Bob Brundage - This is Bob Brundage and today we're having a nice conversation with Al Stevens who is in Germany and I'm still in Albuquerque. The date today is June the 25th, 2003 and we're talking by telephone to Al and Al, we'll like to start the way we usually do. Tell me a little about life before square dancing. Where you were born and brought up, etc.
Al Stevens - Was there?
BB- I hear you.
AS - I was born in Waltham, MA. I grew up in Derry, NH. I went through school, through high school, attended the NH College of Accounting and Commerce in Manchester, then shortly after my sixteenth birthday, I had just received my driver's license and I had a younger brother who was signed up for square dance lessons at the Grange Hall in Sandown, NH. And I of course, being a young whippersnapper fresh out of high school and in college and had a driver's license. My father broke the news to me that he couldn't take my younger brother to the square dance lessons and wanted to know if I would, and I did, and in the parking lot I saw a lady walking up the steps, the Grange Hall steps and I thought I recognized her as a school mate of mine and I called her name. She stopped, came down the steps and came toward the car and the closer she got to the car the more I realized she wasn't the school mate I thought she was. I sat there with egg on my face and apologized and she said, "Oh, are you here to take square dance lessons too" and I said, "No, I'm here to drop my brother oft" and she said, "Well tonight is our last open house. You don't need to know anything about the activity. Why don't you come in and dance with me". And my father was an uneducated man but had told me when I was young, that he would whip my butt if he ever found out I turned down a dance with a pretty woman, or a free beer. And that was the start of my involvement in the activity. that was back in March of 1958.
BB - There you go. OK. And then you went on to school or into the service or what?
AS - Yeah. I graduated from high school, I was in college, when the Viet Nam war broke out. Of course, back in those days we had a draft and I found out, through my next door neighbor who works at the Draft Board in NH, that my name was coming up close to the top of the draft so I decided to, instead of being forced to join the Army, I decided to start looking at the recruiting stations. I went and visited the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army recruiters, thought the US Air Force had the best offer. Joined the Air Force and spent twenty years and a couple of months working for Uncle Sam.
BB - OK, so, and you wound up in Germany.
AS - Eventually, yeah. My Air Force career started in, well I was enlisted in Manchester, NH, and went from there to San Antonio, TX, Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. Then I was sent from Lackland to Keesler Air Force Base in MS to Travis Air force Base in CA, from there to Tripoli in North Africa. From Tripoli, North Africa I was sent to Diluth, MN, Diluth to Cameron Bay, Viet Nam, Cameron to Hawaii for five gorgeous years, Hickham Field in Hawaii to Langley Air Force Base in VA for five beautiful years and I ended up in Ramstein Air Base in Germany for five years before I ultimately retired. And all this time I kept my finger in the pot calling.
BB - Right. OK. Well, following your square dance classes way back in NH, then you continued dancing there and how did you get into calling?
AS - That's funny. My, the club I belonged to was a teen age club. It was called the Sundown Shufflers and our club caller was a man by the name Eddie Deveau and one day he had a barbecue at his house, it was in April, and it was a beautiful spring day I recall. It was on a weekend and in April he had us over to his place for a barbecue. He had been doing, back in those days, Bob, as you probably recall, lessons weren't as long as they are today. We went three open houses and then we learned how to dance and I think the entire duration of time was less than ten, twelve weeks. And we were graduate dancers. We had this barbecue. He had been doing a singing call throughout the lessons called, "We're Drifting Further and Further Apart". It was on the Bogan label many, many years ago. And I asked him, I said, "Mr. DeVeau, would you call Drifting Further Apart, I just love the song the way the tune is put together. He said, "AI, I am so tired of calling that, if you want to hear it, you call it". And I said, "OK", and I did.
BB - I'll be darned.
