Texas Polka Bands

TEXAS POLKA BANDS

BAND

CONTACT

PHONE

AREA

Bohemian Dutchmen

Roy Haag

830-625-8262

New Braunfels

Brave Combo

Danny O’Brien

940-387-0860

Denton

Central Texas Sounds

Larry Sodek

979-378-2510

Fayetteville

Charles & the Fabulous Four

Charles Marburger

979-249-6976

Round Top

Cloverleaf Orchestra

Fred Baetge

830-625-4915

New Braunfels

Country Boys Polka Band

Raymond Dlabaj

972-878-2038

Ennis

Country Sounds

Al Sulak

979-478-7138

East Bernard

Czech and Then Some

Danny Zapletal

972-875-2036

Ennis

Czech Harvesters Band

Jim Zabojnik

972-989-7046

Dallas

Czech Melody Masters

Thomas Durnin

512-296-1397

Austin

Czechaholics, The

Mark Hermes

361-772-4619

Hallettsville

Dallas Czech Concert Orchestra

Larry Johnson

972-226-8478

Dallas

Der Klein Steins

Dennis Koehler

830-606-0971

New Braunfels

Dujka Brothers, The

John Dujka

979-830-0309

Brenham

Dutchmasters, The

A. J. Drabek

713-505-1851

Houston

Ennis Czech Boys

Trey Sylvester

469-693-6357

Ennis

Fabulous Six, The

Fritz Hodde

512-759-9918

Hutto

Gravel Road

Delores Rivera

281-455-8523

Katy

Guenther Rennie/Happy Travelers

Rennie Guenther

830-625-5709

New Braunfels

Halata, Mark & Texavia

Mark Halata

281-960-2554

Houston

Havlak-Batla Polka Time Band

Joe Havlak

915-442-2891

San Angelo

Holub Polka Band, The

John Holub Jr.

979-732-9456

Columbus

Incredible Music Makers

Charlie Bartos

361-865-2167

Flatonia

Sweet Home Playboys

Tony Janak

361-293-5479

Yoakum

Jak Se Do

Tony Vitovsky

972-875-9447

Ennis

Jodie Mikula Orchestra

Nick Mikula

972-875-5654

Ennis

Jubilee Band

Dean Schilling

830-627-8205

New Braunfels

Knights of Dixie Orchestra

James Voldan

281-265-8410

Houston

Kovanda’s Czech Band

Leland Miller

979-378-2291

Fayetteville

Lazy Farmer’s Band

Cary Oswald

979-472-0492

Bellville

Limited Edition

Jimmy Fucik

979-249-5184

LaGrange

Litt’l Fishermen

Roy Haag

830-625-8262

New Braunfels

Majek’s Orchestra

Martha Ann Majek

361-438-5197

Corpus Christi

Markmann Polkateers

Leroy Markmann

210-349-3930

San Antonio

Marshall, Brian

Brian Marshall

281-351-0447

Tomball

Melody Five Czech Band

Jerry Haisler

254-773-9646

Temple

Moravians, The

Joshua Goodwin

972-825-7854

Ennis

Odessa

Richard Stade

281-382-6633

Hallettsville

Oma & The Oompahs

Pearly Sowell

830-625-9288

New Braunfels

Polkasonics, The

Bradley Williams

512-391-0730

Austin

Praha Brothers, The

Billy Havlik

254-984-2497

Temple

Red Ravens

Lawrence Svetlik

979-543-6557

El Campo

Rising Stars, The

Lillian Kaderka

512-836-7127

Granger

Rybak, Chris

Chris Rybak

361-798-5022

Hallettsville

San Antonio Combo

Johnny Schultz

210-289-4089

San Antonio

Seven Dutchmen, The

John Kaderli

830-629-3759

New Braunfels

Sound Connection, The

Gary Kunkel

281-392-0055

Houston

Strand, Harold & Orchestra

Harold Strand

254-662-5689

Waco

Swingin’ Dutchmen

Dennis Koehler

830-606-0971

New Braunfels

Texas Dutchmen, The

David Czarnek

281-636-6446

Houston

Texas Legacy Czech Band

Bob Suttie

281-499-6406

Houston

Texas Sound Check

Benny Okruhlik

281-353-5892

Houston

Texas Stars

Sally Hickl

979-578-2725

Louise

Travelers, The

Bob Walla

979-732-3171

Columbus

Twilights, The

Gene Janis

713-569-6270

Rosenberg

Vanek Brothers of Victoria

Dennis Vanek

361-573-6771

Victoria

Wavra, Donnie & Orchestra

Donnie Wavra

979-732-6329

Columbus


Texas Performing Groups

Alpenfest

Mike Barker

281-332-8510

Pasadena

AlpenMusikanten

Alan Walling

972-979-3074

Dallas

Alpine Village Band

Bill Kucera

972-226-7004

Sunnyvale

Cavanaugh, Terry

Terry Cavanaugh

830-606-0011

New Braunfels

Das Ist Lustig

Valina Polka

713-598-8317

Houston

Dutch Treat

Melvin Scott

210-669-2481

Fredericksburg

Enzian Buam

Jason Keepers

979-830-3674

Brenham?

Happy Wanderers

Peter Menzel

281-487-2815

Pasadena

Hackemack's “Polka 9-1-1”

Hackemack, Gene

979-551-0581

Brenham

Kenny James

Kenny James

281-997-7456

Houston

Lorelei und Schatzi

Lori Wisian-Brooke

512-369-3040

Austin

New Braunfels Village Brass Band

Roy Haag

830-625-8262

New Braunfels

Round Top Brass Orchestra

Ronny Sacks

979-249-3117

Round Top

Rusty Steins, The

Carol Luxenberger

361-573-5304

Victoria

Sauerkrauts, The

Gary Trumet

830-535-6332

San Antonio

Shiner Hobo Band

Larry Krupala

361-550-8189

Shiner

Tuba Meisters, The

Ray Grim

210-558-6549

San Antonio

Walburg Boys

Ronny Tippelt

512-863-8440

Walburg


FEATURE ARTICLES FROM THE TEXAS POLKA NEWS  

                                                  Jimmy Brosch

      Texas Polka Patriarch Jimmy Brosch died March 4.  He was 89.   Jimmy and his band, “The Happy Country Boys,” played for 46 years, making many miles and milestones before retiring to document his music and memories.  Well done Jimmy!  Let’s celebrate his life!

The Jimmy Brosch story begins in and around Praha, the small farming community near Moulton settled by Czech immigrants.  The young Jimmy Brosch wanted to play the fiddle.  He began at age 12, riding horseback from Praha to Moravia to bargaining for an instrument which he bought for $2.50.   Jimmy took the fiddle with him into the Air Force in WWII, playing on ship and at the base while doing his job as a P-51 airplane mechanic. After returning from service, Jimmy decided to form a band.   “Jimmy Brosch and His Playboys” came into being in 1946, playing all the country dance halls around the Schulenburg-Hallettsville area. 

Then Jimmy moved to Houston, attending the University of Houston for a year, supporting himself as a door-to-door salesman.  Somewhere along the way, he met wife Lucy at a CYO dance in Moulton.  They married in 1949, and lived and worked in Houston, Jimmy for Southern Pacific Railroad (from which he retired after 38 years). Along the way, he and Lucy raised a family of four.

The band kept on playing, but the name was changed in the 50’s to “Jimmy Brosch and the Happy Country Boys.”   They played the Bill Mraz Ballroom regularly for over 18 years, and the American Legion in Crosby for 11 years, along with all the other dances and church picnics.  The Legend was being forged.

Jimmy was known for his humor as well as his music.  When asked what instrument he played, Jimmy’s usual response was “None of them well!”  Typical humor for Jimmy, but he did play the fiddle, sax, accordion and harmonica. Jimmy’s experience as an aircraft mechanic in WWII ignited an interest in flying, and he owned his own plane in the 1950’s.  He kept his motorcycle into late life.

Jimmy acknowledged the celebrated “Corn Cockle Polka” written in 1967 as the highlight and turning point of his career.  The song was based on a slow Czech funeral march.   Jimmy changed the time to a polka beat, added lyrics, and the song was born.  It took off as a 45-rpm recording, becoming the band’s trademark. 

Jimmy received two Texas Polka Music Awards (TPMA), one in 1994 for “An Early Texas Polka Band,” and a second in 1996 for “The Corn Cockle Polka,” recognized by TPMA as an All Time Favorite Song. 

Jimmy and his band recorded 44 songs as 45-rpm singles.  Many were later transferred to cassettes, then CDs, leaving us a rich musical heritage.  In 2007, he also did a DVD “Jimmy Brosch Live” at the LaGrange Opry.  His most recent project was a 2012 book and CD combo “Jimmy Brosch Remembers."

TPN once asked Jimmy about his career.  He concluded by saying, “I wouldn’t trade our experiences for a million dollars, but I wouldn’t go through it again, either!”

       Jimmy, you don't have to! You have left us a rich legacy.  You have joined The Legends of Texas polka music. Well done, Jimmy!


PAST ARTICLES FROM THE TEXAS POLKA NEWS  

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Musician Leo Majek Jr. Dies

Texas musician Leo Majek Jr. died Feb. 28 in Corpus Christi, the last surviving brother of the Majek music dynasty. He was 90.  Leo will be remembered for bringing joy to people through his love of polka music. He began playing in the Majek Orchestra at age nine, starting on drums before switching to accordion for the rest of his life.

The name Majek means music in Texas.  It has meant music ever since 1897 when Leo Majek Sr. began playing his accordion for weddings and parties in his native Czechoslovakia.  It has continued for 115 years through four generations of the musical family who continue to play as the Leo Majek Orchestra from their home base in Corpus Christi.  Leo Majek Sr. and his young wife immigrated to Texas just prior to WWI.  They took up raising cotton (and six sons and a daughter) on a rented farm near Cameron.  The six Majek sons began to mature, and one by one learned to play instruments, joining their father.  The Leo Majek Orchestra was on its way!  The Majek sons were Julius, John, Leo Jr., Charlie, Frank, and Joe.  The Leo Majek Orchestra called Cameron home until 1940, when they relocated to Corpus Christi as Leo found work in a shipyard.  The band continued, with Corpus Christi as their new home. 

The Majek sons had little formal schooling in music.  They didn’t hold practice sessions, or have musical scores.  Instead, they used their natural ability and enthusiasm to produce their music. It worked, because the band enjoyed great success and popularity in the five decades from the 1950’s through 2000, and continuing into a third century of Majek music.  The Leo Majek Orchestra continues, even though all six of the Majek brothers are now gone.  The Majek music remains.  In memories, on CD, and live where the band is playing. And the fifth generation of Majek musicians has begun! Seven-year-old Austin Majek made his debut with the Majek Orchestra at the El Campo Polka Fest Jan. 29.

And so the magic of Majek music continues.  Quite a legacy for founder Leo Sr. and the six charter brothers!

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The Dujka Brothers

The Polka Gospel according to John and Mark

Every Texas polka fan knows the Dujka Brothers, right?  John & Mark, the two young brothers originally from the East Bernard area that make all that great music just by themselves.  Now they are marking 25 years of making that music together!

Celebrating 25 years is a great time to learn more about the Dujkas.  John (47) and Mark (42), the children of William Dujka and Mary Lou Brossman, were raised in farming country near Tavener, TX.  William Dujka, one of 15 children in a 2nd-generation Czech family, met and married the very German Mary Lou Brossman from Schulenburg.  The Dujkas were a hard-working conservative farm family, the kind of people who have made this nation great.  But the family also had musical talent.

Grandfather Herman Brossman played the accordion and Grandmother Clara played the organ at St. John’s Church in Schulenburg.  The musical talent passed down through daughter Mary Lou to both John and Mark, but the heritage goes beyond that.   In the dedication for their first recording in 1992, the Dujka Brothers said, “We also dedicate this tape to the memory of Grandpa Herman Brossman, the greatest accordion man we ever knew, and to Aunt Delores ‘Tootsi’ Brossman, who taught us all how to dance and enjoy life.”  They continued, “Of course, we owe everything to Mom and Dad for giving us so much love and support.  Thanks for allowing us time away from the cotton fields to develop as musicians.”

John and Mark grew up in the Wallis-Orchard school district, attending Brazos High School.  They worked the cotton fields, and both tell about their parents’ insistence that music have its place, even if the cotton had to wait.  Dad would say, “Come home, practice your piano, then come to the field and help,” recalls John.  John began playing the piano pre-school, starting lessons in first grade.  “I played everything they put in front of me,” says John, who went on to play piano, trombone, trumpet and tuba in school.  He went on to the University of Houston, studying “piano performance” and graduating in 1990 with a Masters degree.  

The brothers began performing in High School, with John playing for Al Sulak & the Country Sounds (Sulak just happened to also be the High School Band Director).  Mark learned the piano, accordion, sax, guitar and bass.  John began playing solo in 1977, along the way purchasing a portable Yamaha organ with bass pedal and drum box.  This instrument was the beginning of the electronic accompaniment which now characterizes their music.  The brothers first played together in 1986 when their interest in polka music was reawakened by the passing of Grandfather Brossman.  They also began using emerging technology to capture their own music as accompaniment while performing.  This evolved into in the electronic equipment that now bolsters their sound.

