[Thank to abnu for the heads-up!] Back when we lived together during our stay at Crazy Go Nuts
Lawrence Welk Show while watching TV. Rather than quickly flip to
another channel, we’d sit there transfixed, watching this strange
little bit of Americana fixed in amber, and I suspect one of the
reasons was the gentleman pictured below, Myron Floren:
I am the polka king! I can do anything! In the heyday of The Lawrence Welk Show, he was mobbed by fans, just like a rock star!
Myron got his big break in the late 1940’s when he and his wife
attended a Lawrence Welk performance at the Casa Loma ballroom in St.
Louis. Welk invited him onstage to perform a number, and Floren chose
Lady of Spain which wowed the crowed. Impressed with the enthusiastic
reaction and Floren’s playing, Welk invited him to join the band that
night, and in 1950, Floren started a 32-year run on Welk’s show.
Even though polka isn’t really my thing, I am an admirer of Floren’s excellent
playing technique. The man’s fingers were a blur over the piano
keyboard and chord buttons, and he played a mean version of Beer Barrel Polka
(which you might know better as “Roll Out the Barrel”, which is
actually the first line of the chorus). He was also regarded as an
excellent conductor; it’s said he did a better job conducting with his
elbows (since his hands were occupied with the accordion) than most
bandleaders did with a free hand and a baton.
Floren is probably behind one of the major reasons that the accordion
is considered an old folks’ instrument. He cemented its reputation in
his three decades of bandleading on The Lawrence Welk Show,
which got cancelled in 1982 not because of flagging ratings, but
because it was considered “too old” for advertisers. In spite of this,
I owe Mr. Floren a debt of gratitude, for without the image of the
accordion that he firmly implanted in the minds of generations of North
Americans, my own approach to the accordion — as well as those of “Weird Al” Yankovic, They Might Be Giants, Tom Waits or The Arcade Fire — wouldn’t be as special. Without him, we’d be players of yet another ordinary instrument, such as drums, bass and guitar.
He is survived by his wife, five daughters and seven grandchildren. May
the bellow action be smooth and the reeds be true whereever you are,