TK: Adolph, if you would tell us your full name.
AL: My name is Adolph Lesser.
TK: And where were you born?
AL: In Loveland, Colorado.
TK: And when, what year were you born Adolph?
AL: In June the 21st, 1915.
TK: Tell us about your family, did you come from a big family?
AL: I had seven brothers, there was 8 boys and 1 girl. And
I was the second to the youngest, Dave was the youngest. The
others were all born in Russia. Then my parents would come over.
TK: And where did they come from in Russia?
AL: Frank, Russia. And out of those eight boys, 4 of us served
in World War II.
TK: And you yourself, you were in some of the big engagements
in WWII right? Which ones?
AL: I was in with the 35th infantry division. And I was in
Normandy. And then in between I was in the Battle of the Bulge
was my last one. And I was in five major campaigns. I was in
four different armies. And mostly with General Patton's Third
TK: You were with the third army with Patton? Now Adolph, maybe
I shouldn’t ask this but with WWII, with the first name
like Adolph, did you have to take a lot of ribbing?
AL: Oh you know I had a lot of fun with that. After I had a
stroke, and I went to the hospital here for therapy, there is
two German girls in there, they are about the best therapists
you could ever find, they really know their business. And they
like me, always had a little fun with them. And one of them
names was Uta, like cutting Utah short, and the other was Petra,
I said “ I’ve never heard of those names in Germany”.
They said, "Well, they’re very popular nowadays."
I said, "Well, I might mention a name that wasn't quite
so popular." I said,"Has any of the babies been called
Adolph?" They said, “Oh, no!”
TK: And then what about, during the war, did you have to take
any teasing during the war?
AL: Oh during the war, I used to have pure dark hair you know,
and you didn’t have any mirrors to shave. And I had always
had a mustache. And I kept shaving, I didn’t have a mirror.
And a guy looked at me and said, "Have you looked in the
mirror lately? I said, "No...." He says, "They’re
looking for a guy with your name and mustache like that!"
TK: Now did you change your name during that time?
AL: No, no no. You mean, if my music career? No, no no. It
probably would have been better if I had, but no.
TK: Now what year did your family immigrate to this country.
TK: And where did they settle?
AL: New York.
TK: Oh, so they came into New York?
TK: And then from New York?
AL: To Loveland. Now, I might say something, my brother George
was about four years old. And his eyes were good. And they thought
they might keep the family over. The rest of these were all
going to London, and my folks they were leaving their home in
Russia, and if they go back they have a home, and if they don’t,
forget it see. So they thought they’d keep our family
later. Pretty soon this guy said, "See, how bad do you
want to go?" They said, "We really want to go bad."
"Give me 20 bucks under the table." I was wondering
how many 20 bucks in one day, he picked up, and that was a lot
of money then.
TK: Yeah, now, you had told me on the phone something, and
I don’t know if you remember, but, you said that “Maybe
our German to Russia people weren’t so smart on coming
to Colorado in the first place.”
AL: My dad said, "Why did we ever come to Colorado?"
We worked ourselves to death, raising those beets, and working
and irrigating. We were used to the cold weather so North Dakota
wouldn’t have been any worse. And if we had irrigate in
the old country, it would have been better to move to North
Dakota. I think we would have been better off.
TK: Yeah, somebody commented last night at the Dutch Hop, they
said an older gentleman, he said “You know our people
worked hard in the beet fields, but when it came time to Dutch
Hop, they played hard”.
AL: Oh, I’ll tell you, in my day when we farmed, spas
would have gone broke. Nobody needed a spa, you worked hard
every day. And then when there was a dance at night, they were
able to go out there and dance along to the tunes you know.
But we didn’t need no spas. We’d be working in the
fields, we’d be wringing wet and every thing, we never
had to go to a spa.
TK: They were wringing wet last night on the dance floor too.
AL: Yeah, I believe it. (laughs)
TK: Was there music in your family?