AS - It was the start of something interesting. From there, I decided I would like to get involved, more involved in calling. I kind of liked what I heard at the end of the singing call, the sound of two hands coming together in rhythmic applause was overwhelming and coming from a musical background anyway I had dabbed with playing guitar and singing in a Rockabilly band in high school and enjoyed music and I saw a flyer advertising a callers school done by Mr. Jim Mayo. And I applied in writing for the callers school and on the questionnaire was a few statements I had to answer and one of them was, " How long have you been dancing?" and when I put in months, I should have put in years, Jim came back with a very diplomatic letter and explained that his prerequisite is that you should be dancing at least three years before you get involved in calling. And he thanked me for my interest but did not allow me in his callers school. So, I taught myself.
BB - All right, OK. Then did you eventually wind up in a callers school or not?
AS - Eventually, yes. Yeah I had a knack for music and singing was no problem for me, singing calls became no problem. Once I found the trick to, once I found out that the modules are contained in a singing call can be interchanged, all you had to do was you know, plug and play like we do today with Microsoft. But once I found that it was very easy for me to adapt and I learned from talking to people who came through about patter. I recall talking to Marshall Flippo one time he came through New England and I asked him what success was, what the key behind the success of calling patter was and he said, "How many in a three hour dance" he said, " how many tips do you usually call ?" I figured, well, close to eight and he said, "OK, if you call eight tips" he said, "you have eight singing calls and eight patter records, right?" and I said, "Right". He said, "Do you know the singing call figures that are contained in each singing call that you have?" And I said, "Yes". He said, "Good". He said " What I'd recommend is that you take the figure from singing call # 8 and use that in your patter # 1. Tip # 1". And he said, "instead of Swing Corner and Promenade, just Allemande Left and Come Back and Promenade and insert a circle break periodically to avoid being, boring the dancers". I thought that over and said, "Man, that's cool, that's, you know, that's easy". And then the figure for singing call # 7 put in patter # 2. I said, "Damn, that's easy" I said, " Isn't there going to be a period in the evening where you're going to come together?
BB - Where the twain shall meet.
AS - He said, "Sure is", but he said, "Hey, where do most clubs, when do most clubs have their refreshment break?” I said, "ah ha", he said, "There's your answer”.
BB - OK. Leave it to Marshall, right?" OK. Well that's great. Did you recall any other mentors along the way?
AS - Boy, did I, too numerous to mention. My first open dance that I soloed in was the fourth Saturday in April, 1958 and I, shortly after that I, like I mentioned, I had to join the Air Force. I found myself out in California and California had a training program that is, in my estimation excellent. It was a mentor system that they had and I was graceful enough to be mentored by Bill Castner, the late Bill Castner. And I learned an awful lot from him. Of course, I had also been a very staunch fan of a lot of people in the New England area, names that I can recall. Jim Mayo, of course was an icon that still exists, your brother, AI was an icon of mine, Gloria Rios was, Mal Cameron, Mal Yikes Cameron, were all influential in my development. It was when I was stationed in Hawaii I had the pleasure of hosting a dance for your brother AI. He brought a tour group over there. He and I did a dance together. I sponsored, my club sponsored a dance for him at Fort DeRussy in Honolulu and we advertised it as "An AI of an evening", AI Brundage and AI Stevens. We had a good time and he personally invited me to a Callers Seminar for experienced callers that was held by Deuce Williams in Troy, New Hampshire. The first year I couldn't attend because of military commitments. Then I found myself the following year stationed in Virginia and I got a, I sent AI a letter and told him I wouldn't be able to make it the first year but the second year I could attend if he had that school again and he sent me an another invitation, I attended the school and that was the start of my career as I know it today. I learned a lot from that school.
BB - Right. Well I know your travels, I know you must have bumped into a lot of different situations. You been stationed so many different places. But I'm primarily interested in your association with Callerlab. I know you've been very active with Callerlab Board of Directors and so forth. Tell us a little more about that.
