2008 Polka Grammy Preview

With Super Tuesday behind us, it’s time to focus on a contest that really matters: the Grammy award for Best Polka Album, to be handed out this Sunday in Los Angeles. This year’s nominees include some polka freaks from Texas, a pair of Canadian polka greats, and a 16-time winner who shows no signs of slowing down. Let’s take a closer look at the nominees:

Brave Combo, Polka’s Revenge

Eclectic polka-rockers Brave Combo are no strangers to the Grammy scene, having won in 1999 for their album Polkasonic and in 2005 for their album Let’s Kiss. For more than twenty five years, they’ve relentlessly busted genres and boldly taken polkas where they’ve never gone before. On Polka’s Revenge, the band fuses rock and Tex-Mex-inspired polkas with old-world waltzes, schottisches, and obereks. Originals like “The Denton Polka” mingle freely with updated renditions of classics by the Connecticut Twins and Ampol Aires.

John Gora & Gorale, Bulletproof Polkas

Born in Poland, now living in Ontario, Canada, saxophonist John Gora and his band earned their fourth Grammy nomination this year. The repertoire on Bulletproof Polkas runs the gamut from traditional polkas sung in Polish to polka-fied covers of rock songs. In the latter category, Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” survives the transition well, but the same cannot be said for John Lennon’s “Woman.”

Bubba Hernandez and Alex Meixner, Polka Freak Out

When Bubba Hernandez (former bassist for Brave Combo) first heard accordionist Alex Meixner, he asked himself, “What would this guy sound like on a Tex-Mex tuned accordion with some Tejano players?” The result is Polka Freak Out, an unlikely collaboration that places Alex’s technical mastery of the accordion over a Tex-Mex rhythm section, with dollops of Tejano, pop, and rock thrown in for good measure. Think Brave Combo, but with more accordion (and a heck of an accordion player at that).

Walter Ostanek and Brian Sklar, Dueling Polkas

“Canada’s Polka King” Walter Ostanek matches up with Saskatchewan fiddler Brian Sklar and his band, the Western Senators, for an old-fashioned double album. It’s an apt pairing: Sklar is a Canadian country music legend and Ostanek has been bringing country and western stylings to Cleveland-style polkas for years. The two styles merge effortlessly on Dueling Polkas and, fifty years after starting his first band, Ostanek is still one of polka’s greatest accordionists.

Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra, Come Share the Wine

Having won 16 out of the 22 awards given for Best Polka Album, Jimmy Sturr has earned his share of both respect and enmity from his polka colleagues. But few can deny that he’s one of polka’s hardest-working promoters, cranking out an album a year and following a relentless tour schedule that ranges from the Bayway Polish Home to Farm-Aid. Come Share the Wine may lack the star power of his most recent releases (no Willie Nelson cameo this time), but that’s actually a good thing; this time, the focus rests squarely on his top-notch band.

It’s a diverse set of contenders for the polka field and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will bring home the Grammy. Will Jimmy Sturr add another trophy to his collection? Will the Texas polka mafia power either Brave Combo or Polka Freak Out to victory? Or will one of Canada’s polka heroes swoop in from the Great White North? We’ll find out on Sunday!


  1. I have been a poika musician for 38 years, and have listened to many bands and many styles. I play polish style, and am very partial to that style. Eddie Blazonczyk is the only winner in that category, and I think that is sad. There have been some tremendous talents that have played Polish style, and they have not been recognized for their achievements, possibly because this style does not have mass appeal. I hope John Gora wins, but I am pretty sure it will be Jimmy Sturr. He always wins. In fact he wins so frequently, he makes a moccary of the polka grammy. His style is not Polish, or any other. It is just Jimmy Sturr style. Brave Combo’s music is interesting to listen to, but can hardly be classified as polka. Polka music is dance music, first and foremost. I hope one of the other contestants wins. Good luck to them, and here’s to real polka music, wherever it is played!

