2008 Accordion Gift Guide

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift? Want to help our nation’s beleaguered retailers and stimulate the economy? Never fear: Let’s Polka’s 2008 Accordion Gift Guide is here! We’ve got music, books, DVDs, and more for the accordion aficionados on your list — and for those folks you’re looking to convert to the squeezin’ side.

Interview with Jason Webley

Jason WebleyFew performers connect with their audiences as well as Seattle songwriter/accordionist Jason Webley. Known for his gravelly, Tom Waits-ish voice and feverish foot-stomping and bellows-pumping, he’s built a loyal following with theatrical shows that not only invite audience participation, but practically demand it. He also has a thing for tomatoes.

Jason is the brains behind the Monsters of Accordion tour, an all-accordion extravaganza taking place on the West Coast this week. We recently had the chance to talk to Jason briefly about the tour and his work.

If I’ve counted right, I think this is the third or fourth Monsters of Accordion tour. How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

We got the idea for the Monsters tour at an event I was invited to headline at Smythe’s Accordion Center maybe 4 years ago. I had never seen so many other accordion freaks before, and I really fell in love with a couple of them (Daniel Ari and Duckmandu) so we decided to try and do a little accordion only tour. So this is actually year three for “Monsters of Accordion.” The three of us did the west coast together twice, I think. But I was always the main draw on those tours and somewhere I decided that, if I was going to do it again, I wanted to make it bigger than just me. So I invited Corn Mo and Geoff Berner, who both tour all over and have their own followings. And they are amazing. I think it is going to be a great run.

2006 Accordion Gift Guide

Jon considers giving Liz accordion lessons for Christmas

It can be tough to shop for an accordion lover. You won’t find a custom-made Petosa accordion at Wal-Mart, Martha Stewart hasn’t published a magazine on making your own accordion straps, and most music stores don’t carry much beyond The Best of Lawrence Welk.

Luckily, Let’s Polka is here to help. We’ve put together our 2006 Accordion Gift Guide — gift ideas for the budding accordionist (or enthusiast) on your holiday list. And everything on our list is $50 or less (usually much less), so there’s money leftover for lessons.

Interview with Jimmy Sturr

Few musicians, polka or otherwise, can match the success that Jimmy Sturr has enjoyed over the course of his career. He has recorded over 100 albums, plays over 150 dates a year, and — to the consternation of some in the polka community — has dominated the polka category at the Grammy Awards, winning 15 times in 20 years.

We had a chance to talk with Jimmy in San Francisco last month before he headed to Polkapalooza Reno.

How did you first get into polka music? What drew you in?

Well, I’ve lived in a little town all my life called Florida, New York, and we probably grow at least 30% of the nation’s onions — we’re the Onion Capital of the World. A lot of people from Europe, especially Polish people, came over to work on what we call the “black dirt”, and brought their traditions with them — one of which was their music. The high school dances and weddings all had polka bands, the radio stations played polkas everyday… that’s how I grew up and fell in love with the music.

When did you start your first band?

I started out at 11 years old and had a five piece band. My very first job was playing for the PTA and the only reason I got to play was because my mother was the president! (laughs) There were a couple of other polka bands in the area and, if they were booked, people would come to us — only because we were the only ones left. Eventually, we moved up that ladder.

What bands inspired you when you were first starting out?

There were bands on the East Coast — guys you’ve never heard of, most of whom are passed away now. You know, everyone’s heard of Frankie Yankovic, but I don’t really play that style. Whereas that Cleveland style really featured the accordion, the East Coast bands featured trumpets and saxophones more (of course, everyone still had an accordion). And those are the bands I grew up on; bands like Frank Wojnarowski, Ray Henry, Gene Wisniewski, the Harmony Bells Orchestra, and the Connecticut Twins Orchestra.

Interview with Big Lou

Big Lou (aka Linda Seekins) is a Bay Area accordion legend. She’s played in Polkacide, founded Those Darn Accordions, and now leads Big Lou’s Polka Casserole, whose new album (“Doctors of Polka-Ology”) is due out next month. She also plays in a French cabaret trio, Salut Matelot, hosts an online polka radio show, and curates the San Francisco Style Polka Hall of Fame. Big Lou was kind enough to sit down with us for Let’s Polka’s first exclusive interview.

Let’s start with the question we’re all asked when people find out that we play the accordion: Why?

Well, I used to live in Texas and I was walking through the park one day and there was a guy sitting under a tree playing the accordion. I started chatting with him and he said, “Oh, you play piano, you could probably just play this, too.” He handed it to me and I tried it out. So I’m playing with it, having a good time, and he says, “You know, that’s for sale.” It was cheap, so I bought it and just learned.

Cool! I think a lot of people, when they start playing, don’t realize how difficult it is to play the accordion — especially coordinating the right and left hands. Were there any tricks or tips you picked up when you were first learning?

Well, first off, you don’t have to do that if you play in a band — you don’t have to use your left hand. I wanted to learn it because I wanted to play solo. And what I did was get those round, different-colored dots, put them on a few key buttons and I practiced in front of the mirror. And that helped a lot. On the right hand, I took some nail polish and put little marks on the C’s — because I was used to playing the piano, where you can just see everything. Then when I took my accordion in to get it tuned, this old German lady was just irate. She spent an hour trying to get the nail polish off and when I told her I had put it there myself, she just exploded!

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