Bob Walton Interview

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This interview was conducted on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 4:27 PM via Skype. The interviewee is Bob Walton and the interviewer is Chynna Fry.

CF: Do I have permission to record this interview?

BW: Yes, you do.

CF: Okay. What years did you attend Marion High School?

BW: I guess it was, well I forget when it started, it must have been ’76 ’77, because I graduated in 79. And in those years, it was a little bit weird, I think they were trying something where you only went to MHS for sophomore, junior, senior year. So I went to junior high seven, eight , and nine, and started tenth grade at the high school. Do you do ninth grade there now?

CF: Yep, we do.

BW: Okay.

CF: Okay, and what was a typical day at Marion High School then?

BW: Um, the sound is coming in a little funky, could you try that one again?

CF: What was a typical day at Marion High School like?

BW: Yeah, okay, for some reason the sound is all kind of crazy now. But I got that. Um, I don’t know, it was probably similar to yours. You know, like it always seemed like it started too early. And I always kind of looked forward to the music and theatre classes and sort of phased my way through the rest. And lunch. I liked lunch.

CF: Alright, and tell me about the music and theatre classes.

BW: Um, okay, well I think that when I was there it might have been, the first year I was there it might have been called the Magicals, but I think it was called, I think the first year I got there it was called Choral Company. They changed the name to Choral, the Choral Company and it was Linda Sandrich that was the teacher. And, so it’s sort of like 26th street singers but theoretically a little more emphasis on vocal stuff, like I think we still did a couple of classical things, but mostly, mostly a little tougher harmonies and stuff, but there was also choreography. So they were very similar groups, but you know, not quite as showy as 26th Street Singers. Was that okay? Was there anything else about Choral Company that you asked about? Or drama team maybe?

CF: Um, yes, okay, what was it like working on the stage during theatre performances and that kind of thing?

BW: Right well it was always, I always looked forward to going on the stage because I didn’t get to spend that much time on the full stage, and we were, most of the time we performed we weren’t even in the Little Theatre. We were just in a classroom and we would rehearse over there. Um, it was pretty cool to be in the big theatre, which was still pretty new at that time. I forget when it was built, in the early 70’s. The theatre was still pretty new to us. Um, I don’t know, there was just a lot, and maybe it’s just because I was the youngest too, I’m the youngest of five kids so I grew up watching all of my you know, my brothers and sisters doing stuff and couldn’t wait to get there to do it. So you know F. Ritchie Walton you, there as a lot of fear involved with him, you know you respected him and he, you didn’t want to screw around if you were in a rehearsal with him or a show where you kind of combined forces. So, it was exciting though.

CF: Yeah, um, what activities were you involved in outside of Marion High School?

BW: Um, again, I think that a lot of these questions get the same kind of answer. Like a lot of stuff I did either involved music or theatre or um, performing in some kind of way. I took dance at the Putero School of Dance I think. And when I was fifteen and sixteen I took a lot of dance there. I mean when I was in ninth grade I remember I had a quartet that I used to do a lot of writing and arranging for. Either I would take music from the high school or the church or something and we’d sing some of that or I’d write and arrange something. It took a lot of time. I would do the arrangements and we would sing them. We actually did like little gigs, you know, we’d get paid something to go sing at some, you know, dinner party or something, and so, it was fun. We had a good time. To get those four part harmonies down, it takes a lot of time to do it. So there was that. I did work at a clothing store at the mall when it first opened, but I was really terrible. (Laughs) I was not a good salesman. Um, I don’t know, I used to ride my bike a lot, I ran. I started, you know, I started jogging and stuff when I was in high school, but I wasn’t really part of any teams or anything. There was Civic Theatre, there were shows that I was in. But, you know, it was part of my frustration that by the time I started high school, it seemed to me that everything that I wanted to do, and was waiting to get there to do it, sort of stopped. Like the theatre sort of stopped doing shows, and by the time I was old enough to take leads they would throw something like “Well, nobody really wants to do these anymore.” It was a bummer. And at the high school, they used to do two musicals a year, plus Singing on the Green in the spring and Christmas shows. And then when I got there they started a new thing saying that we’re only going to do a musical every other year. And so that meant that I was going to do one musical because they weren’t going to do one until my junior year. So that was a drag. So it was a little disappointing, I remember feeling like, “Well I didn’t get into 26th street singers, which is the group that I wanted to be in,” and then they didn’t do a musical and I was like, “well what the heck? Why am I here? This is a waste.”(Laughs) So yeah, so then I mean, I had to keep myself busy doing other stuff. I did a couple of shows at Marion College, when it was Marion College, it’s IWU now. Um, you know, trying to perform as much as I could anywhere. Is that any good? Is that a good answer?

CF: Yes, yes thank you. Um, so wait, you were in one musical during your high school years?

BW: Yeah, I can’t hear you.

CF: Did you say you were in one musical at Marion High School?

BW: Yes.

CF: What was it?

BW: It was Oklahoma. And I was Dream Curly. (Laughs) It was a nightmare. Um, and I remember, what I remember most about that show was that I broke my thumb on stage. In the dream ballet.

