Saturday, September 29, 2007

Squeeze Machine Secrets: 'Glass Of Beer Polka'

What would a Those Darn Accordions CD be without a polka or a song about beer? In the interest of economy, I decided to combine the two ideas and "git 'er done" at the same time. The first demo of this song was about a suds-loving carpenter who gets a call from his sister to come over and put together a doll house for his niece. There were a few decent lines, but the tune just didn’t pop enough. (Read the original lyrics.)

Lewis suggested that I remodel the tune -- to "go big" with it, making it about a couple of beer-drinking knuckleheads that are building an actual addition on a house. In a weird confluence of art and reality, my brother and I had just started building a room on the back of my house. It’s hard to tell what was driving what -- the song describing the addition, or the addition providing fodder for the tune. In the end, I think it was a little of both.

I thought it would be fun to get Drew Carey to help out on the tune, but I was having trouble getting hold of him. As the deadline for the mix loomed, I became resigned that it wasn’t going to happen. Then, out of the blue, Drew gave me a call to invite the band to L.A. to back him on a live show. It's that weird polka synchronicity that happens from time to time.

I asked Drew if he would like to join us on the tune and he immediately agreed. We went to a small studio in Burbank and sang the tune together. Drew's a real down-to-earth great guy and we had a lot of yucks doing the track. He did lots of ad-libs and we put a few at the end of the tune to give TDA fans a feel of being in the studio with us.

I'm happy to say that yesterday I put the last board on my roof and it's looks pretty darn good. And, yes, I celebrated with a frosty, foaming mug of cheer. So, what time is it? Polka (and beer) time! Enjoy!

Nice Words About Squeeze Machine

Courtesy of songs:illinois. Thanks!

P.S. You can read fan reviews of the new Those Darn Accordions CD (and add your own!) on our Squeeze Machine post.

Smoke Gets in Your Squeeze

Yet another reason smoking sucks: Secondhand smoke fouls squeezeboxes. reports that "anecdotal evidence" indicates "the interiors of accordions played regularly in smoke-filled environments are dirtied as a result of the trapping of contaminant particles circulating in the air as it filters through the instrument." Freaky. (And possibly the least often cited reason for a smoking ban.)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Squeeze and Vino: I Guess It Works

I'm getting a little fascinated by the accordion/wine convergence. First it's accordions as the backdrop for a Canadian grape-stomp competition. Now comes word that accordion music fills the air at an Oktoberfest held at Lynfred Winery in Roselle, Illinois. The Daily Herald reports that the event also features barrel races and grape-spitting and -stomping contests.

Now that's news to me. I always thought Oktoberfests -- like the Columbia County Oktoberfest we're playing tonight in Oregon -- were all about the beer.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Flogging Molly Got Its Squeeze Back

OK, I don't technically know how it happened, but Flogging Molly is recording a new record in Ireland, and the band has reunited with accordion player Matt Hensley. Reunited, and it feels so good ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who Says Accordionists Can't Be Rock Stars?

Michael Hearst of One Ring Zero, that's who. Says Hearst to an audience at the University of Dayton (as reported by indie student paper Flyer News): "I should have worn sunglasses and done the rock star thing. It just doesn’t work so well with an accordion."

Man, have I got news for him. Has he ever seen Susie Davis in action, belting out a Led Zeppelin medley? Has he ever seen Paulie "Wah Wah" Rogers rip through a screaming squeezebox solo? Probably not, actually, but still ...

P.S. Bonus points to the first person who can name the accordionlike instrument Hearst is playing in the photo that accompanies the story (without reading the story, that is, since it's identified in the piece). Looks pretty rock 'n' roll to me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sheet Music From Hell

The Listening Post headline says it all: This is indeed "sheet music from hell." Suzanne might be able to these read ridiculous charts -- with their bizarre instructions such as "untie slip knot," "like a dirigible," "release the penguins" and "continue 'swimming' motion" -- but don't ask the bass player to hack through 'em.

I know Paul has put some weird notes on TDA charts, but just right now they're slipping my mind ...

Accordion, Digital Delay and All That Jazz

I don't have a clue how to pronounce his name, but I want to hear accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen in action. The All About Jazz website describes his tweaked squeezebox music like this:
"With the aid of added microphones, digital relays and delays, he has dragged the accordion wheezing, shrieking and wailing into the new century. Taking it by its bellows, and with an acute awareness both of the prejudices the instrument brings as well as the visual appeal it can also offer, he has composed and performed in a multiplicity of styles and tastes."