AS - OK. In Hawaii, Jack Lasry and Ron Schneider brought a tour group over. We worked a dance together. They encouraged me to join Callerlab. I didn't know what Callerlab was, they explained it to me and back in those days, the, you were invited to become a member by written invitation. I believe each of the members had so many invitations that they could extend. I was extended a written invitation by Jack Lasry and that was to attend the very first Callerlab convention in 1975 in Chicago I believe. However, again, due to military commitments I couldn't attend that convention. I subsequently was asked the following year, by Jack to attend the convention and I did. I joined Callerlab in 1976, been an active member since. In 1992, I was elected to the Board of Governors of Callerlab and remained in that position now. Have been active on various committees, an active member of the Mainstream and Plus committee and Chairman of the Overseas Advisory Committee. And take an active roll in the activity more so than before, especially after retired. I don't have much time to play golf. The weather is not conducive to good golf playing here in Europe so I better do something else.
BB - You'd better move to Albuquerque. We play here all year round but, be that as it may. Well, when was it you actually retired from the military, AI?
AS - The first of October '83.
BB - Oh, that long ago
AS - I put in twenty years.
BB - I didn't realize that.
AS - That's life when you're having fun.
BB - Yeah. Well, then somewhere along the line you met your bride.
AS - Yes, I sure did. We met in a square dance class that I conducted here in Germany. Took us a long time to break the ice and get together. I've always had a philosophy that I should not mix personal life with business and I had kept this philosophy all my personal career. I had been married in the past. I had married someone who was not a square dancer and got her involved in square dancing. We ultimately did some recording together on the Windsor label years ago. Then that marriage didn't work out. I had decided not to, or have always decided not to mix business with pleasure. However, when my wife came along and I had her in a class, she had studied in the, at the University of South Carolina in America for three years. I was just dumbfounded at her, the way she mastered the English language. That coupled with my butchering of the German language, just fell right in, you know. We began to date and we ended up getting married.
BB - Oh, that's great.
As - And I broke my promise to myself not to get involved.
BB - I hear you. Right, we, of course since then, you've become sort of the head honcho in the European Circuit if you will. I know one of the questions that I been asking everybody and this might be a good place to put it in, where do you think square dancing has been and where do you think it is now and where do you think it's going?
AS - Bob, I can only answer from my perspective here. In Europe the activity is extremely alive and well. I only hear of problems that have developed in other parts of the world, and I don't speculate, I just hear about these things and I, for the life of me, I just don't understand. I want to back up just a tad and mention that, when I first arrived in Frankfurt, Germany I was a I was sent here by the United States Air Force. When I got off the airplane in Frankfurt I was met at the airport by an Army Major, an Army Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer and an Army E-9 and their respective positions were, the Army Major was the President of the European Callers and Teachers Association. The warrant Officer was the Training Director for ECTA, and the E-9 was the Secretary of ECTA. And they were there to roll out the red carpet, not because of my calling attributes but because I was the first member of Callerlab to hit the European Theatre. And at that particular point in time Callerlab was revered. Callerlab was an organization that established and set the policies for where the activity was going. They made recommendations that I encouraged the European Callers and Teachers Association to pick up, and we adhered to the recommendations that Callerlab made. We made very good use of the entry level. We made sure that our callers did not call off the program. We made sure that what Callerlab recommended we took as gospel because of the reputation that Callerlab had. And in my estimation we had proven that what Callerlab recommended really does work. The activity has grown in the short time I have been here. I was, I spent ten years on the Board of the European Callers Association the last five years of which I was President and since my tenure on the Board of the European Association and today the activity has more than quadrupled. We have four times as many callers in the activity today than we had back then. We have five times as many clubs involved in dancing today than we did then. The entire activity has on a completely, you know, we're still growing. And I still maintain that what the wisdom that Callerlab bestowed upon us really does work.
BB - Well, I imagine a lot
AS - Unfortunately we can't force every caller in the world to join Callerlab and to abide by Callerlab's philosophy. And that's, to me, where the biggest problem lies today.
In America there is another organization that has cropped up that is providing a lot of competition for the organization and it's unfortunate that the people don't adhere to Callerlab's recommendations.
BB - Right. Well, part of it today, I sort of assume and you verify or dispute one of the rules that you have been able to keep intact is the fact that people should stay in one program for an extended period of time before they go on to another.
AS - That was exactly what Callerlab recommended. They recommended that people dance in one program for a specific point, you know period of time before they advance to another program. And each caller here in Europe abides by this. We looked at the Mainstream program as our entry level and I still don't know of many callers, I don't know of any callers who would take their people out of graduation and put them in a Plus class.
