Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is May the 3rd, 2012 and today we’re talking with Knoxville, TN and a gentleman by the name of Ron Schneider. So, Ron, we’re looking forward to an interesting conversation about your career. Were you brought up in Ohio? That’s where I remember you from.
Ron Schneider – Yes Bob. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio – out side of Cleveland, Ohio and born and raised up there and lived up there for 41 years. I started calling there at the age of 15.
BB – OK. So,
RS – That was the year of 1950.
BB - OK. Yeah, I thought it was about that time period. Were you brought up in a musical family at all?
RS – No, not at all. My parents took up square dancing I guess in 1948 and I was the only child. When they went dancing they took me with them and I had to either sit and watch while they danced or chase around the building or whatever. Finally, they got me into dancing with my cousin because my uncle – my aunt and uncle, were dancing with my mother and father and this was the old time square dancing at that time. They got me started dancing – square dancing with them so that I would have something to do.
BB – OK. And do you remember who your first caller was?
RS – Oh, absolutely. The man that we that we took lessons from was a caller by the name of Ray Sullinger and it was at the Berea fairgrounds outside of Cleveland Ohio … at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea, Ohio and he had lessons there every Thursday night and they had dances on Saturdays, with a live band of course.
BB – Yeah. So, well that was before Modern Western, in other words.
RS – Absolutely. It was the old hoedown style. We did … he was nothing more than a singing caller but they didn’t do any patter at all. It was all singing calls like tunes of Darling Nellie Grey, Glory, Glory Hallelujah, Spanish Cavalier – oh, my goodness - Just Because. I’m trying to think of some of the tunes. Now the only patter that he did, he did some contras. He did 2 contras. He did the Virginia Reel for one and the other was a contra line called, The Crooked S. I wish I could remember how that went. I can’t remember. All I can remember was right hands across and balance in line or something like that.
BB – Yeah. (Laughs)
RS – That was great times.
BB – Right. Well, so how did you get into Modern Western?
RS – Well, back up a little bit – with Ray Sullinger there, he launched me. His calls were all memorized routines and he watched me while I was dancing and I would be singing along with him and he knew that and one night in February of 1950 he got me up with the band and said, “Come on. You’re going to do this next number”. I was scared to death and it was Spanish Cavalier was my very first singing call with the band. And then he would have me at every dance I went to he would have me call one or two numbers. One night, he had to go to a wedding or something and he called me and said, “You need to go over and call. I can’t make it this night at the grange and you’re going to go over there with the band and call the whole night”. Oh gosh, that was scary. Then I got into the 4-H band playing the tuba in the summer months and I had been calling a little bit here and there and they wanted to have a party at the end of the summer. They had square dancing and they wanted to have square dancing and I was the only one that knew anything about it. So, we formed a band between three of the other band members in the 4-H band, an accordion player, a piano player and a drummer, and they played for me. We wound up playing together for quite a few years, well I guess until we graduated from high school. We did social events, Chamber of Commerce things, PTA things, church socials, lodge socials and everything around northern Ohio there.
BB – Well that’s great. So well then when did you start teaching lessons?
RS – I started shortly after that with records. I had 78 RPM records and an old Knight amplifier that was made by Allied Radio out of Chicago. When I was in my senior year of high school they would let me out an hour early and I would walk a mile and a half with my records over to an Elementary school and teach fifth and six graders square dancing for the PTA. Then I started teaching some when I was even sixteen years old. I couldn’t even drive yet. My parents had to take me to the dances. I would be teaching for one of the Recreation Departments in one of the communities up there on Saturday mornings. At one time I had over two hundred children between the ages – well, 3rd grade, 4th grade, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders on a Saturday morning to teach square dancing to and I was only like sixteen years old at the time.
BB – Right. So, well as you went along you must have had additional help with … did you have any other callers you’d call your mentors?