AL: Yes, my brother, I had three brothers that played. Conrad
played well, he played real well. And Brad played a few weddings,
and he quit. Henry played for his own entertainment. But Conrad,
when I was real young, and he was playing weddings in Colorado,
and I would always go along and sit in the corner and listen.
But he died of pneumonia real young, 28 years old. And then
his wife had some accordions and my dad told me, "Don’t
you ask for an accordion." Times were tough then, I mean,
present days, because she needs her, all of her money, she had
little insurance and everything. So I don’t know what
happened with the accordions, they just went someplace, whether
she got paid for them or not. But I went on from there. We moved
to Janesburg. I always tried to learn to play anything I could
get my hands on. I don’t know how many harmonicas I wore
out, but I could afford them. But then we had a pump organ and
I worked on that. And I tried to build a dulcimer, with not
much success. And then we got a two row button accordion, and
I played a few shack dances and whatever. And then finally,
I made up my mind, there is no future in this. I’m going
to Denver and I’m going to buy a full sized accordion,
and I’m going to give you a cassette today with a picture
of it on the side. It was the most beautiful accordion, rhinestone
accordion, two hundred dollars, and I thought I’d never
ever get it paid off. I played in mining camps, and I played
in barn dances. In the fall you’d play a barn dance and
it was cold. You could see your breath until a bootlegger came
or else the crowd and warmed it up you know. And then the pay
was by the collection of the hands. And by the time you counted
the nickels, and pennies, and washers and tokens, every little
tax money they had then. Two bucks, two fifty, three bucks,
three bucks was a good night, because people were working for
a dollar a day. But I sucked so much dust into this accordion,
and I’d have to go to the filing station the next day
and blow it out and get ready for the next job. What I done,
to play and everything came, not many people would do. I just
done anything I could to play, I wanted to play.
TK: At what age did you start then?
AL: What age did I start then?
TK: What age did you start, how old were you?
AL: Oh, I guess I started when I was about 11, or 12. Messing
around, but I had a band when I was sixteen. I had a band then.
And I played in Greeley at the Sunset View Pavilion. It was
a big dance hall and at that time, they’d bring the radio
station in on dance night, if you were driving down the highway,
you’d hear my band play. And every Saturday night was
like a New Years Eve dance. Then I got a job played at 6:30
every morning, playing over the radio in Greeley. And I had
some good sponsors like, Mayer's Hatchery, Gallup Chevrolet.
But I had Purina Chow, which was good. And you kept saying,
keep those letters coming folks, because when the mail got pretty
thin, you were almost out of a job. So you had to beg for postcards.
And so I played there a long time, it got me a lot of jobs in
the neighboring states, you know. They’d hear the band
and they’d hire me to play. So I got a lot of jobs out
TK: Now, you mention you played shack dances, what are shack
AL: Shack dances, well it is farmers, they’d have these
beet shacks you know. And that the laborers lived and worked
in. Well it was empty, and you didn’t have to advertise
a shack dance, people were so poor in those days, the single
people if they got 50 cents on a Saturday night, that was a
lot of money. They’d go to the dance, and then they’d
go to the picture show and then they were broke. But on a Sunday
afternoon, you could go to the park in Loveland or in Greeley
or in Windsor, these young people were all in the parks, and
if you had a megaphone and to tell them that there would be
a shack dance tonight, oh that spread like a forest fire, then
another one would run to Windsor and Hall, and you’d be
playing that night, and every body knew it, you never had to
advertise it in the paper. (laughs)
TK: Adolph you said when you were playing, what instruments
were in the Shack Dance?
TK: So just an accordion?
AL: Yeah, alone. And I played some barn dances alone too. It
was, my accordion, didn’t have amplification for 17 years.
I played it without amplification. And I would sit on the case
and play, and when I'd play the last number, I'd put it in the
case and I was gone in two minutes. And now, the equipment I
have... the van and everything, there is a difference you know.
TK: What songs would you have been playing back then? What
were some of the names of the songs?
