AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN FURMANIAK, SR. – PAST BANDLEADER, PAST IPA DIRECTOR, MUSICIAN/FAMOUS SIDE MAN AND FATHER OF INTERVIEWER CHRISTY FURMANIAK KRAWISZ
IPA INTERVIEW — MARCH 2012
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.
John: I am the oldest Son of Ted and Laverne Furmaniak. I have one brother and three sisters. My wife is Cheryl, Daughter Christy Krawisz married to famed accordion player John Krawisz of Freeze Dried, their two Daughters Katie and Hayley. My son John, Jr., his wife Dorine , their three daughters, Sydney, Morgan, and Avery. My son Jason (JJ) Furmaniak (who played professional baseball and AAA baseball) wife Jen, and son Jaylen.
IPA: What age did you start playing instruments and what were they?
John: I started playing the accordion at age 7. I took lessons at Mort Herald School of Music, where I actually had an Italian teacher and learned songs by Charlie Magnati who was a favorite of my teacher. The Chicago Tribune used to have accordion concerts and I actually won one at age 11 playing the song “Flight of the Bumble Bee (my fingers moved a lot faster back then.) I taught myself piano in mid ’80s. I recorded a couple CDs with Stas Bulanda on piano.
IPA: What made you decide to play Polkas?
John: Actually when the band the Dial-A-Tones started in the mid to late ‘60s before I went in the army my dad and the dad of our drummer Frank Alberts (my wives brother) helped us learn pronunciations of Polkas. I used to listen to all the polka shows on Sundays and try to play along when I was at my Busia’s house. My early favorites were Eddie B, Marion Lush and Li’l Wally.
IPA: What bands have you played in?
John: I started the band the Dial-A-Tones. I was the original member and picked the name for Windy City Brass. I have performed with, Marion Lush, Jimmy Mieszala & Music Explosion, Stas Bulanda & the Average Polka Band (picked that name also), Stas Bulanda & Dyno Chicago (yeah picked that name also.) I started the band One More Tyme. I also played with Stas Bulanda and Old School Review until the passing of Stas. I am currently playing accordion with Tony Blazonczyk & New Phaze.
IPA: Who did/do you admire musically?
John: I really admired Marion Lush and had the privilege to perform with him for 6 years in the early ‘80s ―The White Eagle. I also loved Eddie Blazonczyk and wished I could have performed with him. I’m kinda living that dream by performing with his son Tony and really enjoying playing with the band.
IPA: What was your most memorable moment on stage? What year? What town? And why?
John: After performing for over 40 years, there are so many memorable moments. My first job with Marion Lush and my last job with Marion Lush (1981 and 1986). My first job with Marion was somewhere in Michigan and my knees were knocking most of the job. My last job with Marion was at Polonia Banquets in Chicago. Watching the crowds react when we played our last few numbers and seeing people (grown men included) with tears in their eyes when Marion sang “Dobre Noc.” Also, although it wasn’t a stage performance, getting nominated for the Grammy was awesome in 1989.
IPA: What was the biggest job you ever played? How many people do you think were there?
John: Polka Motion by the Ocean, Ocean City, Maryland, Friday night, 1982-1985. On Friday is was the big three the big three Eddie B, Marion Lush and Happy Louie. There were over 5,000 people 10-20 deep in front of the stage. The last set had all three guys up front singing and all three bands in the background. Wonderful experience!
IPA: Your best friend, Stas Bulanda, passed away over two years ago. Tell me about your relationship with him.
John: We did everything together for over 30 years, promoting, practicing, coming up with song ideas, traveled the road together, and talked almost every day. When we played concertina and accordion together it was like magic. He could really light the place up with his smile and his wit. He was a great entertainer and I miss him dearly. I have written a song that will be on our new CD entitled “I Wish There Was a Phone in Heaven” dedicated to him. I miss him dearly.
IPA: What do you miss most about Stas?
John: I miss the fact that he made great music and wrote some great songs.
IPA: How do you think we can keep the music we all love so much going for years to come?
John: That is gonna be tough, because today’s kids are involved with so much other stuff and there are so many other venues that kids do today. Back in the day when mom and dad said, “We are going to a polka dance,” the kids went. Now the parents ask the kids, “Do you want to go?” Plus the way the economy is right now, times are tough.
IPA: If you were asked the question: “Why should I join the IPA? What is in it for members?” How would you answer them?
John: To help keep some of our Polish heritage alive … To help keep the Polka alive! It shouldn’t be “What’s in it for me?” Most dances they get a discount if they are a member … That’s why this country is the way it is now … To many “What’s in it for me” stuff.