Frankie Yankovic: America’s Polka King

America's Polka King: The Real Story of Frankie Yankovic and His MusicStill need a gift for that polka fan on your holiday list? Check out Cleveland native Bob Dolgan’s new biography, America’s Polka King: The Real Story of Frankie Yankovic and His Music.

Thirty years ago, Dolgan ghostwrote Yankovic’s autobiography, The Polka King: The Life Of Frankie Yankovic. His new book chronicles the accordion legend’s rise to fame, as well as his complicated relationships with family members and fellow musicians. Dolgan admits from the start that his book shows all sides of Yankovic’s personality — there’s no sugarcoating here and that’s just how Frankie would have wanted it:

“In this book, I have tried to tell the honest story of Frankie Yankovic, the foremost musician in American polka history. Some readers may feel it is too frank and revealing and that it may damage the Polka King’s image and, therefore, the struggling polka culture. But I don’t think so. Yankovic was a realist who never wanted to play it safe. As he said when I ghosted his autobiography almost thirty years ago, ‘Let’s tell everything. People will like it better that way.'”

WCPN, the public radio station in Cleveland, has a brief interview with Dolgan about his book, as well as some great clips of a 1995 interview they did with Yankovic himself. Thanks to the book’s publisher, Gray & Company, you can download the preface and first two chapters here:

Freddy Fender Tribute in Austin

There’s a tribute to legendary Tex-Mex singer/songwriter Freddy Fender tomorrow night at Antone’s in Austin. The impressive lineup features plenty of accordion and includes Joe Ely, Little Joe y La Familia, Los Texmaniacs, Conjunto Aztlan, Johnny Degollado, Joel Guzman, Ruben Ramos, and more. Tickets are $10 and the show starts at 7pm.

If you can’t make it to Austin tomorrow night, check out this NPR tribute that includes some great interview clips with Freddy.

Book Review: Magnifico by Victoria Miles

Magnifico by Victoria MilesMagnifico is a heartwarming tale of Mariangela, the 11-year-old daughter of Italian immigrants living in Canada in 1939. Mariangela wants to learn piano (she envies her cousin’s piano) but her family can not afford one. Instead, Nonna surprises her with an accordion. Mariangela, disappointed, doesn’t try very hard at first. Her accordion teacher, Gioseff, tries everything he can to inspire her: playing records, telling stories, protecting her from the neighborhood bully, but nothing seems to work. Throughout the story we see how her family and friends persevere in difficult situations, and through these situations, Mariangela figures out what she must do to succeed.

This book is an excellent story of immigrant life, perseverance, and how music can bring people together. It is recommended for children in grades 3-6, but I would recommend it for accordion lovers of all ages.

Castelfidardo Travel Tips

Tom Torriglia, accordionist for retro Italiano band Bella Ciao, just returned from a trip to Castelfidardo, Italy, the famous center of the Italian accordion industry. He passed along these tips for anyone making a pilgrimage to the area:

“I just returned from Mecca(castel)fidardo and offer up the following information for fellow travelers.

Castelfidardo is shut tight as bellows on both Saturday and Sunday.

I stayed at the 3-star La Fonte hotel in Osimo. It was 48€ per night and included continental breakfast. The room was large, very clean and had twin beds. There is a lounge/bar area where you can hang out. They also offer free parking.

In Castelfidardo, I met Dan from Denver who was staying at the only pensione in Castelfidardo and he said he was paying 40€ per night with no breakfast.

Osimo is a lot bigger than Castelfidardo and there is a real nightlife. I mostly hung out at the Silicon bar, a very popular place. Osimo is about 15 minutes from Castelfidardo by car.

In Osimo, there is a telephone place where you can call the US for 5 centesimi per minute — so 1€ gets you 20 minutes. It’s open late.

There’s an internet point in Castelfidardo called Media Place. Kind of down the hill a bit from the center of town. I think it’s on Aligheri. 1€ got me 20 minutes online.

I stopped at the accessories’ place, I think it’s called Carini, located at the bottom of the long flight of steps. There is no sign. It’s next to a little car wash. I got some nice straps with a backstrap included for 20€. Of course, there’s always Italcinte for straps.

The banks didn’t take travelers’ checks, but you could convert cash. There’s plenty of ATMs (bancomats) from which to get cash anytime.

Happy Traveling!”

Anna and I are planning to visit Castelfidardo next spring, so these tips are a big help. Thanks Tom!

