Jim Polaski

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In an email dated 1/27/04, Jim Polaski wrote:

First of all, I like your site. It sure is not well publicized though. I've searched Google for polka stuff often and never seen a link and found you from a link in a newsgroup.

Before there was Wally in Chicago, there was Johnnie Bomba who for all intents and purposes, started what was to be the "Chicago Style" of polka. 120 beats/min and a very clean sound. Johnnie started forming his band in 1945 and the final players got together in 1948. He cut "Rain-Rain" and "Hej Tam Na Gouze" in 1950 on DANA, which was THE label for the Polka Bands to record on at that time. Bomba was voted "Polka King of the Midwest" from a poll done by Billboard/Variety Magazine in, I think, '51 (not sure exactly there).

Bomba's style was rooted in the east, but a more big band style. He had trumpet or clarinet lead, with the other on harmony, accordion/Solovox, piano/Solovox, drums and bass, often with a vocalist. His harmony was tight and, while they played with lead sheets, there often were no arrangements. Johnnie also had his own TV show in Chicago (Polka Parade on WGN, sponsored by Howard Motors) as well as radio, on WOPA.

When Johnnie put his orchestra together, there were the bands in the East which played very fast like Wally said. Then there were the German, OOM-PA style if you will, in the Upper Midwest. Bomba put his tempo at 120 and along with the arrangements, made a more danceable style. Johnnie wasn't happy unless the "dancers" were happy. Johnnie, unlike most of the clarinet players used a vibrato and took some of the shrillness from the sound. Their music was a very, very clean style, definitely not "honky" which is a messier style.

Johnnie set the tone for many bands that followed . . . Adamczyk, Wojek, Hyzny, Dutka, Naturals, Harmony Kings and others.

Johnnie's music is a bit hard to find, save for used DANA records, since DANA's stuff is gone. Johnnie's still with us and I have documented a lot of what I've said with him.


Jim posted this on alt.music.polkas on 11/24/05. Used by permission.

In what, the early 70's, Eddie B arrived with the Versatones. He had a good product, owned his own recording studio and quickly made himself a success that many have copied. I have always suspected that today's bands copy him because of a "if it worked for them, it will work for me" kind of thing. But they fail to understand why Eddie and the Versatones were so very successful.

First, the older bands were ever-so-slowly disappearing. Everyone was getting older or moving on. Some of the older bands promoted, some didn't. 

Second, Eddie had a good musical product, but why did he succeed? For a reason most don't think of as happening back then. He did four things very, very right.

  1. Promoted
  2. Promoted
  3. Promoted
  4. Repeat 1,2 and 3 above.

He got gigs and, after a certain "tipping point," there was momentum -- not that he could become complacent either. His promotion continues today, with Jr. running the band.

But, let's look around. I don't care what many say, but take any of today's polka radio shows and -- if you weren't told who the band was -- a lot of folks couldn't hear the differences between them (the kind of differences that are more apparent to folks listening to the individual bands a lot).

I still think that often, after hearing a few of today's bands, folks decide that this upcoming thing with a new band is going to sound similar -- after all, that's what they mostly hear, and it lessens their need to go hear a new band.

As for myself, I really don't want to hear another band with two trumpets in front. There's too many that way today. It's time for a change there. Honky bands seem to be the norm, too -- Gosh! I want to hear something different. That's one of the things I respect in Freeze Dried, they do have the courage to be different. I also have a problem with two concertinas in a band or both accordion and concertina. To me, there's too much similarity there (but I could be jaded).

Today, a lot of the recordings of those older bands (at least in Chicago) are gone. Dana, after being sold to Jubilee, died as a record company and I believe the masters died, too. Bands today don't get as much a chance to hear what the old bands did and how they sounded back then. It was a rich musical history in Chicago, with all the "pocket" bands as they were sometimes called.

When I was kid in the 50's, we'd go to weddings or some parties or picnics and, when there was a live band, every one had a different sound and different instrumentation as well.

My bottom line is that I'd like more variety, like there used to be.

[A few comments by Nos: 1) Among the current bands that seem to be effectively promoting themselves are Jimmy Sturr, EBV, Brave Combo, and Fritz's Polka Band.  2) Yes, the older bands had very broad repertoires -- Right now, I'm listening to a Don Lipovac CD that has Slovenian, French, Spanish, Polish, Greek, Dalmatian and Austrian tunes on it. {11-24-05}]