Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chuck Spurlock - The Pueblo Polka King

Chuck Spurlock interviewed February 2011.

Chuck Spurlock is on a quest - to keep polka music alive and well in Southern Colorado.

He is well aware of the ebb and flow that is the popularity of the genre. In 1979, he and his band were booked for 80 shows. Last year, he performed at 15 gigs.

"Things are looking up again, this year. We seem to be getting popular again," he said.

At age 77 Spurlock is literally the king of the Pueblo polka scene. The music has been a part of his life since his grandparents migrated to the area from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

"Music in our family was a tradition - dating back to my great grandfather, who was the bugler for the Kaiser in Europe," he said.

Born on Feb. 26, 1934, in an upstairs bedroom of his grandmother's house in an area called "Bojon Town," Spurlock took up the saxophone at the age of six.

"My mother hired Lou Amella who taught my younger brother Edward the accordion and I took saxophone lessons at the Phillips Music Store in Pueblo - I was also in the Phillips Crusaders Marching Band. My brother dropped the accordion lessons after a short period and my mother asked me to learn. So I took lessons from Lou Amella."

By the age of 14 he had his first paying job.

Chuck Spurlock (far right), Donald Peterlin, trumpet

"My mom's cousin owned Knaflec Tavern on Northern Avenue. My mom called him over to our home to listen to me and my friend, Donald Peterlin, who played a trumpet. He was impressed with the accordion and hired me for $5, for two hours work. I told Donald if he came with me I would split half with him. It just so happened on the first night there was a guy at the bar who offered me a dollar to play the song "Bushel and a Peck" before our two hours were up. We made $14 that night - he asked us to play the same song 13 times! No need to tell you I haven't played that song since 1947."

Spurlock attended St. Mary's Catholic School, then graduated from Central High School in 1951.

"I joined the U.S. Navy right after high school, serving in Hawaii, and then aboard the U.S.S. Rowan, in Korean waters." He was discharged in 1955, enrolling in college at Compton Junior College, in California.

Chuck Spurlock (right), with Walter Atencio

He returned back home, got married (1961), and became a family man in 1963.

The Polka Dots (1962)
Pictured: Ronald Bussey, Chuck Spurlock, Donald Bussey

"It was important to me to provide for my family. Besides working in the clerical field at CF&I, I held the Quartermaster post at a local VFW, which paid me a small sum each month - and I played music for extra income."

As word got out about Spurlock, he started to become a regular entertainer at Slovenian weddings.

In 1979, he and his six-piece band started playing oldies rock. "Chad Short was my singer, and he sounded alot like Elvis."

"We practiced twice a week above a bowling alley in Bessemer. The owner of the alley, called a friend of his in Chicago who was a booking agent. He offered my band a two year job at $5,000 per month to be the opening act for the Dean Martin Gold Diggers. Unfortunately, that amounted to $1,000 each per month or $250 a week for two years. I was a married man, with a child, and figured I could not support my wife and daughter on that kind of money. So I turned down the deal. The musicians in my band were mad and said I was holding them back. So they started their own band."

Throughout his lengthy career, Spurlock has fronted The Polka Dots, The Kadets, Cestrio's, Chuck Spurlock Variety/Polka Band, and Chuck Spurlock Variety Band.

"I'll tell you something when you go by various names like the Cestrio's [my 3 initials with trio added on the end] some people can't find you in the phone book to hire you all the smart band leader's use their full names so people can find you in the phone book. This is something I learned the hard way over the years."

Many Pueblo music veterans have included Spurlock's band on their own resumes, including Angelo Rotondo (The Teardrops, Guys and Doll), Rick Terlep and Earl Poteet (The Crew), and Joey Buffalo.

From 1979 to 1981 Spurlock enlisted the vocals of the aforementioned Chad Short along with John Dorland. "John quit with Chad, and formed their own band. John didn't rejoin the Spurlock Band until 1998 - he's been with me 13 years."

Other vocalists throughout his career included Dan Lazzarini, Richard Lopez, Robert Valdez, and Mike Cordova. Currently he performs with musicians Bob Jentzsch, Roland Brooks, Scott Epstein, Dave Yarberry, and Mike Landreth.

One of his biggest thrills came in 1992, when world-reknowed polka superstar, Frank Yankovic asked Spurlock to join him on stage.

Frank Yankovic and Chuck Spurlock

"He appeared at our local Eagles Club. When I got on stage he asked what I would like to play. I told him the song that made him famous,'Just Because Polka.' We received a nice ovation, and he asked me to play another song which we did, 'In Heaven There Is No Beer' - then another, and another. Before you know it, I was up there about 30 minutes."

While he never made any vinyl recordings, in 1998 Spurlock released the cassette, Party Tonight. He filled orders from California to Pennsylvania - and Holland. "I made 500 copies, and it took me three years to sell out of it."

Listen to "Polka Music Polka"

Spurlock continues to diversify his setlist - including 1950s rock, swing, Latin, and even country.

Chuck Spurlock Band (2010)
Left to right: Roland Brooks, Mike Landreath, Robert Jentzsch,
Dave Yarberry, Chuck Spurlock, John Dorland, Scott Epstein.

"I don't get booked for weddings - the younger generation like disc jockeys," he said. "The younger adults don't polka or waltz much anymore. I keep in contact with musician friends in the East and they tell me the same story. The younger generation like rap and Metallica, which at my age I don't want to start over."

COMING NEXT POST: Blaine Reininger

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Estamae McFarlane

Interview with J.D. and Ted MacFarlane conducted March 2011.

