Square Dance History Project
The rich story of North American square dance finally has a home in the digital age.

Auctioneer exhibit

The Auctioneer

by David Millstone
July, 2012

The Auctioneer is Ralph Sweet's signature number, and the dance has a storied history before him. The Auctioneer song was a 1956 hit, selling 2.5 million copies for for Leroy Van Dyke and catapaulting him to country music fame. (Here's a video recording of Leroy Van Dyke performing the song in concert.)

Two years later, in 1958, a Texas square dance record label called Blue Star released a square dance version by another little-known individual, caller Marshall Flippo, launching his career.

 Below you'll find several items to explore:

     • Marshall Flippo's original version.
     • Marshall Flippo's remake from the 1970s, using different calls.
     • Lyrics for the pop song and the calls as Flippo recorded them on his original version are available here.

Buddy Weaver, producer for Blue Star Music, writes, "Marshall Flippo worked out the singing square version at the home of Melton Luttrell, another well-known caller in Texas. Melton played piano and Marshall crafted the figure which was then sent to Norm Merbach, the producer of Blue Star Records. I believe the fiddler on Auctioneer is Earl Carruthers, who was also a Texas Playboy for a few years. The arrangement was not a 64 beat - 7 times through stanza, which is considered standard in MWSDing. Norm Merbach had Auctioneer re-done in the 1970's using a a 64/7 under the orchestration of Dick Shannon, who used Houston symphony players. The new version was anything but country. Both versions are available on CD as Auctioneer Grande, Dance Ranch CD 1078."

Tony Parkes adds, "The reverb in the first recording was intentional on the part of Blue Star's producer. Echo chambers, as they were then called, were fashionable at the time."

In the clip below called by Tony Parkes, you can see the dance using Flippo's figures from his remake. In Ralph Sweet's version of the Auctioneer and in this one by Nils Fredland, the caller is directing a basic goal post figure, where the active couples are moving around four other stationery dancers. 

There are numerous routines that can be inserted into the basic structure of The Auctioneer. As long as that fast-talking patter is in there, few are even aware of the figures. Using completely different figures from the includes files, there's a simpler version called by Pennsylvania caller Audrey Forbes in 1986. Go to this site and jump ahead to 17:55 in the file. This is evidence that callers can adapt a particular popular tune figures. 

And for those who'd like to work on their fast patter, here's a demonstration of a fast-talking auctioneer along with commentary about how his patter is structured.

Auctioneer exhibit