This interview took place on June 24, 2016. Unfortunately, Bruce passed away on May 10, 2019.
ZOOM0010 Bruce Hoyt Edited 21:07
We're in Bruce Hoyt's living room right now. I have Robbie Jean Rice, Kathy Shimberg, myself, Jim Haggerty, and we have Bruce Hoyt here. We're just going to have a little conversation about music, square dancing, and all those good times. We thank Bruce for having us in here to hear about all of these things.
So, let's start at the beginning . Do you want to talk about growing up in Mundale? How many brothers and sisters did you have?
There [were] seven of us all together. Four boys and three girls. We [were] always all musicians. My oldest brother played violin.
Who was that?
Walter, and Hilt played guitar and called. The girls, they all played piano.
So you started playing at a very young age?
Well, one of the first square dance[s I played] was [the] year I graduated from high school. I graduated in 1940 from Walton, and that September, xxxxx, my older brother, he was sick one day or one night and he wanted to know if I would play up to Art Paul's dance hall. That was in Walton where RFI is up on Townsend Street. So, I went up and played with a bunch that he played with.
They didn't have a name. See, Art Paul hired each one separately.
For each separate dance?
Yea, for each [dance]. All of the musicians [were] all chose by Art himself.
So, different ones each time?
Yea. We played for four hours for $6. He decided he'd had enough. He was going to retire. So, then I started playing with the same bunch. We had xxxx on piano. Harold Smith played violin. We had a trumpet player, a sax player, and drums.
So, we had quite a band. I played with them for quite awhile.
You got $6 for the whole band, or $6 each?
No, $6 each. Dollar and a half an hour. Well, it was back in them days, back in the 1940s.
Did your mom and dad play?
Mom played piano. Dad played mouth organ.
So, how did you all learn to play the guitar and the violin?
My mother. She knew how to play guitar, so, she taught us.
Your mother was a Tweedie?
No, she was a Miller. My grandmother was a Tweedie.
Your mother was a Miller, and she lived to be quite old, right? (Yea.) I remember her coming to church.
Yea, she lived in Walton here after dad died.
Did you have house dances and those things?
Oh yea. Up around Mundale there we used to have one about once a month all winter long around different houses. They just move[d] the furniture out on the porch or into another room somewhere. [The] dance was one or two rooms and the music was all free. There was enough of us in the neighborhood that played. We just had a violin and guitar.
Your brother Hilton would play with somebody else?
Or Walter and Hilton and Bill Tweedie; he used to play and call too.
xxxx played violin and Walter played violin. Music was all free and we danced [until] about midnight, then stopped and had something to eat and [then went] home.
Did you go all the way up to Arabia and down Platner Brook, or did you play right in the Mundale area?
Well, no, we was up in Arabia and Crystal Creek. There [were] enough houses so one person wouldn't have only one house dance, usually, during the winter.
You didn't do it in the summer?
No, it's too hot then.
You're too busy, too, then, probably.
You had them at your house [and] different neighbors had them? (Oh yea.)
So, you had it at your house as well.
The first time I ever square danced was up on the farm [that] I finally bought. I was eight years old.
Who owned that farm at that time?
Must have been gone long time ago.
Yea, that was a long time ago.
When you graduated from high school you were doing dances. Where did you go to work when you graduated from high school?
I worked for my dad on the farm.
When did you go to work for Billy's?
Oh, that was later.
After you were married?
These dances, were they for all ages--old people, young people?
Oh, yea, it was all ages.
So, you didn't serve in the war?
No, I had the farm.
I worked with dad. We put on more cows, and more hens, and I stayed right to home.
They let you get away with that?
Classified 4-F. That means I didn't have to go.
Was that on account of raising food on the farm? (Yea.)
Farming instead of war. So, you started to play with these people. You started to call square dances at the same time, or you started to call them later? How did you learn to call square dances?
Well, I just picked it up from my brother. Mostly just from going to dances, and [I] learned different calls.
[You learned] by dancing them probably, or playing for them. You hear it in your head.
Did Walter call also?
I don't remember that he ever called much, no.
So, you learned to call from Hilton. (Yea.) Where did he learn to call? Just by doing it?
Well, I think he picked that up from these old house dances.
How much older was Hilton than you?