BB - Right. Yes. Well, that's obviously part of, a good part of the success which has been mistakenly done here in the United States. We may be coming down near the end of the tape, this may be a good time for me just briefly stop for a second, long enough to turn the tape over so, I'll be right back. OK, we just took the time to turn the tape over now we've got another half hour we can chat. OK, so in your estimation around the world where do you think square dancing might be going? Of course, from your perspective it might be considerably different than anybody else's.
AS - Yeah, this is, you know, this is what I say it is hard to portray where the activity is going, when the activity is still thriving. We're not involved with the aches and pains that other parts of the world are encountering, so we're still going up. But I can't speculate as to where the activity is going elsewhere in the world because, you know we're still enjoying a very good growth. I've got a graduation exercise to perform tonight, and we've got twenty-eight people that are graduating in my class. Last year’s class we did forty-six.
BB - There you go. Well, do you feel confident that at least in Europe you can do, keep from making the same problems that we had here in the U. S? You know, a lot of people, the Rush to Plus type of thing.
AS - Yeah. We've heard about this Rush to Plus, we don't know what it is. We're, you know, we're going to continue to place our hat or hang our hat on the peg that says, hey, what we're doing is obviously working. Is there any foundation in what we're doing? You know, and as long as we can we can keep the masses in believing that then we'll continue.
BB - Right. Well, AI a little earlier you mentioned you recorded on Windsor. Any other recordings you've been doing?
AS - Oh yes. I've, I just did a release on C Bar C, my seventy-first individual release. I've recorded with, I was on the Windsor label for three or four years. I went from Windsor to Dance Ranch, Norm Merrbach's own label. Then I went from there to a German label called CW. That was in existence for a couple of years and then I went from, when they closed their doors, there was a new recording company in Sweden called Sting that had opened their doors. I recorded for them for a while. Then I went with MacGreagor for a while then, I'm now with C Bar C out of Australia.
BB - Great, great. Had you gotten involved in round dancing at all?
AS - As a dancer only, and not as a cuer.
BB - Right. How about contras?
AS - I have used contras in my class. I use a contra, an easy contra on those evenings when a full moon comes out, you have the full moon effect. And I usually don't, I'll break up the monotony of the constant learning process with showing an easy contra. And I have two or three that I do on a regular basis, but I would not by any means call myself a contra prompter.
BB - OK. Well, that's really great. Along the line AI, do you have any regrets, anything you wish you had done differently in the square dance world?
AS - Yes, I would, if I had it to do over again, I think I would have stood up to my boss in Hawaii and mentioned that I really would like to go to the first Callerlab Convention, and get on board in Callerlab earlier. If I had to roll back the hands of time I think I would like to get involved in dancing earlier. I got involved in 1958 but once I found out how much fun it really was I really sworn myself for not getting involved earlier. It's such a wholesome activity and such a wonderful activity that we, that I do regret not starting earlier.
BB - Right. Well, you have a unique experience in the fact that you were active in square dancing in so many different places around actually around the world, you know, most of us were born and brought up in one place and stuck there and practically their whole experience was in one geographic area. Yours has been a very unique experience.
AS - Yeah, it sure has. I had the pleasure of calling a dance in every state in the Union. I got my 50th state oddly enough on my 30th anniversary. I was stationed here in, I was in Germany living here and I was calling a festival dance in Stockholm, Sweden and there was a visitor from a club in Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska. And she asked me if I would be interested in calling the Spring Fling in Fairbanks and I mentioned 'Yes, I would be" and she, oddly enough that year they had Ron Eberhart who was a recording artist with Mountain label I believe, and he was the featured caller for that convention and they asked him if he knew me and of course he was there in Frankfurt to roll out the red carpet for me. And he said, "Oh, of course I know him" and they asked if I was a caller for the, you know for them. And he said, "Sure". The contract was signed and everything and I was elated at the fact that the weekend that they chose was the fourth weekend of April, 1988, exactly thirty years after I had soloed. I called in my fiftieth state and along with that I have added twenty-seven foreign countries to my credit.
