Showing posts with label 1950. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Boing! Boing!

I could post depressing stuff, like how Nebraska's own Pillsbury Doughmagogue, Gov. Dave Heineman, has caught a bad case of Bobby Jindalitis and is proposing doing away with the state individual and corporate income taxes in favor of the solid-rock stability and progressiveness of sales-tax revenues.

I could, but that would depress you as much as it does me.

So, I don't know about you, but I'm up for some Gerald McBoing-Boing tonight. Pass the popcorn, willya?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A life in 2/4 time

The things you find where you least expect them.

At an estate sale more than a year ago, I found a cache of old home transcription discs -- 78 RPM homemade records people used as people later would use tape recorders, and now digital recorders.

Among a family's discarded treasures were 1950-vintage recordings of Polka Time on a radio station in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- KSWI, as it was known then. The live band in the studio was Ed Svoboda and the Red Raven Orchestra, destined to become legendary, more or less, in the American polka universe.

It was an era when this neck of the woods -- or Plains, as the case may be -- had a case of polka-itis, full as it was then of folks born in the Old Country and their first-generation American offspring. Around these parts, Ed Svoboda's band was a big deal.

Founded by Svoboda in 1942, the Red Raven Orchestra would remain oom-pa-pa royalty for seven decades, and it's still a going concern today. Today, though, the band carries on without its founder.

Ed Svoboda died last week at age 99. Here's a bit of his obituary in the Omaha World-Herald:
“I’ve been amongst people all my life and if you put me in a corner someplace, you may just as well carry me out now.”

That’s what musician Edward E. Svoboda told the American Rag newspa­per in 2007, the year he retired from his day job. “He had a strong work ethic,” said his son. Musician Svoboda, 99, whose funeral will be Satur­day, formed the Red Raven Orchestra in 1942. He last played publicly with the orchestra in July, at the Corrigan Senior Center.

Svoboda died Sunday at Compassionate Memory Care in Omaha after a brief illness, said son Edward “Sonny” Svo­boda of Omaha.

The elder Svoboda led the orchestra for 70 years, eventu­ally ceding the reins to his son. Svoboda was inducted into the Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in 1974.

“He grew up in a family of 10, and his dad was very strict,” said Sonny Svoboda.

Edward E. Svoboda, the fam­ily’s youngest child, ended his formal education after the third grade at Assumption School in Omaha.


In the 1930s he bought a top­of- the-line button accordion, paying off the $300 instrument a little a time at Hospe’s Music. He began playing for pay in 1937 in South Omaha.

He led the orchestra with the accordion until a machine accident damaged his fingers enough that he had to switch to drums.

Red Raven Orchestra played at Bluffs Run Casino, Sokol Hall and annually at the Czech Festival in Wilber, Neb. The musicians were popular at pub­lic and private dances through­out the region. The group also played the polka circuit in Ne­braska, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota.

“I feel good when I see peo­ple smiling and dancing. I know they’re enjoying themselves,” Svoboda told New Horizons newspaper in 2011. “It’s been a nice journey. We’ve met a lot of nice people.”
ISN'T THAT a fine epitaph for anyone? Especially so for a musician.

Svoboda did just that for 70 years -- 70 years! And the Rolling Stones think they're hot stuff for being in the game a mere half-century.

Somehow, I doubt Keith Richards is going to hold out another two decades.

Some 62 years ago, someone in the Campagna family of south Omaha though to capture a slice of time -- and Ed Svoboda in his prime -- on a handful of fragile transcription discs, off the radio on a little station across the Missouri River. Back when polka was king, and Ed Svoboda was, too.

I wonder whether they knew they were leaving a gift to the future and preserving a slice of time from a world that no longer is.

Somewhere, it will be south O in 1950 forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

At 1560 on your dial, Radio Oom Pa Pa

You got your Germans, and you got your Czechs, and you got your Poles. In the Midwest, that means you got your polka. 

Somewhere on the radio dial every weekend, there are two beats in a measure, with a quarter note getting a beat. Except when there are three -- Oom, his brother Pa, and his other brother Pa.