Hilton was born in 1915. I was born in '22.
So, he was seven years older.
Wilma was in between us.
Are you the youngest?
No, I had a sister and brother younger than I was.
Up until when [were these house dances being held]? We don't have them anymore, right?
I don't know. They had them back years ago.
People every now and then still have house dances, kind of as a revival of the old ones, but I think around [early seventies ]. Did you ever know Bud Robinson? He was a caller and a fiddler and an auction picker in Otsego County. I interviewed him in 1977 and they were having house dances right up until [then].
TV and radio came in the fifties according to Hilton. Started to kill the house dances.
When did you get electricity up in Mundale?
That I don't know. I had it before I was married in '52.
You didn't have TV, did you? (No.)
Were they still doing house dances after you were married, like in your early years of marriage?
No, I don't think so. I think they quit having them before that.
So, early '50's maybe.
Did you play a lot just for yourselves at home? (Yea.)
Like around the piano, sing songs, and that kind of stuff?
We used to. My mother [would] bring us kids in the living room. Florence would play the piano. Oh, we would discord just for the heck of it. Mom would holler, "You kids are going to sing! You sing the way you're supposed to, or we're not going to sing!"
That harmony just came naturally to you?
Yea, just come natural.
Hilton said, and you said also, [that] you, Hilton and one of your brothers used to call in three part harmony.
Yea, that'd be Walter, Hilton, and I.
Did you do that a lot--three part harmony calling?
Well, once in awhile. I mean, we knew the calls. They'd go just the same all the time, and he would carry the melody, and I would harmonize. Maybe on the next couple I would take the melody, and he'd harmonize. We could switch back and forth. Walter, he filled in whatever.
Do you have any recordings of any of the dances?
Yea, there's a record right there.
Peter Blue made in Oneonta. There's Hilton Kelly, his band, and Seeger. He was a man band. Played guitar and mouth organ. Then our bunch, too.
Do you have pictures of any of these things?
That's the only picture I could find. I had one somewhere of the old Catskill Mountaineers that we played for. There was Bob Parsons. Bob Buchanan played fiddle. Red xxxx on electric steel, and Mac Dutcher on drums. I played guitar. The five of us played together for a long time.
Where did you play?
We played all over. Schools, grange halls, fire halls.
Was that in Walton or beyond Walton?
No, all around. The farthest we played was up to RPI in Troy. We used to play up to Turnwood, up in Beaverkill. One of the boys up there was going to RPI, and he talked them into having a square dance. We [were] supposed to play from eight to 12 and we got up there about 7:30. I asked him, "Where are we supposed to play?" Up in the cafeteria. So, we went and found the cafeteria. Well, the tables was all set up and the chairs was all set up, and that was about 7:30. All at once a bunch of boys come in and they piled those tables up on one end, put the chairs around the outside, and in ten minutes they had it all ready to dance. Well, RPI is mostly a boys school. All at once a whole bunch of girls come in. Well, come to find out, Russell Sage College is in Troy, which is a girls school. They bussed the girls up to dance with the boys.
Well, we filled up the floor. We had six set to begin with. I asked xxxx who knew how to dance, [and] three people raised their hands. I thought, boy, this is going to be fun. We'd walk them through it before we ever started the music, and then, boy, they caught on in a hurry. Before the night was over we had 26 set on the floor.
That wasn't the biggest dance I ever played for. We went out between South Kortright and Stamford. This fellow's barn burnt and was going to build a new one. He told the South Kortright, Hobart, and Stamford fire departments, if they wanted to have a dance they could in the barn to help pay for helping put out the fire. We had 33 set on the floor that night. They sold over a thousand tickets.
When was that?
Oh, it was back in probably 1960, along in there somewhere.
One year you played 26 days in August.
Yup. Every night in August except Sunday.
Which year was that?
Probably '60's or '70's. That's about when we were playing the heaviest. Whether it was barn dances, house, or grange halls and fire halls, and stuff like that, but we played every night of the week except Sunday. I refused to play on Sunday night. That was my night off.
So, the barn dances and grange halls kind of took place of the house dances as community gatherings. Were those going on before, even when the house dances were going on?
Well, I think there were some, but not as much. When the other dances took over, the house dances kind of petered out.
Did the same people come all the time to dance?