RS – Yes, there was Paul Lewis was one of the callers that had a band there and he wound up kind of retiring and the older men that played in his band … they wound up playing for me. Then, later on I guess I got into … I kind of re … I don’t know what the word is … didn’t really want to get into the western square dancing. A lot of people were getting into it and they were talking about going to workshops and classes and things and that didn’t sound too interesting to me. So I kind of put that off for a long time. I guess I finally got into western square dancing in 1958 through some friends and dancing in their recreation room to records. I remember one of the first records that we danced to was … trying to work out … was a thing called Squareama. It was a usage of Square Through as I recall. I think it was Bruce Johnson who called that on Windsor Records.
BB – OK. Well, then you got hooked up with Willard Orlich?
RS – Well. Yeah, Lloyd Litman was kind of one of the …
BB – Oh yes. I’d forgotten Lloyd Litman. That’s right. He was in that era also.
RS –We were very close friends … we would do dances separately but we would meet after our individual dances at a restaurant or whatever and he would work out a lot of his ideas for his book, ‘Instant Hash’ with me. We would sit there and write and draw out choreography and things on napkins. We’d sit there until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning until they threw us out actually. That was … he was very instrumental in developing … well, as you well know, the Instant Hash book and the method of calling he used. He was preparing himself because he knew he was going blind. He had sugar diabetes and he was preparing himself so that he would be able to call even though he was blind and be able to follow choreography.
BB – OK. So, well Willard Orlich was not a caller. Is that right?
RS – Willard Orlich was not a caller. He was a choreographer and a dancer. I can’t remember the year that we started going to his workshops. He had – once a month he had a workshop in Akron on a Sunday night on the 3rd Sunday of the month. He would write 4 or 5 pages of material or figures and he would have - Lloyd Litman was the main caller for those workshops. Ralph Pavlik was another caller in the Cleveland area and I and George Jabbusch and Johnny Davis from Cincinnati when (he) was in town up there around the Akron area one time. I think he called the 3rd Saturday of the month he called a dance in Akron. He was there most of the time on 3rd Sundays to do that workshop also and to present the material. Lloyd would present a page, then Johnny would present a page. This is where Willard tried out his choreography. Eventually, it got to the point where I would present a page and it was very interesting. Willard had a … had a rather devious mind.
BB – I can imagine right. So ….
RS – That was long before he ever started the subscription service too. It had to be in - oh, gosh I don’t know … the very early ‘60’s I would say ’63, ’62. Maybe even before that.
BB – Yeah.. Did you ever get to a caller’s school?
RS – I never went to a caller’s school well, only as an instructor with your brother up in East Hill Farm one year. I remember … I can remember, in think it was 1960 … maybe it was … yeah, it had to be 1960 well I started recording on the Grenn label in 1959 when they started that in Akron. That was started by Hugh and Katie Macey and I and Johnny Davis and Earl Johnston were the first callers on that. Then, one day in 1959 I think it was I got a call from your brother Al at home and Al Brundage calling me! I mean the Brundage name was synonymous with square dancing. We knew that out in Ohio and I
got a call from Al to come and do a weekend with him, Memorial Day weekend, at the Jefferson Hotel in Atlantic City and I was … I was on Cloud Nine. I couldn’t believe Al Brundage actually called me to come and do a weekend.
BB – Yeah, well you must have had quite a weekend then.
RS – Yeah. It was Al and I and Randy Page from Provo, Utah was the other caller there and I wound up doing quite a few weekends with Al over the years. We moved that weekend up to Jug End Barn up in New England. From that weekend in Memorial Day there, that first one in Atlantic City, Earl Nielson, up in Hartford, CT, booked me for the Middletown Club … I think it was Middletown at that time. I started my western square dance calling in the northern Ohio area which was, at that time, probably more advanced because of Lloyd Litman and Willard Orlich in choreography than any place in the country. So consequently, all I knew was rather complicated choreography. When I went to Middletown it was my first dance I guess really outside the Cleveland area … on the road so to speak. It’s a wonder I ever got booked back in New England. I had a terrible time – they had a huge crowd there at that dance and the first tip or so I couldn’t get the people to do anything. They were just breaking down right and left and I didn’t know how to call anything else beside what I was calling and after about two or three tips most of the people that still were left at the dance were sitting in the bleachers watching 2 or 3 squares struggle through the stuff I was trying to call. It was a horrible experience for them and for me. It’s amazing that hey ever booked me back in New England.