“Everything that you hear is us!” say Mark.  “We play every note.  We’re just using technology to expand our ability to perform.”  John adds, “All our music is being generated at the moment we perform.”  The Dujka Brothers have made 10 recordings, seven available as CDs.  They include both Czech and German vocals, in tribute to their heritage.

John teaches music at Blinn College in Brenham.  John and wife Julie have three children and also host a popular polka radio program (Saturday Morning Dance Time) on KULP El Campo.  Mark went to Southwest Texas majoring in Ag Business, continued the family farm, and now is employed by First National Bank of Eagle Lake.  Mark & wife Suzanne have one daughter.

“We just want to thank our fans for their enthusiasm and support,” say the Brothers.   “We never thought that in 25 years, we would have achieved the acceptance we have. Our fans make all the effort and sacrifice worthwhile.”  “Most importantly, we also would like to thank our families.  It requires much sacrifice to keep the music going and we thank them for allowing the tradition to continue.”  For more info see the web at www.dujkabrothers.com.

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The Ennis Czech Boys

by North Texas Dancing Reporter Tom Regmund

We’re all interested in the preservation of that Ol’ Time Czech Music in dance halls across Texas.  I mean by that the traditional Czech polka and waltz music our grandfathers carried with them on the steamers that crossed the Atlantic with families headed for HOPE in America.  North Texas boasts a young polka band that is actually accomplishing that goal by bringing a younger generation of polka lovers into the fold.

I talked to three of the Ennis Czech Boys about their band and all three expressed pride and appreciation in one thing they do well: they carry on a tradition of polka music that has seen Frank Baca, Joe Patek, Henry Brosch, John ny Mensik, Ray Zapletal, Lee Roy Matocha, Jodie Mikula, the Vrazel brothers and many others continue polka music in Texas for well over a hundred years.  It is a priceless tradition.  It is great to see these maturing musicians grow and become more and more like the old masters.

The Ennis Czech Boys formed when Jon David Marek began playing the accordion (David Slovak instructing) with Cory Mikula on drums and Jared Prachyl playing bass and handling the vocals.  That was 2004.  Over the next few years the group added Trey Sylvester - piano, vocals, PR/Booking, Jerry Petter - sax, guitar, keyboard, accordion, bass, vocals, Frank Vrla III – sax, guitar, Zeke Martinez - guitar, drums, vocals, and Michael Trojacek - sax, guitar, vocals. You will find seven or so of these fine young musicians making the music at a Czech Boys show.

The Ennis Czech Boys play the big polka festivals in North Texas: the National Polka Festival and West Fest.  They are also popular in South Texas and over the next few months will play Dubina, Moravia, Sweet Home, DaCosta and Fredericksburg – and out west in Seymour if you can get out there.  They have a new CD out that highlights their musical versatility and includes several not often heard traditional polkas. You will enjoy this one.

I will suggest we all get out and dance to the Ennis Czech Boys soon.  You will enjoy the music and the younger crowd they work hard to attract.  They have a sharp, polka sound that I know will keep you dancing.  Playing traditional music from the past, the Czech Boys are the future sound of polka music in Texas. For schedule, contact info and sample music, check out www.ennisczechboys.com – have some fun.

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Texas Legacy Czech Band

by bandleader Bob Suttie

One year ago, I didn't have five regular members in the Texas Legacy Czech Band. But for most of 2009, I can say everyone in the band is a regular member, and each of them has played an important part in molding the Texas Legacy Czech Band into a very good-sounding group. If you've been to our dances or heard our latest CD, "The Legacy Continues," I think you know what I mean!

Mike Gest is my right hand man, and helps me in so many ways with the band. He is so talented singing Czech and playing a number of instruments. He also is very helpful and knowledgeable about bookings and everything else related to the band.  Randy Cernosek is a fine drummer, but has a great voice and plays many different instruments.  And I didn't have to call him to ask him to play in the band; he called me. Jimmy Heinsohn has become an important part of our band, not just as one of the hottest trumpet players around, but also as a very professional sounding steel guitar player. Joe Zetka has added so much to this band that I couldn't begin to list it all. He not only does it all, but he knows what will sound the best in any given situation. Kenneth Mlcak has been our recording engineer through two CD's. The work he has done with us has been excellent, and I couldn't ask for an easier person to work with.  Thanks too to Jon Krahmer, who helps produce our e-mail newsletter every week, and was invaluable in helping me organize the band.

Finally, I'm thankful for all our fans and all you folks who read our weekly newsletter. Our TLCB newsletter goes to over 400 fans every week. It is an update as to the happenings of the band, and it includes our updated schedule. If you would like to receive it, contact me at rsuttie@comcast.net .

I have been very blessed! Thank-you!  Bob Suttie and the Texas Legacy Czech Band.

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The Dujka Brothers: The Polka Gospel according to John and Mark

Every Texas polka fan knows the Dujka Brothers, right?  Sure, John & Mark, the two brothers originally from the East Bernard area.  The two guys who make all that great music, just by themselves.  Sure, we all know the Dujka Brothers!  But how well do we know the Dujka Brothers?  How did they get their start?  What and who influenced their career?  Who are they, really, and how do just two guys make all that music?  Back about 1999, The Texas Polka News went looking for answers by talking to John and Mark Dujka.  Here’s what we found, updated.

John (45) and Mark (41), the children of William Dujka and Mary Lou Brossman, were raised in farm country near Tavener, TX.  William Dujka, one of 15 children in a 2nd-generation Czech family, met and married the very German Mary Lou Brossman from Schulenburg.  The Dujkas were a hard-working conservative farm family, the kind of people who have made this nation great.  But the family also had another attribute - musical talent - largely from the Brossman side.  Grandfather Herman Brossman played the accordion and Grandmother Clara played the organ at St. John’s Church in Schulenburg.  The musical talent passed down through daughter Mary Lou to both John and Mark, but the heritage goes beyond that. 

In the dedication for their first recording in 1992, the Dujka Brothers said, “We also dedicate this tape to the memory of Grandpa Herman Brossman, the greatest accordion man we ever knew, and to Aunt Delores ‘Tootsi’ Brossman, who taught us all how to dance and enjoy life.” They continued, “Of course, we owe everything to Mom and Dad for giving us so much love and support.  Thanks for allowing us time away from the cotton fields to develop as musicians.”

These quotes are very revealing of the two, hard-working young men with a great work ethic, a firm understanding of who they are, and a dedication to music.  John and Mark grew up in the Wallis-Orchard school district, attending Brazos High School.  They worked the cotton fields, and both tell the story about their parents’ insistence that music have its place, even if the cotton had to wait.  Dad would say, “Come home, practice your piano, then come to the field and help us,” recalls John.  John began playing the piano pre-school, starting lessons in first grade.  “I played everything they put in front of me,” says John, who went on to play piano, trombone, trumpet and tuba in school.  He went on to the University of Houston, studying “piano performance” and graduating in 1990 with a Masters degree. 

The Dujka brothers began performing in High School, with John playing for Al Sulak & The Country Sounds (Sulak just happened to also be the High School Band Director).  Mark learned the piano, accordion, sax, guitar and bass.  John began playing solo in 1977, along the way purchasing a portable Yamaha organ with bass pedal and drum box.  This instrument was the genesis of the electronic accompaniment which now characterizes their music. 

The brothers first played together in 1986.  Their interest in polka music was reawakened by the 1986 passing of Grandfather Brossman.  They also began using emerging technology to capture their own music as accompaniment while performing.  This resulted in the electronic equipment that now bolsters their sound into that of a full band.  “Everything that you hear is us!” say Mark, laying to rest the concern of some purists.  “We play every note.  We just use technology to expand our ability to perform.”  John adds, “All our music is being generated at the moment we perform.”  The Dujka Brothers have six recordings, all available on CD and some still available on cassettes.  They include Czech and German vocals, in tribute to their heritage. 

John now teaches music at Blinn College in Brenham while he and wife Julie are raising their family of three.  They also do the polka radio show “Saturday Morning Dance Time” from KULP El Campo 1390 AM, 10 a.m. to 12 noon.   Mark went to Southwest Texas State University, majored in Agribusiness, and operated the family farm until 2004.  He then went on to become Assistant Vice President at the First National Bank in Eagle Lake.   Mark & wife Suzanne have one daughter.  John and Mark look forward to continuing to spread the “good news” of polka music.  That’s good news for polka fans in Texas.

For info on the Dujka Brothers, call John at 409-830-4249 in Brenham, or e-mail at jdujka@cebridge.net.

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Alice Sulak is Sefcik Hall

by Glen Chervenka, President Texas Polka Music Museum

In a world of change, there’s comfort knowing that Sefcik Hall is still there, that the Hall’s Sunday night dances still continue, and that Alice Sulak still runs the tavern and dance hall that her father, Tom Sefcik, built in 1923.  Born and raised in Sefcik Hall in the east Bell county community of Seaton, Alice Sefcik Sulak has spent her life in music and Sefcik Hall.

Alice grew up in Sefcik Hall, listening to the Baca’s, Majek’s, Migl’s and other polka bands while helping with the family business.  At the age of 11 she started playing drums in her sister’s band, Adela and the Music Masters. The band consisted of Adela Urubek on accordion, Alice on drums, Jerry Adamek on base, and Julius Dubcak on trumpet. Later James Psencik played trumpet.  Alice and Adela also did the singing. They played every week somewhere in the area, earning about $5 each for a dance in the 50’s. Soon Alice bought her first saxophone.  Unlike her sister Adela, Alice had no musical training, so Alice learned by ear. Adela would play a tune one time, and then Alice knew the song. Alice admits “I don’t know a single note!” 

Their band was in great demand in the 50’s. They played at Sefcik Hall (home) a lot of the time.  They traveled in a car and a small trailer because they only had a small amount of equipment. As was usual in those days, they played live on Sunday for the Czech Melody Hour on Temple’s KTEM radio. During the early 60’s Alice played sax and sang with Otis Beck and the Melody Five in the local area for about five years. Since then, Alice has played the sax (her 4th one) and sang Czech polka and waltzes with Jerry Haisler and the Melody Five.

Alice tells of her dad, Tom Sefcik, selling mainly Pearl beer in the bar. They had the bottles iced down such that the labels came off. So everyone got Pearl!  Alice remembers her dad telling of a patron coming in and asking for a Budweiser; after drinking a Pearl without a label, he said “best Bud I ever had.” Alice added air conditioning to Sefcik Hall in the 80’s and closed the open air shutters that had been in use since 1923. But the historic bar downstairs, and much of the hall remain unchanged.

Today, Alice Sulak still sings and plays her sax.  She will not tell her age. Asked if middle 70’s might be close, she said “that would be OK.”  One thing is certain; Alice is still playing and singing Czech polka and waltz music.  Alice, we wish you many more years.  For information on Sefcik Hall, call Alice Sulak at 254-985-2356, or write her at 800 Seaton Road, Temple, TX  76501.  The Hall is south of Hwy 53, about a dozen miles east of temple.

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Harry Czarnek Remembered

Harry Czarnek, our beloved Texas Polka musician and bandleader, died Tuesday, Sept. 22 from lung cancer.  He was 84. 

Harry was a great musician and bandleader, a mentor to many musicians, a good husband with wife Betty for 59 years, and a gentleman.  He made a major contribution to the preservation and development of polka music in his native Nebraska, and his adopted state of Texas. Harry will be missed.

It all started in Nebraska, where Harry was born of Polish parents in a mostly Czech culture near Loup City, northwest of Grand Island.  From about age nine Harry wanted to play the accordion, after growing up listening to Czech polka music on local radio.  Things began to come together at age 17 in Omaha, while Harry was staying with friends whose 15-year-old son was a good accordionist.  Harry knew nothing about playing the instrument, or about music, except that he wanted to play.  The son took Harry to buy a cream-colored Cellini Estrada for $75.  Back home, the young mentor drew a picture of the keyboard and the musical staff.  Harry began by learning the basic notes of the Julida Polka.  He played his first professional job later that year for 75 cents.  Harry’s musical career was underway. 

Harry formed his first band in 1944 at age 18, practicing in a church basement. But WWII interrupted, with Harry entering the service in early 1945.  After the war, his early career was in his native Nebraska, centered on Grand Island.  In 1951 Harry traded his Union Pacific railroad watch for a band.  With the trade, Harry went from accordion player to band owner.  He promptly fired the whole band, rehiring those he wanted on the next day.  Things kept getting better for the young musician.  In addition to dances and private engagements, the band began performing on KRGI radio (Grand Island) every Sunday, broadcasting live from Riviera Theater (before the matinee movie).  A local TV show also came along several years later.

Harry wed wife Betty in 1950 and earned their living by working for the Bureau of Reclamation, a furniture store, and Montgomery Wards, among others.  In 1961, the family moved to Texas City to run a furniture store.  The stage was set for “The Texas Dutchmen.”  Harry Czarnek and Gene Patalik organized the Texas Dutchmen in 1970.  Original members were sons Alan & David Czarnek (saxophones and clarinets), Sonny Patalik and Pat Klesel on trumpets, Gene Patalik (drums), Leonard Kasowski (electric base), and of course Harry on the accordion.  In addition to various dance hall engagements, the band played weddings, anniversaries, the Praha Picnic, the Ennis Polka Fest, and the KC and SPJST Conventions.  The band also appeared on KFRD (Rosenberg) radio shows. 

