sexta-feira, 2 de dezembro de 2011

Lawrence Welk & Myron Floren - 24 Greatest Polkas

Record One
  1. Pennsylvania Polka
  2. Hoop De Do
  3. It's A Small World
  4. Julida Polka
  5. Tinker Polka
  6. Little Brown Jug / Skip To My Lou / Polly Wolly Doodle Medley
  7. Beer Barrel Polka
  8. The Happy Wanderer
  9. Clarinet Polka
  10. The Kit Kat Polka
  11. Emilia Polka
  12. Tavern In The Town / Hot Time In The Old Town Medley
Record Two
  1. Jenny Lind Polka
  2. Helena Polka
  3. Strip Polka
  4. Champagne Polka
  5. Muziky Muziky
  6. Baruska
  7. Just Because
  8. Friendly Tavern Polka
  9. Tic Toc Polka
  10. Double Eagle Polka
  11. Chihuahua Polka
  12. Achtung Los
24 Great Polkas

Lawrence Welk, and his accordionist, Myron Floren are as famous for Polka Music as any musicians in the United States today.

Via his nationally syndicated Television show and his network show which preceeded it for 16 years, Lawrence Welk has exposed an average of 40 million Americans a week to the Welk brand of wholesome entertainment. The Polka in particular has played an important part in these shows.

(from the original liner notes)

Produced by George Cates, Myron Floren, Lawrence Welk & Randy Wood;
Arrangements by George Cates, Myron Floren, Curt Ramsey, Joe Rizzo & Frank Scott;
Recorded at Annex Studios, Los Angeles

It may or may not be true that Lawrence Welk is the most popular easy listening artist of all time, but it's difficult to think of anyone who is more prominently associated with the genre. Welk's long-running TV variety show was a huge success in its time, and remains an enduring favorite in reruns. And while Welk recorded prolifically, his true musical legacy was built through the doggedly innocuous, wholesome aesthetic of his show. He was an unlikely television star -- his thick German accent and on-camera stiffness would have been crippling liabilities for many other hosts. Yet Welk was beloved in spite of -- or, perhaps, because of -- those limitations, mainly because he knew his audience and paid close attention to what it wanted. In the process, he created a stable of familiar performers whose regular appearances were eagerly anticipated by his viewers. Demanding and particular, Welk put them through rigorous rehearsals, and aggressively enforced the inoffensive, nonthreatening tone that made the show so palatable for viewers of all ages. For people who considered themselves remotely hip, that tone made Welk's name synonymous with sanitized entertainment, and an easy target for derision. He and his acts were often dismissed as hopelessly square, by turns fluffy or sentimental, and reflecting an idealized purity that didn't really exist anywhere. He also drew criticism for the extreme scarcity of minority performers on the show, seemingly another symptom of its kowtowing to white-bread Middle America. Yet that essential conservatism helped give The Lawrence Welk Show an amazingly lasting appeal; after it lost its network slot, it spent more than a decade in syndication with greater success than ever, and found new life when its reruns became the chief source of revenue for many public television stations across the country.

Welk was born on March 11, 1903, in the small, heavily German town of Strasburg, ND. His parents had fled the unrest in Alsace-Lorraine, the disputed border region between Germany and France, and settled on a small farm on the outskirts of town. One of eight children, Welk dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work on the farm, and spoke almost nothing but German up until his teen years. He learned to play polka music on his father's accordion, and at age 13, he began performing professionally at local dances and social events. Four years later, he convinced his father to buy him his own accordion; in exchange, he promised to work on the farm until he was 21, and to give all his musical earnings to the family up to that point.

Upon turning 21, Welk took up music full-time, playing in various polka and vaudeville-style bands around the area. He eventually formed his own quartet, the Lawrence Welk Novelty Orchestra, and in 1927 decided to head south to New Orleans in search of work. On the way, the group stopped in Yankton, SD, and was offered a one-week deal to perform on local radio; they were such a success that they were signed to a permanent contract. Welk's band stayed headquartered in Yankton for the next ten years, playing both locally and all over the Midwest; they went through several name changes, including the Hotsy Totsy Boys, the Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra, and the Biggest Little Band in America.

In 1937, Welk moved the group to Omaha, and it soon grew into a ten-piece outfit, playing swinging dance music in the so-called "sweet band" style. A 1938 gig at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh prompted one fan to compare Welk's light, bubbly music to champagne, and Welk adopted the tag from then on, describing his sound as "champagne music." In 1940, at the height of the big-band era, Welk secured a booking for his group at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago; it proved such a success that Welk moved his family to Chicago and wound up with a ten-year residency there. The waning popularity of big bands subsequently forced Welk to go back on tour to make ends meet. In 1951, he made a successful appearance on a late-night TV show in Los Angeles. The idea of working in television captured his imagination, and led him to move to L.A. the following year.

The Lawrence Welk Show made its national debut in 1955 as a midseason replacement on ABC. Over the next few years, it amassed enough of a following to become one of the network's most popular shows, making catch phrases out of Welk's oft-repeated "wunnerful, wunnerful" and "ah-one and-a two." Its trademark visual style was built around low-budget cardboard props, bright pastel colors, and bubble-blowing machines. Welk played the roles of host and bandleader, populating his play list with pleasant arrangements of well-established standards and pop hits. The emphasis was always on songs his audience would already recognize, though he and musical director George Cates did showcase comic novelty songs and the polka music Welk had grown up with as well. Welk built up a solid base of recurring featured performers, the best known of which included accordionist/assistant conductor Myron Floren, ragtime pianist Jo Ann Castle, singing group the Lennon Sisters, Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain, Irish-style singer Joe Feeney, tap dancer Arthur Duncan (the show's lone African-American regular), dancer and former Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess (who went through a succession of female dance partners), and a featured female singer dubbed the Champagne Lady.