BB – (Laughs) That’s interesting. So, you must have attended quite a few festivals around.
RS – Yeah. I called on the Mid-Atlantic Convention or Mid-Atlantic Festival they used to have in Toronto at the Royal York Hotel for a couple of years and then over at Atlantic City and on staff at most of the major festivals around the country over the years. The Golden State Roundup in Oakland California. I did 26 years, 26 years in a row at Kirkwood Lodge with Frank Lane. The first full week festival that I did, or week seminar/institute I guess you would call it in those days, was with Les Gotcher down in Eureka Springs in 1965 … Eureka Springs, Arkansas at the Crescent Hotel. That was with Marie Grey who was a caller from Arizona I think at that time and with, Les Gotcher and I was quite thrilled to work with Les. He was one of a kind.
BB – (Laughs) Well, you’re getting around then. How about Callerlab?
RS – I belonged to Callerlab at the original time when they started and I think that the only one that I ever went to was the one In Chicago back in 1970 something and I never went to another one. I dropped out of membership. I don’t know, I didn’t become a member after that.
BB – Yes. Well how about … did you ever get out of the country, over the big pond?
RS - No, I never got over there but we did do some escorting groups around. We escorted some groups to Hawaii 3 rimes and one to Jamaica and to Mexico. I never got across to Europe.
BB – Yeah. How about … you mentioned a couple of weekends you’d done. Did you ever run some yourself?
RS – Yes. I used to run weekends up in Pennsylvania at a place called Cross Creek Resort. I learned how to do this from Al Brundage as I’d worked with him for so many years and admired him greatly, a great caller. We ran some weekends over there at Cross Creek and at a place called the Voyager Inn in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Cross Creek was in Titusville, PA. Kind if like the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and also at a place outside of Cleveland called Quail Hollow Resort. I staffed some weekends up a Chula Vista in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Dells, with Wally Schultz. I’ve done a lot of festivals here and there with, some with Ken Bower … and San Diego Spring Fling Festival. I think most of the major things. I had a very interesting career believe me. I was very fortunate to be able to be in the activity and do the things I did. I feel very fortunate about that.
BB – Yes. Did you ever get involved in round dancing?
RS – Yep, I did but not very deep, but I did get involved in the basic rounds and the easy rounds and I did wind up cuing those for one of my clubs in Ohio there for years too. I don’t know why, they had plenty of round dance cuers, but I did … I guess I did all right. I cued mostly from the floor with a wireless microphone and danced at the same time. So, I had classes … I’m just trying … I’m kind if rambling on Bob.
BB – That’s great.
RS – I had classes in Cleveland, Ohio there for years at a place … that same Berea Fairgrounds where I began dancing. It was a huge hall. It was like, probably 300 feet long and I guess about 50 feet wide, maybe 60 and it had a wood floor, a beautiful wood floor and that’s where most of my clubs were. I had classes there for years and I guess for about ten years I never had a class to start under twenty squares … to start. This was back in the 70’s, the 60’s and 70’s and turned those people into one of my clubs that danced there on Tuesday nights. We had … we were dancing 55 to 60 squares every Tuesday night in that hall.
BB – Those were the days as they say.
RS – Oh, believe me – oh, yes. Then in 1976 I gave up the Ohio thing and move to Florida and that was kind of a mistake. I didn’t really like Florida.
BB – Did you give up calling too?
RS – No, I kept calling down there. I kept traveling out of there. I just … Ohio was kind of cold and dismal in the winter months. I was in northern Ohio, Cleveland. Of course, it was cold up there. Well, Florida would be a nice place to live I can call square dances at night, play golf during the day, go to the beach, go fishing, whatever I wanted to do. I was traveling out of there quite a bit. Every weekend I was on a plane out somewhere to do a festival or do dances somewhere.
BB – Right. What part of Florida was that?
