Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · square dance

Flippo & Obstacles He Faced

Young Flippo—Obstacles he faced
Flippo as a Young Caller

To think the Flippo we knew faced many obstacles as a young caller! Square dancers all over the world know the refined quality of the program Marshall Flippo presented at any dance he called—smooth rhythm, wonderful choreography and a beautiful voice. It wasn’t always that way.

“Marshall Flippo’s calling career could easily have not happened. In fact, Flippo missed his first night of square dance lessons. Initially, he couldn’t connect with the music and find the beat. Being a shy man by nature, his temperament could have stopped him from becoming the well-known caller who’s so well- loved. Just one of these could have been fatal, but Flippo faced all three and over-came the challenge placed before him.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 81.

Flippo and Neeca and their good friends, Hub and Hazel Evans, arrived at their first square dance lesson late, so the guys refused to go in. The women made sure they were on time the next week. Thank God for Neeca and Hazel’s unflagging commitment. Once there, Flippo fell in love with what the whole activity offered: physical contact, friendly people and movement to music.

After their lessons, Betty Casey, their class caller and Flippo’s mentor, encouraged them to go out to a local dance at the YMCA. She assured these fledgling dancers J. C. Wilson, the caller, would be good to them. This time they took a complete square with them, squared up and the first call J. C. called they’d never heard. So, they tried to sit down, but J. C. noticed their evacuation from the floor, so he stopped the dance and separated the dancers.

“Flippo added with a laugh, ‘And God, strangers coming up thar and getting us. I never did see my wife again until the end of the dance, so they split us all up, and we had one hell of a good time, you know.’”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 82.
J. C. Wilson-Obstacles he faced
J.C. Wilson

What they experienced as beginner dancers at the hands of J. C. Wilson and those experienced dances exemplify true square dance hospitality. What happened kept these couples and a great caller wanting to dance.

Flippo and Neeca’s love of square dancing continued to grow, so his becoming a caller seems like a natural progression.

When I asked Flippo why he started calling, he answered,

“I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this in time.’ I loved to sing. I was out of lessons about a year before I ever started. Thar was two square dance clubs, and they were both full. They both had waiting lists for people to get in. The list wasn’t that long, probably ten to twelve couples. So, we put our names in for that one downtown. They could only dance twenty-five squares.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83.

So, Ed Hall had a chicken coop in Wylie, near Abilene, that he offered to clean up for a small square dance hall. It would dance three squares. Twelve couples signed up, and they danced to records for a while and then had a live two-piece band, but they needed a caller.

“One night someone had a suggestion. Thar’s twelve of us here. Why don’t we all learn to call? And we won’t have to have a record or a band, so we’ll just be our own caller.’

So that’s the way it started. Flippo remembered the first one he called. Singing calls didn’t appeal to him too much at that time, so he learned patter. First one he learned was ‘Dip and Dive.’ So, they all learned some kind of calls. “Some guys were good. I wasn’t one of the good ones.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83.

After deciding to call, Flippo faced one of his obstacles as a caller: he couldn’t keep the beat. Would this be the obstacle that would block our world-renowned Flippo?

“At one point, Neeca told him, ‘You can’t stay on beat. What’s wrong with you? Can you pat your foot to the music?’

‘Yeah,’ Flippo explained. He had a ‘Turkey in the Straw’ record, and he would go in the front bedroom of their house because they had no furniture in there and he had a little record player.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83-84.

Neeca would listen to him practice and stand it as long as she could, then she’d question him about his ability to stay on the beat. She finally suggested to say something every time he pat his foot with the beat, and that seemed to help.

Recently I heard a long-time caller friend of Flip’s say that Flippo said more words in his calling than any other caller because of his problem with keeping the beat.

Flippo persistently worked hard at mastering his craft. He would not let this get him down. Feeling a little confident, he ventured out after a time. First, he made his calling debut in Abilene at the CrossTrail square dance club, one club that they had been on the waiting list. He made a mistake on his first try and had to restart—he saw Neeca duck into the bathroom.

