Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · square dance · Writing

How Do You Start a Biography?

Cover of Flippo - start a biography

After several hours of interviews, Marshall Flippo had definite ideas how to start his biography. He ended up with two unique pieces he wanted, so my dilemma became, which would it be?

His passionate interest in the intricacies of his biography fascinated me. Then I found out he had prior experience with book publication because he wrote a chapter in Bob Osgood’s book, The Caller Text. Flippo was one of the contributing callers, writing chapter 24: “Building and Maintaining a Repertoire.”

As we discuss the layout of the book, Flip stated, “I have a dirty joke a caller’s wife told me the first time I met her, and I want you to start my book with it. I’ll tell it to you, and then you clean it up so we can use it.” Then he told me the joke, and I howled because I loved Flippo’s outrageous humor. I assured him we could use it, but I wondered about starting his life story with a dirty joke.

Laughter - start a biography
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

But as I transcribed the interviews and relived our 40+ hours together, I realized that humor defined Flippo in a way I hadn’t realized. His practical jokes and stories about his caller friends showed the humorous life he lived!

Another reason for humor came up when I transcribed the first few interviews and Flip was still alive. I sent him a copy of the interviews so he could answer questions I had.

In his raspy Texas drawl, he stated, “Take the giggles out!”

I laughed and replied, “Flip, any time you giggled in the interviews, I put in the word “Giggle” to remind me when I wrote the actual text, I wanted to remember to add your laughter.” He accepted that. Yes, he laughed a lot in the interviews, reminding me how much he enjoyed his life.

Also, Flippo told me repeatedly he wanted people to laugh when they read his biography. So, I understand the reason to start with a joke.

Hs joke is hilarious about some hunters caught in a cabin in a snowstorm and nature calls—you’ll have to buy the book to get the full joke.

So, we went with that for a few months. Flippo often returned to the joke, chuckled and wrote a reminder to himself to phone the caller and ask permission from his wife to include her name in the book. Somehow, he never made that call, so I emailed the caller about this touchy topic. He said his wife would prefer not being named.

I felt good about the joke and the start of this book. After several months, during one of our weekly interviews, Flippo stated, “I have something else I want to start the book with.”

Not knowing what was coming, I sighed and wondered what it could be.

Flippo added, “I want a tribute to those callers who’ve gone and helped me get started.”

After this poignant request, I swallowed, and the lump in my throat expanded. I stopped the tears because I had to listen.

“Okay, we can do that, but what about the joke?” I asked.

Easily he figured, “Put the joke after this part,” so I did.

So, once again Flippo recited a list of callers’ names to me who he wanted in this part. The first part consisted of Abilene, Texas callers: Betty Casey, J. C. Wilson, Bob Sumrall and Owen Renfro.

Then he named Bob Osgood, Bob Page, Arnie Kronenberger, Bob Van Antwerp, Joe Lewis, and Bill Castner. Those men lived all over the United States. He told stories on each, and the gratitude he expressed about these people was palatable.

In my research, I found a picture of everyone but Betty Casey, so I added her signature. I loved adding the pictures to provide a visual to the name. Some names are historical callers in the square dance world.

Sadly, two callers died near Flippo’s death who he might have added to this list: Frank Lane and Lee Kopman. I added them here because of their gigantic contributions to square dancing over the years. Also, Flippo loved and admired both of them.

Honor those who go before you—yes, that’s the man Flip was!

Finally, how we started Flippo’s biography depicted him to the tee: a spicy sense of humor and deep gratitude to those who went before him and helped him get his start as a caller.

One last note: I started Flippo’s biography with an unusual piece we never talked about with the assistance of his son and ex-wife. Someone who preordered Flip’s biography asked before he died if she could get her copy autographed by Flippo. After he died, that question haunted me. How could I do it?

I emailed John and Neeca, and Neeca found this treasure on a card he sent her years ago—how appropriate it was to use because he truly loved all of his friends.

Love Flip - start a biography

How do you start a biography? I believe there’re hundreds of ways to do it, but the solution is in the person the book is about! What best portrays the subject?

What do you think? How do you think a biography should start?

Previous Blog Posts You Might Have Missed

Cover for Just Another Square Dance Caller

~HAVE YOU ORDERED YOUR AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE FLIPPO BIOGRAPHY? AVAILABLE NOW! Go to the homepage on my website & pay for it there: https://www.laradasbooks.com

~Here’s Christmas greetings from Flippo & Neeca, featuring his song, “When Its Christmas Time in Texas”: https://youtu.be/mpJCUGffU3A

ALL FOUR E-BOOK FORMATS OF FLIPPO’S BIOGRAPHY AVAILABLE NOW:

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Dancing · Marshall Flippo · square dance

Marshall Flippo’s Career Started in a Chicken Coop

Marshall and Neeca Flippo

            We have Neeca, Marshall’s first wife, to thank for getting him into square dancing! After arriving late to their first lesson, they decided not to go in but returned the next week to learn in ten lessons the basics of square dancing from renowned caller, Betty Casey.

