Pipe Major W. H. Phillips

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William Hackert Phillips 1917-2006



Hack was born in Livingston, Montana on October 11, 1917 and moved to Laurel in 1920. He told many wonderfull stories of growing up in the small railroad town in the 20's and 30's. From age 12 on he usually worked summers on the Hackert family ranch near Buffalo, WY and his experiences as a cowboy in the last days of the open range spawned another whole host of wonderful stories. In 1935 he enlisted in the Navy and served on the USS California, USS Sacramento, and the USS Tangier. The Sacramento was the ship that carried the survivors of the Sian Incident immortalized in the Steve McQueen movie "The Sand Pebbles" from China to the Phillipines. It was on the Tangier that he was the deck officer on duty on the morning of December 7, 1941 and became the person to first sound the alarm of the Japanese attack. Later, in the Pacific, he told the story of Gen. MacArthur demanding a 6-star flag on short notice for his landing in the Phillipines. Hack sewed him up a flag but being in a hurry he just found a 5-star flag and added one more star in the middle of the circle. Gen. MacArthur complained about the flag not being right, but had to use it as there was no time to re-do it. After WWII he left the Navy and joined the Army Air Force and later the Air Force and spent the rest of his military career teaching aircraft engine maintenance and electronics to a generation of servicemen. In 1957 he left the service and continued doing pretty much the same thing as a civilian and in 1970 retired and moved "home" to Laurel, Montana which is when his story joins the Caledonian Pipe Band.

Hack had learned to pipe in the early 1950's at the instigation of his brother Cliff and from then until he retired he played with several pipe bands around the country, including the Peoria Pipe Band, Peoria Illinois where he served under Pipe Major Tommy Livingstone, a veteran of the Highland Regiments. When Hack returned to Laurel in 1970 he immediately became involved in the local piping scene but because of an negative incident involving a friend and uniforms purchased for the Caledonians, decided to have nothing to do with the Caledonian Band for the time being and with Cliff and James Munro of Nelson, B. C. started an organization called the West Mosby Volunteers. A spoof on the military, it was highly organized and was a Regiment of 2 Battalions (the legendary Lost First Battalion having been wiped out at the Battle of the Mosby Bridge. . .) Hack was the Pipe major of the 2nd Battalion while J. Munro was the acting Colonel and P/M of the 3rd Battalion in Nelson.

When the Caledonian Pipe Band lost most of their pipe section and Pipe Major Bill Rose moved away, Hack volunteered to merge the two bands and for 6 years from 1969 until 1975 he was Pipe Major of the Caledonian Pipes and Drums, leading it each year in among other events, the Western Days Parade, the Red Lodge Festival of Nations, and at two sad and important funerals--those of Bill Flockhart and Willard Fraser.

When Hack's brother and fellow piper Cliff died of cancer in 1975, Hack decided to leave the piping scene for awhile and sold his pipes, turning the band over to Jim Burns. Cliff had been the ramrod under the West Mosby Volunteers and it also mostly faded from the scene. After a period when he dabbled in many other interests, about 1982 Hack decided to take up piping again, bought another set of pipes and sat in on numerous band chanter classes headed by then Pipe Major Jim Morrison. Seeing that the band was fairly weak in the drum section, Hack decided to teach himself drumming, which he pursued with his usual thoroughness, buying a state of the art snare drum and getting hel[p from drummers at the Highland Games he attended each summer. Later he did the same with tenor drumming and here he really created the band's tenor drumming section, teaching a series of drummers all there was to know about stick twirling, writing beatings, etc. Hack even created his own tenor sticks since there where none to be had commercially to his liking. Again, he traveled in the summer to many Games in the Northwest and took hours of footage of tenor and bass drummers going through their routines in oirder to bring it home to show to the Caledonians. When the tenor drummers were more or less under control, he decided the band needed a drum major and researched that as well, teaching a series of Drum Majors who led the band through the 80's and 90's. Hack was generous not only with his knowledge, but with the tools of the trade as well--over the years he purchased and donated to the band all of the tenor drums, a bass drum, many sets of drum sticks and the Drum Major's mace.

Ever the technician, in the 1990's Hack decided he would research the pipe chanter scale and built a highly accurate frequency counter coupled to an occiliscope with which he determined that in fact the human ear (the Pipe Major's ear that is) is at least as accurate as an electronic tuner.

Even as he entered his last years beset with the severe pain of terminal cancer, his fingers too stiff to play the chanter any more, Hack enjoyed teaching himself snare drum beatings and listening to pipe band recordings. His energy and enthusiasm will be sorely missed.


Peoria Pipe Band Tommy Livingstone and Hack
Hack at Festival of Nations 1974
Air Force retirement photo 1957
West Mosby Volunteers at the Keg-Hack on far right

Piping with Jim Munro and brother Cliff c. 1969

Leading the Caledonian Pipe Band, Red Lodge 1972