Melton Luttrell-Obstacles he faced
Melton Luttrell

For his next calling adventure, Flippo and a group traveled out-of-town to Cisco, Texas, to dance to the legendary Melton Luttrell. Two couples that came with Flippo told Melton that he had started calling. The hospitable move then was to invite the visiting caller to the stage to call. So Melton invited Flip up to call (this was when he was having trouble staying on the beat). Scared to death, he didn’t share with me how he thought the evening went.

Before they left the dance hall to go home, Flippo had seen the two couples talking to Melton after he called, so Flip asked them what he said.

They said, “Melton told us to tell you, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’”

Instead of discouraging Flippo, he went home and continued his practice, working hard on keeping the beat. The next time they returned to Cisco, Melton again invited him to call a tip, but this time, Melton noticed a marked improvement and told Flippo.

Wagon Wheel Dance Hall-Obstacles he faced
The Wagon Wheel Dance Hall

From those early days, Flippo called locally in Abilene, first at the Hayloft and then helped build the dance hall, The Wagon Wheel. He faced adversities that might have made someone else quit, but that was not Flippo’s nature. Because he never faltered but persisted, his calling career exploded so the obstacles never stopped him, and we’re the luckier for it.

Did you know this about Flippo? I would appreciate any comments! Scroll down below the information for the Comment section.


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Just Another Square Dance Caller Cover-Obstacles he faced

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Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · square dance

It’s Been a Year Since We Lost Flippo!

            Monday, November 4 will be a year since Marshall Flippo died! When he passed away, I was in shock. I wasn’t ready for our conversations to end. I knew he was in the hospital and not doing well, but he had bounced back before. I had endless questions to ask: to clarify, to expand and to enrich the forty interviews we did.

            We had talked weekly for over a year—40 hours of laughter, memories and stories. I felt honored and privileged for Flip to share his intimate life details with me. Yes, several of the stories will not be published in his biography, but I laughed at his bawdy humor and deep joy for living.

           I wasn’t ready for our weekly dates to end–for the end of “us”!

            An interesting situation transpired around his death. His life-long friend, Frank Lane, died on October 31, 2018—just four days before Flip. Flippo’s son suggested Flip might have died of a broken heart.

            Yes, Flippo’s health was failing—three times in the hospital in three months with pneumonia–and his 91-year-old body wore out, but I wonder about that possibility. . .

“Being the last person standing” was something my husband, Lin, questioned Flip about and here he was. Frank and Flippo were the last of the “original 11” who formed CALLERLAB. After Frank’s death, Flippo truly was the last man standing of his peers.

            The one person Flippo referenced the most in his stories and recounting his calling life next to Neeca, his ex-wife, was Frank Lane.

            Flippo said, “I worked with Frank Lane two weekends a year for 36 years. I got to know him pretty well.” In reality, they worked together more often than that!

Frank and Flippo worked together at Asilomar’s week event for 35 years. Frank and Flip were two of the original members that started CALLERLAB and were active throughout their careers with this organization. Frank owned the Dance Ranch outside of Estes Park, Colorado and Flip was a regular there every year in July for decades. Flippo and Frank worked together at Kirkwood Lodge for decades. There they worked together, and they played together water skiing.

            Bob Osgood started an interview series called DIALOG in Sets in Order magazine in February 1968 and stated, “This month we inaugurate a new series of dialogues directed to those people who have a desire to call square dances.”

Bob Osgood, Sets in Order (February 1968): 12.       

In 1968, Flippo and Frank teamed up with Arnie Kronenberger and did two interviews on “How Does One Go About Learning to Call?”, answering different questions in each interview about this gigantic topic.

            In 1969, this duo teamed up with Bob Page, longtime friend who Flip called with at Asilomar’s weekend event yearly for many years, to do two DIALOG interviews titled “Leadership In Square Dancing” and “Building
Dancer Reaction.” Both Frank and Flip were respected leaders in the square dance world.

Here’s an ad for a dance they did together!

They started out calling about the same time and their paths crisscrossed over the United States where they teamed up at numerous festivals and events for decades.

