MENLO — Willapa Valley resident Sandy Bradley recently received the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award for her work in the field of square dance and square dance calling. The Country Dance and Song Society is based in Boston, Massachusetts, however the award was presented in Seattle, on Sept. 16, with more than 150 friends and musicians attending.
Bradley got her start early in life; the first grade, to be exact, and incorporated dance into every recess and game activity. Square dancing was taught in the fourth grade, and that’s where she really took off. But dancing wasn’t offered in high school, so she excelled in her studies, and between her junior and senior years, spent a year as an exchange student in Germany. That’s where she first started calling square dances, and she did it in German.
Back at home, she attended the University of Washington to study anthropology, and ended up doing her senior thesis on transformational grammar in Balkan dance. She was dancing at least once a day then, and soon started a dance troupe, and with 50 other dancers, toured Europe in 1968 and 1970. That led into old-time string band music, and she fell in love with fiddler Hank Bradley. It was at one of their grange dances that Bradley found out that she could play backup piano, and she can be heard on many of her CDs singing and playing piano. Eventually, Hank taught her about seven chords on the guitar, and soon they were going to fiddle contests in the Appalachians.
Eventually, back in Seattle, she fell into the Gypsy Gyppo String Band as the guitarist. The band played several times a week, and in between gigs, she wrote her master’s thesis — “The Social Context of Buck Dancing in North Carolina in the 1940s.” Soon after, Mike Cogan of Bay Records decided to record the group. They were playing several nights a week at The Inside Passage; a downtown tavern that had a dance floor. Young people would jump around, holler and wave their hands to the music, but they didn’t know what to do, so Bradley hollered; “Circle to the left!”, and they did! She improvised for the remainder of the evening, but then formulated a plan. She invited two musicians and eight dancers to her house and tried out some calls, and in short order, she had figured it out. Just then the Gyppos were doing a square dancing gig, so she took along the 8 dancers to sort of help grease the wheels. Everybody danced.
It was at this time that square dancing in America was slowly dying out. Most of the dancers were at least middle aged, and the music was slow; not a recipe for drawing in younger blood. So, Bradley did two things. First, she had the Gyppos play at a really fast tempo; that got the younger folks interested, and secondly, she used the voice of an army drill sergeant. That got their attention, and they obeyed her commands. And square dancing in America started going through a revival. And Bradley started being noticed by big names in the recording business, and by the CDSS. Recording gigs followed, and those are available online with liner notes ant all the calls and instructions at stickerville.org/potluck.
It wasn’t long before she was touring England with the band, and that’s where she met Laurie Andres. It was a musical explosion, and Bradley determined that the Pacific Northwest dance musicians needed to hear his dynamic phrasing. So, Andres joined the band as they toured back into the states, where Andres now lives. Bradley was able to play guitar and do some recording sessions with the New England Chestnuts, featuring Rod and Randy Miller, and with Sandy’s Fancy with Alan Jabbour and Tommy Thompson. Later, playing with the Small Wonder String Band, several recording sessions were conducted with Greg and Jere Canote.
Then came the NPR show: Sandy Bradley’s Potluck, which went on for 13 years, both locally and nationally.
Bradley still plays and records, often traveling to Portland or Seattle. In the meantime, she lives with Larry Warnberg and an entire assortment of animals on their farm just east of Menlo. She can be contacted at email@example.com.