Well, some of them. Wherever we played they'd be there.
We used to play in Shavertown every Saturday night, and then the off Saturday nights we played up in Beaverkill. Turnwood. Dance in church up there. The pews was removable. They'd roll the pews all back around the off sides, and after it got through the dance, they'd move the pews back for church Sunday morning.
Did they have waltzes and stuff in there [too?]
0:21: 00 Bruce
We'd play one square and then we'd play a round.
ZOOM0011 Bruce Hoyt 10:20
You just said that you played one square and one round, but they used to do three squares a set?
Three songs in each set. Then we'd play three songs for the round dances.
So, it was one set of each. (Yea.)
Do you remember which tune you played for [the Virginia Reel?]
Most any tune.
Different ones, different times. What [was] your favorite one to play for the "Virginia Reel"?
I don't remember now.
Do you read music, Bruce? Nope, that's what I figured.
Well, I can tell whether a note goes up or down.
So, your mother taught you all by ear--didn't teach you to read the music, then. Just like playing.
You'd put different calls to different tunes.
Tom Burgin said he talked to you about square dances. Tom Burgin from Frasier, and he's busy writing a book on square dancing.
He said that you had all these dances, but then he had 29 or something. They have 83, and he found 29 more that were very different. All over the country. Different ones in different areas, different states, different regions. A lot of overlap, and then a lot of not overlap, too. So, when were you the Pleasant Valley Boys?
That was after the Catskill Mountaineers. Red Scheer on electric steel, he had an accident with his hand. He smashed all his fingers. Max xxxx quit, and then there were three of us. Bob Buchanan, Bob Parsons, and myself. We played in Shavertown so they called us the Shavertown boys.
One night up there in Shavertown, right in front of the music, we get one set of teenagers. Well, they was there every two weeks. Different families come, but they'd dance all by themselves. They didn't bother anybody. Well, this one fellow come in drunker than a xxxx, and he started picking up those young girls and swinging them around and I stopped the music. I said, you either get a partner and dance the way you're supposed to or get out. He burst right up and he said, "You ain't man enough to put me out." I says, "No, you turn around or those four fellows behind you will." Well, here was Ralph Mule, who weighed probably 180, all muscle. There was a fella from Jefferson, he would probably go 250, 260, and one from New Kingston about the same size. Then there was a big guy. He was about 6'6" or 6'7" with shoulders like a football player, and he would go probably 350 if he weighed a pound. Well, that fella went right out the back door. We never seen him again.
Those four guys stood right there shoulder to shoulder. Well, that would be enough to scare anybody.
Did many people come to dances drunk or get drunk while they were at dances? Like in the grange halls and stuff?
Yea. Usually quiet crowds.
Did you play in bars?
No. They used to have block dances down here in Walton, right on Delaware Street. They'd block it off between Bridge Street and Townsend Street; reroute the traffic up around Mead Street. They used to get awful crowded down there in the summer time on Friday nights. Stores would stay open, and the farmers would go in do their trading and stuff and stay for the dance.
You played for those.
Yea, we played for them. They used to have them through the month of July every Friday night.
When it was the hottest.
Which of these band names played the block dances?
So, were there other local bands here, too, playing besides you?
Oh, yea. There was Hilton Kelly from Roxbury, and Bob Lang from Franklin, he had a band. Stu Nichols had a band.
There was this Edwin St. Onge.
St. Onge. [He] was over on Oneonta more.
Yea, well he said he was in Davenport.
He lived in davenport, but I think his band might have been farther out.
Well, they played in Walton. How about Rogers, did he play in any of these? Grant Rogers, do you know him at all?
I don't know that I ever heard him play anywhere. He used to play for parties and stuff like that I guess.
He moved away, didn't he, for awhile?
I think so, then he come back.
He used to play with Francis Fisher and John Schaffer, was it?
Yea, Fisher Brothers, they had a band too.
Schlaffer. Yea, the Fisher brothers had a band. The Hulse brothers had a band. There were a lot of bands around.
Yea, there was a lot of them.
If you were missing somebody on a weekend, did you go to one of those other groups and ask [for help]?
Yea, yea, usually get somebody to fill in.
How much approximately did you get paid to do this?
Well, we got up to about $20 a piece. I think that's about [it], unless it's New Year's Eve or something like that. Then you could charge anything you wanted to for that night. They'd pay it.