The stories Flip told on Frank were priceless centering on the fun they had golfing and Flippo pulling tricks on Frank. Flippo created enduring relationships with people that lasted his lifetime and did things to nurture those relationships like regular phones and visits. In mid-2018, when we spoke of Frank last, I wanted to call him to get his side of some of Flippo’s stories.

         Flip readily shared Frank’s phone number with me and said, “Well, he’s pretty bad off, so. . .. Sometimes Barbara answers, so. . .. Let it ring a good while. I don’t know whether he’s got answering (machine) or not. The last time I talked to him, Barbara picked up pretty quick, about three rings. I don’t know.”

         I did call, and Barbara answered the phone, telling me that Frank couldn’t talk on the phone because of his hearing, so I never had the opportunity to get his side. I also missed a prime opportunity to see the Lane’s in personal during the summer of 2018 when Lin and I went to Loveland, Colorado to visit a friend—Estes Park is just one hour from Loveland, but I wasn’t thinking!

         All of this talk about this pair reminds me of one of Flippo’s favorite Frank Lane stories. Here’s a partial exposure of Flippo’s side of the story, “I probably told you that Asilomar was my favorite, favorite weekend and week to go to, right? Frank Lane and I were doing the week, and he was, of course, the leader.”

         With a chuckle, Flip added, “He was a born leader. At that time, there’s a thing come out called a Barge Thru. If you said, ‘Barge Thru,’ it’s kinda like square through four and then Trade By. So, at that time, you said, ‘Barge Thru,’ then you sung the words of the song as they were doing the Barge Thru. Jerry Haag had a call, I don’t have an idee what the name of this call was, but he had a call out at that time that had Barge Thru in it.”

         “Star Thru came out at the same Nationals as Snaparoo in one hall. At the same time, somebody was calling, I think it was Les Gotcher, and he called it Star Thru in the other room. I think it might have been Red Warrick, introduced it as Snaparoo. So thar became a good big ole debate about that, and finally we all decided we’d stick with Star Thru.”

         Frank Lane said, ‘That’s ruining all your Star figures when you call it Star Thru.”

         Flip added, “And he was absolutely 100% correct. It hurt a lot of our Star figures. And so, he stayed with Snaparoo. He’d tell people at the dance, ‘Now when I say Snaparoo, it’s the same as a Star Thru. Don’t let it bother you.’”

         The story continued with lots of bantering back and forth about Flippo’s favorite call, Barge Thru, and Frank’s renaming of a call, Snaparoo.  This exchange had a hilarious ending (find it in Flippo’s biography, Just Another Square Dance Caller, In the CALLERLAB chapter). You can see how they interacted!

Melton Luttrell, Tom Miller and Marshall Flippo at CALLERLAB, 2018

         During his lifetime, Flippo loved people—many people over the past two years have repeated this phase to me as being one of his sterling characteristics. He created relationships that lasted a lifetime—Melton Luttrell was one of his best friend for six+ decades. Whenever he mentioned Frank Lane, he had a deep love for this man and he always had a laugh to accompany that name.

         So, did Flippo die of broken heart that day a year ago thinking about life here without his dear friend? Who knows?

         I ponder the possibility of them reading this blog post. Are they still arguing good-heartedly about Snaparoo and Barge Thru? I doubt it! I believe they’re calling one heck of square dance festival to our dance friends gone from this earth who are enjoying those two callers once again!

         And yes, I was not ready to lose this man—who was?

         Here’s a recording of Flippo sharing a part of the Snaparool/Barge Thru debate—enjoy!

Flippo’s side of the Snaparoo/Barge Thru Debate!

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Dancing · Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · square dance

Marshall Flippo’s Success–Luck or Not?

A Young Marshall Flippo

In one of our last interviews for Marshall Flippo’s biography, I asked him, “I have a question: if I was to ask you to describe yourself, how would you describe yourself?”

His short response, “Don’t ask me!” His humorous response made me laugh again, like so many times during these interviews. His sharp sense of humor caught me off guard regularly.

After a moment, he answered with a chuckle, “A little short squirt with lots of luck! That’s about it!”

