By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"People said, 'Change the name,' and I said, 'I ain't running from shit,'" Van Winkle says. "Everybody knows who I am. I am Vanilla Ice. And I am Robbie Van Winkle, I've got a family, and I smoke a little dope every once in a while. It's nothing fancy. I put my heart and soul into this, and I take it day by day. I don't want to expect too much, because I know what happens. I am on medication for depression, so I take it day by day. Whatever happens, happens."
Polka your eyes out
Carl Finch has been making music for squares for more than two decades now. Nobody, save for a few of the revered veterans of foreign-music wars, has done more to keep polka on life support than Brave Combo's founder, who has been playing this stuff for so long, he's seen it go from forgotten traditional music to post-modern kitsch to Drew Carey Show hip. Twenty years ago, Finch and the band called their sound "nuclear polka," turned Jim Morrison into Frankie Yankovic, and made it cool to be so, well, not. Now, he's the respected elder, so much so that Time-Life has signed Finch on to assemble its forthcoming double-disc polka retrospective. It will be "the ultimate polka collection," Finch promises. The mind reels (but in a good way).
Brave Combo is also featured on the just-released Here Come the Polka Kings Volume 1, released on the Our Heritage label out of Cleveland; also featured are such revered masters as Yankovic (who died last week at the age of 83), Kinky Friedman (performing "Who Stole the Keeshka" with Frankie Y.), Eddie Blazoncyk, the Fred Kuhar Orchestra, and 25 other acts you've never heard of, you disrespectful kids. The Combo's track, "Flying Saucer," is an outtake from the band's nice-price Polka Party, a live disc Rounder Records released in April. "It really does feel like, for the first time, there is this sense of: We need to make people aware of this great music," Finch says of polka. To that extent, he and Brave Combo are performing at a "polka awareness" party on October 23 at the Czech Club on Military Parkway. "It's a where's-polka-at, the state-of-polka thing. With swing music being so hot these days, we're encouraged, because the whole idea of couple-dancing has been reintroduced," he says. "Polka still doesn't have the across-the-board hip thing that swing and rockabilly do, but it will get there."
In the damn-that's-odd category, Our Heritage is a subsidiary of Steve Popovich's Cleveland International--the very same production company-label that signed Dallas native and Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Marvin "Meat Loaf" Aday and released his, um, immortal Bat Out of Hell way back in the day (not to mention Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks"). Popovich, who worked A&R for Epic and myriad other labels back when such things mattered, restarted Cleveland International a few years ago and has since released 21 albums, five of which are polka discs. (Yankovic's Songs of the Polka King, Volume 1, features a monster duet with Drew Carey, "Too Fat Polka.")
"I first saw Brave Combo in Nashville in the 1980s, and I've been a fan of theirs for years," Popovich says of his involvement with the band. "I had been into their music and tried to find some way to get a young generation interested in polka. Young people go to Brave Combo and love it. They feel what they do. They go, 'Hey, let's have fun.' They've been the hippest thing in polka. But, hey, Willie Nelson started in a polka band...People always say to me, 'How can you do Meat Loaf and Frankie Yankovic?' I say, 'Hey, good music is good music.'"
Never let it be said James "Big Bucks" Burnett isn't a genius; even The Mighty Thor can't deny his greatness. Burnett's new album isn't even out yet, and already there's a, well, tribute band honoring his work. When Burnett's group, The Volares, debuts its new album The Night We Taught Ourselves to Sing from 8 to 10 p.m. October 21 (this Wednesday--hurry!) at Club Dada, also on the bill will be The Aspens. They are, as Bucks refers to them, "the world's first nearly all-girl Volares tribute act." The Volares also will perform, in case you get a hankering for the real thing--and you should. The record's rather wonderful, just what you'd expect from a Jimmy Page buddy who spent too much time sucking in the '70s with all them eight-tracks...
Speaking of treats, here's your chance to purchase Reed Easterwood's much-beloved (well, around here, anyway) solo debut Absolute Blue--which, till now, has been available only to his pals. Easterwood will be selling CDs and cassettes of the disc on October 23 at the Gypsy Tea Room, when he and his once-and-future band Junky Southern headline an all-Reed bill. Also performing that night will be The Poor Devils, featuring Easterwood and Chad and Reggie Rueffer (ex of Spot) and Scott Johnson, and Meredith Miller's band (featuring Easterwood and Bryan Wakeland--and they, too, will be selling tapes of their most recent work)...