Things kept happening and the Texas Dutchmen played special events such as the Omaha Polka Fest (1987 and 88), the Kansas Polkatennial (1990 and 92), the Great Bend Polka Days (1992 and 97), the New Braunfels Wurstfest and the Big Springs Polka Club for many years, the 1996 Plains tour, Westfest, Ennis, numerous Czech fests and more.  The band has also appeared at Accordion Kings in both Houston and Winedale.  Sure, the Texas Dutchmen have recorded.  Four LPs were released in the 1971-78 period.  There were also five tapes.  Finally, the Texas Dutchmen did five CD releases.  

Harry Czarnek was awarded Band Leader of the Year in 1991 by the Texas Polka Music Association (TPMA).  Other TPMA Awards include Song Writer of the Year in 1996 (Six Pack Landler) and Album of the Year in 1996 (Songs of the Old Country).  As Harry was developing the Texas Dutchmen sound, he was strongly influenced by a legendary band from Minnesota, the Six Fat Dutchmen.

Asked in 2000 to describe his unique sound, Harry hesitated and tried to define it by counting out a rhythm (which defies translation into print).  When forced, he characterized his music as Czech, with a little German flavor, sort of like the Six Fat Dutchmen with more zip.  However it’s described, the music was produced by one accordion, two trumpets, two clarinet/sax, piano, string base and drums.  Fans know it when they hear it!

Asked in 2000 about the highlight of his musical career, Harry responded, “All the nice people we have met!”  That answer reveals a lot about Harry.   Importantly, Harry was a mentor to many Texas musicians, and many of them attended his memorial Mass in Houston Sept. 28.   Every man wants a legacy.  Harry’s will be his family, the Texas Dutchmen music, and the musicians he helped develop.  These will live on.

What’s ahead for the Texas Dutchmen?  Son David Czarnek assures us that whenever the dancers are ready for more Texas Dutchmen, they will be ready.  

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The Passion of Vernon Drozd

Perhaps you saw him playing sax or clarinet with the Gil Baca Band during the ‘60’s or ‘70’s.  You might recall him leading the most memorable jam sessions at the Texas Polka Music Awards, dominating the stage with his presence and his music.  If you’ve been on the polka scene a few years, you might even recall that he played with the legendary Joe Patek Band while still in high school.  Whenever or wherever you saw him, you may have sensed the passion within this man.  You may have sensed the way he loves his music.  You may have come away with the thought that the man, and his music, were something special.

The man is Vernon Drozd, and he is something special in Texas music!  In a world where the accordion leads, Vernon established his place with the saxophone and clarinet. Now he is coping with a number of ailments and physical problems, and living in a nursing home in La Grange.  We thought you would like to learn more about Vernon.

The music began about 1948 when the ten-year old Vernon and his Mother saw the High School Marching Band while delivering eggs and vegetables in their home town of  Schulenburg.  “I wish you played an instrument,” was the Mother’s statement.  Soon, Vernon’s Father had purchased a new clarinet for $145, and Vernon was taking weekly lessons in the Schulenburg Fire Station from the legendary music instructor Herbert Kloesel.  After a year of lessons, Kloesel steered Drozd towards the Sacred Heart School in Hallettsville.  During the Junior and Senior years of High School, Vernon studied music three hours a day, graduating in 1956.  In high school, he also made the move to professional performing, playing with the Joe Patek Orchestra from nearby Shiner.  Music was his love and his life!

But things don’t always work out.  When his Father died of cancer, Vernon gave up music to care for his mother (already suffering from arthritis) and the two family farms near Moravia.  In 1958, the mother who had wanted her son to play an instrument said, “Son, you love music so much!  Go try to make it in the musical world.”  And the musical world was calling.  Gil Baca asked Vernon to move to Houston and join his band, saying “I need your saxophone.”   So it began.   Vernon Drozd played with the Gil Baca Band for 41 years.  Along the way he has also played with Ray Krenek, and the San Antonio c/w group Johnny Bush and the Bandeleros.   Vernon Drozd became well known in Texas for the quality of his music on the clarinet and sax.  He is particularly appreciative of being named “Sideman of the Year” by the 1996 Texas Polka Music Awards for his signature version of “Yakety Sax.”

But the years were not easy.  While always looking for the big musical break, Vernon was a beer distributor for 25 years, and raised five children with his first wife, now deceased.  Somewhere along the line the arthritis began to appear, perhaps aggravated by the years of handling the heavy beer kegs.  The knees began to pain, and then the back.  Later he developed diabetes.  He has had toes removed, and a hip and knee replacement.  And the arthritis pain is real.

But Drozd remains in good spirits, and would enjoy talking to his friends.  You can visit Vernon any time in the Monument Hill Nursing Home in LaGrange at 120 State Loop 92, just off Hwy. 77 on Monument Hill south of LaGrange.  Or give him a call at 979-968-5521.  You’ll experience his passion.

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Al Sulak Country Sounds

     “Quietly doing things very well.”  Seems like an appropriate description for Al Sulak and the Country Sounds Band.  Sulak comes from a family with extensive involvement in Texas polka music,   and his band has been performing for Texans since 1983.  As a high school music director, Al mentored the Dujka Brothers, helping them develop their musical career. 

Al and his band will be performing Sunday May 3 at the Wharton County Youth Fair sharing the billing with the Red Ravens.  On Saturday May 16 they will provide the music for the monthly dance at the Wallis American Legion.  On June 13 they will perform at the Kolache Klobase Fest in East Bernard.  Let’s learn a little more about Al Sulak, the musician from Orchard, TX.

Al started playing the trumpet professionally in 1962 at age 12 with the Syl Krenek band, along with his mother, Marie Krenek Sulak (Syl is Al’s uncle).  He moved on to playing with a local band “Leon & the DJs” for two years in 1970, doing a live radio show weekly over KFRD radio in Rosenberg in addition to their dance dates. 

    Sulak graduated from Sam Houston State University in 1972, becoming band director at Orchard I.S.D.  When Orchard consolidated with Wallis two years later he became band director of both districts.  In 1972 Al played a year with Texas sax legend Vernon Drozd in a band called “Raw Hide.”   In 1974 Sulak started a band “Sounds of Country,” playing 70 or more jobs per year.     Sulak formed his current band in 1983, and is continuing today.  They have one CD, “Al Sulak and the Country Sounds Greatest Hits,” performing polkas, waltzes and country tunes. 

Al gives credit to his uncle Syl Krenek and to Vernon Drozd as musical influences in his life.  His own career now spans 47 years, including 32 years of teaching music at Brazos High School in Wallis, where “I had many great students over the years.”  Among them were two rising Texas musicians, John and Mark Dujka, who give Al a lot of credit for their musical development.  “Al is a mentor to both Mark and me, and gave us our start playing in his school and jazz bands,” says John Dujka. 

Al Sulak can be contacted at 979-478-7138, or send him an e-mail at   bigalsulak@hotmail.com. 

(May 2009 issue of The Texas Polka News)

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Fritz Hodde & Fabulous Six “Holding Things Together”

      Fritz Hodde & the Fabulous Six are still hard at it folks, and now they’re “Holding Things Together” after 45 years!   

      Yes, the Fabulous Six band from Hutto (TX) has just released their latest CD.  They call it, “Holding Things Together,” which is also one of the songs on the CD.  Folks, we think you’ll like this CD with its mix of polka, waltz, and country music.  With 20 songs, it’s a lot of listening, and has many Czech vocals.  The band has dedicated this CD to their wives.  “Without the support of our wives holding things together through the years, we couldn’t have kept our polka music going as long as we have,” says the band.

      The Fabulous Six (which now actually consists of five members) has been performing since 1963, and are marking 45 years with this CD.   For many years, the band consisted of two generations of Pallas (Arthur and Byron) and three generations of Hoddes (Lorenz, Fritz, and Scott) until Lorenz died in 1998.  Scott’s young son Brandon joined the band two years ago, returning it to three generations of Hoddes.  Band members are Fritz, Scott and Brandon Hodde, Russell Kalkbrenner, and Arthur Palla. They are all multi-talented musicians, and do vocals in English, Czech, German, and Spanish.

      In 2004, Fritz marked 40 years of polka music with a CD, “40 Years of Family, Friends and Fun.”  That CD is still available!  To get the new CD, see the ad this page.  For info or bookings contact Fritz Hodde, 101 Mustang Dr., Hutto, Texas 78634, or call 512-759-9918.  

(May 2009 issue of The Texas Polka News)

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The Legacy of the Vrazels’ Polka Band!

(from January 2009 issue of The Texas Polka News)

Fifty-five years of making music for Texans!  Quite an accomplishment for the Vrazels’ Polka Band from Buckholts, TX!  The Vrazels’ are a living Texas polka music legend, and are leaving us a legacy that rests gentle on our minds!  We will be celebrating that legacy at the Vrazels’ Retirement Dance and Party Jan. 24

  Alfred and Albert Vrazel began playing music early in life.  Alfred began on a Sears mail-order button accordion at age 10.  Anton began playing the piano accordion a short time later, and Alfred switched to sax and guitar.  They began “playing for their friends” (i.e., without charge) at small stores and halls, and this phrase later became the band’s motto.  The Band, organized in 1953, was originally known as the Vrazels’ Playboys and consisted of Alfred, Anton, and their three cousins, Leo, Louis and Ladis Vrazel.

Shortly after this, Alfred and Anton changed the name of the band to Vrazels' Polka Band.  A third brother, Lawrence Vrazel, Jr. joined, playing drums for 12 years.  The band started playing for larger crowds at the annual picnics at Moravian Hall in Corn Hill, Marak Hall in Marak, Flag Hall in Cyclone, Star Hall in Seaton, and the SPJST Hall in Buckholts.  Their popularity grew and the number of engagements began to increase rapidly. 

In 1955, radio station KMIL in Cameron was established and the Vrazels’ were engaged for a Sunday afternoon program, with Alfred hosting.  This polka program is still on the air, in its 53rd year.  In 1992, Alfred received a Texas Polka Music Association (TPMA) Lifetime Award for the longest uninterrupted radio polka programming in Texas. 

Since their first recording in 1959, the Vrazels’ have recorded 20 records (45-rpm); 13 LP albums; six cassettes; two videos; and seven CDs.  Making this feat all the more amazing is that Alfred and Anton are self-taught, and all the band members play by ear.

Alfred has been the bandleader and MC at all appearances, while Anton is band manager.  The Band performed about 60 times per year, in addition to their occupations as farmer/ranchers.

Out-of-state performances by invitation to represent Texas-Czech music have included The Smithsonian Institution of American Folklife Bicentennial Celebration in Washington D.C. for seven days (1976); The Texas Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. (1991); and Barns of the Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA (1992).  The Vrazels’ also played for Texas Folklife Resources - Accordion King Festivals in Austin, Dallas, Eagle Pass, Houston and Plano. 

The band and various members received nine other TPMA Awards, including the 1991 (first-year) Lifetime Achievement award to Alfred and Anton for the development of “the central Texas sound” as well as the award for “Band of the Year.”  They received numerous other TPMA awards in later years.  In 1995, the Vrazel Brothers received the prestigious European American Music Award Presented in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As the band retires, the other musicians are: Thomas Strmiska on the drums and vocals.  Thomas has been with the Vrazels' for 35 years and is the son-in-law of Alfred.  Albert Heselmeyer of Taylor (bass guitar) has been with the Vrazels' for 32 years.  David Trojacek (tenor and alto saxophone, lead guitar and vocals) has been with the band 10 years.  Patrick Strmiska (guitar, steel guitar and vocals) has been with the band for a total of 17 years. 

We wish all the members of the Vrazels’ Polkas Band and their wives and families well.  Job well done!  Texas is richer for your contributions.

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Tony Janak Retires New Year’s Eve

(From December 2008 Texas Polka News)

Tony Janak invites you to celebrate with the Tony Janak Polka Band at Sweet Home Hall on New Year’s Eve, as the band sponsors a free appreciation dance.  The dance is 8-12 p.m., and yes folks, you’re invited!

After 50 years of playing, Tony has announced that the band is retiring.  Tony says, “This last dance will be dedicated to our many loyal fans.  We’re still young at heart, but our ‘get up and go’ has just about gone.  We plan to continue playing for festivals, weddings, anniversaries and reunions by special request only.  In the meantime, come and enjoy our last official dance on us … that’s right, it’s free!  What could be better than that?”

Tony Janak got his start playing polka music with the Janak Family Band, comprising father William, brother Bill, and sisters Bernadette and Joanne.  They played at reunions and anniversaries, with Tony learning his craft on drums.  In high school and beyond, Tony was a part of the Sweet Home Playboys, along with Raymond Bordovsky and Linwood Berger.  Their gigs were the seven beer joints around Sweet Home, playing for the kitty.  In 1958 Tony began playing with the George Machart Band of Hallettsville.  Janak formed his own band, the Tony Janak Orchestra, in 1963.  Original band members were Tony (drums, also trombone, guitar, piano), Joe Jansky (accordion), Rudy Petru (guitar), Harlan Hasse (sax, accordion), and Bobby Dornak (trumpet). 

Over the years, Janak has made five recordings, beginning with a 45 rpm single (Happy Go Lucky) in 1963, followed by an LP “Simply Beautiful” in 1973.  Two cassettes followed, “On the Road Again” and “Heart of Texas Polkaland.”  His CD “40 Year Anniversary 2003” contains 22 most-requested songs.