AL: Oh, you mean the polka? Mostly our Dutch Hop style. But
more than that. I had the musicians when I had the band. We’d
play a lot of proms for the high schools. You know the modern
numbers, no polkas, I’d have to write in the contract,
no polkas. So when I’d be playing, and some of these people
were “Come on Adolph, play the polka”. I said, "No
I can’t do it." They said “What, you think
you’re too good?” I said "No, read the contract."
But I wouldn’t have got those jobs if I'da played polka,
you see. So we know, we were up to date on all of our modern
TK: Were you always a full time musician?
AL: I never meant to be. It just happened, I never meant to
be a full time musician. And I never meant to go into the army
neither, but it just happened. I worked in the Cheyenne Union
Pacific railroad shop. Jobs were hard to get. But I was already
playing then, and I kept running down here to play jobs, to
Denver. And after the jobs Cheyenne... that was too far. So
the Union Pacific in Denver, the railroad shops, they had a
band, and a guy by the name of Frank Wolf. I got a hold of him
and told him my story and I says “Frank can you fix it
to where you can have me try?” He said, "I'll try."
And he had me transferred down there, and that’s when
all of my friends, machinists in Cheyenne jumped on me. They
been trying that for years and didn't get a transfer. So then
from there, I went to the army. And it was good, because wherever
I was in the army, my wife could ride the train for nothing
see. So I got out of the army, and came home, and my wife rented
a place in Loveland. She was in California before that. "Rosie
the Riveter," she worked in a defense plant. So I said,
"Lets go to Denver to look for a place to rent." So
I can come back to work. I decided to go into the shops first,
so I walked in there and there was a young kid in there. He
said "What can I do for you?" I said "I guess
I got a job here, if I could ever find a house to rent."
He says, "What kind of job?" I says, "Well I’ve
been working out here as a helper." He said, "If you
have a job here, I want you to go to work tomorrow." I
said, "I don’t have to, I got so many days."
"Well, he said, "Why don’t you move into a hotel
like where I’m living?" I said, "I don’t
make the money." He was a personnel (unclear), and I had
enough of that in the army. You know the old song, but I told
him and I went out in the shops, and they said, “Hey,
look who’s back, when you coming back”? I says,
"Never." "What happened?” "Oh"
they said, "Yeah, that guy." I went back to the car,
and she says, "When are you going back, what are you going
to do?" And I says "I don’t know." Went
back to Loveland. People came to my house every night. Everybody
was getting married. Wedding, wedding. I played five weddings
in a row. Five nights, in the same place. Play for your bride
and groom. Lay down your instruments, go home at two in the
morning. Come back different bride and groom, five in a row.
And then I gave a New Years Eve dance at the Armory. And we
could have filled two armories. And I got to thinking this isn’t
too bad so. So another friend of mine we decided to build a
dance hall, so we did. Down here, a nice ball room. We call
it South of Denver. They have a little town here on the side
they call Rosedale, and the other side is Garden City. And those
two little burgs were the night life of Greeley. Loveland was
dry. Greeley was dry but they had all kinds of bars and music
out there and that’s where we built our dance hall. We
run it six years, we hired big bands on Wednesdays nights, westerns
Friday nights, and polkas Saturday nights, and always a wedding
on Sundays. Run it six years. Then I was too far in and I couldn’t
get out. We would have had to buy some land and I built a music
store and I was in that over 20 years. So I always had a business
in conjunction with my band, I never quit playing.
TK: I have one question, that people ask, "Were the barn
dances..... what night were the barn dances generally on?"
AL: Anytime. You couldn’t have a barn dance now. You’d
have to have police protection, insurance, everything in the
world. Barn dances then were just like I told you, like those
shack dances. We’d announce we were going to have a barn
dance Sunday night. Adolph Lesser is going to play, don’t
worry about a crowd, they’d be out there. And the bootlegger
would make some money, and the guy running the dance would make
some money, and I would made a little bit of money. And everybody
was happy. You couldn’t do it now. They did have two barn
dances in Colorado. Jimmy Smith’s barn dance, southeast
of Loveland, and then they had a barn dance down at Loveland.