What's the most you ever got?
I got $50 one night. That's the highest I ever got playing. That's for 4 hours.
You each got an equal share.
Did you family go with you to the dances, or not?
Oh, yea. They used to go to Shavertown, that's the only one.
ZOOM0012 Bruce Hoyt Edited 13:53
Your family would go with you to the dances?
Yea, my wife and the kids would. They used to go to Shavertown because the kids liked to dance with that other bunch there. Teenagers.
How many kids did you have?
Four. I got three now. I lost one a month ago.
Were your kids musicians at all?
Well, they all played in the band. Both boys was drummers, the oldest girl played trumpet, and the youngest would play clarinet.
None of them have followed up with that at all.
No. Soon as they got through with high school, that was it.
Did your wife play anything?
No. She couldn't carry a tune if it was in a basket.
Did she dance?
Oh, yea, she used to dance.
Not with me cause I was playing.
Did you get tired of playing?
Well, no, used to be kind of fun.
How old were you when you quit?
Well, let's see. I quit in 1990.
When your wife got sick?
No, I quit before she got sick.
You quit because it wasn't fun anymore or why?
No, it got tiresome after awhile.
Got so I didn't like to travel nights.
Some of the people that you played with no longer played either, right?
No, now they're gone, most of them.
What group were you playing with at that point right before you quit?
Oh, I was playing with the Hudson Valley Boys right up until the tail end.
You played in the Pleasant Valley grange hall? Over on the backside of Pepacton?
Backside of the reservoir. I played there for years. Every Saturday night year round.
They still have things there. I don't know if they have dances there anymore, but the building is still there.
They're trying to restore dances there. John Jacobson, who learned some of Hilton Kelly's dances, and Ginny Scheer, who was doing a folklore project, have been having periodic dances there. Trying to get people involved again. I think they have very few dances, but every now and then they have people.
There's no dances around much anymore.
Kathy's playing Friday night.
Tomorrow night in Cooperstown. That's a contra dance. That's more in the form of the "Virginia Reel," the long ways. Now and then they'll throw in a square, but that that's not the old style traditional square dances. There's gonna be one here in Walton again, too.
Well, all the old time callers died off and no younger ones coming on anymore.
Well, I call some. I learned to call from [when] I interviewed a bunch of people including your brother, Hilton, Hilton Kelly, Ernie Sager, a couple of other people, and Bud Robinson. So, I got all those calls and we were trying to revive it up in the Oneonta area. We did a little bit, but then people wanted to do this long ways more.
We mixed them up. We tried to do half and half.
We was playing up to Turnwood one night. This fella come in, kind of an oldish fellow, sat over on the side, and he watched Bob Maclellan all night long. Every time you looked at him he'd be looking right at Bob playing fiddle. Well, Bob had a beautiful fiddle. The backside of it was all interlaid with colored glass. Come time for intermission he come over [and] asked Bob, "Can I look at your fiddle?" Bob says, "Yea." He handed it to him. Well, he started playing it. I'd wished you'd have heard him play. Bob says, "You've played fiddle before, ain't you?" He says, "Yea." He says, "I played fiddle for the Ozark Mountain Boys." That was one of the top square dance bands in the nation. They played for big fairs and all this other stuff, and he was up there on a fishing trip. He come up to the dance that night. Gee, I could have sat there and listened to him all night. He played that thing behind his back and over his head and between his legs. Never miss a beat, though.
Made me feel about that high.
Did you play at the fair also? Did they used to have square dances up there?
No, never played at the fair. We played on WDLA one summer. On Friday nights. We had a half hour program from six to 6:30. Then at 6:30 we'd go down to the restaurant and get something to eat, and then go over to the grange hall and play for another dance for four hours over there. That didn't last very long.
When was that? In the sixties?
I don't know. Probably around late '50's early '60's.
What did you play on the radio? You didn't play square dances, you probably sang.
We played the music, is all. No, I didn't call any calls, but it was so you had to be there [at] a certain time, and you had to figure your music to last just a half hour, and then you were done. It was too exact. We couldn't work that way.
We liked a little more variation.
It would be hard to come up with enough different stuff to do each week.
Yea. You couldn't play the same ones.