All About Jazz's lengthy Q&A with Pohjonen gets into the Finnish musician's history and his experiments with various electronics to transform the sound of his button box.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fun's on Tap at Columbia County Oktoberfest

My heavens -- The Oregonian boasts a beer blog called The Beer Here, and blogger John Foyston taps the info keg on the Columbia County Oktoberfest we're playing next weekend.

It's a fun festival with plenty of sausage, beer and sauerkraut (not to mention some delicious barbecue, if past years are any indication). The Oktoberfest takes place at the Columbia County Event Complex in St. Helens, Oregon, about 30 miles north of Portland. If you're anywhere in the area, come on out!

Accordions Plus Wine Is Fine

Usually beer comes to mind when thirsty people think of accordion music. But the squeezebox's Italian heritage came into play when a pair of accordion players provided the soundtrack for a charity grape-stomp fundraiser for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.

"With a little accordion music, you can't go wrong," participant Stephanie Stasyna told the Ottawa Sun. You said it, Steph.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Squeeze Machine Secrets: 'Tandem Bike'

Inspiration for a tune can come out of nowhere, or right at you on a bike path. We had a day off in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and I was sitting at my laptop in my hotel room when I noticed Carri walking briskly across the parking lot. I thought for sure she must be headed to a store and decided to seize the moment and put in an order for a sandwich and a candy bar.

I slid open my window and asked her where she was going and she completely confounded me by replying that she was off to rent a bike. Then she asked me (demanded, actually) if I wanted to come along, claiming that as a band leader, I need to keep in shape, blah blah blah. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but before I knew it, I was pedaling down a bike path about 50 yards behind Carri, breathing dust and wondering how I could have let this happen.

The Stevens Point bike path is a loop, but at times it uses city streets, and somehow we managed to get lost. We stopped to check the map the bike-rental shop had given us, but we couldn't make any sense out of it. That's when an older couple came gliding serenely toward us on a tandem bike.

Now, I had always thought that a tandem bike is a sure recipe for divorce, but these folks looked like they were having a wonderful time. I waved them down and asked them for directions, and they came to a graceful, synchronous stop in front of us. The gentleman in front gave me directions and we exchanged a few pleasantries; then he proceeded to remount and pedal off.

Unfortunately, Carri was still engaged in deep conversation with his wife as the bike began to move away. The poor woman did her best to make a quick seating and get in step, but alas, they only made it about 5 feet before slowly careening down to the ground. I was truly shocked and fearful that they might be hurt, but they waved us off and said they were fine. The gentleman then mentioned that it was the first time they had gone down in 30 years. Carri and I both felt a little guilty about helping to break this streak, and we offered our most heartfelt apologies.

Well, sort of.

I must admit that as soon as I saw they were OK, my mind was headed on its own little tandem-bike adventure. "Tandem bike" -- it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? How could you not write a song about this? I tried not to for about 10 minutes. This happens sometimes. You know you're going to write a song about something, but you are feeling lazy and try to put it off for as long as possible. But then the lines start coming, and as soon as I start to chuckle, I know I have to do it.

As we continued our ride I would occasionally catch up with Carri and sing a few lines. She got in the spirit and threw out a few of her own, and by the time we made it back to the rental shop, this little ditty was complete. I especially like the ending, which -- oddly enough -- came first!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's TDA Polka Time!

Lots of folks have been asking how they can get all of TDA's polkas in one place. Yielding to popular demand, we've made an iMix on iTunes of all our polka recordings. Just click on this link and you can buy all our polkas at once. Of course, you'll need to open iTunes to view and purchase the list. What time is it? It's polka time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Squeeze Machine Secrets: 'Blame It On Those Darn Accordions'

We often are asked why we don't do more New Orleans-style music. With all these accordions, it's a fair enough question. My answer has been that there are plenty of "authentic" New Orleans bands that play this style of music all the time -- and way better than we could ever hope to. I just felt it was a genre better left alone.