Excerpt from Just Another Square Dance Caller, Biography of Marshall Flippo

         When asked about how and why Flippo started calling he said, “I thought maybe I can do this. In time, I loved to sing but to whistle? I was out of lessons about a year before I ever started. The square dance club downtown, and thar was two of them, and they were both full. You had to go on a waiting list. They both had waiting lists for people to get in. So, we put our names in for that one. They could only dance 25 squares.  The list wasn’t that long, probably 10 – 12 couples. But Ed Hall, who was in our class and I knew him, lived out at Wylie. And Wylie, Texas is where I went to school from the fourth grade on until I joined the Navy in my Senior year.”

         Ed said, “I have an ole chicken coop that would probably dance three squares.” Flippo continued, “He had a farm out thar at Wylie.” Flippo located Wylie, “5 miles south of Abilene (now in the Abilene city limits).”

            So, Ed said, “I’ll clean that thang out if ya’ll wanna come out thar, but I can’t take more than twelve couples.”

Flippo explained, “So twelve couples of us signed up to go out thar, and we danced out thar every Friday night. So, we were dancing to records, and thar weren’t many out at that time that were good to dance to. Joe Lewis had the best ones. Joe played an accordion, and he had it fixed up where he could put different musical instruments in it, or he could play a guitar. He had about three or four instruments that he could play out of his accordion. He lived in Dallas, Texas. And Les Gotcher had some that were really hard. He was a hash caller from California and toured the whole country—probably the tops in his time.”

            Flippo added more about square dancing at the time, “Jonesy had some, but thar was no way we could dance them. Come to find out, Jonesy played in a band in LA. He picked up the lingo and said I believe I can do this, so he just got up and called a whole bunch of stuff he didn’t even know what worked into what. He just knew the words he’d heard callers use. He put them on Capitol Records. Well, thar was no way we could do those. And later on, he learned to square dance and then to call and then became a very good caller.”

            Flippo added, “We danced to records for quite a while, and then we’d have a band come in. Most of the Fridays we danced out thar with him to a two-piece band. If you said, ‘Record! We’re going to have a record dance,’ nobody’d come. People liked live music. So, we’d have a two-piece band and the fiddle player.”

Flippo continued, “When we couldn’t get them, we’d use those ole records that had calls on them like Jonesy, Joe Lewis or Les Gotcher. I can’t think of anybody else at that time. Thar were very few people recording at that time.”

            And one night someone said, “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.” Flippo explained, “So that’s the way it kinda started. I remember the first one I started. Singing calls didn’t appeal to me too much at that time, so I learned patter. First one I learned was ‘Dip and dive.’  Let me think a minute. So, we all did some kind of little calls. Some guys were good. I wasn’t one of the good ones.”

            Neeca remarked, “You can’t stay on beat. What’s wrong with you? Can you pat your foot to the music?”

Flippo Started with a Califone

           Flippo said, “Yeah.” He added, “So I had a big ole ‘Turkey in the Straw’ record, and I’d get in the front bedroom of our house ‘cause we had no furniture in thar, and I had a little ole record player. I believe it was a Califone. So, I’d get in thar.

Neeca’d come in and she’d say, ‘Flip, you’re not on the beat. I know good and well you can pat your foot to the music.’”

            He’d say, “Yeah.”

            She’d answered, ‘Well, start patting that foot to the music. Don’t do anythang—just keep patting it. When it hits the floor, you say ‘Bow to your partner, corners all,’ and just stay on the beat.”

            Flippo remembered, “Well, I had a hell of a time with that. So, we danced out thar a long while. Then we got taken in by one of those clubs in Abilene. I believe that was the Abilene Crosstrails. Somebody set it up. At the time, all the clubs—thar wasn’t one caller calling a dance. If you were thar and wanted to call, you could call, so it was multiple callers all the time.”

            Flippo provided a glance into what square dancing looked like in the 50’s. After he became a national caller, he met Joe Lewis and has stories about him. He had a picture at the WASCA festival in the DC area with Les Gotcher. In his intervies, he shared his historical perspective of square dancing and a variety of callers.

Flip started small, but one “lucky event” turned this small-town caller into a national hit. I’ll share this turning point with you next month.

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