My name is Joseph Fabian and today I’m here today talking with Charlie Bishop, From Bucksport, Maine. Charlie Bishop is an energetic caller who has the natural ability to motivate the dancers to get up there and give a 110%. I am interviewing him today to save this for future generations to listen to so they can learn about square dancing.
Joseph: Charlie – Tell us about where you were born and grew up. Your life before square dancing.
Charlie: I was born right here in Bucksport. I went to school in this area and then moved to Massachusetts where I graduated up there. Came back to Skowhegan, Maine where I got married. I had a job up that way. Finally got into the service and got out of the service. My wife and I were introduced to square dance scene.
JF: How were you and your wife introduced into square dancing?
CB: We were introduced by another couple that talked about square dancing all the time. Like you mentioned a couple times to me you were taken up by the attire they were wearing. I thought it was kind of fun.
JF: How old were you when you first started square dancing?
CB: Well about 40. No. About 28 years old.
JF: You were 28 years old?
JF: And, how did you become involved in square dancing? Not just going to visit. How did it sweep you off your feet?
CB: I was motivated by the caller.
JF: The caller?
CB: Colon McDonald. He seemed very enthusiastic and he was a very good caller. He kinda took me under his wing. I really became more interested in square dance calling than I did square dancing. I took many, many lessons. Had a good time.
JF: So he was your first Caller and first Mentor?
JF: What was important about Colon McDonald to you?
CB: His calling. The way he taught square dancing. I just liked the way he did it. He was very directional. He told you what he expected you to do. You just followed directions and you got through it. He was a very directional caller. There’s not too many gimmicks that he used. Everything is pretty much straight forward. He was able to follow that. He taught us Square Through for instance. He taught you how to do it exactly. Without turning around.
JF: Tell me about the first days of square dancing? What stands out? What was most memorable?
CB: I started in the sixties. Early sixties or late fifties going to square dances. I think it was late fifties. I think there was a big transition between traditional calling and dancing. And more advanced stuff started coming in. The first thing I remember was a Right and Left Through and the Spin Chain Through. That was one of the first advanced calls that we had. That happened in the early sixties.
JF: So this would have been prior to Callerlab?
CB: Prior to Callerlab. That is correct.
JF: Do you miss the traditional square dancing?
CB: No. I always liked the progressive. I always liked Mainstream. That would be the stuff I always liked.
JF: What are your reflections of square dancing prior to Callerlab coming around and unifying the code? And then after Callerlab came around?
CB: I guess Callerlab was ok for some callers. During my period it was an advanced system trying to get a group together to try to coordinate all the calls. I think that part was very good. But I think they missed out on a lot of stuff because they eliminated too much.
JF: What was your favorite call that probably doesn’t make the Callerlab list today?
CB: Probably Big Daddy.
JF: Big Daddy?
JF: Looking back. What was the very first club you began calling for?
CB: First club I began calling for, the club itself was the Chicken Reelers in Belfast, Maine.
JF: And why were they called the Chicken Reelers?
CB: Because they had an industry down there that raised chickens and eggs. And I guess that probably threw out the need to do something about that.
JF: I talked to a lot of the dancers in Belfast, and they talk about a time when chickens were the number one thing. Most any time of the day, you could see chicken feathers floating around in the air from the chicken factory. So, Chicken Reelers is an appropriate name for Belfast.
CB: I’d like to add a little something to that. Actually, there were chickens beside the road. Because every once and a while one would get out ...
JF: Oh no.
CB: … on the highway.
JF: Sort of like we see raccoons along side the road.
CB: Yeah, similar.
JF: What was the most clubs you called for at any one time?
CB: I called actively for two clubs for ten years at one time. Of course I did a lot of guest calling here and there just like most other callers did.
JF: What was traveling like? Specifically, did you have any limits on distances you would go?
CB: Probably 50 or 60 miles. Probably what my favorite limit would be.
JF: Something you could get to in an hour?
CB: Yeah. Something I could get to and get home at night.
JF: Did you attend the New England Conventions?
CB: Yes I did.
JF: Does any special convention or story stand out?
CB: The story that stands out the most. I can give you a little story that stood out. Because it was the first time I called at a convention. I was on my way down to Portland and we was getting near our destination and the adrenaline started getting into my system somehow and my lips started curling up and I could hardly talk.
JF: Oh my goodness.
CB: Finally, I had to go to a physician to get an adrenaline shot to get that taken kind of taken care of. And, even during that process, I was very nervous when I was calling. I was calling to probably sixty or seventy squares at that time.
CB: It was a big convention center in Portland. And, there were many other experienced callers there. At that time, I was a three year caller. So, I was quite new.
JF: I think every caller gets a little nervous at the first convention.
Looking back over all the square dancing that you’ve done, that you’ve called for. What is the funniest moment or story that you have?
CB: I think the funniest story that ever happened to me was I had a guest caller with me one night and I had him up to call a tip. And, I went down to dance with his partner. She looked at me as I put my hand up to join hands with her and she says “You have paint on your hands!” I said I paint cars. She says “I’m glad you’re not a plumber.” I thought that was pretty quick of her. (both laugh)
JF: What was your most monumental moment in calling square dancing?
CB: It’s pretty hard to say. Most monumental, it’s obvious I think. Probably calling at the convention.
CB: Was pretty much high up on the list. And, being accepted as a caller at that time and kind of joining in. One of things that I really liked and was proud of was that I was president of the Square Dance Caller’s Association of Eastern Maine. For over a year.