When our drummer, Michael Messer, joined the band, he brought with him a long history of playing New Orleans music. He has lived and played in the Big Easy and is a huge fan of the New Orleans sound. I wanted to take advantage of his talents, so I just sat down at the piano and started banging out what I thought sounded like a New Orleans groove. (Professor Longhair I am not!)

I basically wanted to give him something to showcase his drumming. I think he did a fantastic job. I had a lyric idea about someone who blames his mess-ups on "those darn accordions." Think, "Blame It On The Bossa Nova." I laid that on top of the groove and that was it. Susie, who plays a lot of New Orleans music herself, worked out some cool harmonies and a vocal breakdown to put on the finishing touches. The result is a pretty fun party tune and a handy excuse for being late to work!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Squeeze Machine!

The new Those Darn Accordions CD hit store shelves today. You can get it at your local record store (make them special order it if necessary), on iTunes or from the TDA Store.

The fan reviews are rolling in -- get your copy quick so you can give us your two cents! And be sure to check the Wall of Wheeze this week for Paul's "Squeeze Machine secrets," a series of posts outlining just what, exactly, he was thinking when he penned songs like "Mr. Saggy Butt" and "Larry's Wonderful Life." (The first one, about "This Song," is already live.)

Pass the champagne, would you dear?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Squeeze Machine Secrets: 'This Song'

At our live concerts, a lot of folks come up and tell me they like the stories I tell before some of our tunes. They say knowing where the inspiration comes from helps them enjoy the tunes more, or at least make them tolerable. Well, I'm all for that! After a bit of prodding from our bass player, Lewis, I've decided to offer a little insight into the tunes on our new CD, Squeeze Machine, one day at a time.

I'll do my best to explain them, but I can't guarantee that it's all going to make sense. With any luck, this will eliminate some of the RCA dog looks at upcoming shows.

Let's start with the first track on the CD, "This Song."

Every year I take my family to my home state of Michigan and reconnect with some childhood friends and their families. We all head up north to a great little resort on Lake Michigan. Bonfires glow on the beach every night, and inevitably someone brings out a guitar and a sing-along ensues. Now, I've never been one for singing around the campfire, don't know why exactly, but I prefer to stare into the fire (or the stars) with a beer or glass of wine and share a laugh with my old friends, unfettered by melodic angst and improvised percussion.

One night another family came over to our fire with a couple guitars and a huge songbook. They were very prepared and, I must say, quite good. They sang a lot of tunes from the '60s and '70s and even a few new ones. I was almost tempted to bust a version of "Hamsterman" but thought better of it. Then they sang a couple of Beatles songs and for some reason it reminded me of a Fab Four tribute band I saw in Reno awhile ago.

I started thinking about some of my musician friends who have been slogging it out in the clubs the past 30 years and are still hoping to "make it" one day. I was thinking about all the musicians out there, including myself, who start out with a dream and just can't seem to let go. I went to sleep thinking about this and woke up with the line, "This song's got money written all over it." The rest of the lines just sort of fell in place. I walked to the cottage next door, grabbed a guitar from one of the kids and started singing "This Song." There's a video of it somewhere -- I look real sleepy and sound like a frog -- but that's where the song was born.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Squeezer Gets His Minute of Glory

In Russia, young accordion players win big money on TV talent shows. Tula's own Maksim Tokaev, 14, took first place in the popular Russian show Minute of Glory, bagging 1 million rubles ($39,000) for his squeezebox excellence.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What's the Word on Squeeze Machine?

UPDATED: The official Sept. 18 release date hasn't hit yet, but the new Those Darn Accordions CD, Squeeze Machine, is out there in the wild -- we've sold hundreds at gigs and through the pre-release online sale. Perhaps it's time to solicit some quick reviews. Have you heard it? What do your ears tell you? Inquiring minds want to know ...

Is There an 'Accordion Face'? captures a wide range of onstage emotion with its feature, "The History of the Guitar Face," which names and classifies those funny looks many guitarists wear while soloing.

So, is there an equivalent gallery highlighting "accordion face"? There ought to be ...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Have Beer, Will Travel

An idea whose time has come: Deschutes Brewery's Neighborhood Hops, a "traveling beer festival" designed to bring excellent beer, food and music to Seattle enclaves. Reproduce, please. (Can you hear me, Speakeasy?)

