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.
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!