RS – We were in the Tampa Bay area near the coast. I did caller’s schools with Al- not – yeah, with Al but also with Jack Lasry. Jack Lasry was a good friend of mine and we worked together quite a lot. We did caller’s schools over in Pennsylvania and different places around – caller’s clinics together….
BB – Tell me a little bit more about your recordings.
RS – I started recording with Grenn Records in 1959 and I don’t remember how many I made, but we did a lot of workshop records. Willard Orlich wrote the choreography and when we started recording there we did it with a live band at the same time. We had a square of dancers and an orchestra playing in the studio at the same time which got a little bit unwieldy, so they finally wound up making the music ahead of time and then we’d go into an empty studio with a square of dancers and lay down the square dance calls. I guess in 1972 or 3, maybe 1973, I switched from Grenn Records over to Dance Ranch which was owned … well it was Frank Lane’s label but it was owned actually by Norman Merrbach out of Houston, Texas, Blue Star … he owned Blue Star Records too. I recorded quite a few records with them.
BB – OK. Did you ever do any writing?
RS – Of choreography or anything?
BB - Yeah, right.
RS – Yeah, yeah, I did. In fact I wrote little book for square dance callers one time but I never published it. I’ve still got copies of it I guess and it’s called, “Formulas For Successful Choreography”. That’s what … I sat down with a typewriter one day. I banged out about, I don’t know how many pages. It just came out of me all of a sudden, and just kept coming, and I gave it out to a few friends here and there but that was as far as it went. This was probably in 1975 I guess.
BB – You say you never published it?
RS – No, uh uh. No, never did.
BB – Oh dear. You say you still have copies though.
RS – I think I have one copy somewhere of it but that’s all. I called … I’ve called in all of the states except Minnesota and Mississippi and New Mexico ... I’ve called in Alaska and of course Hawaii too.
BB – That’s a first. So, you say you never called out of the country so you didn’t get to call to some of the people that don’t speak English.
RS – No, but one time I did have … I used to make a tour up through Canada every year in January when I lived in Ohio and I’d go into Fulton, New York or Syracuse, New York on a Sunday and then up to Montreal on Monday, and Ottawa, Canada with the McMorrans on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Kingston, Ontario on Thursday and Buffalo or Erie, Pennsylvania on Friday and back in to Cleveland on Saturday … back home Saturday. On occasions when I would call in Ottawa there would be French speaking people there that didn’t know or didn’t understand English but they could square dance. They were taught by the McMorrans, Angus McMorran, to square dance. They could dance to me and also one time I had an interesting situation there. I called to a whole square of blind people that were part of his organization at the dance. The speakers were … it was kind of weird because the speakers were on the side of the hall and they … when I’d be making announcements or talking or anything they would be looking at the speakers. I was over at a right angle.
BB – I’ll be darned.
RS – It was a little strange but they could dance as long as you had pretty good contact, hand contact … you didn’t lose that hand contact.
BB - Did they have some sighted people that were dancing with them?
RS – Yes, they did.
BB - Yes. Well, I know I called one time to some people who were deaf and they seemed to feel the rhythm of the music in their feet. They had sighted people that – of course, they were sighted too most of them I guess. We had quite a great time actually. So …
RS – Well, in 1976, like I said, we moved to Florida. Then in 1993 I moved up here to Knoxville, Tennessee and decided to give up calling. We had had our own hall down in Florida there for three years.
BB – Oh, did you?
RS – Yeah. We rented a 15,000 square foot building with a parquet floor, air conditioning. (Later correction: “It was not l5,000 square feet. Only 3000 but we had l5 tons of air conditioning, guess that is where I got the l5,000 sq ft.”) It was really nice. We tried to make a go of it but, at that time, that would have been in 1990 when we took out the lease. By that time square dancing was kind of waning a little bit and then somebody else opened one across the street from us and took part of our people and we were struggling as it was. I finally decided, “we don’t need this. We need to move to … move out of here” … we moved up to the mountains. I always wanted to live in the mountains – in the Smokey Mountains. We usually traveled up through here … we did weekends and weeks at English Mountain and Copecrest Resort and Rainbow Lake Lodge too. I forgot about that. But we moved up here in 1993 and I didn’t call for two years. I just gave up and one night we went to a Knoxville Square dance. Don Williamson was calling … just to see Don, say hi and he kind of coerced me back into calling again. Since then … that would have been 1995 … since then I’ve been back into calling but not very much. There’s just not much going on.