         This topic tickled him and he added, “A little short squirt—after all, a lot of people didn’t know me when I had hair, but, anyway, a little short squirt with lots of luck!” I complimented him on his concise description but wondered about it. I have mused over it for months now.

         Flippo often referenced this thought about how lucky he was in relationship to all his life, not just his calling life and added, “I was at the right spot at the right time!”

         When Flip shared about his Navy assignments, he felt he was lucky to a “Baker and Cook” in the first couple years, and then to play baseball his last two years. When Flippo described his hitchhiking experiences between San Diego and Abilene after Basic Training, he felt it was luck that got him considerate people who picked him and his friend, Thurman Curry, up and helped them out so much.

         He often referred to himself as “the luckiest man in the world” to marry Neeca and praised her frugal nature and scheduling genius to make his calling career so successful.

         Standing back and looking at Flippo’s successful calling career, the threads of cause and effect weave their way through, but was it all luck?

         Neeca and Flip started square dancing in 1951, and he began calling in 1952 in a chicken coup, at a time there wasn’t much recorded calling. So, he agreed to be one of several dancers to memorize a song and call it. From this agreement, his career sprung and he started calling regularly.

         Calling careers, though, aren’t made overnight, so Flippo persisted. In 1957, two callers from Houston stopped by his dance in Abilene and heard him do “The Auctioneer,” a popular song at the time recorded by Leroy VanDyke. They suggested he connect with Norman Merrbach in Houston who owned Blue Star Records to record this song.

         So, he called Norman. When Norman heard the title of the song, he told Flip that callers wouldn’t like it because it had too many words to say. Flip let it go, and a few months later received another phone call from Norman saying, “Let’s record it!” They did and were able to do it on the first take, and his career took off from that one lucky phone call and visit from two strangers.

Kirkwood Lodge in Osage Beach, Missouri

         His luck continued that year. A bus driver who happened to drive graduating seniors to a resort in the Lake of the Ozark’s area, Kirkwood Lodge for their senior trips, stopped by one night in Abilene. Flip and Neeca were told: “Throughout the season, they square danced as the majority activity at this resort,” and the bus driver suggested Neeca and Flippo go.

         This was a turning point in Flip’s square dance career: they were getting burned out on square dancing and considered quitting, but this vacation became one of the luckiest trips they ever made. They went and had a great time, and returned for several years. In 1961 Flippo became the resident staff caller at Kirkwood Lodge for six months out the year. He did this for 42 years—a solid career choice and quite lucky, wouldn’t you say?

         His 42-year tour schedule became the next lucky piece of the puzzle. Visiting dancers coming to Kirkwood would ask Flippo to come to their hometown and call a dance or festival. Neeca managed this growing list and sizeable schedule and put together synchronized tours after Kirkwood’s six-month season that began in October. He went north, east, south and home for Christmas. After time home in Abilene, Texas, Flippo started the new year going through the Midwest, then back home, west, and back to Kirkwood to start the new season there in April.

         The backbone of these tours and his success lay in repeated weekend and week-long festivals that continued for thirty and forty years! At one time in his career, it took a club nine years to have Flippo call for them!

         Also from Kirkwood, Flippo became an international success, gaining fans across the seas. He toured Japan, Germany, Spain and England because of foreign dancers’ time at Kirkwood with Flip. Again, they wanted dancers back home to experience square dance Flippo-style!

         Another piece of the puzzle for Flippo’s success stemmed from the network of friends he made in the calling and dancing worlds. He treated people fairly which made him a Godsend to dance organizers. He connected deeply with many callers—so many that when we started this project of his biography, he wanted to tell stories on all his caller friends, and he dictated a list to me—he named 67 callers he wanted to tell a story about for the book. I’m sorry to say that we can’t include all of them because of size restraints.

Flippo’s calling career spanned sixty-four years. He recorded 100’s of records for several recording labels and he traveled extensively!

         Luck? Being at the right place at the right time? I don’t know about you, but I disagree with Flip. Yes, luck did have a hand in it. He flourished at a time when square dancing was in its heyday—he recalled easily that an event had 40 or 50 squares! But I’ve danced to him for years, and I enjoyed his choreography, his Burma Shave jingles he interwove in the patter and his friendly nature.

