I started clarinet lessons when I was about 7 or 8 years old. taking lessons on Sat momings with my older brother and several of his friends. taught by the band teacher Rom Ryan High School When I was about 15 my older brother John joined the Frankie Remar and the Polka Knights Orchestra About this time I followed my older brother‘s lead and taught myself to play saxaphone on a Tenor borrowed from my uncle Cyril Menousek. About a year later I started playing sax and singing in a 3 piece combo with Tom Paskach, a fellow high school band member. We played every Sat night at the Sunset Speedway Inn for about a year and a half, then started playing weddings, anniversaries, and other bar/lounge jobs in the area with the earnings from this group I bought myself a guitar and started to teach myself to play (with a little help from Bob Luksa). This group later added a trumpet and I started doing my first arranging for ace, trpt & sax.
In 1968 my brother transferred to Iowa State in Ames, IA, and I started filling in for his place with Frankie Remar when I had open dates with Tom Paskach. Shortly thereafter I recorded a few songs on Frank’s 1st album. Sometime in the early 70’s the combo broke up and I started playing full time with the Remar band. I don’t remember the 1st tune I arranged for Frank’s band. My father was playing at the time with the Kostka Bros. band, and I had filled in a few times with them and had even arranged a song or two for my dad. Frank Kostka had given me a few arrangements for the combo, and I might have done a few of these tunes for Frank. I had been listening to a number of polka bands on the radio, and appreciated several bands and their arrangements, especially Earnie Kucera. Frankie Remar was a big fan of Eamst Musch, and I remember taking several Musch songs off Frank’s albums.
Frank Kostka (Junior) had started singing with the Remar band, and I decided that I wanted to sing harmony with him. My grandmother lived next door to us when I was growing up, but the only time she and my mom spoke Czech was to yell at us kids or gossip.
So I got the words to “When, When” Polka and took them next door to Grandma Pavlik. She told me it would be easy to learn to sing, since Czech remains very consistent phonetically. I remember my Czech singing debut of the “When, When” Polka at an autumn dance at Gross High School. After that I started a parade of gathering words to new songs and heading to Grandma’s for pronunciation lessons. This included meeting a woman from Ohio at a polka festival at Peony Park who enjoyed my singing and offered to send me words to any song I wanted that she was familiar with. I developed in my opinion quite a library of czech song words, including something like 23 verses to “If I Were a Bird” Polka!
Grandma apparently was a good teacher of Czech phonetics. She would often interpret, but to this day I understand very little of what I’m singing. However I apparently have fooled a number of people, including the Czechs themselves in Czechoslovakia during the Omaha Czech Brass Band tour. I often have embarassingly nodded my head and smiled when someone would come up to me at intermission and started rattling off czech at me, fully expecting me to understand and carry on an intelligent conversation.
In the mid-70’s the Frankie Remar band broke up due to the formation of the Frank Kostka & the Boys band I was living in Lincoln at the time, as was Allan Morovec. Al had played with the Remar band for a while and knew I did some arranging. He was playing at the time with the newly formed Dean Hansen Orchestra and told Dean I did some arranging. This started a time in life of not playing full time yet staying in touch with polka music by arranging for Dean’s band. Many of my arrangements were note-for-note thievery of other bands’ arrangements front records, cassette tapes, and tapings from radio broadcasts. My wife was working evenings at the time, and a radio station in Crete had a polka show every evening at supper time. I would listen and tape songs from the broadcast primarily for the purpose of stealing arrangements. One waltz I got in this manner was the Driftwood Waltz. To this day I do not remember the name of the band that recorded it or where they were from, but I thought the song was too short. One of my few attempts at musical creativity was to add the 2 key changes at the end of the song Dean’s band recorded this arrangement, and now every band that plays that waltz, even as far away as Texas, play it with my 2 key changes at the end.
I don’t remember the year, but I think it was right after Pete Janak died that I got a call from Jim Bochnicek to play with his band. Jim & I had played together for a while on the Remar band, and Dave Kulisek, another former Frankie Remar musician, was also on Jim’s band at the time. I had been arranging and subbing occasionally with a few bands, and was ready to start playing steady again. However, having been home more Sat nights than not, I asked Jim how much he played and if there was a lot of traveling involved. He reassured me that it was not that much. That first year I think the band travelled to Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, and in a stretch of about 10 days went to Saskatchewan, Canada and a tour of Texas!
Playing on Jim’s band allowed me an opportunity to play all the arrangments I had been doing for other musicians, so I started bringing 2-4 new arrangements a job for a while. It also gave me an opportunity to include my own vocals into these arrangements. I remember the 1st time I stood up to sing on Jim’s band. It was at the Nashville Club in Council Bluffs on a Sun afternoon. I remember the look on all those kids’ faces when they realized that they didn’t have to listen to Bochnicek sing anymore! In about 5 years I probably added about 70-80 polkas & waltzes to Jim’s book, probably doubling it in size.
In 1987 Rudy Dworak called to ask me to play with the Omaha Czech Brass Band. I had known Rudy from the Frankie Remar band also. I started playing 3rd clarinet for the 1st concert, but Rudy asked me to sing once the band was selected for the Czechoslovakia tour. The tour was one of the highlights of my musical career, especially seeing Czechoslovakia, meeting and having fun with the people, and driving through the town where my Grandmother was born (about which she had told me so much).
After the tour Rudy decided to form his own band with a number of musicians that had played in the brass band. Rudy was aware of his poor public image and tried to talk me into using my name to front the band, but I wanted no part of being a band leader. He talked Jeff Janda into using his name, and the Brown Park Orchestra was born. I left the Bochnicek band to play and sing with Jeff until the band folded about a year ago due to lack of public interest!
As the number of polka jobs has dwindled over the years, several band leaders began developing modern bands to increase their chances of playing. A few years after I quit the Jim Bochnicek Polka Band Jim decided to add a 4th sax to his modern band and called to see if I would be interested in playing bani sax/4th tenor. As polka jobs became a rarity and Jim’s modern band grew in popularity (& improved in ability), I found myself becoming more interested in big band music. Once again I started arranging and singing, expanding into a new style of music with greater musical challenges.