Back in 1950, there was even more of it in the air . . . and over the airwaves. This part of the country was plumb polka crazy. Polka bands. Polka dances. Polka records. Polka programs.

Some people were so polka crazy, they'd record it off the air onto 10-inch, 78 rpm transcription discs with something called a Recordio. It's a radio . . . it's a record player . . . it's a disc recorder!

That's exactly what the Campagna family was doing one fine spring Sunday in south Omaha -- 11:15 in the morning, to be exact, June 11, 1950. You see, it was
Polka Time, live and direct from the palatial Strand Theater studios of KSWI, the radio voice of the Daily Nonpareil in beautiful Council Bluffs, Iowa!

Polka Time is brought to you by Modern Appliance Co., at 24th and N streets in south Omaha. Your host . . . Frank Urban. And in the studio, live music by Ed Svoboda and the Red Raven Orchestra.

Vítáme Vás!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

July 13, 1950: Ricky is 5

Today is July 13, 1950. It's a Thursday.

And you're just in time for Ricky's birthday party. C'mon in! All his little friends are already here.

Of course, you know that Ricky's actual birthday was last week, but the family was in Kansas City, so here we are. Make sure you say something for the record Mom and Dad are making.

Yeah, they've already been fooling around with the disc recorder -- something tells me not every kid's birthday-party record starts with "Les Toreadors" from
Carmen. Ricky should get a chuckle out of that in 20 or 30 years. Can you imagine? 1980.

Make sure you enunciate for the microphone, though. Janet already got fussed at for being a mushmouth, poor kid. But you should have heard Ricky singing "Jesus Loves Me." He kind of mangled the lyrics, but it was just the cutest thing ever.

OH, YES. Put a microphone in Mom's hand and she launches into her cabaret act -- "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" this time.

Let's see, Aunt Donna and Aunt Helen are already here. And . . . ummmmmmm . . . Alice, Mildred . . . all the kids . . . there goes little Bobbie and Judy. And Danny, and Mary Lou . . . Cathy, Stevie, Diana, Jenny, Jackie, Baby . . . and Happy. Can't forget Happy.

Uh oh. Looks like the record is getting toward the end of the side. Get in there quick and say hello to Ricky. Maybe he'll be listening to you when he's old and retired someday --
way past the year 2000!

THAT IS, if the transcription disc doesn't get thrown in some box in the attic and end up getting sold at a garage sale or an estate sale in 60-something years. HELLO, FUTURE OMAHAN . . . WHOEVER YOU ARE! Ha ha!

Can you just picture that little 5-year-old Ricky when he's 66 or something?

I wonder what Omaha will be like then? I sure would like to live long enough to see Ricky's flying jet car
(click) jet car (click) jet car (click) jet car (click) jet car (click) jet. . . .

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Campagna blue jay

In the summer of 1950, in a kitchen somewhere in south Omaha, I know why the caged bird sang.

The Campagna blue jay was having breakfast, courtesy of his human friend, Sam. And, believe me, you haven't heard anything until you've heard a hungry blue jay. 

I know all this because Sam's son, Anthony, was recording it all, cutting a slice of life from a different America -- a different Omaha -- into the acetate blank locked onto the spinning turntable of a home disc recorder.

So, who were Anthony and Sam Campagna . . . and why did Sam have a blue jay in his kitchen?

I don't know.

Neither do I know why a couple albums of Campagna-family home recordings were there for me to find at an Omaha estate sale last year. I guess it's the same reason I saw an unwanted album of family photos -- some dating to World War I -- at another estate sale on Sunday.

I DO know this -- there's the story of America in that recording.

You can hear it in Sam's Italian-immigrant accent. You can hear it in Anthony's unadorned, typically unaccented Midwestern accent.

You can hear the story of the American Dream on that 61-year-old recording, because la famiglia Campagna had enough disposable income to buy itself a fancy disc recorder. Not everybody did -- such things were not cheap in mid-20th-century dollars.

You can hear that there still was an American Dream back then.

MOST OF ALL, you hear an old man, a son and a moment of levity sent via acetate disc far into the future. Oh, yeah . . . you hear a hungry, squawking blue jay, too.