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Urban Kneupper

Texas musician Urban Kneupper, leader of the Jubilee Polka Band of New Braunfels (TX), died Nov. 4 after a battle with esophageal cancer.  He was 77. 

Urban will be long remembered by his family and friends for his devotion to family, faith in the Lord, love of music, wonderful sense of humor and his desire to always live life to its fullest.  An accomplished musician, Kneupper played several instruments including the accordion. He was a very well known polka and country western musician in the San Antonio area and was proud to be the leader of the Jubilee Polka Band.  He was a fixture at Oktoberfests and Wurstfest.

Urban showed musical talent at a very young age. As a boy, he picked up some of the basics of the accordion from his grandfather.  When his grandfather died, Kneupper got one of his accordions, and his father sent him to music lessons. Later, Kneupper played with a country western band to earn money to pay for more lessons.

He served a brief stint in the Coast Guard, and also played with a band in New Braunfels, the Rhythm Riders. Then he put down his instrument to focus on his work and family responsibilities. He worked at Randolph AFB as a mechanical superintendent.  When he retired, he resumed playing music. He founded the Jubilee Polka Band in 1988.  Although the group was best known for polkas, they could play all different types of music.  The Jubilee band dressed up in the traditional German lederhosen, even though Kneupper wasn't crazy about that initially.

In part because he had played so many places and in part because he was just very friendly, people would always come up and start talking with him.  “He was like a magnet,” wife Lucille Kneupper said. “He had so many friends.”

A well deserved epitaph! 

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Gil Baca & The Baca Bands

The Baca Band story begins in Fayetteville in 1860 after the youthful Frank J. Baca emigrated to the U.S. in 1860 from Czechoslovakia with his parents.  Frank became interested in music at an early age, displaying an unusual talent.  He taught himself to play clarinet, alto sax, and slide trombone, beginning his career with the Fayetteville Brass Band.  He married in 1881 and settled into farming near Fayetteville, raising 13 children with wife Marie Kovar.  He taught all 13 children to play musical instruments. 

In 1892, Frank formed the Baca Family Orchestra, believed to be the first Czech Orchestra in Texas, comprised entirely of his children.  Also, his daughters made up the first Texas “all girl” band to play for dances.   Eventually, he added other musicians to the band, which became known as Baca’s Band & Orchestra.  He wrote and composed much of his music, and it is still played today (Baca’s Famous Waltz, Baca’s Lively Polka, Goodnight Polka, Goodnight Waltz and many more).  He became known as “Professor” Frank Baca.

When Frank died in 1907 at the early age of 46, his wife supported the 13 children by operating a “confectionary & bakery” in Fayetteville.  The Baca Band continued under the oldest son, Joe Baca, also a talented musician.  One of Joe’s proudest moments was winning a cornet contest in St. Louis, MO with his own composition, St. Louis Polka.  He is also remembered for Remembrance Waltz.  Notably, Joe introduced the dulcimer into the band, starting with a homemade instrument. 

Joe died untimely in 1920 from pneumonia at age 36, but the band continued under his younger brother John  Baca, who became widely known as “The Polka King of Texas.”  The band flourished, playing their first radio performances in 1926-27 on Houston’s KPRC.  Their fame grew with recordings for the Okeh, Vocalion and Columbia record labels, and for the Brunswick Corporation in 1935. 

John’s son Clarence began playing with the band in 1933, starting the third generation.  (The John Baca Band continued to play until after John’s death in 1952.  Clarence started his own band in 1962, playing until 1998.)  About 1932 brother Ray Baca left to start his own band.  This resulted in two Baca Bands, both with roots in Fayetteville and based on the musical legacy of Frank Baca. 

In keeping with the remarkable musical talent of the Baca family, Ray Baca played trumpet, clarinet, sax and fiddle.  But Ray is best remembered as an expert on the dulcimer, a triangular flat soundbox with 120 strings played with two wooden mallets.  The Ray Baca Band continued the Baca musical legacy.  Sons Gil & Kermit joined the band, Gil on piano and Kermit on drums, starting the third generation in this line of the Baca family.  Gil started at age nine as a substitute for a sick piano player, his father teaching him a few chords.  After that, it was on-the-job training, and Gil was a regular by 1935.

Gil had many memories of those early days.  All music unamplified.  Learning to play trumpet and drums, in addition to his mainstay piano.  The Old Fayetteville Dance Hall built by Ray Baca (still existing near Warrington as an antique store).  Driving to dances in Model A’s & T’s to places like Dime Box and Houston.  Interviewed in 2006 after their “Big Joe” performance in Round Top, the self-taught Gil revealed that he has never had a music lesson (other than from his father Ray).  He admitted to being able to read music, “but not enough to hurt me.”

That didn’t stop Gil from forming the Gil Baca Band in the early 1960’s, with the privilege of having his father Ray play in the band.  The Ray Baca band quit playing in the 60’s and Ray died in 1980.  Career highlights for the Gil Baca Band include playing for the 1967 Festival of American Folklife at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC; they were such a hit they were asked back the next year.  They also played for the inauguration of President Nixon.  Another highlight was the nearly three week Baca Tour of Czechoslovakia in 1972, marking the 80th year of Baca Bands in Texas.  It was a celebrated tour of Europe with many memorable performances.  They returned to Washington D.C. in 1976 by invitation to perform as part of the nation’s Bi-Centennial celebration, playing on the Mall.  Along the way the Gil Baca Band made four recordings (LPs’), now available as CD’s or cassettes.

Gil met Flo Monroe (also with Fayetteville roots) in 1976 and they were married the next year.  In the 1990’s, Gil and Flo resurrected the old Baca “confectionary” on the town square in Fayetteville, operating it for about five years as a “Confectionary & Saloon” with jam sessions on Saturday nights.  It was short on confectionary and long on saloon, and became a popular gathering place.  Music was provided by Gil and some of his band members plus drop-in musicians.  There were many great times there, including a memorable 75th birthday celebration for Gil, a surprise from wife Flo.

The walls of the old confectionary were decorated profusely with Baca photos, flyers and memorabilia, making it an impressive museum of Texas musical history.  It was even featured in a special “Eyes of Texas” TV show in 1998. 

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Ray Krenek

Ray Krenek, 88, of Sealy, TX, longtime bandleader and musician died on Sept. 15, 2008.  His dulcimer is now silent.

Ray is believed to have been the only remaining active dulcimer player in Texas.  While the instrument is still very popular among Colorado area polka bands, its heyday in Texas may have been decades ago when it was popularized by the Krenek Bands and also Ray Baca.  Ray Krenek played one of eight dulcimers hand-made by his father, bandleader Edward Krenek.  It is about 70 years old.   (Ray Krenek has two of the eight instruments and Ray Baca had another, one of which is in the museum in Fayetteville). 

The Krenek family has been making music in Texas for more that 160 years.  Ray began playing in his father’s band as a child, and the dulcimer was his first instrument.  Ray was a talented musician who also played drums, clarinet, sax, violin and piano.  Ray had bands for many years, mixing musicians to play polkas, waltzes, ballroom and country in accord with the nature of the event. 

Ray’s musical talents also led him to compose more than 30 songs, including “Red Bird Hill Waltz” and the enduring “Krasna (Beautiful) America” waltz.  Along the way, Ray recorded three LP’s and “lotsa 45s”.  Ray’s death marks the end of an era in Texas polka music.  You can watch him perform on the Big Joe Polka Show, currently next scheduled for Nov. 5.

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The Sounds of Central Texas

They’re sometimes jokingly referred to as the “house band” at Industry Fireman’s Hall.  Shoot, they might even by the “house band” of central Texas!  Who are they?  Why, the Central Texas Sounds, of course!  Let’s learn a little more about this hard-working group of Texas musicians.  The Central Texas Sounds (CTS) have established themselves as one of the most popular and durable Texas polka bands.  They play up to 60 dates per year, a mix of public and private dances.  Their easy-going atmosphere and musical variety has earned them a large following. 

CTS evolved from “The Ellinger Combo,” a popular group that began in 1965 and included Donny Wavra, his father Ralph Wavra, and band manager Henry Adamek.  A young man from Fayetteville made his professional debut with the Ellinger Combo on July 6, 1967, performing his first job for pay.  His name?  Larry Sodek.  With him was friend Dennie Marek.  Larry and Dennie have been together ever since and were the nucleus for the Central Texas Sounds.  

The Central Texas Sounds played their first job as CTS in 1981, after the Ellinger Combo was reformed.  Charter CTS members included Larry Sodek, Dennie Marek, Ludwig Krause, Benny Trlicek and Dale Meyer. Four of these charter members are still with the band!  Larry Sodek plays trumpet, keyboard and vocals.  Dennie Marek does trumpet, sax and vocals.  Ludwig Krause is on accordion.  Bennie Trlicek does guitar and vocals. Other band members include Spencer Schneider who plays drums and also does vocals.  Joey Krchnak is on bass, and Bobby Bowmann on steel guitar.

Taken all together, they are the Central Texas Sounds.  They like to be taken all together because they have a strong sense of unity that comes from their many years together.  Larry Sodek, who is usually perceived as the leader, makes a big point of stressing the contributions of all members.  He gives credit in particular to Denny Marek and the other charter members of CTS.  

The band has two CDs available, and even one that includes the Ellinger Combo.  You can hear CTS almost any weekend in Texas.  For bookings or other info call either Ludwig Krause 979-366-2227 or Larry Sodek at 979-378-2510.

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Leland Miller Remembers

Texas musician Leland Miller, now 84 and dealing with macular degeneration,   loves to reflect on the role of music in his life.  We’d like to share some of his recollections with you.  

Leland has always loved all kinds of music, but over the years has preferred Czech polka & waltz music.  As a lad growing up on Cummins Creek north of Columbus, Leland’s first musical experience was playing harmonica by ear.  When the Columbus high school started a band in 1940, Leland scored high on the music tests, and his parent bought him a used coronet.  He played with the HS band until his 1941 graduation, and then moved on to the Ellinger Chamber of Commerce band and the Arnold Ilse Orchestra.  Drafted into the WWII Navy, Leland was sent to music school, then assigned to the aircraft carrier Intrepid (which became the most hit ship in the Navy).  Leland was later reassigned to the U.S. Navy School of Music.  After the war, he attended the University of Texas and played in the Longhorn Band for three years.  During his career as a consulting engineer, Leland also resumed music.  He played 12 years with the Houston SPJST Lodge #88 Czech Concert Orchestra.   “This was what I liked – playing Czech music for happy people.” 

In 1984, Leland met two native Czech musicians, Vlastimil Kovanda and George Krejci, who organized the Kovanda Czech Band.  Leland was a charter member, and became manager of the band.  The band played all over Texas, Louisiana and Nebraska, making 11 cassettes, five CDs and three videos along the way.  Leland retired from the band in 2001 due to macular degeneration.  Leland played with many bands over his 61 year career (1940-2001), and there are many memories.  Here’s a sampling.

“In 1941 I was playing a dance near LaGrange with the Arnold Ilse Orchestra when a fight broke out.  Everyone was fighting.  They even took our chairs.  Many ended up in jail, and we went home early.”  “We were playing a dance near Bellville in 1942, early in WWII.  Several soldiers home on leave were there.  They kept the band playing all night by passing the hat.  The sun was coming up when I got home.”  “The Kovanda Band trip to Nebraska was very memorable.  We met the Governor, who made George Krejci and me Honorary Admirals in the Nebraska Navy.”

Leland, thanks for the memories!  Those wanting to reminisce with Leland can contact him in his Fayetteville home at 979-378-2291. 

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Daniel Cendalski Fiddling 60 Years!

        You’ve seen them listed in the Texas Dance Calendar.  “Daniel & the Country Boys.” On Nov. 18 they played for at the KC Hall in Hempstead.  Then they played for the first-Friday special dance Dec. 7 in Eagle Lake.  This was a special dance, celebrating 60 years of Dan Cendalski making music for Texans!  Seems like it’s time to learn a little more about Daniel & the Country Boys, and the man behind the band, “Fiddlin’ Dan” Cendalski.

Yes folks, Daniel Cendalski has been playing fiddle for 60 years, starting Dec. 17, 1947 when he was seven years old.  He learned from his father Mitchell Cendalski, also a fiddle player, who in turn learned from his father, Stanley, who was an immigrant from Poland.   Stanley Cendalski formed a band in Texas, bringing the music of Poland to Texas, and playing for the Polish and German immigrants around the Brenham and Washington County area.  The music evolved into “Texas Polish” and was handed down through four sons (including Mitchell) to Daniel.  Daniel now represents the 3rd generation Cendalski family band in Texas.  Daniel played his first performance with his father at age seven, and has been fiddlin’ Texas ever since. 

Daniel and the Country Boys currently includes Daniel Cendalski (fiddle and lead guitar), Ricky Weiss (rhythm guitar), Theodore Kwiatkowski (bass guitar) and David Feist (drums).  For more info about the band or Texas Polish music, call Daniel at 979-836-7410. 

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The Jodie Mikula Orchestra

Texans love their polka music, and the Jodie Mikula Orchestra of Ennis is one of the best loved-bands in the state.  The Mikula Orchestra celebrated 40 years of making music by sponsoring a great polka cruise in October, with an entourage of hundreds of loyal fans.  It was a great way to cap their 40th year!

