I devoured the accordion! There was a lust in me that just couldn’t be satisfied. The Palmer-Hughes Accordion method was my constant companion.
At some point in 1962 or ’63 I hit the high point of my young life when my parents took me to the Galesburg High School auditorium to see the one and only Myron Floren from the Lawrence Welk Show perform in a one man show! I was mesmerized by all that talent up on stage!
One thing about being that young, time gets away from you. I have no idea how long I took music lessons, but it was somewhere between 3 and 4 years in Illinois. The only reason it got interrupted was due to my family’s move to Colorado in 1964. Shortly after arriving, I got hooked up with an accordion teacher at one of the local music studios. However, by this time in 1964, the Beatles had come full force into the music scene. The accordion wasn’t nearly as cool as it had been.
While I still loved playing it, I was a bit embarrassed to let people know I played it. Kind of like riding a mo-ped. It was a lot of fun until someone saw you with one. The only saving grace was the fact that Gary Lewis and the Playboys had an accordion player. It was a Cordovox, which wasn’t really an accordion. It was more like a Wurlitzer organ shoved into the innards of an accordion shell. It looked the part, but my poor old two shift squeezebox just didn’t sound the same. So I became a closet accordionist, secretly buying old Dick Contino records at the store, but making sure that if I walked out, there was a Beatles or a Stones album over the top. I still played, took lessons and practiced like crazy, but any thoughts of ever becoming a famous accordion player evaporated like water drops on a pancake grill. About the same time, my local accordion teacher left town and there was no one around to take her place. So the formal lessons stopped. But I kept buying accordion sheet music and learning individual tunes and playing.
Then one day, I happened upon a guitar fake book belonging to a friend of mine. I had spent so much time reading accordion specific music that I didn’t realize that the fake books had guitar chords above the melody line. Suddenly, I was freed from polkas and marches and could actually play modern music! This discovery was the real gateway to everything else I ever did in music.
The left hand keyboard on a 120 bass accordion (the most common type seen in the U.S.) is made up of 6 columns of 20 keys (buttons). The first two columns are single bass notes as you move from the inside out. The remaining 4 columns are chords, major, minor, 7th and diminished. So between the columns of single bass notes and the corresponding chords, it’s almost trivial for an accordion player who knows the left hand to follow guitar chorded sheet music. But I digress…
By this time, the British Invasion was fully underway and I was totally absorbed in the music. The accordion started drifting further from the limelight. I still loved playing it. But I started cringing every time my parents would suggest that I get it out and play for a visiting family member or a friend. It was a very difficult time in my life, loving the instrument, and loving both playing and listening to music, but loathing the fact that it was so uncool.
Then one day my parent’s got a call from a gentleman who had one of those sales pitches a lot of aggressive music studios had. They made it sound like they were with the public school and doing music education, but of course, they weren’t. My 10 year old younger brother was the target this time. The gentleman’s name was Mr. Clark and he came out to visit one evening and strapped my younger brother into a child’s 12 bass accordion and proceeded to discover a budding child prodigy. Well, once again my parents fell for it and signed him up. Mr. Clark left the little 12 bass accordion with us and my brother’s saturday mornings would never be the same again.
After about 6 weeks of lessons, my family was summoned to meet with the studio’s head, Mr. Schultz. My brother was going in for his review. Of course, he did a masterful job at playing the one or two songs he had been drilled on for six weeks. The 12 bass accordion was just not going to be adequate for him to continue, though, so Mr. Schultz showed him and my parents a brand new 120 bass petite accordion that was just perfect for him! Well, my folks figured he could just as easily get by playing the old accordion I had been playing for all those years and didn’t need a new one, thank you. Mr. Schultz countered that my accordion was too big for my younger brother, as we had all commented on how much smaller the new box was… Never mind the fact that I had been playing the bigger one since I was 6 or 7. It really looked like Mr. Schultz wasn’t going to get this sale, when he came up with a marvelous idea. Since I had all these years in on the accordion, he could put me to work as an accordion instructor. Forget the fact that I was only 13. And if I was going to teach, surely I would need my own accordion and my younger brother would need his, as well. Well it sold my folks and suddenly we were a two accordion family.
To be continued…