JF: What year was that?
CB: That was in, probably 1970.
CB: Yeah. And we had all the callers. And, we always had a good meeting every month. I was able to set up the Caller’s Jamboree there in Waterville. We had over sixty squares there that time. We had a morning session. I coordinated it so the regular callers would take on a new caller and they would go up and call a tip after the beginner caller called his half. Give ‘em each a half a tip. Give the beginner a half a tip and the regular caller would fill in. So everybody would have a good dance. So we had 6 or 7 callers that would (have) participated in that. That was in the morning and in the afternoon we had our regular schedule.
JF: Sounds like you helped out a lot of people there.
CB: It did. It encouraged a lot of people.
JF: When I was referred to you as a possible mentor, I was surprised to see that you had a room dedicated to square dance calling. Surprised because you were retired. Meeting other retired callers, I also see that each one has their own room. Rooms that are dedicated to calling square dances. Long after they’ve retired. This is probably the only profession where even after retirement there remains an addiction to the needle and an old 45 record.
JF: What were your favorite calls?
CB: My favorite calls were…I used to like the patter calls. We used to call them hash calls because they were all mixed up. I don’t know where that term came from, but I like the patter calls and had a few singing calls and especially favorite callers that I liked listening to.
JF: For you singing calls, what were your favorite singing calls?
CB: Used to have Old Shindig in the Barn, That was Before I Met You, Ridin’ My Thumb to Mexico,
JF: That’s a good one.
CB: And had some other traditional calls. But, mostly I liked the Blue Star records. We had some other callers that I liked and preferred. But at that time, there was a large variety of different callers that you could choose from. And different calls and patter calls that you may want to use.
JF: Any special memories you would like to share for the future generations that are going to listen to this?
CB: Yeah. Get the callers on the ball. And have them put on lessons and demonstrations. I think that will prolong the activity. If you don’t get out there and put on the demonstrations and take advantage of that situation, it’s like anything else, it’s going to die away
JF: Who, over you lifetime, were your favorite callers?
CB: Probably Colon McDonald and Marshal Flippo. There were several others I used to like.
JF: What year did you retire from square dance calling?
CB: Actually, I retired in 1975. We had a family tragedy and that kind of put me out of it for awhile. I don’t think anybody that has been involved in square dance calling for any time, I don’t think they actually mentally ever retire from square dance calling. They always have that urge to call. At least I always did and still do.
JF: What is your take on square dancing today?
CB: That’s a tough question. But, my take on it is … the downfall of the square dancing today was the Plus movements that you couldn’t get your beginners in. And once the beginners started dancing, the dancers started breaking up in sections where everyone couldn’t dance at the same time. Once that happened, we found people sittin’ on the sideline waiting for a group to stop or start. And, when you look around, you’re gonna find out the people that are just starting, they’ve already left and they’re gone home. So, if you’re going to prolong square dancing, you’ve got to call Mainstream or get people in that everybody can dance. Call for the weakest dancer and make it work. That’s all you can do.
JF: I definitely think you are right on that one. If you go to a Contra Dance hall, you’ll see that it’s packed wall to wall. If you go to a Square Dance hall today, it’s not so packed anymore. But keeping the moves simple, definitely I agree with you.
JF: I never like asking this question, even of myself. Life is choices and free will. But, do you have any regrets?
CB: In square dancing?
CB: I think I’ve had a few. I wished I hadn’t quit quite so early and probably participated more. What happens if you ... I was calling like for ten years or so. Like any other activity you get burned out. As a regular caller you don’t have the luxury of just saying I guess I’ll take a couple months off and rejuvenate yourself. You’re always learning, running, putting up equipment, it’s like a ten hour job everyday, tryin to get ready. See, if your not getting ready, you’re either practicing … it got to a point where I was so busy calling I’d put on a record, I’d learn it and before the week was out, I’d have that down pat. Because I didn’t have to practice it that much I used it so much. It’s kind of a groove you get into I think after awhile. It’s the burn out part and the regret of burning out and not realizing the importance of sticking with it.
JF: What activities are you involved in now? Any other dancing? Any musical instruments?
CB: Yeah, took up the fiddle about 4 or 5 years ago. Being self taught, with a few friends we’re gettin’ along good as you already know.
CB: Thanks to you Joseph, we’ve made a little progress in that direction. Yeah, but I still like to put the old square dance records on and play along with those. And, I still put on a record or two occasionally to practice up on the patter calls and see if I can remember the any of the singing calls. They kind of stick with you. But, you know, you been doing it for…you haven’t been in for say 25 years…I haven’t been active and calling but… 25 years, 20 years before that I was. So, that’s the way it went.
JF: Recently you did a square dance back in March. It was an honor to dance to your calling. I could see the magic come alive in each dancer’s eyes as you began streaming out the patter like butter on a sweet Iowa Cob of corn. You are in a category of the best. I would like to thank you on behalf of the thousands of dancers who left there worries at the door, danced to your calling, and forgot to pick them up on the way out as they headed back home. Thank you very much.
JF: Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
CB: Yes, I would like to say. Just one thing: Thank you Joseph Fabian. I call you Fabian because it kind of sticks out as a name. And you’re certainly a likeable and outstanding person. As the years go by and you guys will hear this interview sometime. I do want to thank all the people at the Union River Shirts & Skirts in Ellsworth that I called for up to ten years and also the Belfast Chicken Reelers.
JF: Thank you,
CB: You’re Welcome.