  2. im a polka jock, and winning 16 out of 22 awards must tell you something. i get more requests for jimmy sturr music on my polka show which does very well in northeast pa.which is a polka lovers paradise, just because the guy plays other music besides polkas means hes talented, and thats what its all about. eddie b.. john gora, they are all great also, but every year jimmy comes out with a new cd and its always great featuring different talent. i hope this is jimmys 17th win. i do respect your thoughts, but other d.js have been knocking jimmy sturr on there shows, and i think they are poor losers and they wont even play his music. i play all kind of polkas from frankie yankovic to john stanky, and yes you can dance to all of the music including jimmy sturrs.. sam

  3. Jimmy Sturr music is the most intense, fast-paced,
    energizing and absolutely delighful polka and dance music I have ever heard. There is polka music, and then there is Jimmy Sturr polka music. He deserves all that he gets.

  4. again,the nominees this year include,jimmy sturr and ,again im hearing comments like jimmy sturr isnt a polka band. well, your wrong again. there are other nominees like brave combo out of texas, bubba hernandez,polka freak c-d, and john gora and walter ostanek out of canada. i think this is great, i do very well with numbers with my show in pa. and this shows that, yes if you feel that polka music is just umpa stuff, and the same lyrics over and over in a polka song… your wrong.. its nice to see and hear polka music with a tex-mex sound, or a ballad. or yes, even country. i get requests for all of these, and most of the people in our area are polish, slovak, ukranian, and they love the mix of music i play. if your going to be stuck in the 20s 30s and thru the 60s with the same type of polka music… well i say move forward, and enjoy todays sound. a lot of people are.. sam liguori warm polka weekend

  5. I happen to like Jimmy Sturr, and watch him every week on RFD. But, there are other bands that are just as good. I’m surprised that the gentleman from PA hasn’t heard of Polka Family. They are a Polish style band who draws SRO crowds everywhere they play, including here in WI. They are FROM PA, and they play some TexMex too, because they happen to have a Polish father and a Mexican mother. It’s time that another band wins. I think whoever votes doesn’t even listen to the albums. They probably have only heard of Jimmy because he has a higher profile, so they just submit his name. It would be nice of him to withdraw his name and give someone else a chance. After all, I would think that 18 Grammys would be enough to please anyone’s ego.
    By the way, it’s “Oompah”, not umpa. :-)

  6. I listen to all kinds of polka music on the radio here with my dad in Chicago, we have two local AM radio stations (one out of Hammond, WJOB) that play almost nothing but polka music on Saturday and Sunday. Some years it’s polka all day and into the evening, this year it has been cut down a bit. Sometimes they play live polka concerts and I have heard some of the most amazing covers of songs in polka style, which has made me come to have feeling for polka. I must say the Polish style seems to be most authentic to me, and I have recently learned from WXRT radio in Chicago that “Honky Tonk” polka style ORIGINATED in Chicago. Proud to say. My grandfather played in a polka band. We have heard a lot of Eddie Blazonczyk’s music on the radio here. Jimmy Sturr is not a name I hear often, but after this year I’ll look into him… my father is partial to the Polish style like Blazonczyk’s and I am beginning to understand the differences and now have preferences.

  7. linda, first.. sorry about Oompah, im just a good old boy from pa. with number one ratings with my polka show. and yes, ive had interviews with the polka family members. they live in bloomsburg, about an hour away from where i live, and yes i play alot of polka family music. as a matter of fact, they send all of thier new releases to me first. and i play them first. if it bothers you that jimmy sturr has 18 grammys….wait til next year when he has 19.. face it the guy knows how to put it all togeather, sorry again im not an english whiz kid, but i do know my polka music. sam from pa.

  8. i grew up in a community of so much ethnic diversity and a radio was always on in the kitchen. we listened to rock ‘n roll, country, r & b, soul, pop, top 40, and polkas. (umpa, oompah…whatever!)

    talent is talent. awards are given to those with talent. why knock them? his recordings have won 18 out of the 24 grammy awards for best polka album. they have been to the most prestigious venues in the world, including seven sold out concerts at carnegie hall and four sold out concerts at lincoln center in new york city and a sold out concert at the palace of culture in warsaw, poland.

    let’s face it…we all listen to artists who receive awards galore, as well as those who are virtually unknown. it’s a choice we make.

    jimmy sturr is a legend just as sam liguori is a legend. respect given where respect is due.

    thank you sam for your many years of radio in northeastern pa!