That would be hard, but you played square dance tunes, anyway.
People could hear the calls in their heads, maybe.
Sounds like you were very busy with all these dances. Did you still play with family at home or friends just playing music, or at a certain point you just did the dances and that was it?
Mostly just for dances. Any spare time we was sleeping.
And going to work, cause you worked at Bailey's too, so all of that.
What'd you do at Bailey's?
Well, I did a little bit of everything. I assembled for awhile, and then ended up downstairs running the power saw. I worked for Bailey's for 41 years.
While you were farming also?
My day went from four in the morning 'til eight, nine o'clock at night.
He came up the road very faithfully every afternoon at a quarter to four past our house. We could have gone out and waved at him.
Then while you were doing all that you were playing for dances.
Do you know anything about more about your parents, or did anybody else in your family before you play for square dances?
No, there wasn't any before.
So, you just learned that from going to these dances.
Just part of the general community.
So, while you were playing, even though not during the time that you were playing, did you go to dances at all just to dance?
Not very much. Didn't have time.
Even in your younger years when you were just getting into it?
No, not very much. Well, we took lessons on this other type of square dancing.
Oh, Western, quote unquote Western--club dancing.
We didn't like that very good because you had to be in a certain spot at a certain time or you were lost.
You take these regular square dances like what I played for, you'd get mixed up and it wouldn't make any difference, you'd still have a good time.
You didn't take lessons in the other kind. It's manufactured.
You know sometimes everyone would anticipate allemande left and he's say allemande right just to mix it up.
Then I’d laugh at them.
In that Western style square dancing you can't do that.
The Western stuff is manufactured.
It is. They know that they're going to go allemande left next, and they'd better.
They never look each other in the eye.
That's part of the fun of dancing is you're communicating with the other people.
How old were you when you went to your first dance, if you remember? As a kid.
As a kid, I was eight years old the first time I square danced.
Was somebody not there so you had a chance to step in, or were there enough of you of that age that you could?
Well, the first time I danced was with xxx Tweedie. She was in her 70's, I think. She got me out there on the floor one time, and she says you're going to dance.
You'd been at other dances and watched what everybody was doing. Listening to the music probably, too. You probably knew all the calls by then anyway.
So guitar was your main or your only instrument?
Well, I used to play baritone horn when I was in the band in high school, but as soon as I got through high school I give that up just to play guitar.
They didn't make you read music to play baritone horn?
Well, I couldn't. I knew what the note was and what valve I had to push.
As far as knowing what a note was, I didn't know one from the other.
You know what it sounded like. That whole innate ability to know what it's supposed to sound like and [how] to make that sound.
ZOOM0013 Bruce Hoyt Edited 2:42
Depends too much on calling for the calls, so I just played chord.
You sang the calls. Not just called the calls, sang them along with the tune. Do you miss not having it; miss the guitar or pick up every now and then?
Well, no, I don't actually miss it.
If you had one lying around the house would you play?
I played it long enough. Figured that was it.
Did your family attend the Presbyterian church there in Mundale?
Did you all sing?
Oh, yea. We had a Hoyt quartet. Dad and us three boys.
So, you sang on Sunday mornings.
What was your dad's name?
What was your mom's name?
There was three Ediths up there in Mundale church. Edith Easton, Edith Miller, and Edith Hoyt. Joe's Edith, Russ's Edith, and Floyd's Edith. We'd go over to their husbands, tell them which one was which.
So, was that Edith Miller related to your mother who was Edith and had been a Miller?
Yea. They was related. Everybody in Mundale was related. You didn't dare say anything about anybody.
So are you related to Paul Miller?
Oh, yea. Distant cousin.
Did you grow up in Mundale?
No. All the Tweedies are related to them through my grandmother cause she was a Tweedie.
ZOOM0015 Bruce Hoyt Edited 0:53
0:00:01 Bruce [describing one of the women dancers]
She was a little bit on the hefty side. Round dancing. Well, evidently, the elastic in her panties busted or something. Well, her panties fell right down around her ankles. She kicks them back under the bench and keeps right on dancing. Just as if it never happened. Well, Bob Parsons sat there, and when he got tired of anything funny, xxxxxxxxxxxx. [He was laughing so hard, the accordion was jumping up and down on his lap.]/.