They were built for year around. And that’s when I met
Paul Winegard. I played over the radio and he heard me in Sterling,
and I advertised that I was going to play at Jimmy Smith’s
barn dances on a Tuesday night, southeast of Longmont. And he
come down there to meet me, first time we had ever met. And
after that we were good friends.
TK: What kind of man was Paul Winegard?
AL: Great musician. He was a nice guy. He was a great musician,
good teacher. And he had an accordion studio in Denver and I
had one in Greeley. And we didn’t bother each other. He
had enough business there, and I had enough business here. But
if he wanted something from me, I’d give it to him and
if I wanted something from him he’d give it to me. And
I was recording albums then and he was too, and of course we’d
handle everybody else’s albums. And he’s stop in
front of my store with a station wagon. He’d carry an
armload full like that, open the door and set them down. And
I’d say, "What do you got?" He'd say, "I
can’t sell them in Denver." I says, "Well pick
out some others and just leave those here." We’d
just trade, no money exchanged, got along well that way.
TK: Adolph would you tell us about the weddings? The old time
Germans from Russia weddings, because, do you remember whether
they were one day, two day, three days?
AL: Oh well, it depended. They were one, there were two days,
there were three days. At the earlier stage, they didn’t
use the accordion much. They used two violins, one would play
the lead and the other would kind of second you. They had a
dolcimer, and a cello with a bow. But that was only in the houses
and the smaller places. Pretty music. Then later, I played with
four people. They were close to fifty from the old country.
And I was about 18. I had a job of just chording along, I never
played a little lead on the accordion, just a little foundation
in the corner. If I played too loud I didn’t have a job,
so I’d keep it under their music, you know. Then later
on, why the violins had to give way to the accordion, the bigger
places, the amplification and everything.
TK: What year was that you say, when the accordion came in
AL: Accordions, most of them from the beginning were button
accordions. They were a little inferior, you couldn’t
play sharps or flats on them or too much. It was a push and
pull like a harmonica, a blow and draw. They had the chromatics,
but nobody knew how to play them. But then the piano accordion
came in, not that big, but they had small ones and others. So
they started to work on the piano accordion, and then finally
they took over, you know.
TK: Now, with these weddings Adolph, could you tell us sometimes
they would talk about blowing in the bride and the groom?
AL: Oh yeah, yeah. Well I’ve got a picture here, from
Frank, Russia, I’d like for somebody to look at it.
TK: Oh, okay, I think I know which one you mean. Is it the
bride and groom going down the street with those musicians?
AL: No, no. All those guys were, were the horns.
AL: Well, I have no idea. A lot of those people in Russia learned
how to play horns. Later on you know, some had to go to the
army, maybe they learned it there, or maybe they learned it
at home. But some of those came to Loveland, and the church
that I was going to, they had a bunch playing horns on a Sunday.
And then of course they had to learn other instruments to play
weddings. So, then when the bride would walk into the church,
they would stand there playing their horns. When the bride came
out they’d play their horns, and they’d get in a
car and try to meet the bride and groom where they were going.
And then they played their horns there. Well that was almost
the end for the horns. But they kept them sitting right behind
them, but then they’d play these other instruments. Now,
if somebody wanted to pay a little extra in the dolcimer, they’d
pick up their horns and give them a little special sing-along,
you know. So you had to pay a little extra for that. So then,
later on, the horns kind of disappeared, they still use the
trombone, or whatever, in these, like what you heard last night.
TK: Now they talk about this tradition of Duesch. What is that
AL: That was the sing-a-longs. You would, you’re going
to dance with the bride. You go up and pin money on her. And
Rosalinda pins money on the groom, and you throw money in the
dulcimer. And we played this Duesch. It was a sing-a-long, sometimes
they’d sing along, sometimes not. It was an extra special
number we played for you four. And we know a lot of them. I
had those old time musicians with me. We knew fifty of them.
