probably emotional on my part, but I getting some emotional feeling like it’s going to take a lot of political types of stuff to get involved in Callerlab, not just….
BB – One for all and all for one and one for all?
RR – Well, if you have a good idea it’s not quite enough. You have to like get on the committee and you have to talk to people and you have to lobby for it and you have to define your position and you have to make sure nobody else is doing that and you’re not stepping on toes. It’s kind of all this other stuff and, to me, that’s discouraging which is – I think what they’re trying to do is assert the old guard and they’re trying to hold onto stuff and see that it’s done through them. I wish Callerlab was less like that. In particular, I would like to see all of their minutes or communications in particular done electronically, so that there’s a record of it and that you could get to that record and, if you sign up for a committee, whatever committee that is, you can go to a web site and read about all the stuff that’s been happening for the last 2 or 3 or 4 years and bring yourself up to date. A lot of that stuff is hard to get. I’m sure it exists but it’s kind of protected, and its … you’ve kind of got to know somebody who knows somebody else that can get you in there. And that’s always kind of put me off. So, I support Callerlab but I don’t see myself being a big contributor given the current state of things. I think I’m just going to wait.
BB – OK. Well, that’s an interesting thought and I appreciate your explaining. I’m sorry I forgot to ask. It’s one question I forgot to ask you. OK, well …..
RR – I’m interested in what you’re doing. Here’s your chance to talk or do you want to do that some other time?
BB – Well, I’ll be happy to chat with you sometime but this is primarily your tape and your ….you know I could go on for…
I started calling in 1935 …
RR – Wow!
BB – … so I’ve got a lot of experience and I’d be happy to chat with you sometime about it.
RR – I’m very interested. In fact I’m honored that you even care what I have to say given your vast experience.
BB – Well, you have certainly a very intellectual approach to this whole thing and I really enjoyed talking with you Rich…..
RR – Well, thank you Bob.
BB – …and I appreciate your taking the time and I’ll….
RR – Will I see you at Callerlab?
BB – Well, it’s possible but not probable. I’m sort of on a restricted income and my health isn’t the best and one thing and another but, I maintain this little project and hope it makes a contribution to square dancing sometime in the future and I hope somebody will look back and say, “Wow, that guy was really doing something good”
RR – Absolutely. Well, who all have you interviewed?
BB – Well you’ll have to check on the Square Dance Foundation of New England’s web page. That’s sdfne.org then click the library.
RR – www. – hold on – dot, say again….
BB – s-d-f-n-e – Square Dance Foundation of New England
RR – Square Dance Foundation of New England dot org?
BB – Just using the letters s-d-f-n-e dot org and then click ‘Library’ and you’ll find…. I think you’re the one hundred and eighth…..
RR – Wow. I feel like I’m up there.
BB – ….interview that I did.
RR – That’s amazing. I can’t believe you’ve done that many.
BB – Well, I was able to …. I started out to interview all the living Hall of Fame, Milestone and Silver Halo award recipients and I managed to do that and I picked up a myriad of others that I knew from various other functions and National Conventions, and Callerlab etc. that I picked up along the way, you know. I traveled about 25,000 miles gathering these interviews and lately I’m doing them all by telephone. Ok, then ….
RR – You’re the one that Clark Baker posted all of those old tapes … or did Clark do that? Clark had posted that there were all these recordings made of the old callers in the New England area.
BB – Yes. Well, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the same thing that you’re talking about but ….
RR – 1960’s era recordings.
BB – OK. No, that’s a separate project. Clark did that, yes.
RR – You’re doing the interviews but you’re the same square dance foundation.
BB – Yes, and Jim Mayo has a separate project too and he’s trying to get voice prints of more people. Incidentally, on the foundations web page you can read an interview and, if we have the tape of it, you can listen to the tape at the same time.
RR – That’s cool. I’m a little embarrassed about my tape.
BB – OK. So, I’m going to shut this off and thank you again.
RR – Thank you so much. I absolutely wish you the very best. I’m totally honored and I’ll look forward to our chance to chat. Let it be soon.
BB – Good. Thanks Rich.
RR – Take care.
BB – Yep. Bye.
( Tape clicks off – End of Interview with Rich Reel)