Spin Class #2 - June 2005
After a year of procrastination ... and with a little prompting from a few friends, I've finally got around to posting the second offering of my favourite vinyl classics from the Polka Dues record vault. Thanks goes out to Carol and Jan ... for getting me to once again dust off the phonograph and re-discover some more of the great albums which have inspired me throughout the years!!
So hang on ... as I present this month's list as follows:
Chicago-style/Polish (Push & Honky) polka favourites Vol. 2 (random order):
1) Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones - Polka Spotlite (BelAire 3025): There aren't many polka fans around who wouldn't consider this one of Eddie's best albums of all time. Eminating such all-time EBV classics as Judy, Sweet Bippy (Lenny's vocal feature), Love' em and Leave' em and I Love Everybody Waltz; its no wonder why I wish I could hop in a time machine back to '76 and catch this Versatones band live again!
2) Polka Family - All In A Day's Work (PF 1001): The very first Polka Family album I ever purchased at Ruda's ... and of which both Don and I concurred (if the band stuck together) would foretell of many great albums to come in the future. This production from 1986, while still having "The Family" in California, already had the band honing in on its now patented sound (mainly) through Hank's original compositions of Family polka hits such as Karolenka Polka, Polish Krakowianka, Girl Of My Dreams, and Music After Midnight.
3) New Brass - More Polka Sunshine (Bel-Aire 4039): The Brass' last album on the Bel-Aire label (before going to WAM), finds the band in their distinctive and renowned push style with their "pedal to the metal" from The Sun's Gonna Shine till the last cut of Rocks and Stones. While perhaps not the band's most prolific album (relative to Roll Out the Barrel, Solid Brass and Heavy On Polkas), this is none the less a record worthy of any fan's collection.
4) Dyna-Dukes - Play Polka Music You Can't Refuse (Bel-Aire 4026): Start with Down Home Polka, add My Girl's Getting Married (But Not To Me), Boo Hoo Polka and Sweethearts in Heaven and you've got the makings of one super polka album. The aforementioned Dan Gury original compositions placed the Dyna-Dukes huge on the 70's polka radar screen and gave notice that this outfit were certainly "Not (and never would be) Your Average Polka Band"!
5) The Modernaires - One Way Only (PP 1045): The first album from this great Buffalo band features one of my absolutely favourite polkas being "Polka World"!! I don't know many polka musicians who at one time or another haven't been able to somehow relate to those wonderful lyrics. While this band unfortunately didn't have a longer existence, they had an unquestionable musical impact on the polka industry which still is in evidence today.
6) Stan Golonka & His Chicago Masters - Here Comes Stas! (Ampol 5027): Upon returning from Erie Polka Days in 1980, I immediately sought out this album after hearing Stas and the Masters blaze a Honky trail of polkas within my young polka soul that weekend! While this record is chock full of hits (e.g. Maryszka Moja, Do I Love You, Karolinka, Tin Lizzie etc.), moreso this album conveys a great honky spirit which I first experienced within the hallowed Waldemeer Park Ballroom that Labour Day weekend (anyone else miss that!?!?).
7) Henny & the Versa J's - Home Style Polkas (WAM 5061): I take a little pride in stating that I was a fan of the Versa J's before the advent of Ryan's star on the polka scene. I distinctly remember back in late '82 the quizical looks of my bandmates as I raved about a new WAM album I'd gotten by a band out of PA called the Versa J's ... and then proceded to play them Bondura Polka, Minor Polka and I'm Confessin. While this is the Versa J's first album, this is proof positive that only a strong foundation can support such a long and endearing legacy!
8) Canadian Fiddlestix - Half Na Pol (WAM 4040/WRS 20040): I've oft been asked of which polka album is my favourite of all time and while I still balk at answering that conclusively, I know that in my heart of hearts, this album would have to be among my 3 finalists. Not only are the arrangements spectacular (thanks mainly to Gerry Jedraski and Ricky Malkiewicz), but very few albums have ever so pulled the fundamental strings of my polka soul as do the musical performances on every song throughout this album. While Maple Sugar is probably the best known polka from this record, my personal favs are Pass the Bromo, What Happened, Bandit, Polka z Pincowa and Our Wedding Day (Anniversary/Danube Waves) Waltz which for my money is the best ever recording of such bar none.
9) Bay State IV - Salutes The Polka Stars (PolkaTrain 8401): Anyone who ever saw the Bay State IV in their prime, had to wonder how these 4 musicians could consistently blow away most 6 or 7 piece polka bands. Billy, Jackie, Jimmy and Gary had a unique and special chemistry which fortunately for us, was not only conveyed through their music on the bandstand, but was also translated through their recordings. The Polka Stars Medley (featuring Marion Lush, Eddie B, Larry Trojak, Stas Golonka, Lenny Gomulka and Jimmy Sturr) on this album has since its release been a veritable polka hit, however don't discount any other cut ... as they all emulate a special polka magic.
10) Marion Lush - Na Zdrowie (Dyno 1606): If Frankie Yankovic's TV Polka's album was the seed from which my Cleveland-style roots developed, then this album would with out a doubt would be the seed of my Polish/Chicago-Style polka soul. This album my brother and I came to recognize as our Sunday morning Church wake-up call, as Dad would inevitably place this (or occasionally Maniu's Award Winning Album) on the stereo and do a 70's version of karaoke to Na Zdrowie, I'm Confessing, Johnny's Knocking, Matka Waltz and Moonlight Polka (usually while shaving!). When we first began putting a band together, I remember having a local bandleader who was mentoring us tell me ... when your band starts to FEEL like Lush's on High Bounce Polka (from this album) ... you'll know you're on the right track! After almost 30 years later ... I've learnt that never could any words be truer!!!