SS - There you go. Well, that's really great. Just in passing, I, have you been a mentor for other people who have come along into the activity.
AS - Yeah, quite a few. Mentor in many, many different ways. Callerlab's Accredited Caller Coach program, I became the first caller outside of the North American Continent, I believe Gloria Rios Roth was the first Canadian, to become accredited. And then, after she became accredited, I pursued accreditation, became accredited, then Martin Mallard from Canada became accredited. But I was the first outside North America to be accredited by Callerlab. And since then, I had set my sight on retirement from calling when I got at least two other accredited caller coaches accredited in Europe, to make sure that the professional standards that we abide by would be continue after I retired. It didn't take long before Kenny Reese and Lorenz Kuhlee in Germany became accredited, and they attended my caller coach school. Now I have caller, I have accredited caller coaches that have gone through my training program from Sweden, from Great Britain and recently at the San Antonio Convention, Jeannette Staeuble from Switzerland after written, oral examination and became accredited so I changed my retirement date three or four times.
BB - I can imagine. You and quite a few others, as a matter of fact. Yeah, I can remember a fellow who was not deeply into in the activity who swore he was going to retire at least thirty years ago and the last I knew he was still calling. Well, I just happened to think, did you ever bump into Cal Golden over there?
AS - Oh yes. I brought Cal over to do my caller's school. I did not bump into him when he was active duty. He had retired before I came over. His name was synonymous with squared dance excellence in Europe and I knew that and when I became accredited, the first thing I wanted to was of course, honor those that that had preceded me and helped me quite a bit. Your brother was the first one that I worked with over here. He encouraged me to pursue accreditation. Bill Peters was the second. Then Cal was the third. Since 1983, I have been importing an accredited caller coach from America to come over and do my school with me each year. I run three schools a year. Usually in October I have a beginner’s school, an intermediate school and an experienced school. And it's the only one that has another accredited caller coach imported every year.
BB - Yes. Well so, at the moment then you're not, don't have any specific plans for retirement?
AS - Not, not in the near future. I want to try to get in place an accredited caller coach in each country where square dancing is alive and well. Right now, I lack Denmark and the Czech Republic has nobody emerging as yet but I'm still working. I won't give up.
BB - You're still having too much fun.
AS - Yes.
BB - That's right. Well, I can hear the golf course calling me.
AS - Lucky you. I just got a fax from my wife said "Your line is busy".
BB - There you go. Well so, I think we've covered just about everything AI and I remember the last time I saw you was, we were enjoying a cocktail in Germany with your old friend Dave Taylor.
AS - Correct. Yes, you were at the hotel when I swung by.
AS - Yeah, I met you at the World Convention I believe.
BB - Yes, it was at the World Convention in Karlsruhe.
AS - It was an honor.
BB - Well, I thank you again AI and I, if you think of anything else you'd like to add to this tape before we call it a day.
AS - Not really, I will look forward to meeting you in person again. I know you have attended Callerlab Conventions.
AS - Our paths have crossed a few times there. Hopefully, the Good Lord willing and if the creek don't rise, I'll be able to attend the Reno convention. I had to give up the San Antonio
BB - Yes, I hear you did.
AS - convention because of the Gulf War.
BB - As a matter of fact I was planning to have a lady caller named, Kris Jensen interview you at the last Callerlab Convention and you were unable to make it but
AS - Yeah. I received a waver from the requirement, attendance requirement because of the war.
BB - But this
AS - But we're going to look forward to attending in Reno.
AS - If you're there we'll look forward to seeing you again in person and getting together.
BB - Right. Well, thank you very much.
AS - It will be an honor and a privilege and I'll look forward to our next meeting, Bob.
BB - OK Al, thank you very much for your time and effort and
AS - Hit 'em hard but not too long and not too often.
BB - Not too often, that's the problem. OK. So, we'll call this the end of the tape and thank you very much again.
AS - You take care.
BB - OK. Bye, bye
AS - OK Bob. Bye, bye