I’ve been calling squares since I was 13; I am now 52 so if you do some quick math you find I have been doing this for 39 years. In all that time I developed a passion for singing and in the world of square dance calling that means Singing Calls. In all that time I also developed an uncommon taste for square dance music - you see I am not and never have been a big fan of Country music… I know SHOCKER!
Actually to those who dance to me regularly should have figured this out a long time ago, I am not saying I dislike Country I just prefer rock. Of course there are Country singing calls I absolutely love, like “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend”, “Devil Went Down to Georgia”, “Swingin’” and others. But since I started as a teenager I always leaned more to the music on the Radio. Being born and raised in the 70s in Lowell Massachusetts there was not much contact with Country music, WRKO in Boston was the soundtrack of my youth because back in the 70s it was playing POP. Then in my teens it was rock stations WBCN and WAAF that dominated my listening music life.
I was calling squares at that time and there was not many POPish songs produced but I found a liking for Rhythm, Chaparral and Red Boot music (and still do) as I felt their music, while country, was the closest to POP I could get. In the 80’s Singing calls really started diving into POP with some success (think Pink Cadillac) but some missed badly as some labels (who will remain nameless) would try to “country” that pop song by removing the rock instruments and adding fiddle and banjo as if dancers would be shocked and would not take the sound of an electric guitar. Around the same time some callers started adding instrumental pop songs or Karaoke versions as patters, my first attempt at this was using Axel F (sped up a lot) as a patter, one which I still use. The 90s and 2000s brought in more Rock and Pop songs into singing calls and callers using pop and disco tunes as patters.
As a caller there is always that thought: “Someone should make song _____ into a singing call.” Back in the 80s I thought that the Monkees’ song “Papa Gene’s Blues” should be a singing call and always wanted to do it but someone beat me to it… 20 years later.
I always wanted to record my own singing calls but found that even back in the late 80s the record companies wanted over $1200 and for that I would get 50 printed copies of my song and a “good luck.” They made every dime on what they sold and even if I sold all 50 of my own copies I would not make even half my money back. I did not have that kind of money to lose. It would be just a very expensive business card.
The search for good music
Back in March of 2012 I had some money set aside to buy some singing calls. I looked at a very popular website where I always buy my music but could not find more than a handful or songs that fit my style. I was able to buy some good music a few months earlier from a couple of independent labels that only sell their music from their website and do not sell from the big music website. So I pulled up good ole Google and somehow stumble upon Ego Recordings. When I first looked I was surprised at the time they only had four songs for sale. Then I saw the words “Lady Gaga”! Hold on now! That is different! I loaded the sample of “Rollin’ in the Deep” and was blown away; it sounded like the original Adel song they did not try to “country” the song. I was hooked! I bought all the songs. I also wrote Paul Cote a letter telling him how much I liked his music. I also noticed that he had setup Alter Ego for any caller who wants to make a singing call and lose money. Yup, you read that right, lose money.
The Creation Process
I had some unexpected cash on hand having been given an unexpected bonus check from my employer and it clicked I could do what I always wanted to do: make that Singing Call record I always wanted to do. The problem was I had so many songs in my head I was not sure which to do. I thought about it and thought I have found the perfect song. I contact Paul with my idea and he reminded me that if I wanted to go through with this “You will lose money” but we’ll make the best singing call possible. I then told him the song I wanted to do, he listen to it and gave me advice that the song was too slow and it would need to be brought up 20% faster which would make it hard to call and it would lose the feel of the original song. At first I was upset but then it hit me, I took a listen to it at +20% and realized he was right, it would not work, Paul could have taken my money, kept me happy by making exactly what I wanted to make but instead he was dedicated to making great music . So I started at square one and I went through my “wish list” again and came up with a list of three songs, I passed all three by Paul and he said all would work. Of those three my choice was “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis.
With the song set things started to progress faster than I ever thought they would. Very soon Paul took the original song and cut it up into seven segments and adjusted the tempo to fit dancing, this way I could have an idea how it would sound. He also introduced me to the music master Buzzy Smith who in my opinion is a music making genius. At this point we weren’t 100% sure on how we wanted the music “phrased” did we want the line “It’s hip to be square” repeated over and over or did we want to shake things up a bit? Not an easy question to answer. Buzzy cut “rough” tracks of each idea.
What is a rough track? In this case it’s Buzzy making an all-electronic synthesized version of the song so we could hear and try the different versions. You’ll be surprised because these rough tracks are not so rough, in my opinion they were as good or better than most finished singing calls on some labels. It was these rough cuts that, with my permission, Paul let a few select national callers preview and in one case used *at a dance* to see if it worked and how the crowd reacted to it. Once we got that feedback and Paul again reminded me “You Will Lose Money” we decided to shake things up by not being repetitive and pressed forward.
There was constant contact with Paul and Buzzy during the next phase. The finish product would need a live Brass section which did come at a price but not as much extra as you would think, once I agreed with that a recording date was set and done. Buzzy then mixed the recording I was sent an almost final MP3 to cut my vocal.
Now, Ego is in Texas and I am in Maryland, it would have been nice to fly down to Buzzy’s studio to record my vocal but that would add way too much cost. Instead I found a local recording studio and they got in contact with Buzzy’s so they could put down the right kind of track. I practiced and practiced until I could call it in my sleep. I arrived and was able to lay down my vocal in well under an hour studio time. The vocal track was sent to Buzzy and the final mix was AWSOME.
I was shocked with how fast the process was, we started the ball rolling in May and I debuted the song at my club in July. Paul and Buzzy were so helpful and explained things I did not understand in a very clear way. They also have a passion for making music and are not afraid to tell you when something does not work. The other thing is honesty about this business, Paul reminded me that I would lose money so many times it was almost funny but indeed appreciated.
In The End Was It Worth It?
Yes, in the end it was worth it and I will be making another singing call with Ego. The process, while sometimes stressful it was an enjoyable stress (if that makes any sense) and I know a few national callers are now using “Hip To Be Square” which is nice but not the point of why I did this. Ego, there I said it, my Ego was the reason and what a great label name, Paul and myself are not in this to make money, we are losing money, but to know that maybe someday when we are long gone some caller might still be using “Hip” at a dance, that makes me smile. I own records that are over 40-50 years old or older that are still in my active rotation so who knows?