Cleveland/Slovenian Style & Eastern Style Polka favourites Vol. 2:
1) Stan Wolowic and The Polka Chips - Stash!!! (ABC 275): Yeah yeah ... I know I'm raving about this band again ... but hey ... The Polka Chips (with such little reference now) truly deserve the recognition. Actually, proof of the musical strength of this particular album is that in the almost 50 years since its release; at least 10 of its 12 songs are either subsequently covered on other bands' albums I have within my collection or have direct quotes (portions) of such significantly incorporated into other band's arrangements. A unique element of the Polka Chips is that while they sing traditonal lyrics, they also write corresponding English lyrics within their songs. Highlights are Marysia Polka, Flying High Polka, Come Back & Be My Sweetheart and Steel Factory Polka.
2) Gaby Haas (Canada's Mr. Polka) - Goes to Europe (London EBS4095): Gaby hailing out of Edmonton AB might be a complete unknown to many American Polka Fans but certainly was a force in the Canadian polka scene through the 60's and 70's ... especially in Western Canada. Producing good recordings with a Cleveland-style set-up (though augmented with guitar on most recordings ... providing a more "Western" sound), this particular album features polkas and waltzes from throughout Europe (Slovenia, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, Holland, Spain, France, Italy and Sweden). Gaby's accordion playing is solid and the band truly hits stride on polkas such as Valley Spring (Slovenian), Sari Marais (Dutch), Wooden Heart (German), Unknown (Czech) and The Woodpecker Song (Italian).
3) Larry Chesky Orchestra - Recorded Live at a Polish Party Vol. 3 (Tifton TS74): While I know of many friends who have one or another of Larry's Polish Party albums, this one features a ton of all-time polka classics like Greyhorse, Ballroom, Ooh La La, Johnny's Knocking, Goral, No Beer in Heaven, Peanut Polka and TicToc. Listening to this album, I'm immediately timewarped to being a kid at a Polish Wedding ... back when listening to a polka band live beside the bandstand or stage would always raise the hair on the back of my neck!!! You know ... I can still get goosebumps listening to the trumpet intro on Pukaj Jasiu.
4) Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks - Its Polka Night (Columbia 974): This recording produced after Blue Skirt and Baby Doll had already established Frankie as America's Polka King also features the great Johnny Pecon on accordion. A few of the very first polkas I learned "by ear" were off this record and to this day, some of my favourite Cleveland style polka arrangements to play are this album's Oh Marie, Three Yanks Polka , Milwaukee Polka and (Cleveland) Polka Town.
5) Joe Macielag and his Melody Bells Orchestra (Silverbell 10162) - Marysia: While being another one of my Dad's Sunday morning karaoke albums, the fact that Joe was fronting a 10 piece band meant there are some truly neat arrangements and solos peppered throughout this recording (which thankfully gave us a break from Dad's vocals!). Joe and The Melody Bells besides being the featured band on WGR TV2's popular "Pic-a-Polka Show", were a Buffalo polka mainstay throughout the 60's and continue to perform occasionally today.
6) Frank Wojnarowski and his Orchestra - Matka, For My Mother (Dyno 1635): Besides featuring the gold record title track (which incidentally Frank both wrote and recorded), this album has the Wojnarwoski band in typical top notch performances of Catch Me, Cuzzin Stan, My Mother Told Me and Cardinal Polka.
7) Ted Maksymowicz and his Orchestra - Polkas 'Round the World (ABC 188): This polka big band which performed weekly an Manhattan's famous Roseland Ballroom during the late 50's, produced a brilliant album featuring polkas with Polish, Hungarian, Russian, German, Ukrainian and Lithuanian flavours. Hits which received significant airplay in this record's heyday (and since) included Domino Polka, 8th Street Kolomeijka, Finger Polka and Merrily We Go Around.
8) Ray Henry and his Orchestra - Violins Play for Me (Dana 1228): With vocals by Eddie Kosak and Stas Jaworski, this album is a virtual classic ... no matter which way you cut it! Besides the band's performance being as precise as a swiss watch, this album offers up such soon to be polka standards such as Violins Play for Me, Over My Cradle, Jedziemy Jedziemy and Plynie Woda.
9) Walter Ostanek and his Band - Polka & Waltz Music Today & Forever (SC 700): Though a fairly obscure recording by Walt which preceded his 3 Grammy awards, this recording includes a couple of kicking instrumentals (Stillman's and Bernie's) as well as number of polkas which feature Walter's (now) longtime vocalist Murray McFadgen in some of my favourite recordings of him with the band (i.e. Y Viva Espana, Frances Darling Frances & Jo Ann Polka).
10) Joe Jedraski Orchestra - Toronto Swings the Polka (Jo 1001): When you congregate some of Canada's best big band musicians and have them perform great arrangements of previously unrecorded material, inevitably you're going to come up with something especially rare and special. This album of which I'm unsure of the U.S. distribution, certainly is a recording which subsequently provided more than its share of inspiration and effect upon many Canadian polka bands in the 60's and 70's. The arrangements were by Canadian jazz legend Jerry Toth (orchestrator and conductor of the famous and original Hockey Night in Canada theme) and Joe's brother Gerry Jedraski (later of the Canadian Fiddlestix). Musicians of special note within this record are Joe Jedraski and Erich Traugott on trumpets, Jerry Toth and Gerry Jedraski on Saxophone/Clarinet and George Onuska on drums.