         All of our lives are about choices we make and how this choice today affects what happens tomorrow and the next day, unfolding into a life time. Flippo succeeded because he made some choices which like a domino effect, tumbled to the next success which tumbled to the next one! Yet, at the core of his success: he was in high demand because he was who he was–Marshall Flippo!

Life Lessons · My Thoughts · square dance

A Celebration of Marshall Flippo

Cover MemorialToday, November 26, 2018 loved ones gathered at Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home in Abilene, Texas to celebrate the life of Marshall Flippo, and what a celebration it was!

Lin and I arrived at the funeral home forty-five minutes early, and the reception area already overflowed with callers and dancer friends. We greeted dear friends from all over the country who had come to honor a true legend. We were ushered into the chapel early. The majority of the people present were professional callers from all over the United State–the cream of the crop for sure. We continued greeting each other with hugs and subdued smiles.

I looked for Mary Sheehan Johnson, a dear friend of Flip’s who took him to Asilomar in April for his last visit. Asilomar was his favorite festival in his career with its beautiful beach side setting and the organization of Bob and Becky Osgood. We found each other and felt like we were old friends–our common denominator–Flippo.

Kayla Jones began the service with beautiful soft music. Reverent David Hargrove officially opened the service with a warm greeting, Flippo’s obituary and a prayer.

Then Jon, Deborah, Vernon and Kayla Jones sang a beloved hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.” With the majority of attendees being callers and singers, many joined in the singing. What a beautiful start!

Gary Shoemake gave the first eulogy with heartfelt stories. His longtime friendship with Flippo shined through his words and tears. We laughed and cried in response to his stories. I cried with my dear friend and his raw emotion. Afterwards, we recited the familiar Twenty-Third Psalm.

Wade Driver, Mike Seastrom, and Gary Shoemake sang, “Amazing Grace,” another beautiful hymn that many in the audience sang. What a delight to have of these callers sing!

Melton Luttrell, Flippo’s long-time best friend, did a second eulogy with stories of Flippo’s early years. Melton’s deep love for Flippo grabbed my heart–they were best friends for decades. Then Reverend Hargrove shared several Scripture verses and a message of hope, personalized with Flippo stories–many that highlighted the precious father-son relationship that Flippo had with his dear son, John. He ended this part with us saying The Lord’s Prayer.

Ken Bower, Tony Oxendine, and Melton Luttrell sang the last song of the service, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee,” another song that made me cry. I loved hearing all of Flip’s dear friends give tribute to him through music and song.

Stan Jeffus shared a beautiful video presentation honoring “Precious Memories” of Flippo that had us laughing one minute and crying the next. Stan had Flippo’s songs playing in the background with photos of Flippo with so many friends through the years. The highlight were videos of many of the skits that Flippo was famous for: The Boxer and “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” Again we laughed and cried.

Boxer and Frank
Flippo Doing The Boxer Skit

Reverend Hargrove ended the service with the Benediction, then we drove to the Wagon Wheel Hall, a square dance hall that Flippo and Neeca helped build many years ago. The Abilene Square/Round Dancers provided a delicious dinner.

Then friends spent a couple hours telling Flippo stories–full of love and admiration for Flip and lots of humor. Jon Jones started the sharing with playing Flippo’s first recorded song, “The Auctioneer” and a square tried to dance it but had trouble with the figures because we don’t do some of them in square dancing anymore. Jay Henderson played Jerry Story’s tribute to the three legends in square dancing that died in the last month: Frank Lane, Marshall Flippo and Lee Kopman. Lin and I danced that time and it was so precious.

The end came–people lingered. Stories continue out the door. It was hard to leave this festive day. To me, this was the best celebration of someone’s life I’ve ever been to–lots of stories, laughter and tears about a man we all loved dearly. John and Shelly and Neeca–you did a great job in honoring Flip. I will never forget this day!

Paul Cote recorded Flippo’s Memorial Service using Facebook Live. Go and watch this awesome service celebrating Flippo. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/paul.cote.104/videos/10215219947390187/