But some of the bands didn’t know over 7, 8 or 10 of them
you know. But these old timer, I thought I would be with them
the rest of my life, which was a mistake. I should have learned
some more from them, so that’s what happened. And I had
an old man playing dulcimer with me. And I was playing so many
weddings, like, two, three a week. Maybe a month later, somebody
would come up and say "George, you played over that at
Lafayette, who got married over there?" "A couple
single kids," and he’d say this in German, because
he couldn’t remember you know. (laughter)
TK: And this was George?
AL: George Dinas.
TK: George Dinas.
AL: He would always say that, but he was right, people got
a kick out of that.
TK: That’s good, now Adolph, when did this term Dutch
Hop come about and why?
AL: Exactly like a, Dutch Hop, you see the advertisement I
showed you. It was advertised as German Dances. When WWII started
the German newspapers had to quit printing. And you couldn’t
use that word German. So somebody, I was going into the army
when that happened. Somebody thought up of the word Dutch Hop.
I don’t know who, or why. It has no connection with our
business, but it worked. He advertised Dutch Hop, and the dances
continued, and they still call it Dutch Hop. When I come back
from the army, they was all talking about Dutch Hops. And some
of the people never heard any different so we’re stuck
with it for the rest of our life, it will never be changed back
TK: Now what is it Adolph, about Dutch Hop music that is different?
Is there something different about it from the music in like
AL: Yeah, well, Dutch Hop is not easy to play. I hate to say
this because the Slovenian music is easier to play. Chezch and
Bohemian music is easier to play. Polish music is pretty hard,
Russian music is pretty hard. But, from what I can gather, just
by all, I played all these Dutch Hops, and I played some Russian
music and I played some Poland music, some of the Dutch Hop,
they were a little steal, a little sprinkle of Russian, Polish
and neighboring countries over there, and it’d all worked
into the Dutch Hop. But the Dutch Hop, you have steady fingering
mostly one note. It’s not dollying around on chords like
some of them, so it’s not easy. Frank Yanchovik, we’d
played a lot together. America’s polka king, he had a
show on in Chicago, one whole hour. And he wanted me to come
back and play with him on the show. I didn’t have the
men that could travel then, they had jobs. But I have a letter
right here, he says, but before we play we’re going to
have to practice a couple of nights with you. Because that Dutch
Hop music, that’s not easy for us. But I could play his
music, but he couldn’t play ours. So, well there are numbers
that were handed down from generation to generation in true
folk tune tradition. And no music written, hardly at all than
there is no, but there never was then. But then I noticed some
people would say dorf, villages in Russia, Frank here and another
one there and another one there. They probably played the same
number, but a little bit different. And you couldn’t say
he was wrong because he was just as right as you were. And in
Kansas they played a lot of them different.
TK: Now, in Kansas they will say something like “Play
me a hook sight”. Will you know what they mean?
AL: Yeah, they were smarter than us. They call our music hoch
zeit. (Wedding) . If they would have advertised hoch zeit music
there, this Dutch Hop, they would have never been in there.
They never accepted it, and they advertised it and got by with
it just fine. Wedding, wedding music, if they would have used
that here, they would have never gotten a hold of the Dutch
Hop. But that’s all right.
TK: Now with Dutch Hop music. Would you say that Dutch Hop
music also that it ends a certain way. That when it ends, the
tune does it end a certain way?
AL: Oh well, that’s a pattern, that only the Dutch Hop
players have. It has a different ending, it warns you with about
three different chords. And maybe it’s a good thing, because
when I was playing these house dances, and they danced in a
room like this, and if it didn’t have an ending, and you
didn’t give them a warning to stop. Some of those guys
would have run into the people on the sides you know. They were
going so fast and everything. No, that’s that was created
by the people who plays Dutch Hops. Nobody else has them. No
other polka players have that.
TK: What about the hammer dulcimer? How important is that in
the Dutch Hop?
