Square Dance History Project
The rich story of North American square dance finally has a home in the digital age.

Red Bates

Gordon "Red" Bates has been actively calling for more than six decades and as I write this in 2014 he is still calling regularly. While at Springfield College in 1950, Red organized an orchestra and began calling. At that time most square dancing in the area was traditional and Red had the opportunity to interact with Lawrence Loy, Bob Brundage and others at dances in that area. You can listen to Brundage's 1996 interview with Red Bates here and read the transcription of that interview here.

Red Bates, patter, 1961

Red Bates, singing call, Woman in Love, 1961

1961:  By the time of our first clip from a 1961 dance at the Newton Pavilion in Newton, NH, Bates was a busy caller working dances throughout New England. The choreography is very representative of MWSD at that time. It includes a mixture of the Ed Gilmore Ends Turn In routine, Star action and a Susie Q.

The singing call, Woman In Love, is a classic and Red uses the figure as it was recorded by Dick Leger on Grenn record #12128. Tempo is a characteristic of calling that underwent considerable change. This singing call was at 132 beats per minute (bpm), the fastest of any in this set of clips by Red Bates but a very common pace for MWSD at that time



Red Bates, patter, 1968

Red Bates, Gentle on My Mind, 1968

1968:  The next clips are from another dance at Newton Pavilion seven years later. By then the calls Swing Thru and Spin the Top had been added to the call vocabulary and Red makes use of both in this tip. All of the calls in this tip would be included on the Mainstream List seven years later when it was established by CALLERLAB.

In the 1968 singing call, Gentle On My Mind, the interesting and unusual figure was called by Red just as it was recorded on the Wagon Wheel label #113 by Don Franklin


Red Bates, patter, 1973

Red Bates, Pussy Cat, 1973

1973:  Our 1973 clip is from a dance at the Longmeadow, MA, square dance club a short distance from where Red lived at that time. He starts with a Scoot Back and Circulate combination and in the second half of the tip does a variety of line sequences that have the dancers changing facing direction a lot with little movement around the square. The call Tag the Line that he uses extensively was created by Willard Orlich in 1969

The 1973 singing call, Pussy Cat, Windsor Records #4173, was recorded by Bruce Johnson; it is one that became a Red Bates trademark. The figure was difficult in a unique way. The challenge was the partner change that followed an unusual placement of the Allemande Left. It became a game between the dancers and Red to see if they could make it through the dance successfully. Many dancers set up squares at home and practiced to see if they could succeed at a Red Bates dance.


Red Bates, patter, 1982

Red Bates, Pecos Promenade, 1982

1982:  The examples we have for the 1980’s also were recorded at the Longmeadow club and this was the opening patter call for a dance on February 16, 1982. The choreography is very different from his earlier dances. In the first minute and a half he uses 20 different calls! In the interval between 1973 and this dance, CALLERLAB had been formed and the Mainstream and Plus call lists were being used world-wide.

The singing call, Pecos Promenade, was recorded by Beryl Main on Chaparral label #406. At 120 beats per minute (bpm) it is the first indication in this collection of a trend toward slower tempo that was to become much more common. The singing call also shows a programming style that was becoming very common at that time. Red uses three different figures for the four figure choruses


Red Bates, patter, 1990

Red Bates, From a Jack to a King, 1990

1990:  The 1990 dance was again for the Longmeadow club. The most striking thing to notice is the much slower tempo. In 1980 Red’s tempo for the opening patter call was 128 beats per minute (bpm). By 1990 he (and several others) had slowed the tempo considerably. In this tip the tempo is 116 bpm which is less, even, than he usually used at that time.

In the singing call Red uses the Introduction/Break/Closer as it was recorded on the Red Boot Star label #1320 by Bill Anderson and continues the practice, now very common among MWSD callers, of using four different routines for the figure. The tempo is still quite slow at 118 bpm.


Red Bates, patter, 2006

Red Bates, City of New Orleans, 2006

2006:  The 2006 patter call shows Red’s usual programming using 11 of the PLUS Program calls in this one tip. The tempo had increased slightly to 123 bpm. His delivery style is conversational with somewhat less melodic variation than his early calling.

The 2006 singing call, City of New Orleans, was probably to the Rhythm record #182 originally by Wade Driver with a Mainstream Program figure. By using three different figures in the dance rather than just one repeated four times, Red’s calling again shows the change in singing call delivery that by then was very common for many callers.


Red Bates, patter, 2011

Red Bates, City of New Orleans, 2011

2011:   The 2011 patter call is probably from a group in Florida where Red now lives in the winter. Two things are notable. One is that he is using a much smaller vocabulary of calls than he has in the tips from earlier years. The other is that the music is a singing call record. (Although we have been unable to identify the record we know it is a singing call because of the key change.) Many callers who are comfortable with music have found that singing call music is equally usable for patter calls. Red’s calling is also providing the dancers a lot of help with the choreography describing the action as they dance the Spin Chain and Exchange the Gears in the final sequences and in several other sections of the call.

The 2011 singing call is the same one that he used in 2006, City of New Orleans, Rhythm record #182. The record, as Wade Driver called it, used a CALLERLAB Mainstream Program routine. As we noted in the 2006 clip, Red used three different routines. Both Red and I (Jim Mayo) were surprised to learn that here, five years later, he used the same three routines in the same order. Interesting also to note that at these Plus Program dances the three routines used only one Plus Program call (Track Two) and that only once in the first figure sequence.

In conclusion...

In following Red Bates through this review of an unusually long and successful calling career it is possible to hear many of the substantial changes that have been part of the history of MWSD. In the beginning callers used memorized routines repeated, usually four times, followed by singing calls that were presented with the same choreography with which they were recorded. The tempo was fast as can be heard in many other audio clips on this web site. As new calls were created they were included in both the patter and singing part of the tips. The patter calling departed from set routines as the “hash” style gained popularity. By the time the CALLERLAB call lists were established in the late 1970’s the repetition of routines in patter calls was going away. Callers were creating the dance as they called it. Perhaps the tempo change that we see in the latest years was a recognition of the aging of the dancers but it may also have been an attempt to make the dancing smoother in spite of the much larger call vocabulary and dance complexity. As a musician Red was certainly aware of the value of smooth dancing and his popularity certainly shows the dancer’s appreciation of the dance experience he offered.

Red Bates