AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE MATOUSEK – HALL OF FAMER, IPA DIRECTOR, POLKA DJ, BANDLEADER AND MUSICIAN
IPA INTERVIEW — SEPTEMBER 2011
by Christy Krawisz, Editor of the IPA Newsletter
Reprinted from the IPA Newsletter with the Editor’s Permission
IPA: Please tell me about your family.
Mike: I am fortunate to have been raised in a loving, musical family. My father, Al Matousek, is a well-known accordionist who still plays in a band called Joy IV. My mother, Connie, helped spread the contemporary style of polka dancing throughout the Baltimore area in the early 1970s. She was responsible for getting my sister, brother, and me involved in dancing the polka, singing in Polish, and performing on stage at very early ages. My first band was a group comprised of my siblings and cousin called The Polka Cousins. My wife, Anne Marie, used to perform with a Polish folk dance ensemble in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area. I saw her perform in the early 1980s when I played with The Brass Works and later met her while playing with The Boys. All my children have musical tendencies and can dance the polka, but none have yet to demonstrate a real passion to play an instrument in a polka band.
IPA: What age did you start playing instruments and what were they?
Mike: I first started playing accordion around the age of 12 with my dad as my teacher. Since my cousin was already progressing on accordion and my brother started playing drums, I switched to bass guitar to complete a rhythm section with them. By the age of 14, I was playing bass with The Polka Cousins and actually getting paid.
IPA: What made you decide to play Polkas?
Mike: Attending a polka dance was a regular family recreational event when I was a child. Of course, we all went to many dances where my dad would perform. When his band would rehearse in our basement, I can recall how soothing it was to fall asleep to the gentle polka beat vibrating all the way up my bedroom on the second floor of our house. I guess that’s how that 2/4 beat got into my blood. Playing polkas was just a natural, automatic endeavor for me.
IPA: What bands have/do you played in?
Mike: My first band was The Polka Cousins in 1970. I later joined a six-piece band called The Royal Cavaliers in 1973 that specialized in Happy Louie-style polka music. In 1976, I helped form The Brass Works and then in 1980, I helped form The Boys From Baltimore. I did another stint with The Brass Works in 1983 and later formed my own local group called Choice. In 1984, I helped reform The Boys and played with them until the group disbanded in 1990. Then I played a couple years with a Christian rock band called Against the Flow. After that I was back into polkas performing with my brother’s band known as The Hylites. That group later morphed into Charm City Sound, which I have led for the past 14 years. A few years ago, Lenny Gomulka, Jimmy Weber, Al Piatkowski, Mike Stapisnski, Roger Malinowski and I, put a group together to play a polka cruise. Folks responded so well to the classic material we performed, we named ourselves Full Circle and now continue to host annual polka trips and play select polka festivals and venues. I’m also thrilled to be playing with Frank Liszka, Al Puwalski, Jeff Yash, Mike Evan, and Dave Morris in today’s version of The Boys. We’ve put together some new material and the new CD was just released.
IPA: Tell me, does it feel different playing with Full Circle than any other band you have played in?
Mike: Yes. Full Circle cherishes the works of many of the bands that pioneered the Chicago polka sound. We attempt to authentically recreate that sound by emulating the dynamics, instrumentation, and arrangements of those great groups of yesteryear. Playing this type of material has been a learning experience for me and has certainly enhanced my appreciation of the diversity and roots of polka music.
IPA: Who did/do you admire musically?
Mike: I would have to say my dad. He’s a fine accordionist, but he’s also a consummate entertainer. He knows how to use the microphone to create a festive atmosphere and uplifting customer experience. I’ve always admired how he could “hold an audience in the palm of his hand.” I’ve tried to adhere to my dad’s advice of “playing for the people, not yourself.” Happy Louie and Eddie Blazonczyk Sr. also had major influences on me.
IPA: What was your most memorable moment on stage? What Year? What Town? And why?
Mike: I remember a job I played somewhere in Connecticut with The Brass Works back in 1977 or 1978. I was surprised to see how the fans came out in large numbers to support our relatively unknown band and even created their own Brass Works T-shirts. Then, after we played our first song, the audience literally roared with approval. The response was so loud I recall looking at my brother and cousin in amazement. We were actually somewhat embarrassed by the commotion. I’ll never forget that feeling or the affection demonstrated by those polka fans that day. Years later, I had some similar experiences with The Boys at major fests like USPA and Polka Fireworks. The reaction to recent Full Circle performances has been quite satisfying as well.
IPA: What was the biggest job you ever played? What band was it? How many people do you think were there?
Mike: The “biggest” job I ever played was with The Royal Cavaliers in the mid-1970s at Memorial Stadium before 54,000 people for a “Polish Day” tribute for the Baltimore Colt head coach, Ted Marchibroda. Shooting the wedding scene with The Boys in the late 1980s for Paramount’s major motion picture, “He Said, She Said” with Kevin Bacon was quite an experience, too.
IPA: How do you think we can keep the music we all love so much going for years to come?
Mike: Well, in the world of Christian music, “Praise & Worship” bands typically perform music that “feeds the flock,” while the more evangelical groups play music that speaks to believers and non-believers in a contemporary way. I see the potential for a similar methodology in polka music. I believe there is a need for polished bands to expertly perform the classic, traditional polka sounds to preserve and share this noble heritage with the established polka fan base. I think we also need excellent contemporary polka groups to be given the latitude to “push the envelope” a bit in reaching out to non-polka music lovers. The key is that both must be done well since quality music will always demand an audience. I also think it’s healthy if all polka enthusiasts develop a tolerance, if not appreciation, for all the various polka styles.
IPA: How long have you been a Director of the IPA?
Mike: I have been an IPA Director for about 20 years.
IPA: If you were asked the question: “Why should I join the IPA? What is in it for members?” How would you answer them?
Mike: First, I’d make the person aware that the IPA is the only officially chartered, non-for-profit corporation with real assets that conducts educational and charitable activities to preserve and promote polka entertainment. I’d also explain how the IPA established and maintains the Polka Music Hall of Fame and Museum. By joining the IPA, each member tangibly supports these noble efforts. Keeping the IPA viable, helps keep polka music in general viable. Anyone who cares about the future of polka music should feel some obligation to join. After all, “it’s not what the IPA can do for you, but what you can do for the IPA.”
IPA: How do you think we can get more people interested in being a member of the IPA?
Mike: Making people aware of IPA activities through all channels should help create interest in membership. Maintaining a state-of-the-art website, a well-written informative newsletter, and a well-produced radio/Internet show are all important. Publishing IPA articles in polka papers and placing IPA web banner ads on other polka websites with hyperlinks to the IPA website can help increase awareness as well. Moving the annual IPA Festival and Convention to new locations every so many years may help increase membership, too.
IPA: Mike, is there anything else you would like to add?
Mike: As a polka bandleader and musician, promoter, and Internet polka show host, I have a stake in the future viability of the polka industry. Serving as an IPA director gives me a unique platform to share my input and foster good will among all polka organizations pursuing the same goals. Polka fans deserve all of our best efforts to preserve this wholesome art form.