Established by patriarch Jodie Mikula in 1967, the band was built around the Mikula family, including Jodie as leader on the accordion, sons Ken, Nick and Andy, and mother Rose on the drums.  In high school when the band started, the three sons remain the nucleus of the band today.  It was, and is, a family band, and one of the finest!  Ken, the eldest son, plays cornet, tenor sax, baritone, trombone, does vocals and is bandleader.  Middle son Nick plays 2nd cornet, alto sax, guitar, does vocals, and is the band’s booking manager.  Andy plays drums, having won that position from mother Rose soon after the band was formed.  He also serves as band manager.

Jodie, a hard working mechanic by profession who grew up playing the accordion, must have been very proud of his family band.  They began building their reputation and their base of loyal fans with hard work around their home base of Ennis, a Czech heritage town south of Dallas.  The band that Jodie started was going strong when Jodie died of cancer in 1989.  As Jodie battled the terminal illness, the band faced a decision about continuing to play.  “It was an easy decision to go on playing,” says son Nick, with Ken nodding agreement by his side.  “It’s what Dad would have wanted, and we never even considered not continuing,” he adds. 

Accordion player Charlie Patak earned his spot in the band with the ill Jodie giving his approval from the audience.  Ken remembers his father listening with approval as Charlie played the accordion lead as Jodie had done for so many years.  Jodie said, “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the band, and Charlie fits right in!”   In 1991, Jodie was honored posthumously with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Polka Music Association for “development of a respected and enjoyable polka sound in Texas.” 

The current band members are:  Ken Mikula - lead cornet, tenor sax, baritone horn, trombone, vocals and bandleader; Nick Mikula - second cornet, alto sax, lead guitar, alto horn, vocals and booking manager; Andy Mikula - percussion and band manager;  Mike Marek - electric bass, bass horn, accordion;  Charlie Patak - accordion, cornet, tenor sax, trombone and rhythm guitar;  Pat Zapletal - piano.

Stability has been a key part of the Mikula’s success.  They have all played together a long time.  They clearly have ties to each other.  It’s like a big family, with the three sons at the center.  At many of the festivals, it’s also common to see the extended family of band wives leading the cheers, selling tapes, talking to fans, and otherwise enjoying being part of the Mikula tradition.  This includes Sandra, Becky, and Patty Mikula, Jeannette Patak and Janice Marek.  Mother Rose presides as the matriarch of the family.

The Mikulas appeared three times at the Lawrence Welk Polka Festival in Branson, winning the “Best Band” award at that festival in 1996.  They also made numerous trips to Nevada for polka fests in Las Vegas and Laughlin.  But most of the time they are right here in Texas.  For information on the Mikula Orchestra or their music, call Nick Mikula at 972-875-5654.

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Leonard "Doc" Darilek Lays Down the Horn

Texas polka musician Leonard “Doc” Darilek of Moulton is putting down his trumpet after more than 75 years of playing polka music for Texans.  It’s a good time to recognize the 85-year-old self-taught musician who has made such a significant contribution to Texas music. 

Not that “Doc” is completely through playing.  For example, we caught up with him at Hallettsville March 25 as he completed performing with the Shiner Hobo Band.  He intends to continue playing on other special occasions.  But he has stepped down from his most recent standing job, playing with the Tony Janak Band. 

It all began while Leonard Darilek (sounds like “Darszh-i-lak”) was in the Evergreen grade school between Moulton and Shiner, while growing up on the family farm.  He got a broken trumpet from his Uncle, fixed it up, and started teaching himself how to play.  His first performance was at the Evergreen School. 

        The family farm, on which “Doc” and wife Viola still reside, is about equidistant between Moulton and Shiner.  “Doc” went to high school in Shiner, but both towns are “home.”  The farm was established by his immigrant grandfather in 1901, and the house in which they live is over 100 years old.

Leonard’s father Adolph was also a musician, playing baritone and bell trombone.  Big brass bands were the hot item at the time, and that included the Moulton American Legion Band under the leadership of O. F. Knappe.  Leonard has great memories of his father’s participation in that band.

Leonard’s first regular band job came in high school with the Adolph Migl Band, with whom he played trumpet for 4-5 years.  It was during his high school years that he learned to read music (his dad bought him some sheet music), and that he also picked up the nickname “Doc.”  The nickname came about because Leonard’s older brother, who was a good athlete, was called “Doc” as short for Darilek.  When Leonard got to high school he was dubbed “Little Doc,” later shortened to just “Doc.”.

      Doc’s father was also a deputy sheriff, frequently moonlight as a peace officer at area dances.  This gave “Doc” the opportunity to be at many dances.

WWII interrupted Doc’s musical and dancing endeavors when he joined the Air Force for 4-5 years.  Upon returning he was not particularly interested in playing again.  “I didn’t want to be tied up on the bandstand with all those pretty girls out there to dance with,” explains Doc.  One of those pretty girls was Viola Svoboda of Shiner, who became his wife in 1947.  On June 17 Leonard and Viola will celebrate 60 years of marriage!

“Doc” warmed to the idea of playing again, and joined the Rudy Kurtz Sr. band from Shiner, with whom he played about 16 years.  Then followed his Joe Patek years (~1963-82).  From there he moved on to the Leroy Rybak Orchestra.  Finally, he moved to the Tony Janak Band for his final standing gig. 

Let’s don’t forget the Shiner Hobo Band, with whom he has played since his high school years.  He was member when it was still a marching band, and is believed to be the only surviving active musician from that period

Along the way, “Doc” made a living as a part-time farmer and with jobs at the Shiner Brewery and later the wireworks plant.  He got the job at the Shiner brewery through his participation on the Shiner Hobo Band (which at that time was sponsored by the Brewery). 

Doc and Viola raised four children.  Son Paul plays bass and trumpet with “Southern Express,” while son James is a polka DJ on KCTI Gonzales.  Yes, son James is also called “Doc,” which is a little confusing but all part of the Darilek life story.

And an interesting story it is.  Thanks “Doc!”  Don’t let that horn gather any dust.

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Faustyn Langowski

Great sidemen rarely get the attention they deserve.  It’s long overdue that we pay tribute to Faustyn Langowski, whose career on clarinet and sax establishes him as one of the premier sidemen of Texas music. 

Texas polka fans know Faustyn as the entertaining man on clarinet and sax with Harry Czarnek & the Texas Dutchmen since 1999.  Or perhaps they remember him performing with Brian Marshall & the Texas Slavic Playboys, wearing a black hat and making wisecracks that kept the band in stitches.  Friends may recall him as the heavy smoking “conversationalist,” who has many stories and the ability to tell them well. 

But the heavy smoking has taken its toll, and Faustyn has been forced by emphysema to put down his horn.  So now is a good time to give this sidelined sideman his due. 

The 75-year-old Polish-heritage Langowski from Bremond (TX) began his musical career at age 7 when his fiddle-playing grandfather (John Mushinski & the White Eagle Boys) handed him a clarinet and told him he would be in the band.  He earned his first dollar on his 8th birthday, clad in black pants, white shirt and bow tie, playing with the White Eagle Boys that also included his father and three uncles.  Faustyn says, “That dollar was big!  I could only make 50 cents a day picking cotton.”

The self-taught Langowski continued to play with the White Eagle Boys, learning the Bremond-area Polish heritage music of polkas, waltzes and obereks. 

The family had moved to Houston in 1936, and when Faustyn was entering St. Thomas High School he wanted to play in the band.  The band director (who happened to be the father of the famous trumpet man Harry James) discovered that Faustyn could not read music.  He asked Faustyn, “How can you expect to be in the band if you can’t read music?”  Faustyn’s reply?  “I’m already in a band!” 

The Langowski family continued their musical heritage.  Faustyn’s father Clem was a bass player (later clarinet and sax), who had played with the Light Crust Doughboys.  About 1940, Clem joined the new band being formed by legendary Houston bandleader and hall operator Bill Mraz, so Faustyn became well versed in the Houston polka music scene.  In 1949, Bill Mraz hired the entire family to play a July 4th date.  Soon thereafter the Langowskis were playing for the Hermann Sons Hall. 

But Faustyn began expanding his musical genres in Houston.  He learned big band, Dixieland, country and more.  He played with the Henry King Band, playing in major Houston hotels such as the Shamrock.  He played with the Tiny Skaggs Rodeo Band for 27 years, doing “big band country.”  As a favorite band of Lyndon Johnson, the band played at the inauguration balls of both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. 

Faustyn also established his own nine-piece band, playing big band music under the name “Foster Lang.”  But he also stayed true to his roots, with a Bremond area band that played Polish weddings.

Texas legend Harry Czarnek asked Faustyn to join The Texas Dutchmen in 1999.  Harry has great respect for Langowski.  “He’s a Polish musician who can play any style of music,” says Czarnek.  “He’s very good, and fun too!  I can’t say enough good about the man.”

When Brian Marshall set out to document the mostly unwritten Polish heritage music of Texas, he wanted Faustyn, because (like Brian) Faustyn had been raised with the music.  Faustyn was both musician and resource for Brian’s “Texas Polish Roots” CD in 1997.  He played with Brian and the Texas Slavic Playboys in many engagements, including two trips to major east coast music festivals. 

Marshall is high in his praise for Langowski.  “Faustyn is one of the last of the ‘cotton picker's’ generation who learned to play music at the feet of the Polish immigrants in Bremond, TX and then move into mainstream popular music.  He can and has played it all, and was widely sought as a musician.  Sadly, he is also the last woodwind player who can, by ear, play the Texas Polish music so dear to my heart.”

In his non-musical life, Faustyn passed up an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and attended two years in mechanical engineering at Rice Institute in Houston.  After a hitch in the armed forces and several construction jobs, Faustyn became an engineer in the oil field business, spending a lot of time offshore.  His keen mind (and hours of watching how things work) resulted in over 70 patents in his name. 

Faustyn met his wife “on the job” at the Bill Mraz Dance Hall when a fellow musician’s wife playing matchmaker for the 28 year old introduced him to LaJuana Slaid from Louisiana.  They hit it off immediately and Faustyn joked, “I have a dollar, and you have a dollar, let’s go get married!”  They settled for a hamburger after the dance, but talked all night.  Faustyn decided he would call her “Lou,” and they were married in 1959.  Faustyn and Lou raised four children.  Lou died in 2005.

Asked about the highlights of his career, Faustyn is succinct.  “I was always a sideman, and sidemen never get honors.  But it’s something when you take a country boy out of Bremond, put shoes on him, and he ends up playing for the inauguration of two Presidents in Washington, D.C.!  I have met people that I otherwise would never have met.”

Now we have all met Faustyn Langowski.  Sideman, front and center!

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Henry Tannenberger

The Henry Tannenberger Orchestra of Houston was the featured entertainment at the Klein Deutschfest for the 36th consecutive year.  Held at the High School in Klein just northwest of Houston on March 2, the Deutschfest also featured an abundance of wonderful German food and a musical program by the Klein High School students.

Accordionist Henry Tannenberger formed his first band 48 years ago and has helped keep Texas dancing ever since.  The Tannenberger Orchestra is at home playing a variety of functions, from polka dances to big band music.  Venues over the years have included the River Oaks Country Club, Shamrock Hotel, Astrodome Club and Shell Plaza.  Henry is especially proud of playing at the Hermann Sons Hall in Houston for 21 years. 

“Henry’s Polka,” one of the cuts from their 1971 album “A Touch of Germany,” became a top 10 “Polka World” hit and remains popular at Texas polka dances today.

Henry has helped several musicians get their start, including his nephew Gary Kunkel, accordionist and bandleader of The Sound Connection.  A musician particularly close to Henry is Sydney Soukup, who has been playing sax and clarinet with the band for 36 years. 

While the Henry Tannenberger Orchestra has a rich history in Texas dance music of nearly 50 years, it’s not over!  Henry plans to continue keeping us happy as long as the accordion will stay on his shoulders.  So when you see Henry Tannenberger scheduled to play at your favorite dance hall, head on over and bring your dancing shoes.  Henry can be contacted at 713-864-2241.

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The Patek Musical Legacy

       John Patek Sr., the founder of the Patek Orchestra, loved music and was a talented musician.  His interest in music developed as a young boy in Bohemia.  He immigrated to America in 1889 at age 20 from the small community of Mahous, approximately three miles from Netolice, Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic.

Once in America, John Patek continued his musical talent by playing in community bands.  As time went on, he taught his sons to play musical instruments.  According to information received from John’s oldest grandsons, each of the sons began playing in a band at about 12 years of age, starting with Jim in 1908, Charles 1910, Laddie 1914, Jerome 1918, and Joe in 1919.  John Patek formed the Patek Band of Shiner, Texas between 1910 and 1920. The original Patek Band included eight members.  Some time later, the younger sons, Jerome and Joe Patek Sr., joined the band replacing other members. Charles Veit Sr. joined the band in 1922 replacing Frank Raz, the drummer, and played until the band retired in 1982.

The Patek Band played for many weddings, picnics, special occasions and for weekend dances in various communities.  The band became very well known in Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth and in smaller towns between these major Texas cities.

While observing the musicians as they played, it was obvious that they enjoyed life very much. Each band member’s enthusiasm for life became apparent as they played their instruments with vigor.  John Patek Sr. very much enjoyed playing music, entertaining and talking with people.  There was a bright spark of life in his grin and laughter.

