WHAT'S THAT SOUND IN THE DISTANCE? IT SOUNDS LIKE KICK-ASS ROCK MUSIC. BUT WAIT A MINUTE, THOSE ARE ACCORDIONS THEY'RE PLAYING, SO IT CAN'T BE. OR CAN IT? THE BAND THAT YOU HEAR PUMPING SONGS WITH TITLES LIKE "HAMSTERMAN", "CLOWNHEAD" AND "FIRST BRATWURST OF SUMMER" IS THE LEGENDARY THOSE DARN ACCORDIONS. BASED OUT OF SAN FRANCISCO, TDA HAVE BEEN TURNING IT UP TO 11 FOR OVER TEN YEARS WITH THEIR UNIQUE STYLE OF MUSIC AND PERFORMANCE. BETHANY SHADY HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SIT DOWN AND ENJOY A CUP OF JOE WITH THE BAND'S LEAD SINGER, PAUL ROGERS, TO GET THE SKINNY ON HOW THIS ONE-OF-A-KIND GROUP CAME TOGETHER TO CREATE THEIR EXTRAORDINARY SOUND.
bethany: When and how did Those Darn Accordions start?
Paul: When we first started we were a big, novelty 13 piece band. There was a woman named Big Lou who was one of our members a long time ago. She had a gig at the Paradise Lounge in the city and, as a fluke, said, “I’m going to call up everybody I know with an accordion and we’ll all meet down there and play Beatles songs and polkas.” What grew out of that one gig was one of the other members decided that he could get a lot of press by creating these musical raids. We would go around to restaurants, barge in and start playing. This is all before I was even in the band. The bass player of the band that I was in at the time was doing these raids with the group. He said, “You oughta come along with us some night. It’s really fun.” So I did. And pretty soon the restaurant owners started asking, “How much for you to come back next week?” Then Apple computers called up and wanted us to barge in on one of their seminars. That’s when we started getting work.
b: And there were 13 people at this point?
P: Yeah, sometimes it would even get up to 18. It was crazy, though. It didn’t sound good at all. And then we started doing club gigs. Everybody would have sheet music on music stands and the music would keep falling off. It just was not a band. We started to travel a bit. We went to Austin, Texas, then got a gig at Summerfest in Milwaukee and the band got a little smaller; maybe down to 11. At that point we went to Italy for what we thought was going to be a music festival, but it turned out to be a serious music competition. Serious accordion bands from all over the world were there. We got to the hotel and were ready to party and the other bands were locking themselves in their rooms, concentrating on the music. The competition was held in a church. We got up on stage and started doing “Stairway to Heaven” and I, unfortunately, took the solo and I jumped up onto some sort of prayer, kneeling thing. Immediately we were penalized. It was ridiculous. We were in the pop category of the competition, and there was only one other group in it with us. We finished in fourth place out of only two bands.
b: How is that possible? (laughing)
P: Well, they didn’t award first or second to either of us, so the other band got third place and we got fourth. But we still got a trophy. The good thing that came out of it was, as we were walking out of the hall a German guy came up and said, “I didn’t get to see you play, but you look fabulous. Would you like to come to Lithuania?” Of course we went.
b: What year was that?
P: That was in 1992. After the trip there was a band meeting held and somebody decided to make me the leader of the band because nobody else wanted to do it.
b: So do you feel you’ve gotten to the point where you’re a solid band now?
P: Yeah, I think we are. That’s why I had so much fun in Milwaukee this year, because we finally have the band that we’ve wanted for a long time. Five people are manageable and can actually go out on the road and make some money and survive. When we were traveling around with 13 accordion players, it just didn’t work.
b: As a kid, were you in any bands?
P: I come from a background of bands. Up until I joined Those Darn Accordions, I played keyboards. I thought I was going to be the next Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman kind of guy. When I joined Accordions we decided to get rid of the sheet music and be a band. We lost four or five people immediately after we decided that. So then it was down to about seven or eight people.
b: The band used to include an 84-year-old member named Clyde Forsman. Why doesn’t he tour with the band anymore?
P: Well, there’s no replacing Clyde, but he can’t really travel anymore. Some of us in the band went to see him after we got back from Milwaukee this summer and we gave him a notebook that we had fans sign. We really miss him, but we need to go in another direction right now. If we’re living and dying by having Clyde sing two or three songs, then I’m in the wrong band.
b: Did Clyde get most of the babes out on the road?
P: One of the first times we did a radio show in Cincinnati, we pulled into a parking lot and a group of women came out. They saw Clyde, and threw their panties at the car. He used to have women come up and say stuff like, “I want to have your children.” So I guess he did turn some of the ladies on. He always had women around him after the gigs. I don’t get it though, because they aren’t hanging around me. I’m usually down at the end of the bar by myself, talking to some geek about “Hamsterman”. It’s very sad.
b: Do you find a major difference in fans in a place like Milwaukee, where polka and accordion music is more accepted, as opposed to out on the West coast?
P: I don’t even really know who our fans are. When we play out in Davis, California or Eugene and Portland, Oregon we get a lot of people out to see us. Some of them are polka fans, but I think that most of them just tend to share the same twisted vision of music that we do. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it’s definitely not a sound you hear on the radio.
b: What’s your favorite cereal?
P: I used to be really into Banana Nut Crunch and Cranberry Almond, but Wheat Chex is my fave now. In college, I loved Wheaties.
b: What type of a workout do you have to do in order to be able to pump an accordion for a two-hour set?
P: The workout you get just by playing it. If you play all summer long, you really get built up. But one bad thing about it is we all have tendonitis in our left arms. One year my whole arm was just numb and I had to gut out the entire left side of my accordion. Taking that amount of weight out made all the difference. But it’s still a good 40 pounds though.
b: If Gumby and Pokey stopped beings friends and got into a fight, who would win?
P: I think Pokey would, because I’ve always thought that Gumby was very clueless and naive. The one with the brains was always Pokey. So I’d have to go with Pokey, just because I think he’s got more street-smarts. What is he? A pony?
P: That’s gotta be tough! A pony, in a Gumby kind of world.
b: Do you hold any type of animosity against guitar bands since you are in an all accordion band?
P: Within the band there are some people who actually want to add a guitar. Patty really wants to try it. With an accordion you’re never going to get that crunch of a guitar’s power chords. We’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’ll ever have the power that a guitar can deliver. But other than that, we’re just like every other band.
b: In your opinion, do dogs have lips?
P: I can actually talk about that a little bit because we just got a dog named Oscar. The dog sleeps in my bed and I’ll wake up in the morning and there’s Oscar’s face right in front of mine. I wouldn’t say that they’re lips so much; just sort of the end of the mouth. I would have to say no, dogs don’t have lips.
VISIT THOSE DARN ACCORDIONS AT THOSEDARNACCORDIONS.COM