Growing up in Pueblo, in the 1930s, J.D. and Ted MacFarlane remembered their mother Estamae as a strong-minded woman - a woman who never let anyone, or anything, get in her way.

"The incident that best describes her was a battle with a city commissioner who lived a couple of blocks away from the 7th Avenue house where we lived," said J.D. MacFarlane. "At the time, the avenue streets nearby were unpaved, and the adjoining arterial street was torn up pending a long-delayed repaving. The dust was terrific when cars, trucks, and city buses passed by. One day she had laundered some white curtains and hung them out to dry, when the ever-present wind came up and big clouds of dust settled on the curtains. She gathered up the curtains, dust and all, and took them to the commissioner's office at city hall. After checking that he was there, she charged into his office and shook the sheets over his desk. The repaving job was done, muy pronto."

While she and her husband John (who was the general manager of Standard Brick Company, in Pueblo) made a home for their family, Estamae tended to the household, on occasion taking part-time jobs, including substitute physical education teacher, director of the Pueblo Junior Red Cross, and square and folk dance teacher.

"Both of our parents were avid square dancers and active participants in the classes and summer public park dances run by Dr. Lloyd "Pappy" Shaw, the Superintendent of Cheyenne Mountain Schools in Colorado Springs, who was a nationally known folk dance expert," said Ted MacFarlane. (Author's note: Shaw is also mentioned in an earlier feature on Fred Bergin)

After World War II, Estamae took an Arthur Murray dance instructor course and began teaching her own classes in square, folk and modern dancing. She formed a demonstration square and folk dance team at the 7th & 8th grade levels, continuing on with that demonstration team throughout high school.

"Ted and I were part of that team until athletics required my time elsewhere. From that time on, she continued teaching younger and younger children, beginning with preschool ages and rhythm training," said J.D. MacFarlane. "She developed out of these experiences a belief that every child can benefit from rhythm training leading to dance training, especially children with serious mental or physical handicaps. Then she began to teach teachers the techniques, first in Pueblo schools, both public and parochial, then in Pueblo County. From that experience she perceived a need for extending the techniques to schoolteachers beyond Pueblo. She was well aware of Dr. Shaw’s recordings and consulted with him about how to proceed."

By that time all of her three children (including J.D. and Ted's older sister, Joanne) had left home, either to attend college, or pursue their own adult lives. She decided it would be the perfect time to produce her own records.

Her first box set was Toy Shop - Rhythms for Young Folk. She followed up immediately with three other sets, Let's Have Fun Dancing - Easy Couple Dancing, Lets Have Fun Dancing - Social and Variety Dancing, and Circus Fun and Ball Bouncing.

(NOTE: the copyright on the box set shows 1952, although the actual recording year can't be officially confirmed by sources)

Original promotional mailing courtesy of
Peter Muldavin
(aka The Kiddie Rekord King)

"The music selection included some old folk songs and tunes from square and folk dancing," said Ted MacFarlane. "Many were oldies from a couple of old songbooks she had, songs from the 19th century; pop songs from Mom's childhood that her mother sang, who, being native Welsh, was probably as musical as her Welsh heritage. Some were Civil War songs."

Diving into the recording project, she enlisted the help of Margaret Smith, a Pueblo musician, who performed the instrumental parts for all but one of the songs.

"I was a trombonist from 6th grade through college," said J.D. MacFarlane. "To Mom that meant that I must play a trombone piece, thankfully short, for one of the records in one of the albums. The tune I played was from my trombone basic practice book."

To sell the set, Estamae took to the road and literally stopped at school districts along the way, signing up interested teachers. She would fulfill the orders from albums stockpiled in the family home.

"She stored the record inventory in a storeroom adjoining the garage, which was attached to the house," said J.D. MacFarlane.

On Jan. 12, 1958, on her way back to Phoenix to produce her fifth box set, she was killed in an automobile accident near EspaƱola, N.M. She was 56 years old.

As a testament to her success with the project, album orders kept pouring in - many from school districts who were probably unaware of the family's tragedy.

Original promotional mailing courtesy of
Peter Muldavin
(aka The Kiddie Rekord King)

"Our Aunt Dorothy, a retired widow living with her sister Hazel in Pueblo, agreed to continue filling orders for the existing four albums as they came in," said Ted MacFarlane.

She did so for 27 years, until she died at the age of 80, in 1985.

"Those records obviously answered a need teachers had for the product," said J.D. MacFarlane. "Mom knew what she was doing and knew what kids needed and responded to. That makes me belatedly extremely proud of her."

Joanne MacFarlane Gritz graduated from Centennial High in 1945, after which she attended the University of Colorado and Columbia School of Law. She was a lawyer for the New York Public Service Commission, the New York Waterfront Commission, clerked for United States District Judge Lawrence Walsh (S.D.N.Y.), and worked for the New York City law firm Davis Polk Wardwell. She died in 1978.

J.D. MacFarlane graduated from Centennial High in 1951, after which he attended Harvard, as well as Stanford School of Law. He went on to serve in the Colorado House of Representatives and State Senate (1965-1970). He later served as the state's Attorney General (1975-1982). He is currently retired in Denver.

Ted MacFarlane graduated from Centennial High in 1953, after which he attended Swarthmore College and the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, obtaining his M.S. At Clemson University. He spent his career as a materials engineer and plant manager for the A.P. Green Co. of Mexico, MO, a major refractory manufacturer. He is currently retired in Mexico, MO.

COMING NEXT POST: Chuck Spurlock - The Pueblo Polka King