During the 1930’s, Grandpa John turned the leadership of the band over to his son Jim, who wrote the music and notes to many of the songs for the band.  Jim, the oldest of the Patek brothers playing in the band, led the band for several years.

In the early 1940’s Jim turned the band, later called the Joe Patek Orchestra, over to his youngest brother Joe.  At first the band traveled by car, taking two cars to carry all the members and their instruments. In the mid 1940’s, the band members rode in the back of a panel truck on long benches, and some years later in Station Wagons pulling a trailer for the instruments.  The trailer had large Shiner Beer emblems on it, which became a familiar sight traveling along the major highways of Texas.

The Patek Band was always popular, but became very popular starting in the 1950’s.  Most of the time the band was booked every weekend, a year or more in advance, and occasionally played on Wednesday and Friday nights.

They began recording music in 1937 on Decca Label Phonograph Records and after World War II were recorded on various labels including the Martin label, FBC label, Hummingbird, TNT, and Guide labels.  The music was available on single records, record albums, eight track tapes, cassette tapes, and finally on CD in 1999.

Beginning in the mid 1940’s, the Patek Orchestra had an hour show on Radio Station 1450 KCTI, Gonzales, Texas.  The show was broadcast live every Sunday afternoon for several years from Bluecher Park, now known as American Legion Hall in Shiner Texas.  Later, due to the orchestra’s busy schedule and longer trips, the broadcast known as the “Patek Hour” continued with recorded music until 1985.

The Patek Orchestra officially retired at the end of 1982.  At the last dance, the Annual Fireman’s New Years Eve Dance on December 31, 1982, the “End of an Era” came to a close for a famous polka band that became a part of the history of Shiner.  Although the weather was miserable, cold and wet, it didn’t stop hundreds of folks from crowding around the stage of the American Legion Hall to witness the final few songs.  There were tears in the eyes of many, as the Joe Patek Orchestra played “The Shiner Song” in closing an era of Czech culture.  The handshakes, hugs and congratulations that followed were all saying, “Thanks for the Memories”.

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Majek Means Music in Texas

The name Majek means music in Texas.  And it has meant music ever since 1897 when Leo Majek Sr. began playing his accordion for weddings and parties in his native Czechoslovakia.  It has continued for almost 110 years through four generations of the musical family who continue to play as the Leo Majek Orchestra from their home base in Corpus Christi.

The Majek story is typical of the Eastern European immigrant to Texas, struggling to establish themselves in the new country.  But the Majek story includes music.  It’s a story about starting a family band, about playing the polka and waltz music of their heritage, and of earning their reputation as one of the best and most enduring polka bands in Texas.  It’s a story that needs to be told.

It begins in Czechoslovakia where the 12-year-old Leo Majek, with an ear for tunes and a knack with an accordion, began to play for weddings and parties in his hometown of Slavkov, Moravia.  Leo would return from his work at a sugar factory, pick up the accordion, and walk to the party or dance to provide the music, often a 2-3 hour walk.  Leo began courting his wife, and one of the few local weddings for which he did not play was their own in 1908.

Four years later Europe was on the verge of war, and Mrs. Majek was being urged by her brother to join him in the U.S.  It was a frightening idea for the young couple with two children, but Leo made the move first, taking 29 days for the long voyage to Galveston.  Mrs. Majek joined him a year later, on the last ship to leave Europe before the war.  The couple rented a farm near Cameron (TX), and learned how to raise cotton.  Leo continued to play the accordion for local events as he had in the old country, although now he rode horseback. 

The six Majek sons began to mature, and one by one learned to play instruments, joining their father.  The Leo Majek Orchestra was on its way!  The Majek sons are Julius, John, Leo Jr., Charlie, Frank, and Joe.  They also had one daughter.  Leo kept the band going and growing.  John Majek was seven when he began playing the accordion (like his father).  John was about 12 when he joined his father in 1930, traveling to engagements by horse and buggy.  He recalls playing for 25 cents per night during the depression, and, “When we had success it went up to 50 cents.”  Leo Jr. was nine when he began his musical career – so small he was hidden behind the drums. 

The Leo Majek Orchestra called Cameron home until 1940, when they relocated to Corpus Christi as Leo found work in a shipyard.  The band continued, with Corpus Christi as their new home.  Some of the sons joined the Orchestra in the mid-1940’s, after WWII, and after the family moved to Nueces County (Corpus area) to rent a farm.  

Frank joined in 1947 as a 23-year-old trumpet player when his father told him to “get out there and play.”  Frank (now deceased) reportedly has said, “I didn’t know how to play yet.  And I was bashful.”  (Note: for those who watched the irrepressible Frank perform in later years, the bashful part is hard to imagine!)

The Majek sons had little formal schooling in music.  They didn’t hold practice sessions, or have musical scores.  Instead, they used their natural ability and enthusiasm to produce their music. It must have worked because the band enjoyed great success and popularity in the five decades from the 1950’s through 2000, and continuing into a third century of Majek music.  In 1978, the Majek Orchestra made a very successful European tour, taking their music back to the homeland, and including Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland & Italy.  

In 1992 the Leo Majek Orchestra was recognized with the Texas Polka Music Ass’n “Lifetime Achievement Award” for the “Family band dedicated to preserving and promoting polka music for 95 years.”  It’s now up to 109 years and counting!  Of the six musician sons of Leo Majek, the two still playing are Leo Jr. and Charlie.  Three are deceased (Julius, Frank & Joe), and John recently retired because of poor eyesight.

Current band members are Leo Majek Jr. (accordion), Charlie Majek (drums), Michael Majek (trumpet, son of Charlie), Jerry Majek (bass guitar, manager, son of John), Martha Ann Majek (piano, Jerry’s wife), Jerome Majek (bass horn, lead guitar, son of Jerry & Martha and 4th generation), and Randy Majek (guitar, son of Frank).   Along the way, the Majek Orchestra made four LPs, two 8-tracks, two cassettes, 16 singles and a video.  Contact Charlie at 361-993-1397 for Majek music.  But after 109 years, the Majeks are still making music.  Call Jerry Majek at 361-242-1533 for bookings.

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Hi-Toppers Still High

        It’s been 17 years since they played their last note, but the Hi-Toppers are still high on the list of quality Texas polka bands.  The legendary band from New Braunfels had their start in 1949, and played 39 years before laying down the horns on New Years Eve 1987. 

Let’s learn a little more about this legendary Texas band, taken from a history recently prepared by charter band member Alton Rahe. 

In 39 years of performing, the Hi-Toppers performed at over 150 dance halls in the state of Texas, recorded 10 LPs, played at Wurstfest 1962-86, and performed at numerous events and festivals across Texas and the nation.  Their music is still played weekly by Texas polka radio DJ’s lucky enough to still have one of their LP’s.

It all began in fall of 1948 when Gordon Zunker, Alton Rahe and Darvin Dietert (trumpet, clarinet and tuba) practiced for their own entertainment at their parent’s homes.  In January 1949 the three masked at “Maskenball” dances as the “Ach und Krach” Kapelle (Make or Break Band) at four halls.

After adding musicians Melford Haag, Allen Moehrig (two accordions) and George Fisk (drummer), they appeared on the Phil Medlin Show (KWED) in Seguin in Feb 1949.

During rehearsals at the Fisk home, George’s dad suggested that they call themselves the “Hi-Toppers” as they were in high school and tops in music.  The band now had a name!

They continued Sunday afternoon radio performances from KWED and then KGNB New Braunfels for over three years.  With the help of the radio shows the Hi-Toppers became almost an instant hit.  They played 63 jobs in their first year!  They played 51 dances at historic Gruene Hall and 64 times at Echo Hall (now Eagles Hall) from 1949-52. 

From 1958-63, the Hi-Toppers played every month at the New Braunfels American Legion Post 179.  Having saturated the local market, the band also began branching out in the 60’s, across the state and nation. 

They also had some turnover.  Billy Richter (drums) and Karl Zipp (trombone) replaced Kenneth Rheinlander and Melford Haag in early 1952 when they left to form the Cloverleaf Orchestra.  Haag rejoined the Hi-Toppers in 1954.

Reggie Ludwig joined the Hi-Toppers in 1953 and played until 1970.  Many other good musicians regularly played with the Hi-Toppers throughout their thirty-nine years. Those included:  Rolf Arndt, Mickey Allen, Jimmy Boenig, Gary Voigt, Terry Krueger, Lawrence Koch, Carroll Hoffmann, Roy Haag, Harvey Kindervater, Fred Baetge, James Findeisen, Robert Petrisky, Willard Dyer, Jim Cain and Ray Logan. 

       Fred Baetge contributed his musical talents while playing with the group during the early 1960s, and his musical arrangements left his touch with the group for years afterwards.

       And that touch carried through to the LPs they produced.  The late Texas polka DJ Julius Tupa (founder of The Texas Polka News) frequently pulled out his vintage Hi-Toppers LP to play selections on “The Polka Express.” 

        Fittingly, the Hi-Toppers were awarded the Texas Polka Music (TPMA) Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992 for “The Texas polka band bringing their music to the highest standard for 39 years.” 

        For more info on the Hi-Toppers, contact Alton Rahe at 830-625-4529, or e-mail AJRahe@msn.com.  For Hi-Toppers music, call bandleader/polka DJ Roy Haag 830-625-8262.

(Posted 3/22/04)

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Melford Haag

Noted Texas musician Melford Haag died Feb. 12 in New Braunfels, after a long illness.  He was 71. 

Melford was a founder and member of the great Hi-Toppers Orchestra of New Braunfels (see separate article).  He also was co-founder of the Cloverleaf Orchestra, and in later years played for Harry Czarnek & The Texas Dutchmen.  His musical contributions over the years were many.

Melford was born in San Antonio, graduated from New Braunfels High School in 1950, and married Alice Tieken of Shiner in 1953.  The Joe Patek Band played for their wedding reception. 

Melford was husband and father, an accountant, a Wurstfest Opa, reserve peace officer, member of the National Guard, volunteer firemen, and more.  But his avocation throughout life was music.

He began playing accordion at about age four (according to family legend), and was playing at elementary school plays.  His first involvement with a band was helping to organize the Hi-Toppers in 1949.  (See separate article, and photo)

Melford is most remembered as an accordion player, but also played alto and tenor sax, bass drum for the New Braunfels Village Brass Band, and piano for Harry Czarnek & the Texas Dutchmen.  He also played with the National Guard Band 1955-57.

Melford loved law enforcement, and raised two sons into that trade.  Scott is a DPS State Trooper, while son Larry has since branched into music, playing with Czech & Then Some.  Melford found time to pursue his law enforcement penchant as a reserve peace officer, rising to the rank of Captain of Reserves.  In that role, he served the Wurstfest Association with the mission of maintaining the Wurstfest as a family-friendly festival.  He was an imposing figure as a law enforcement officer.

In respect for Melford, polka DJ Thomas Durnin on Czech Melody Time KOOP 91.7 dedicated his show Feb. 22 to Melford, playing mostly Hi-Toppers music.

Melford’s wife Alice died on Nov. 11, 2003.  They had celebrated 50 years of marriage prior to her death. 

Several weeks prior to his death, the nurses caring for him told Melford they would get him better so that he could dance with them in the halls.  He replied that he would rather dance with wife Alice in heaven.

And so it goes.  Thanks, Melford, for your successful life and contribution to music.

(Posted 3/22/04)

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Lee Roy Matocha

The Texas polka world lost a pioneer and patriarch when Lee Roy Matocha died suddenly on July 12, 2003 at his home, in Fayetteville, from heart attack.  The “Fayetteville Flash” was 70 years old.

Bandleader for 35 years.  Polka DJ for 39 years.  Two-time winner of Texas Polka Music Awards (TPMA) Lifetime Achievement award (as both bandleader and DJ).  Friend and mentor to many.  A Texas legend in his own time. 

Lee Roy was born and raised in Plum, TX, a small town near La Grange.  His father had a 12 Bass Horner accordion, and Lee Roy took an early interest in the instrument.  He started playing the accordion with his uncle's group "The Zbranek's Accordion Band" at the age of 14.  His professional debut was a New Year's Eve dance at the Prairie View Hermann Sons School. 

In 1952, Lee Roy joined the Lee Ilse Orchestra and remained with that group 12 years, serving as manager for four.  While with the Ilse Orchestra, they recorded three 78 RPM records.  In 1964, he formed "The Lee Roy Matocha Orchestra" with Harold Ilse, Ivan Faykus and Charlie Rainosek, now all deceased.  Over the years, a litany of Texas musicians played with Lee Roy, and he inspired many others.  

Recordings?  Lee Roy's first 45 RPM in 1961 was followed by 17 more!  The first album in 1963 set the stage for 12 more!  These were followed by six 8-tracks and then seven cassettes, plus one video. 

In 1970, Lee Roy bought a bus to provide a comfortable ride for his band members.  About this time, Lee Roy acquired the nickname "The Fayetteville Flash."  The bus was named the "Golden Eagle" and traveled wherever the band went.  And they went a lot.  For about 25 years, Lee Roy performed every Saturday and Sunday night, with some Friday nights also. 

Lee Roy retired his band in 1998, playing his farewell dance on New Year’s Eve 1999 at the Ellinger Community Center, near his Fayetteville home.  But he continued as the master of Texas polka radio.  Lee Roy began recording a polka show 39 years ago for KVLG in La Grange.  At the time of his death, Lee Roy had 12 polka shows on six radio stations, with over 20 hours of airtime each week. 