BB – Yeah. Do you do One Night stands?
RS – Yes I do when I get the opportunity and I’ve had quite a few of those over the last several years, but that’s kind of going downhill now too. I am teaching line dancing at one of the places we go … regularly dancing on Fridays and Saturday nights to a live band at a local place. It’s a non-smoking, non-alcoholic place. Really a good live band … country dancing, and I teach line dancing during the breaks. I don’t get paid for it. I just do it because I enjoy doing it. I call for the Knoxville Squares on occasion and a few of the clubs around here but I probably don’t call more than eight times a year any more.
BB – Well, which brings up the point – do you have any idea of why square dance – modern western square dancing faded away to what it is today?
RS – Oh gosh. That’s been thrashed around by everybody that I can think of I guess … I don’t know. People just don’t want to make the commitment any more like they used to. They go once a week and they have to go once a week to learn and I don’t know whether – it used to be a sociable thing, it used to be something people looked forward to, getting dressed up and going to the dance but, I don’t know, when we moved to Florida things seemed to be different down there. Square dancing didn’t seem to be something special any more. It seemed to be something they did on their way to the grocery store or on their way to do errands or whatever. You know, it was not something they looked forward to any more for some reason or other. There’s too many other outside things available, the computer for one. I don’t know. I wish I knew. I think it boils down mostly to the commitment to go every week.
BB – Right. Well, which brings up the next question. Where do you think square dancing is going from here?
RS – Oh, I really don’t know. I wish I knew. It’s such a good activity for people. I always said years ago that it was a great activity for people that were like in their 45 to 55 year age group to start because, they had raised their families, and their families or their children were either off to college or on their own, left home. And now they were left with nothing to do as a couple and square dancing was a good social mixer for them and a good opportunity to go out and do something together. That doesn’t seem to happen any more. The family situation is gone. People don’t seem to do much with their families. Kids are playing with their games or whatever. I don’t know. The family situation is not there any more I don’t think.
BB – Right. Well, you’ve had quite a career then Ron. A lot more than I had realized myself actually but, can you tell me, what do you find appealing about calling?
RS – Oh, well, I guess (coughs) I’m basically an introvert trying to be an extravert I think (laughs). I enjoy the music. I enjoy singing, singing calls. I enjoy seeing people having a good time and I think I enjoy mostly being able to teach and see people actually learn to be able to do these things.
BB – Right. Well, with all the experiences that you’ve had do you have any regrets? Anything you wish you had done differently?
RS – Oh gosh. Yeah, that first dance in Middletown, Connecticut. I wish I’d been able to call to the floor (laughs) and there have been a lot of times when I wished that I’d been able to better satisfy the floor that I was calling to at the time. Sometimes you just don’t seem to be able to find the handle. We were, at one time in 1977/’78 I guess it was well even into the early ‘80’s, we were on the road for … my wife and I … for six months at a time. We’d leave Florida in May, come back in June. We’d travel the whole country and just – we’d have booked dances, you know, enough to keep busy the whole summer because things died in Florida in the summer months because of the snow birds.
BB – Right. Well Ron, I think we’ve pretty well covered your career unless you can think of something else you’d like to add to the tape.
RS – No, I really can’t. I guess I know my mind goes running wild when I think back on all the things that have gone on. Probably New England was one of my favorite places to call. I enjoyed calling everywhere up there. There were so many dances up there, dances back in those times. I did week long sessions at Gloria Rios’ place over in Westfield back in the ‘60’s, and I called at Mountain Park, and I did many, many weekends with your brother, with Al.
Bb – Did you do Baypath Barn?
