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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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/