Lee Roy was a two-time winner of the Texas Polka Music Lifetime Achievement Award, first in 1992 for dedication and longevity in promoting polka music on the airwaves and then again in 1993 for performing Czech music in Texas.

We close in tribute to Lee Roy Matocha, just as he closed his radio programs. “May God bless your needs, whatever your needs may be.”

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Shiner Hobo Band Having Fun!

When musicians have fun, it shows!  The fans feel the fun and get caught up in it.  That’s how it is with the Shiner Hobo Band.  They enjoy what they do!  And so do their fans.

What they do is have fun playing the polka music of their heritage while entertaining Texans at church picnics and festivals.  They add to the fun with their crazy costumes and antics.  It’s all part of the Shiner Hobo Band legend and mystique, and a piece of Texas music history that deserves telling.

The Shiner Hobo Band traces its roots to the 1930’s, when the band blossomed under the direction of Emmett Busch in the German and Czech-heritage community of Shiner.  A marching band in those days, Busch would lead the volunteer musician members with a toilet plunger, a tradition carried on in recent times.

Actually, the Band may have emerged from the bands sponsored by the hometown Spoetzel Brewery in the post-WWI era.  These bands were made up mostly of local firemen, in the tradition of the old Shiner Firemen’s Band. 

The band came into prominence about 1936 under Emmett Busch.  Member Joe Strauss has recalled, “The Hobo Band marched through every hamlet and parade in the South Texas area.  They marched, played carried a banner and entertained crowds wherever they went.”

But the Shiner Hobo Band has had several reincarnations.  Interrupted by WWII, the band reorganized after the war and continued until the early 1950’s, when it was under the direction of Curt Messer and later Speedy Beal.  The Spoetzel Brewery again was a sponsor. 

Current Director Larry Krupala has youthful recollections of that band.  “I remember the band marching in Schulenburg and the band splitting at an intersection and then going around the block and reuniting at the next intersection, playing the same tune.”  No small musical feat!

The Shiner Hobo Band came back to life for the Texas Sesquicentennial (1986) under the leadership of Joe Panus, with help from Glenn Leist and encouragement from Jules Silvers of the Spoetzel Brewery.  They were an immediate hit at the area church picnics and festivals, according to Joe Straus.  They played to standing room only crowds in places like the Shiner Catholic Church picnic on Labor Day weekend.  This band continued to play until late 1995.

A group of 35 musicians (mostly former members) voted to reorganize in 1997.  Director Larry Krupala says, “The Shiner Hobo Band was just too good to let go away.  It’s very wholesome and we need it for the community.”

The Shiner Hobo Band now continues to entertain Texans with their music, crazy costumes and antics.  Recent performances included Night In Old Fredericksburg; and church picnics at St. John, Weimer, and Shiner.  Pending dates include the Caldwell Kolache Fest, Czech Heritage Day in Victoria, Gonzales’ “Come & Take It” celebration, Wurstfest, and the KULP Polka Expo in El Campo.

The Band currently has 34, members, with about 20-24 playing at most performances.  Member ages range from the 30’s to the late 70’s.  Many members have ties to Shiner, and most come from the Czech and German communities within 50 miles.  Current officers are Larry Krupala, Dalton Noltkamper and Mr. Shirley Trojack. 

Interested musicians can become a member of the Shiner Hobo Band by talking to an officer.  There are no dues, and you get to “design” your own costume.

The Band has one CD available, made from their five previous cassettes.  The CD may be purchased at performances, in Shiner at the Brewery Gift Shop or Patek’s Grocery, and Hoffer’s Grocery in Hallettsville.

For information on booking the Shiner Hobo Band call Hank Novak at 361-594-4336.  Better yet, be at their next performance and enjoy the fun of the Shiner Hobo Band.  They’re part of the living history of Texas polka music!

(posted 8/18/03)

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Czech & Then Some

We asked several out-of-state polka fans to name their favorite band at the National Polka Festival in Ennis.  A common answer was “Czech & Then Some.”  Let’s learn a little more about this relatively new (and young) band from Ennis that earned these comments.

Czech & Then Some has been playing since January 1997.  The majority of the band’s members is of Czech descent and enjoys keeping their Czech Heritage alive.  They play a variety of music consisting of polkas, waltzes, country music, and fun dances.

Czech & Then Some has performed at many Texas functions such as National Polka Festival in Ennis, Westfest, Accordion Kings in Stephenville, and Six Flags Over Texas for the Texas Heritage Festival.  They also appeared on Good Morning Texas show on WFAA Channel 8 ABC.

The band made two trips out of state in 2000 and 2002 to play at the Starlite Polka Festival in Wahoo, NE, making a stop to play in Czech-heritage Yukon, OK.

The band members have many years of experience playing polka music.  Louis Valek (trumpet) has 37 years playing with the Johnny Mensik Orchestra, the Eric Honza Orchestra, and Czech & Then Some.  Andy Mikula (drums) has 35 years playing with Jodie Mikula Orchestra and Czech & Then Some.  John Schumacher- (bass and vocals) has six years playing with the Harvesters and Czech & Then Some.  Johnny Warner (rhythm guitar and vocals) has 20 years playing the Texas Opry circuit, Lone Star Czechs, and Czech & Then Some.  Jennifer Marek (clarinet) has two years with Czech & Then Some.  Michelle Slovak (sax and clarinet) has six years with Harry Czarnek and Czech & Then Some. 

David Slovak (accordion, piano, guitar, and vocals) has 15 years playing with the Henry Rejcek Polka Band, the Harvesters, and Czech & Then Some.  David is co-owner of the band.  Danny Zapletal (trumpet, keyboard, vocals, and arranger) has 23 years playing with Harry Czarnek and Czech & Then Some.  Danny is co-owner and also leader of the band.

The band has four recordings on CD with two of them on cassette tape.  The first recording is “On The Street Corner,” the second is “Festival Time In Ennis,” the third “The Easy Life,” and the fourth “A Czech & Then Some Christmas.”

Czech & Then Some will be playing Aug 2 in the Ennis KJT Hall.  On Sunday, Aug 3 they will be making their first ever Houston appearance at the fable Bill Mraz Dance Hall.  They also play Aug. 16 at SPJST #84 in Dallas, and Aug. 31 at Westfest.

Czech & Then Some can be contacted via Danny Zapletal at 972-875-2036, or e-mail DAZAP@juno.com.

(posted 7/24/03)

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Praha Brothers - Musical Kin

The Praha Brothers from the Temple area are one of the newer polka bands in Texas, formed in 1998.  Many fans took new notice of this band when they played the National Polka Festival in Ennis this year.  Let’s learn a little more about this “band of brothers” from central Texas.

To set the record straight, the Praha Brothers are not from Praha, nor are they brothers. 

They chose the name Praha because it is Czech and reflects the style of music they play.  The band members grew up and played together for many years, developing somewhat of a “brotherly” relationship.  Hence, the Praha Brothers!  Besides, they are “musical kin.”

The Praha Brothers started out playing smaller venues around the Central Texas area.  The band also has played numerous church picnics in the area and occasional dances in Fort Worth and Dallas.  They performed at the first Czech Heritage Festival at Flag Hall in Cyclone, TX. 

The Praha Brothers have also opened for Grammy-award winning Brave Combo several times.  Band member Billy Havlik is a Brave Combo fan.  Although the Praha Brothers play traditional Czech-style polka music, a keen ear will pick out sounds gleaned from Brave Combo’s musical genius. 

The band has one CD, titled “Praha Bros” containing 11 Czech polkas and waltzes, including many favorites.  They are planning another release later this year.

Band members include Billy Havlik (trumpet and vocals), David Fraga (trumpet), Ray Motl (accordion), Michael Morris (drums and lead vocals), Tom Jones (sax, guitar and vocals), and Russell Kalkbrenner (bass).

The Praha Brothers band can be contacted through Billy Havlik at 254-984-2497 or e-mail Billy@PrahaBros.com.  The band also has a web site at www.prahabros.com. 

(posted 6/24/03)

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Vrazels’ Polka Band Celebrates 50 Years!

Fifty years of making music for Texans!  Quite an accomplishment for the Vrazels’ Polka Band from Buckholts, TX!  So the Band is marking this “golden achievement” with a big celebration June 21 at Seaton Star Hall - S.P.J.S.T. Lodge #47.  Everyone is cordially invited to the free appreciation dance (see separate article, and TX Dance Calendar)

Alfred and Albert Vrazel began playing music early in life.  Alfred began on a Sears mail-order button accordion at age 10.  Anton began playing the piano accordion a short time later, and Alfred switched to sax and guitar.  They began “playing for their friends” (i.e., without charge) at small stores and halls, and this phrase later became the band’s motto.  The Band, organized in 1953, was originally known as the Vrazels’ Playboys and consisted of Alfred, Anton, and their three cousins, Leo, Louis and Ladis Vrazel.

Shortly after this, Alfred and Anton changed the name of the band to Vrazels' Polka Band.  A third brother, Lawrence Vrazel, Jr. joined them playing drums for 12 years.  The band started playing for larger crowds at the annual picnics at Moravian Hall in Corn Hill, Marak Hall in Marak, Flag Hall in Cyclone, Star Hall in Seaton, and the SPJST Hall in Buckholts.  Their popularity grew and the number of engagements began to increase rapidly. 

In 1955, radio station KMIL in Cameron was established and the Vrazels’ were engaged for a Sunday afternoon program, with Alfred hosting.  This polka program is still on the air, in its 48th year.  In 1992, Alfred received a Texas Polka Music Association (TPMA) Lifetime Award for the longest uninterrupted radio polka programming in Texas. 

Since their first recording in 1959, the Vrazels’ have recorded 20 records (45-rpm); 13 LP albums; six cassettes; two videos; and five CDs.  Making this feat all the more amazing is that Alfred and Anton are self-taught, and all the band members play by ear.  Alfred is the bandleader and MC at all appearances, while Anton is band manager.  The Band performs about 60 times per year, in addition to their occupations as farmer/ranchers.

Out-of-state performances by invitation to represent Texas-Czech music have included The Smithsonian Institution of American Folklife Bicentennial Celebration in Washington D.C. for seven days (1976); The Texas Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. (1991); and Barns of the Wolf Trap Foundation in Vienna, VA (1992).

The Vrazels’ have also played for Texas Folklife Resources - Accordion King Festivals in Austin, Dallas, Eagle Pass, Houston and Plano.  The band and various members have received nine other TPMA Awards, including the 1991 (first-year) Lifetime Achievement award to Alfred and Anton for the development of “the central Texas sound” as well as the award for “Band of the Year.”  They received numerous other TPMA awards in later years.  In 1995, the Vrazel Brothers received the prestigious European American Music Award Presented in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Present musicians are: Thomas Strmiska on the drums and vocals.  He has been with the Vrazels' for 26 years and is the son-in-law of Alfred.  Albert Heselmeyer of Taylor is featured on the bass guitar.   He has been with the Vrazels' for 24 years.  David Trojacek is on tenor and alto saxophone, lead guitar and vocals.  He has been with the band for 2 years.

The Vrazels’ Golden Anniversary appreciation dance is June 21st at Seaton Star Hall, five miles East of Temple on hwy. 53.  It starts with a 4 p.m. polka Mass, with dancing at 6 p.m.  You are invited to help celebrate this Texas institution.

(posted 5/18/03)

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Czech Melody Masters Make Merry Music

Who was that band that played the grand reopening of the Bill Mraz Dance Hall in August and then returned in November for a great battle dance with Harry Czarnek?  Why, it was the Czech Melody Masters from Austin!

       Bringing together over 50 years of combined musicianship, the Czech Melody Masters are proud to bring the best in Czech polka and waltz music to Texas and the world via live performances, recordings and the World Wide Web.

The Czech Melody Masters originally were formed in 1994 as the Dancehall Boys.  During the four years that the Dancehall Boys were together, the band won the Horizon Award for Best New Polka Band from the Texas Polka Music Awards.  The band also released three albums, Behind the Blacksmith Shop, Back to Moravia and An Evening in Dubina.

The band reformed as the Czech Melody Masters in 1999.  In addition to a lively blend of polkas and waltzes, the Czech Melody Masters bring audiences an exciting blend of old-time country, western swing, big band and slow-time tunes.

The band is committed to keeping alive the brass band and swing tradition of the best of the early Czech bands, such as the Pateks, Adolph Hofner, Bacova Ceska Kapela and Lee Roy Matocha.  The band members take great efforts to revive many long-lost Czech folk songs, including re-writing faded musical scores, restoring well-known classics to their original complete versions and transcribing arrangements from scratchy 78's and out-of-print LPs.

In addition to being Austin's only authentic Czech polka band, the Czech Melody Masters were the first Czech band in the in the world to host their own website.  It’s found at www.czechpolka.com.

       A noteworthy labor of love by band member Dennis Svatek is “Czech Classics – Then and Now,” reached through the web site listed above.  This site provides authentic Czech music over the web to your computer.  See separate article. 

Band member Thomas Durnin hosts a weekly polka radio program called Czech Melody Time out of Austin on KOOP 91.7 FM.  It’s Sunday mornings at 10:30. 

It’s clear that the Czech Melody Masters are doing their part in preserving and promoting polka music.  They will be at the National Polka Festival in Ennis in May.  Czech them out!

