Bob changes his tune about accordions

Bob changes his tune about accordions by Bob Karolevitz I kind of agree with Weird Al Yankovic on one thing: accordions are dorky!

I haven't always felt that way, but lately I do.

Back in the late 1920s when Lawrence Welk performed solo on his "squeeze box" over Radio Station WNAX in Yankton, I thought that the instrument was quite cool.

I still liked it when the late Lou Prohut won the Horace Heidt competition playing Lady of Spain on his glittering push-pull machine. I probably lost the enchantment, however, when I tried to play one myself.

Not only could I not pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time, but on the accordion there were several other movements you had to master.

First, you had to pump it to activate the bellows. Then you had to play melody with your right hand and bass with your left.

It was heavy, too; and you couldn't see what you were doing. Needless to say, I marveled at Myron Floren who made it look so easy � because it wasn't.

Getting back to Lawrence Welk, it was he who made the accordion popular. Born on March 11, 1903, he was the sixth child of Ludwig and Christina Welk, Germans-from-Russia who had settled on a farm near Strasburg, ND.

Ludwig's prize possession was a push-button accordion which he played at barn dances and other social functions in the area. The instrument fascinated young Lawrence, who also learned to play on a $15 accordion he bought with money he earned trapping weasels, skunks and muskrats.

As the story goes, at age 17 he appealed to his father to buy him a $400 accordion with a piano keyboard, promising Ludwig he would remain on the farm until he was 21 and turning over any money he made to the family during that period.

He got the instrument, and he fulfilled his part of the bargain!

On his birthday in 1924 � with enough cash for train fare and three one-dollar bills pinned to the inside of his new suit jacket � he embarked with his accordion on what turned out to be a rocky road to the top.

During the next three years he played at wedding dances with a young people's band called the Jazzy Junior Five in Aberdeen. And for a time he was with George T. Kelly's Peerless Entertainers.

That was a small vaudeville-type group for which Lawrence played his accordion, posted handbills, sold candy between acts and was even a Spanish corpse in a comedy murder sketch. (His German accent was too thick for a speaking part.)

When the Peerless Entertainers folded, he teamed with two other musicians to play dance dates around Bismarck. Then in the late fall of 1927 � after an early North Dakota blizzard � they headed southward, with an ultimate destination of New Orleans.

They never got by Yankton and Radio Station WNAX!

The rest is history, of course. There followed the Hotsy Totsy Boys, the Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra and finally the Champagne Music Band � but always there was the accordion.

Weird Al Yankovic may have called it dorky, but it propelled him � and Lawrence Welk � to national stardom.

Maybe the accordion � which dates back to 1822 when Friedrick Buschmann patented a vintage model in Berlin � is not the coolest instrument going, but it has survived, despite what has been said about it.

Probably I should rethink my stance; change my tune, as it were. (No pun intended.)

© 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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