CF: (Laughs) How did that happen?

BW: What’s that?

CF: How did that happen?

BW: Well there was this long, it was supposed to be this long, drawn out fight you know and dance, fight thing. And I remember it must have been opening night we ran it, Dream Jud and Dream Curly, we ran at each other and my thumb, I remember my thumb hit his chest and went under and I just heard it go kktcchhtt. And I went, “I broke my thumb.” And then I laid down and died. It was supposed to take like five minutes and be this long drawn out fight but I just went, “Ope! I broke my thumb.” (Pretends to die, laughs) I’m sure it was confusing. But um, that’s the only musical I did there. But what was more important, or maybe I’ll get to it, I have your questions here too, or do you want, I can jump around a bit, they’re all kind of intertwined. What I keep coming back to. Where I think I was lucky in some ways that I didn’t get into 26th Street Singers was that it helped me grow musically. I don’t think I would have had the same um, freedom, or chance to grow as a musician if I had been in Singers. Sandrich, encouraged me, and allowed me to like do a lot of writing and arranging for Choral Company. So, I, I’m glad that happened, because even back then, F. Ritchie Walton had a professional arranger that did most of their stuff and um, you know, I couldn’t have competed with that. But I was lucky enough to, I kind of studied with that guy, the guy they used a lot, and then just had an opportunity to write and play piano some for certain numbers. And so, even though I was really disappointed , and didn’t really realize it at the time, it was good that I didn’t get in that group because it’s still with me today, the stuff that I was learning back then.

CF: Right. Okay, um, what was your best experience at Marion High School?

BW: Ehh, I’m sorry, I can’t hear.

CF: What was your best experience at Marion High School?

BW: What was my…(Laughs) This is silly.

CF: (Laughs) I’m sorry. What was your best experience at Marion High School?

BW: My best experience at Marion High School, I think you said. Um, it seems like, again, that there were so many like musical things. Um, oh, I know one of them was, I think it was a Singing on the Green. Probably my junior year or something where I finally started, where I was writing my own songs and stuff and got to sing a song that I wrote for Sandrich, and I’d never, I’d never like performed anything I’d written before or anything like that. I remember that, you know, it went over very well, and I remember really liking that kind of attention or um, maybe there’s a better word—reward in writing or performing my stuff or hearing, you know, what people thought of that. That was important. So that’s definitely one thing.

CF: Yeah, um, hmm, okay, first of all, how much free time did you have, because I know you were probably pretty busy with all of the things you had going on. But, what did you do in your free time when you had it?

BW: Um, yeah, I’ve probably forgotten things, it seems like I’ve said it three times. So I know a lot of it was spent just you know, arranging, I remember taking like a whole summer trying to transcribe one song off of that Manhattan transfer album because, I was so bad at it, and new to it that I would write three notes and it would take me all day. So there was that, I, I definitely remember just riding my bike all the time, running, and transcribing dances. We used to, before the days of video, or being able to DVR or that sort of stuff, we used to take my dad’s eight millimeter movie camera, set it up in front of the TV and I’d record like Fred and Ginger’s dances and we had to take the film, get it developed, and then sit in front of the movie projector, no sound, and just look at the steps and try to, so I would do that, I would try to transcribe dances by looking at silent movie. It was kind of like caveman to me now, but um, so there was that. And working a little bit, like I said at the mall. I had one summer in high school I think between my junior and senior year, I worked at Wagon Wheel Playhouse. Um, I did like two shows that summer in the ensemble, and I worked as house manager for a show. And that was, school had already started. This is what I remember about that experience. So, I was having to commute to Warsaw during the school year ,which is, you know it’s an hour drive or something, and the show would end at 11, and I’d be driving home, so I remember I was flunking French class with Bonnie Newton. I don’t know if she’s still a teacher there, Mrs. Newton. Um, but she used to give extra credit. You’d have to learn these songs, and you’d fulfill the assignment if you just walked up to her desk and spoke the lyric, you’d fulfill the assignment. If you sang it to her, she gave you five extra points. So I knew, like I needed some serious extra credit. So I choreographed, (Laughs), I choreographed this whole song and dance with hat and cane, and got up in front of the class and did this number. But she gave me so much extra credit that my grade when from like flunking to a B. So that’s when I knew that show business can pay off. (Laughs) But then, I don’t know, free time, it always seemed to me that it was about music or performing and everything I seemed to be doing.

CF: And do you think your experiences at Marion High School influenced like going into music and theatre and art?

BW: Sorry, I didn’t get a word of that.

CF: Do you think your experience at Marion High School influenced um, going into the arts and theatre and writing, and that kind of thing?