 (posted 12/21/02)

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The Pateks – A Passion for Polka

Adolph Hofner.  The Baca Bands.  The Bill Mraz Ballroom.  These and many more are a big part of Texas polka history.  But perhaps no name is more prominent in Texas polka history than that of the Patek Bands from Shiner, TX. 

Present day polka Texans instantly recall the Joe Patek Orchestra, which played its last performance in 1982.  But Joe was only one in a procession of Patek musicians who have marched into Texas polka history.

The story begins with John Patek Sr. who loved music and was a talented musician.  John developed his interest in music as a young boy in Czechoslovakia.  He immigrated to America in 1889 at the age of 20 and continued his musical talent by playing in community bands.  As time went on, he taught his sons to play musical instruments.  John formed the Patek Band of Shiner, Texas in 1920.   

The Patek Band played for many weddings, picnics, special occasions and weekend dances in various communities.  The Patek Band became very well known in Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth and in smaller town between these major Texas cities.

In the early 1940’s, Joe, the youngest son took over the Patek Band.  It later became the Joe Patek Orchestra.  At first the band traveled by car taking two cars to carry all the members and instruments.  In the mid 1940’s, the band members rode in the back of a panel truck on long benches, and some years later in station wagons pulling a trailer for the instruments.  The trailer, with its large Shiner Beer emblems on it, became a familiar sight traveling along the highways of Texas.

The Joe Patek Orchestra is synonymous with “The Shiner Song,” a Texas polka that in 1995 received special recognition by the Texas Polka Music Association as an “All Time Favorite Song.”  This was one of only two such awards ever given (the other went to Jimmy Brosch for “Corn Cockle Polka”).

The Patek Orchestra was always popular, but became very popular starting in the 1950’s.  Most of the time the band was booked for every weekend a year or more in advance.  The Patek bands began recording music in 1937 on Decca label and later were recorded on various labels that were available on single records, record albums, eight track tapes, and cassette tapes.  A collection of their music became available on CD in 1999.

Beginning in the mid 1940’s, the Patek Orchestra had an hour show on Radio Station 1450 KCTI, Gonzales, Texas.  The broadcast was done live every Sunday afternoon for several years from Bluecher Park, now known as American Legion Hall, in Shiner Texas.  Later on, due to the orchestra’s busy schedule and longer trips, the broadcast known as the Patek Hour continued with recorded music until 1985. 

The Patek Orchestra officially retired at the end of 1982.  At the last dance, the Annual Fireman’s New Years Eve Dance on December 31, 1982, the “Patek Era” came to a close.  Hundreds of folks crowded around the stage of the American Legion Hall to witness the final few songs.  There were tears in the eyes of many, as the Joe Patek orchestra played “The Shiner Song” to close an era of Czech culture music.  The handshakes, hugs and congratulations that followed were all saying, “Thanks for the Memories”.

Joe Patek died in 1987.  The Texas Polka Music Association honored him in 1991 with a posthumous “Lifetime Achievement Award” for “Development of a unique sound in Texas Polka Music.”  Part of that sound was Joe on the clarinet and sax, and brother Charlie on the tuba, never stronger than when performing their trademark “Shiner Song.”

For more information or Joe Patek music on CD, contact Rudy & Bea Patek at 713-466-5469 or e-mail Friday@wt.net.

(posted 4/19/02)

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Clarence Baca & Family Tradition

Clarence Baca collects.  Clarence Baca recollects.  And a visit with the 82-year old polka musician and bandleader in his Houston home opens the door to a unique collection of Texas music history and memorabilia, plus remarkable recollections of the Baca family bands, a family where music was a tradition.

The Baca bands!  So much Texas music history, and so little space!  Here’s a thumbnail sketch.

The Baca bands originated from Fayetteville, new home of Frank Baca, son of Joseph Baca who immigrated through Galveston in 1860.  Frank had a remarkable musical talent, teaching himself to play the clarinet, then studying music, playing and composing.  Frank married Marie Kovar and together they raised 13 children, teaching them all how to play instruments and starting the “Baca Family Band” in 1892.  This was the beginning of the unique “Baca Beat” and the start of a family musical tradition.

Soon the Baca Band became one of the leading musical groups in Texas, playing in Czech and German settlements throughout the state.  “Professor” Frank Baca planned to take the band on tour throughout the U.S. in 1906, but an early death at age 46 handed the band to son Joe. 

Joe played the coronet, very well, and won a contest in St. Louis playing the “St. Louis Polka” which he wrote on the train.  Joe also introduced the dulcimer into the band, starting with a homemade instrument with 120 strings. 

Joe died very young, and the band leadership passed in 1920 to John R. Baca, father of Clarence.  The band flourished, playing their first radio performances in 1926-27 on Houston’s KPRC.  The Baca Band began recording in the ‘30’s on Columbia, OKEH and Brunswick labels (becoming known as “The Texas Polka Kings”), and then later on the Hummingbird label in the ‘50s. 

In 1935, brother Ray Baca (expert on the dulcimer) left to start his own band, resulting in two Baca Bands, both with roots in Fayetteville and the musical legacy of Frank Baca. 

The John Baca Band continued to play until after John’s death in 1952.  It ultimately produced the Clarence Baca Band starting in 1962, while the Ray Baca line resulted in bands led by sons Gil and Kermit.  We leave the Ray Baca line for a future story, while we now rejoin Clarence among his collectibles. 

Clarence has photos.  Clarence has posters.  Clarence has records.  Clarence has memorabilia.  On this day it’s all on display in three separate rooms of his house, plus the garage.  The photos include pictures of the Baca Family Band, the John Baca Band, the Clarence Baca Band, and much more, including photos of other big name polka bands from across the nation. 

Records include the 78’s recorded in the ‘30s by the John Baca Band, as well as six 7-inch canisters of Baca music on tape, perhaps 6-10 hours of music. 

Bit it’s not all Baca Band music.  Clarence like Romy Gosz, and has a collection of 16 Gosz ‘78s and one LP.  He’s looking for a home for this collection, but needs the music taped first.  In like fashion, he has a collection of Cajun music, picked up in the 1950-70 period on his trips to Louisiana, both 45’s and LPs. 

Of course, he also has copies of his own four recordings by the Clarence Baca Band, all 45s.  They include songs like Corn Cockle Polka, Farmer’s Waltz, Grasshopper Polka, Baca’s Waltz, and more. 

The polka posters speak volumes about Texas polka history.  “Free Band Concert, Baca’s Brass Band, Thursday nights in Fayetteville.”  “All Night Battle Dance, Austin Hall, Eagle Lake, Baca Band and Nesvadba Orchestra, Friday, May 4th.”  So many more, each revealing a glimpse of polka history. 

Clarence J. Baca was born in 1920 to John and Mary Baca in Fayetteville, who operated a grocery store.  He learned the drums, playing his first paid job at age 13 for the 1933 Christmas Eve Dance in La Bahai, near Round Top.  He joined the John Baca Band that same year.  He graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1939 (class of 20), attended Texas A&M for two years, worked in Todd’s Shipyards Houston, and joined the Navy in 1943.  His LST was hit by a kamikaze in the Pacific.

Returning to civilian life after the war, Clarence began a 37 year career with the Post Office, while continuing to play with the John Baca Band. 

Clarence started his own band in 1962, playing until 1998.  High points in his career include four recordings, playing the Rice Hotel in Houston and The Buccaneer in Galveston, playing Hoston dance halls like Bill Mraz, the Shamrock, standing gigs with SPJST 88, plus radio appearances.  Band members included Clarence on drums, Charlie Kucera (BB accordion), Charlie Janecek (bass guitar), Clem Mlcak (sax), and Al Steubing and Henry Repka (trumpet, clarinet, sax). 

Clarence was married to wife Patsy for 49 years, and has been married to Lou for the past seven years.  Lou threw a surprise 80th birthday party for Clarence that he still remembers fondly.

Just as he remembers all his collectibles, the legacy of the Baca family music tradition and of his own 65 years in Texas polka music. 

Interested in Clarence’s collection?  Give him a call at 713-869-2723. 

(posted 08/08/02)

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Jimmy Brosch:  A Part of Texas Music History

Jimmy Brosch and wife Lucy are fixtures on the Texas dancing scene.  You can often find them at dances, chatting with their many friends, Jimmy’s quick sense of humor not at all slowed by the passage of time.  These are nice people, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary!

But Jimmy Brosch and the Happy Country Boys are also a part of Texas music history.  Jimmy received two Texas Polka Music Awards, one in 1994 for “An Early Texas Polka Band,” and a second in 1996 for “The Corn Cockle Polka, ” recognized by TPMA as an All Time Favorite Song.  Great accomplishments, capping a long career!  Let’s take some time to learn more about this Texas polka pioneer, who played for 46 years.

The Jimmy Brosch story begins in and around Praha, the small farming community near Moulton settled by Czech immigrants.  Much of the musical entertainment for the early Czechs comprised family bands with accordion, guitar, fiddle and harmonica.  The music was performed at house dances, and the occasional wedding.  Some of the early bands included brass and wind instruments.  These were the fine orchestras of the time, and some of the music has been preserved on early recordings.

The young Jimmy Brosch wanted to play the fiddle.  He began at age 12.  To get his first fiddle, he rode horseback from Praha to Moravia, bargaining with Joe Holub for an instrument with an asking price of $3.  Jimmy got the fiddle for $2.50, which sounded like a bargain until his Uncle Henry Brosch told him “Jimmy, You paid $2 too much!”

Undeterred, Jimmy began to play the fiddle, taking it with him into the Air Force in WWII, playing on ship and at the base while doing his job as a P-51 airplane mechanic.

After returning from service, Jimmy decided to form a band.  “Jimmy Brosch and His Playboys” came into being in 1946.  The band rehearsed all the early Czech songs and played their first job for the Praha CYO.  Jimmy put the band on the road by late 1946, performing in the Lavaca and Fayette county areas.  Jimmy recalls that the hottest jobs were in the Shiner and Gonzales areas, with the band earning about $50 for a typical performance.  That usually meant $9 per musician and $5 travel expense.

They had some good nights and some rough nights in the early days.  Jimmy recalls a freezing rainy night playing a job in Freyburg, with all the instruments and musicians crammed into or onto the top of a neighbor’s borrowed Model A, an oil table cloth covering the drums on the car’s roof.  Sounds like quite an adventure!

Frequent gigs were Needville, Cotton Grove, Swiss Alp, Kovar, Freyburg, and of course, weddings.  Jimmy recalls Boedeckers Place, dancing every Saturday night with 500 people in the open-air pavilion, admission 50 cents and beer 25 cents!  These were the early days!

The also did some early polka radio every Sunday morning from KCTI Gonzales, hosted by Texas Frankie Sembera and Sonny Seiversas.

But things change.  Jimmy moved to Houston, attending the University of Houston for a year, supporting himself as a door-to-door salesman.  Somewhere along the way, he met Lucy at a CYO dance in Moulton.  Jimmy says, “I met her in the cotton patch,” but a quick glance at Lucy suggests her version is more accurate.  They married in 1949, and lived in Houston, where Lucy worked for National Biscuit for ten years.  Jimmy made his living working as a switchman for Southern Pacific.  Along the way, they raised a family of four.

The band kept on playing, but the name was changed in the 50’s to “Jimmy Brosch and the Happy Country Boys.”   They played the Bill Mraz Ballroom regularly for over 18 years, and the American Legion in Crosby for 11 years.  Jimmy recalls big crowds and a following that joined them at the various halls.

Ask Jimmy what instrument he plays, and his quick response is “None of them well!”  Typical humor for Jimmy, but he does play the fiddle, sax and accordion.  Sons Bruce and Jeff were in the band, playing guitar and drums.  Jimmy is quick to recognize drummer Gene Patalik, who was with him from the start and for many years.

Jimmy’s experience as an aircraft mechanic in WWII ignited an interest in flying, and he owned his own plane in the fifties.  Ask him sometime about buzzing the Praha Church below the steeple!  The plane didn’t last too long, but the motorcycle still exists, even though Jimmy is now 75!

Getting back to his music, Jimmy recognizes the celebrated “Corn Cockle Polka” written in 1967 as the highlight and real turning point of his career.  The song was based on a slow Czech funeral march played as the procession went from the church to the cemetery.  Jimmy liked the melody, which he originally heard from an Aunt who often hummed the tune.  Jimmy changed the time to a polka beat, added lyrics and the song was born.  It took off as a 45-rpm recording, becoming the band’s trademark song.  It is one of only two songs recognized by the Texas Polka Music Awards as “All Time Favorite Songs,” (the other being the Shiner Song by Joe Patek).

Jimmy and his band recorded 44 songs (as 45-rpm singles), 23 of which have been placed on a cassette.  Jimmy says. “Our music was styled for the young and the old,” adding that except for Adolph Hofnar, his was the first Texas polka band to include a steel guitar. 

Any regrets, Jimmy?  He admits that the schedule caused him to miss the graduation of several of the children, a fact that still bothers him.  He concludes by saying, “I wouldn’t trade our experiences for a million dollars, but I wouldn’t go through it again, either!”  

Well, Jimmy, you don’t have.  Your music is a part of Texas history and is still with us.  Just enjoy yourself with the thanks of all your Texas fans.

(Written 5/99)

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