When I first started paying close attention to polka, around 1978, not only did I know very little about it, I did not think of it as dance music. I knew that’s how most people perceived it, but I heard it differently. In the beginning, to me, it was more like trance music. It took me away, like Calgon was supposed to. It was passive, physically: something to hear with your eyes closed. And this is still my reaction upon hearing a polka for the first time. Trance, not dance. I never really cared how someone got to the music, but I always want the audience to listen first and then start gyrating or hopping after the sound has wormed its way into their heads. Whatever, from my point-of-view, polka music was exotic and sorta mysterious, because it was so NOT mainstream and because it had attachments to faraway places, AND the emphasis on the upbeat turned me on. One of the great practitioners of the style, which first got my ear, was a Swedish accordionist, named Andrew Walter. His interpretations of traditional Scandinavian polkas and waltzes were immaculately executed and all the songs on his albums were little masterpieces, full of intriguing, but simple, melodies and interesting harmonic structures (chord changes). It was wonderful music to relax by.
I became totally sold on Andrew and his contemporaries from the various Scandinavian countries. One of the first polkas Brave Combo ever played was Andrew’s “Herrgard’s Polka” and we still play it regularly in 2022, often opening the show with it. In fact, when we were invited to tour Sweden and Finland, it was mainly because a famous folk magazine, LIRA, heard about this oddball band from Texas who covered Andrew Walter recordings and ran a huge article about us. It turned out Andrew was a national treasure over there. We didn’t know that bit of information, we just liked to rock his polkas because they were so clean and precise. As I learned more and more about more and more polka musicians and styles, it was exciting and rewarding on many levels, but was always about the music first. I say it constantly. “Music, for music’s sake!”
This does not mean that I don’t fully and whole-heartedly appreciate the forever surprising physical reactions people have to the sounds we make. I am overwhelmingly grateful that Brave Combo has been able to evolve the way it has and that we are solidly viewed as a wild dance band. But it’s just not necessarily how I see/hear it. By the way, I am also thankful that we can evolve any damn way we want, based on musical whims. Polka will forever be the core sound and message, but it was just the beginning of an unencumbered journey of joyful discovery which is still happening at full-steam. There’s just too much to hear and do. I’m supposed to be wrapping up work on three previously unreleased Tiny Tim/Brave Combo tracks (first recorded 25 years ago) about now, to be ready for Christmas-time release. Haven’t even started yet.
Plus, now I’m so hung up on cranking out lo-fi music videos, there’s barely enough time to work on my cat circus. They (the cats) are all pretty good at the high wire trapeze stuff (on their terms, of course), but we have a lot of work to do on the synchronized dance routines. Plus, Twitchie and Dreamy literally hate each other. Screaming, nostrils flared, bugged eyes, backward ears, claws out, teeth exposed. That kind of hate. We think they’re sisters
Back to my original topic, I’ve always been fascinated by background music and its often misunderstood relative, Muzak. I once tried to figure out a way to play live background music through the sound system at a grocery store. I still want to do that. Who wouldn’t? You know, to affect people, with music, but subliminally rather than overtly. Muzak, specifically, is more active, than passive. It’s actually a company that custom designs office music to get the most productivity out of the workers through the application of various musical elements. They’ve been around a long time and what they make is not the same as what people call elevator music; true background music, which only exists to fill a space or mildly enhance a situation.
Speaking of enhancing (I hope) situations, Brave Combo is performing at a bunch of big ol’ fabulous gigs between now and mid-November. Denton’s massive Arts and Jazz Festival, The State Fair of Texas, Texarkana’s (my hometown) first Oktoberfest, the ever-expanding McKinney Oktoberfest (and myriad other fabulous Oktoberfests), Blanco’s hippie-cool Marigold Fest, Austin’s appropriately weird POLKAPOCALYPSE and lots more! Most of our musical events are still outdoor safe and each will be special and unique, of course. Check our itinerary right now, pick one or two shows and make your plans! That’s an order!
Thanks for wasting your time reading this. I know you have options and could have wasted your time reading something else. Here are a couple of those lo-fi videos I mentioned earlier, to send you on your way.