AL: Very important. The hammer dulcimer, they still argue,
who invented it. Now some people think it came from Germany,
absolutely wrong. They don’t even like the hammer dulcimer.
Their instrument is a zither, but don’t be berating that
thing, that’s a good instrument. Like the Third Man Theme
years ago, with the zither, that was a hit. Now I played a wedding
for some people from Germany and I brought a dulcimer. They
said don’t bring that back no more, because we don’t
like it. Our thing is the zither. So maybe the early dulcimer
you see in Germany is in the museum. But the Russians in Canada
claim to have invented it. And the Germans never did claim it,
but that’s where they came from. But then you have these
guys down in Tennessee and Arkansas, back in the hills they
have a dulcimer, almost like this, and when I was in the store,
I saw all kinds of different dulcimers. So we don’t know
who invented them. But they’re good. Now I have a couple
of records here, back there from Argentina, that I told you
about, that the Germans from Russia who live down there. But
I couldn’t hear a dulcimer, and they play the button accordion,
mostly horns and violins, but they didn’t play the dulcimer,
I couldn’t figure that out. If you listen to those, it’s
a little different.
TK: Now Adolph, you mentioned that sometimes when people came
forward, they would put money under the strings of the dulcimer,
would they ever put coins?
AL: Oh, you mean coins, oh, let me tell you about that. Do
you remember years and years ago, when you went to Wyoming,
and the northern part of Montana, you didn’t see a dollar
bill. Do you remember that? Everything silver dollars, silver
dollars. At that time if you bought 3 dollars of gas and gave
him a ten dollar bill you’d get seven silvers. Well, right
after WWII a family from Scotts Bluff lived up there, and they
called me and said, we just want you and your relatives to play
this wedding. And I had enough relatives to make a band. One
of them came from Canada and from different places, we’d
played together before. We’d played in New Orleans. And
I want to tell you something, these people were hungry for a
German wedding, and they really went all out for it. They started
to throw those silver dollars in that dulcimer, and finally
my cousin said, "I can hardly play it. Let me dump it,"
He raised it up and held a cigar box, and filled it. And later
that afternoon he says, "Where are we going to put them?"
I was wearing suspenders and I had my pocket full and I could
hardly keep my pants up. And now, a guy came along and put in
a fifty dollar bill, and I told Reinie, my cousin, I said, "That
man didn't want to do that." He says, "I know it."
He tapped him, he says, "You put...." He says, "I
know what I’m doing!" He give the bride a hundred
dollar bill. So we played. Later in the afternoon he put in
another fifty. I don’t know how many hundreds he put on
the bride. The next day, I called the brides mother over and
I said, "What is with it this guy? He’s putting fifty..".
"Take all the money you can get from him. He’s our
landlord, he owns most of the farms, most of the oil wells,
take all the money you can." So we got five 50 dollar bills,
and I bet you that bride got at least 1000 dollars, hundred
dollar bills. And then when we went to eat the dinner of the
German noodle soup oh, he carried on about that. So then we
felt at ease. That was a wedding, I’ll never forget as
long as I live. Oh, we had a lot of silver dollars, they had
them all out that way.
TK: Now, Adolph you mention the wedding you will never forget,
that’s a great story, tell me about the one you were asked
to play a wedding in the quanset hut where somebody wanted you
to keep at it.
AL: In Sterling.
TK: My hometown?
AL: Yes, in that quanset back there, we played away there,
four of us. And we started at 12, and I mean, busy, busy, busy,
busy, we wore out the bride. So the best girl came up and took
her place. She’d take the money, and let’s go. Ready
to go, busy, busy, busy. Four o’clock. I said we got to
stop for about 5 minutes. OK, five minutes... back. Busy, busy,
busy. Pretty soon they said, "It’s time to eat...
can two of you play while two of you eat?" "Well,
that's pretty hard," I says, "Because I'm the only
accordion player here." "Well," he says, "Can
the other guy....."
Interruption stops the tape, no more talking on the rest of