RS – Baypath Barn. Oh yeah. Baypath Barn was one of my favorites. I did … started calling there on my February tour every year Friday and Saturday night. Then he’d book me back to come in July also. So, I was in there twice a year actually – Friday and Saturday in February and a Friday and Saturday in July. Chet Smith … Chet and Barbara were wonderful people. We had some very enjoyable times. I’d stay right there in Chet’s house and they’d have a little snack after the dance with just the three of us in the kitchen. I’d play with the choreography dolls and work out choreography on the table with him.
BB – It’s interesting you’d say that because, you know, I’ve had other callers that I’ve interviewed that say one of their favorite places to call was in New England. They seem … I think the people in New England seemed to have more fun dancing or something.
RS – Oh yeah. Well there were so many dancers up there too. I can remember I’d go up there and they’d be driving around in town with square dance flags with all kinds of cars. There were so many square dances up there it was incredible. You could spend a week calling around up there in different places and just work out of one place. I would stay at the Woodlands there for a week and I’d go and call different places out of there all week long back in the early ‘70’s and late ‘60’s. That was great. I have one of the albums of Ed Durlacher’s 33 1/3rd album with a picture of Al and Mary and Chip Hendrickson and those people on the front. I still have that.
BB – Yeah. It’s an old-timer that’s for sure.
RS – Someone gave me a box of records a couple of years … oh, probably about ten years ago here in Tennessee and I don’t know where he got them, but it was a whole box of 78’s and albums of square dance. The old, the old square dance music albums that you used to buy. I’m sure you remember those. You could buy them for eighty eight cents, and they were just fiddle tunes but some of them had callers on. I can’t even remember the names of the callers. They were not callers that you had ever heard of except Lawrence E. Loy And I remember Jonesy too, but this box of records came from somebody in Norwalk, Connecticut because there was a label on a couple of the records of someone in Norwalk, Connecticut – I’m sure you would know that person – you or Al – but I can’t remember the name now and I don’t have them any longer. I took them to a callers meeting here and just let everybody delve into them and take what they wanted because, what am I going to do with them at 76 years old.
BB – Would they have been sold at a chain store maybe?
RS – Yeah. A lot of the albums were, yeah. They were fiddle tunes.
BB – The reason I mentioned that is because when I talked to Jerry Helt he made quite a few records that went … the same records with a different name went to a different chain.
RS – Yeah and he was recording but he didn’t use his name on them.
RS – They had different headings. Jerry, I haven’t worked a whole lot with Jerry, but back in the ‘60’s I lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Jack Jackson lived in Columbus, Ohio and Johnny Davis was in Cincinnati and we would have a dance every year, the three of is, in Cleveland or some place up there and call it the Three C’s Dance … Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. I don’t know if you remember Jack Jackson or not.
BB – Yes I ….
RS – He was an excellent caller. I don’t know what happened to him. He moved to Florida and quit, I guess … a long time ago.
BB – Well, I guess we’ll call this a day then Ron. It was sure nice to talk with you.
RS – Thank you so much. It was nice to talk with you. Now, Al never got back with me. I emailed him and he emailed me back, I think it was three weeks ago tonight. We were out walking the dog at the time and said I should send him my phone number and he would call me but, and I did, but he never did call.
BB – Well, he’s been having some surgical problems and so, when I talk to him next I’ll remind him.
RS – Yeah, he’s 92 years old isn’t he?
BB – Yes, he is and I’m 90 myself.
RS – Oh, are you really? Oh, wow. Great, great that you’re still going. There is hope for me, I’m 76.
BB – OK. Well, thank you very much Ron and think we’ll call this a day and stay on the line if you would and we’ll call this the end of the tape.
RS – OK
End of tape – End of interview with Ron Schneider
Editor’s Note: Ron was the originator of the square dance call Crossfire. He says “The interesting part of that call. I had the idea for the move in the spring of l973 but could not come up with a name. It happened that I was doing a week-end with Al at Jug End in May and was showing him the move and telling him I did not have a name. Just out of the blue he said ‘call it crossfire’".