BW: Um, it definitely did. And a big part of that was F. Ritchie Walton. You know he was a strong musical influence and a good friend of our family. And we had the same last name, which was always weird. Um, we’re not related. Um, so yeah, music was always a big part of our growing up and just, I took music theory in high school with F. Ritchie, a music theory class. So I took music theory my sophomore year in high school. And that just immediately put me ahead of the game even by the time I got to college, most kids hadn’t take music theory. I was, I felt like I was way ahead of a lot of other, especially performers and singers in the music department and um, that was all because I had the opportunities to arrange music. And even, while I was in high school I remember I was making a little extra money like arranging for other things. There was a college, I forget where, that I was arranging for. You know, creating, it’s still important to create opportunities to perform. Like that quartet was, I had one all through college then too because I just always loved that feeling of being able to write music down and ask for people to sing it right back to you. It was a pretty cool experience. And yeah, I definitely learned from the experiences I had at Marion. I just always had a musical family and stuff, which kind of helped all that along too but um, the same thing with dance. I always said that I was so lucky that for those few years there I was able to take tap from a man. You know, that still, is not rare, because in New York there is a lot of dance available. But to be able to take dance from a man was pretty, pretty rare.

CF: Okay, and this might be the same answer that you’ve had to previous questions, but what was the best thing about being a student at Marion High School?

BW: Well they were the best six years of my life. (Laughs) No. Um, I don’t know, it just, it felt very comfortable and I think maybe part of that is because there’s nothing, I had nothing else to compare it to. It’s not like oh boy, you know, I’m either going to go to this school, or, like here in New York and seeing what my kids went through how you have to like find the right schools, and take all the right tests, and you get disappointed if you—We just had Marion High School. And that’s where I wanted to go and that’s all I knew. So by the time I got there, I was really ready to like, you know, I wanted to take the school by storm. Other than that I was always interested in basketball. The unfortunate thing, in my case, was that until I got to high school, I was so wrapped up in basketball, I loved watching the basketball team and, but then when I was in high school I went to very few games. You know, I, I just kind of lost interest in most sports at that time and was really just a music nerd.(Laughs) A complete music nerd. (Laughs) I love that. I remember thinking thank goodness I was, I always said, and I think you might remember this too when I was there saying like Jim Bragg, your, I don’t know if he’s still principal, but I always said thank goodness we, somehow we became friends. And that prevented me from being beat up a lot. (Laughs) I guess like all the other guys on the basketball team would be like “Well if Bragg likes him, we shouldn’t beat the crap out of him.” You know, “but I don’t like tap dancers.” (Laughs)So, you know, it was just, I don’t know, it’s a very comfortable place to be, you know, everybody sort of knows each other. And you’re going up your whole lives waiting to get there. Um, one story I remember about was about the prom, and I don’t think it was my senior year, I think I somehow went to the prom when I was either a sophomore or junior, but that was in the 70’s so, probably 77 or 78. And I choreographed my prom. I don’t like social dancing, I don’t like getting up and being like “Hey!” (Dances) I hate that. And even then, I got my date, Toula Smyniotis, was her name, and choreographed, I had two routines that I choreographed, you know a slow, disco kind of ballot dance, and then an up-tempo dance. And we got together probably ten times and went over these routines. And then, I didn’t plan ahead so well though, because then we got to the dance, and we did our two numbers, and then I said, “Well we can’t repeat them. So, so I guess I’m done.” And she danced with a bunch of other guys all night. Because I didn’t have the nerve to get up and do it. Anyway, that was kind of unique. And weird. Um, anything other, I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s probably one of the stranger stories you’ll hear. (Laughs).

CF: Okay, are there any other experiences at Marion High School that you’d like to talk about?

BW: Um, gosh, not that come to mind, I mean—another thing that I’ve noticed about myself in life is that my motto is that I wish I’d pay attention more. Because I’ll always meet people that are like, “Do you remember that time we went to McDonalds and you did the thing…” And I’m like, “I have no memory of that.” I think that I just wasn’t paying enough attention because, I don’t know. So there were a lot of great experiences, and very few, you know, I think, I think the good part is that I don’t remember any terrible experiences, because those are the ones that stick with you probably. When you’re like, you know, when something embarrassing or humiliating happened and I’m sure something must have, but nothing that seems to have left a mark. And that says a lot I think about the school. Also, something that I think is different that surprised me when I went back there a couple years ago, or whenever that was, um, wow, it’s weird. It’s just, I think it must be, we have a slow connection ‘cause, or you’re moving in extreme slow motion.

CF: (Laughs) Nope, I’m sitting.

BW: You’re moving like you’re doing Tai Chi. (Laughs) Um, oh, I was going to say that I think the reason that we only went to school there our sophomore, junior, senior years was because it was over crowded. And that’s something that’s changed. When I was there, I was like, I pulled into the parking lot and I was like, “Maybe today isn’t a school day or something.” Because it seems so empty that it, and it used to be so crowded there, and it, that was a little sad to me that you know, Marion, either Marion has changed so much, or a lot of things have changed since I was there. And it used to be very over crowded.

CF: Right.

BW: Right. (Pretends to cry)(Laughs) What else can I tell you, anything?

CF: Um, I don’t think so unless you have anything else that you’d like to talk about.

BW: I don’t think so, I think I’ve rambled on probably too much, I think you’re going to have to do some clever editing.

CF: (Laughs) Alright, well thank you again so much.

BW: Oh you’re welcome, good luck.