When someone mentioned that Bob McQuillen would have turned 100 in 2023, I began to think about the legacy he left.
Starting with Scotty O’Neil in 1973, until his death in February 2014, McQuillen wrote tunes. Fifteen Notebooks filled with 1,554 tunes were published, the last one dated 2012. A last book of tunes – over 200 of them – was unveiled at the Kwackfest celebration in July 2023, but is not currently available.
With the Contra Dance Band Applejack, I had the great fortune to play for dances and events with Bob many times through the late 1970s and 1980s. Many times after Applejack disbanded, I played with Bob in various configurations of musicians and callers. Every time was a joy. We played his tunes, other people’s tunes, traditional tunes, Bob told bad jokes, and never missed an opportunity to holler when the spirit took him, and that was frequently.
Between 1977 and 1988 Applejack played for Dawn Dances in Brattleboro, on New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Bob often joined us for those all-night marathon dances, until the sun came up, with a stage full of musicians and callers.
In 1980 Applejack released an album of Bob’s Tunes with Bob on piano and accordion. It was recorded at the Green Linnet Studio in the late Lisa Null’s Connecticut farmhouse. We all traveled there for a few days in the dead of winter and had a great time making that record. The master tapes have long since disappeared and were never digitized, but working with audio engineer Everest Witman, the vinyl recording was converted to digital files in 2021 and has been uploaded to YouTube.
Links to that album and many more of Bob’s tunes can be found on our Handy Links page. A simple search on YouTube for “Bob McQuillen” will find many recordings. There is a link to the CDSS Store, where some of Bob's Note Books can still be purchased.
I last saw Bob in December of 2012, when I played for the Nelson Monday Night Dance. He stopped in and we played a few tunes together, and though older and frailer, he was the same force of nature he had ever been. I don’t remember what tunes we played but for sure Scotty O’Neil was one of them. Another was the waltz he wrote for me in 2012, which is published in his Big Book of Waltzes but not in any of the Note Books. I treasure every chance I had to play with Bob, every bad joke, every hoot and holler.
With Bob’s centenary year coming up in 2023, it occurred to me that even though many of his tunes are seldom played, perhaps an effort should be made to play them all, at least once. It IS true that in the process of refining the tunes, all of them were played by someone to make sure that they worked – Sarah Bauhan, Jane Orzechowski, Deanna Stiles, April Limber, Jill Newton, others. But now that Bob is going to be 100 perhaps it would be a kick to have a public effort to do so and to document the effort.
My hope was to create a project that is participatory, accessible, fun, and a bit silly. With the help of people smarter than I, and with nothing but encouragement from almost everyone I talked to, I'm launching this interactive site to do just that.
From the Center of the Universe - Athens, Vermont - where you can’t buy milk, get gas, go to school or get a haircut. But the Town Clerk’s office is open Mondays from 9-1, and we have the best road crew in Windham County.