Road Food: Good Grub in Washington

* The Primo Grill in Tacoma serves up delicious meals (we've been there twice so far this trip). Hard to explain how fantastic the sticky toffee pudding is -- sounds weird, tastes unbelievable.

* At the Puyallup Fair, the rib tips from Longhorn Barbecue Outpost rule. They're meaty, chewy and satisfying -- and almost too good a deal!

* Engine House No. 9 in Tacoma makes a lucious, fruity hefeweizen that's banana-y and extremely refreshing. If you like the Euro-style wheat beer, this is the stuff (goes good with their chili, too).

Pink Floyd a la Polka

The Polka Floyd Show, a musical mashup out of Toledo, Ohio, performs the classic rock band's songs polka-style, with an accordion high in the mix. "We take the songs and make our own thing out of it," drummer Frank Dramczyk tells The Independent Collegian. "We get an incredible amount of people shaking their heads, in a good way, saying 'Wow, that is really cool.' No one has walked up to us and said, 'You are a disaster.' We expected a lot more bad input than what we've received."

Musical genius or just another schtick in the wall? Hear it for yourself at the band's MySpace page.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Wild Times at Widmer

Now that's what I'm talking about: A huge crowd of enthusiastic folks splayed out across the "natural" parking-lot amphitheater of a brewery, with a loading dock turned into a stage and a green room with a tap in it. Plus great bands, cheap admission and excellent food (I've developed a whole new appreciation for kielbasa, and now can't get the song "Kielbasa, Beer and Sauerkraut" out of my head).

Widmer Brothers -- you do Oktoberfest right. Thanks for having us.

P.S. Do yourself a favor and try a Widmer Okto while the fest ale is available (through late October). Sehr gut!

P.P.S. Thanks to Kevin the cook man for loaning me his bass to get through sound check after Southwest lost mine (again).

Thursday, September 6, 2007

TDA Bubbles With Enthusiasm About Widmer Oktoberfest

Speaking of beer, Those Darn Accordions plays the third-annual Widmer Brothers Oktoberfest in Portland, Ore., this Saturday. Other bands include Curtis Salgado, Dr. Theopolis and Widmer's own Colin Lake and Wellbottom.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the giant lemon drop (as described on the brewery's website): "Test your catching skills at the world's biggest 'Lemon Your Widmer' Event, in which lemon wedges will be dropped from the brewery roof to Oktoberfest-goers 40 feet below ... all while enjoying delicious Widmer Brothers beers!"

You'd have to be a real sourpuss not to get a kick out of that.

Man Builds 'Ultimate Beer-Brewing Machine'

Its creator calls it simply The Device, but the wondrous task it performs is anything but simple: The self-contained machine makes and serves beer.

Constructed by Popular Science staff photographer John Carnett, "the ultimate all-in-one beer brewing machine" is a pretty amazing invention. In the video clip, Carnett walks through the brewing process that transforms plain old Philadelphia water into the magical beverage that made Milwaukee famous. It's something to behold, although at $4,315 to build, it's a lot cheaper (and easier) to nab a six pack at your corner store.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

TDA 'Lite' Rocks Cotati Accordion Fest

Some folks are perhaps still wondering about the absence of Carri and Susie at last week's Cotati Accordion Festival. Though we rocked mightily, if I do say so myself, we missed the mellifluous harmonies of TDA's songbirds. Susie was attending a cousin's wedding in Idaho and poor Carri came down with a bad case of the stomach flu the morning of the show. She's doing much better now and we expect to be in full force for next Saturday's Widmer Brothers Brewing Oktoberfest in Portland, Oregon. See you there!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Julieta Venegas Calls Accordions 'Organic'

Award-winning accordion player Julieta Venegas calls the squeezebox "a very organic instrument" in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News (and published on

"There's something magical about the strength of it," Venegas says. I'm thinking that, if accordions are organic, we can charge more for them.

Saturday Food and Drink Updates

* September is National Bourbon Heritage Month. Time to celebrate.

* San Francisco Bay area "coffee pioneer" Alfred Peet -- the founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, the java jet fuel that keeps TDA humming on the road -- died Wednesday.

* Through shadowy means best left undocumented, I am now in possession of the secret recipe to the amazing Swiss cream pie served at Turner Hall of Monroe, Wis. I'll be shopping for expandable-waist pants in the near future.