Welk established his reputation as a hard-nosed disciplinarian early on. He never allowed comedians to appear on the show, for fear of an off-color joke slipping through, and he refused alcohol and cigarette products as sponsors. In 1959, he fired the first Champagne Lady, Alice Lon, for displaying too much leg during a telecast. Irate viewers wrote in to protest the firing, and Welk tried to hire her back, but she would have none of it; her replacement was Norma Zimmer, who remained with the show for quite some time. Burgess' female dance partners were subject to the same kinds of whims, and Fountain -- arguably the most talented regular -- reportedly left over what Welk felt was an inappropriately jazzed-up Christmas song. More problematic for some modern-day viewers might be the show's watered-down handling of ethnicity; while not really offensive for its time, some of the ethnic theme shows would be considered embarrassing by today's standards, and dancer Duncan's mannerisms came in for criticism as the civil rights era dawned.

Meanwhile, Welk had been managing a productive career as a recording artist. He had released records in his early days, but naturally he hit a whole new plateau once he had the power of television behind him. Between 1956 and 1963, 19 of Welk's LPs reached the Top 20, and ten of those made the Top Ten. Welk achieved his greatest popularity on record with the Dot label during the early '60s, spearheaded by the smash instrumental hit "Calcutta," which became his only number one -- and, for that matter, Top Ten -- single in 1961. The accompanying LP of the same name also reached number one, and five more albums -- Last Date, Yellow Bird, Moon River, Young World, and Baby Elephant Walk and Theme From the Brothers Grimm -- climbed into the Top Ten over the next two years. Although Welk never equaled that run of success, he continued to chart albums on a regular basis up through 1973.

In 1971, ABC canceled The Lawrence Welk Show, feeling that its target audience was growing too old to appeal to advertisers. Welk quickly secured a syndication deal that placed his show on over 200 stations around the country, and kept right on producing it up through 1982. As the '70s wore on, many of the old performers retired or moved on, to be replaced by similar acts that essentially followed the show's long-established blueprint. But even if there were fewer individual standouts, the show still filled an audience niche that otherwise went largely ignored. Following his retirement in 1982, Welk settled in Santa Monica, CA, and soon established a combination resort/retirement community, the Lawrence Welk Country Club Village, in Escondido. He also acquired a vast music publishing catalog, as well as other real estate holdings.

Starting in 1987, some public television stations began airing reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show, to the delight of an elderly viewing base. As the '90s wore on, public TV came to rely more and more on The Lawrence Welk Show as a staple moneymaker during pledge drives, thus ensuring its continued availability and popularity well after Welk's passing: he died of pneumonia on May 17, 1992. The band he once led continued to perform at the Champagne Music Theater in Branson, MO. 

(by Steve Huey from

Most famous as a regular performer and assistant conductor on The Lawrence Welk Show, Myron Floren was also one of polka's finest accordion players. Floren was born of Norwegian parentage on November 5, 1919, in Roslyn, SD; although some sources list nearby Webster instead, Floren's family actually lived on a farm in between the two towns, and Roslyn claims him as its own. Floren first heard the accordion at a neighbor's house party when he was seven years old, and quickly talked his father into buying him one of his own. He took several piano lessons, during which he learned to read music, but as an accordion player, he was otherwise essentially self-taught.

Floren made his professional debut at the Day County Fair when he was only eight. He later went on to study music at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, where he earned extra money by giving accordion lessons (he would eventually marry one of his students, Berdyne). In 1939, Floren got his own radio show on the local station KSOO, playing mostly polkas and Scandinavian-style waltzes. He attempted to enlist in the Air Force during World War II, but was turned down because of complications from a near-fatal bout with rheumatic fever in his early teens; instead, he joined the USO and entertained troops near the European front. In 1946, he and his wife moved to St. Louis, where he performed regularly on local radio with a country band called the Buckeye Four; he also made his television debut locally in 1948.

In 1950, Floren and his wife attended a performance by Lawrence Welk, whom Floren had admired since Welk's days on South Dakota radio. Welk had also heard of Floren, and invited him on-stage to do a number. Floren launched into a version of "Lady of Spain" that drew a loud ovation from the crowd, and Welk offered him a job with his band. Floren went on tour for the next year, until Welk settled the band into a regular local television spot in Southern California. The Lawrence Welk Show was picked up nationally by ABC in 1955, and Floren assumed a highly prominent role second only to the host himself. Floren and Welk were both accordion players who shared a taste for polka, and Floren was featured on a polka number virtually every week; plus, he served as the Welk band's manager and as an assistant conductor, directing the band when Welk himself picked up his instrument. When ABC canceled the series in 1971, Welk secured a syndication deal that kept the show on over 200 stations until 1982, and Floren stayed for the duration of its run.

In the meantime, Floren released a number of polka and waltz albums on the Welk Music Group-run Ranwood Records label, including a popular collaboration with Welk on World's Greatest Polkas. After the Welk show went off the air, Floren expanded his touring commitments, playing with big bands around the country and making regular appearances at festivals and ethnic events. He also performed frequently with the Jimmy Sturr Band. In 1998, Floren suffered a small stroke; although he recovered completely, his treatment revealed the presence of colon cancer, for which he underwent surgery. He was able to return to the road for a time, but further health problems began to affect his ability to maintain such a busy schedule. 

(by Steve Huey from

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