Hohner Factory Photo Tour

Tuning setup at the Hohner factory in Trossingen, GermanyEver wonder how Hohner accordions are made? Peter Unbehauen has posted a fantastic photo tour of the Hohner accordion factory in Trossingen, Germany. If your Hohner was “made in Germany” — very likely if it’s a Gola, Morino, Genius, Ventura, or Corona Classic — it came from this factory. It’s a really fascinating look at the production process as craftsmen install reeds, wax reed blocks, and tune accordions before they’re shipped to players worldwide.

I highly recommend poking around Peter’s site — it’s full of fascinating and unique accordion information. For instance, he has some great photos of the old Hohner factory buildings in Trossingen, as well as the workshop of master tuner and builder Claudio Beltrami.

[Found via the Reyes Accordions forum]

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Gelso Pellegrini Plays William Tell

Check out this excellent video of the late, great Gelso Pellegrini playing William Tell on the accordion. Thanks to Roberto for posting the video on YouTube!

eBay Find: Stand-Up Accordion

Now here’s something you don’t see everyday: it’s a stand-up accordion/organ built sometime in the 1940s/1950s. It looks like you can play while sitting or standing behind it and, instead of a bellows, you use a foot pedal to activate the fan inside and drive air through it. The nameplate says “L. Bonvicini” and according to the seller’s description, it was acquired at an estate sale in rural Colorado.

At first, I assumed this was a one-of-a-kind item, but then I found another one that went up for sale on eBay last month. That one was in better condition and included some interesting notes in the description:

“There is an old classified ad taped on it that says only 3 of these were ever made and they called it a chord organ, although it is not like any chord organ I’ve ever seen. The base/pedestal has a fan in it and you hold the foot pedal down to create an air flow. There is a volume adjustment on the pedestal also.”

Further sleuthing led me to a list of recent acquisitions at the University of South Dakota’s National Music Museum. About halfway down the list is this item:

“NMM 10753. Pianaccord (electrified piano accordion) by Diego Gobbi, Piacenza, Italy, for Ernest Bonvicini (1910-1976), Denver, Colorado, the third generation player and owner of Bonvicini Accordions, 3746 Fillmore Street, Denver. Gift of JoEllen Tipton, Vermillion.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t include a picture of the instrument, but I’m guessing it’s another one of these stand-up accordions. Either way, I’m wondering if these “accordions” were made specifically for Bonvicini’s personal use, or whether they were intended for sale. The keyboard/chord button layout looks awkward to me (and probably explains why there were only three ever made), but if you want a real conversation piece for your living room, the bidding starts at $299.99.

Those Darn (Accordions) Demos

Want a glimpse into the creative process of Those Darn Accordions? TDA tunesmith Paul Rogers is posting demos of songs he’s written for TDA‘s next album and inviting fans to chime in with their thoughts. First up is a catchy little number called “Mr. Saggy Butt” (inspired by a trip to the mall). Unfortunately, Paul creates his demos with a synthesizer and drum machine — not accordion — so you’ll just have to imagine how the accordion parts might eventually sound. Keep checking in over the next month or so as Paul posts more new songs.

Thanksgiving Polka Party in Cleveland

Forget watching football and falling asleep on the couch; I’d rather spend my turkey day at Tony Petkovsek’s Thanksgiving Polka Party.

A lifelong promoter of Cleveland-Slovenian music, Tony Petkovsek and his Thanksgiving weekend polka events have been drawing thousands to Cleveland for over 40 years. Tony also hosts the longest running daily polka radio show in America (45 years!), currently heard on WELW-1330AM in Cleveland and online at

This year’s Thanksgiving Polka Party runs Thursday through Saturday and features a cornucopia of Cleveland-style polka bands, including the Joey Tomsick Orchestra, the Mike Schneider Band, the Eddie Rodick Orchestra, and many more. Accordion legends Walter Ostanek and Joey Miskulin will also make appearances. The weekend is capped off by the 19th Annual Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony.

Flickr Find: Rock ‘N’ Roll Accordion Book

How to Play Rock ‘N’ Roll Accordion
uploaded by Jan Tonnesen
Here’s a blast from the past: this 1967 Palmer-Hughes accordion instruction book promises “all you need to know to play Rock ‘n’ Roll solos or play with a Rock ‘n’ Roll combo!” And if you put on 3-D glasses, you’ll discover the guy on the cover is actually playing “Paint It Black” backwards! Groovy!

Interestingly, this isn’t the only rock accordion lesson book out there. Palmer-Hughes has another book called Easy Rock ‘n’ Roll that appears to have first been published in the early 1960s. And with imaginative song titles like “Red Hot Rock”, “Soda Pop Rock”, “Juke Box Rock”, and “Injun Rock” (really!), it’s hard to see why more kids weren’t ditching their guitars for accordions. Shocking, really.

Still, I’m guessing Those Darn Accordions didn’t learn from either of these books…

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