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Interview with Jayen Walton Rosen (JR)

Conducted by Michael Miller (MM)
26 January 1992, San Antonio, Texas

Transcription by Jessica Rice
Editing and Proofreading by Jane D. Trygg


MM: I’m here in San Antonio, Texas and it’s really a pleasure for me to be here on January 26, 1992. I’m in the home of Jayen Walton Rosen. Jayen, it’s really a pleasure for me to be here in San Antonio, as I mentioned. I was really glad that I had a chance to call you, and now we’re going to have a chance to visit. Jayen was involved with Lawrence Welk and the band. Jayen, tell me what years you were with Lawrence.

JR: From 1939 to 1947.

MM: And how did you get to meet Lawrence?

JR: Well, I was on the staff at WW in Omaha, Nebraska and he was doing one-niters through that area. He traveled a lot through that area anyway, through those states: Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. He was listening to his car radio and heard me singing and he was looking for a champagne lady at that time. So he called the station and, of course, everybody at the station knew Lawrence. I didn’t know of the band, you know, except everybody at the station knew Lawrence personally.

And so, he talked to the manager of the station and said he was interested in hiring me as a girl singer and the manager said, “You’re going to take our girl singer?!” [Laughs.] And so anyway, I joined him in, I think it’s Ottumwa, Iowa. So I did join the band. I did stay with him [even though] I had a twenty-year contract with the station. WW, the manager, wrote up a contract for me. He said, “If you’re not happy in six months, your job is open here for you,” because I didn’t want to go on the road. And I learned that Lawrence was notorious for one-niters; he was a real road band.

And he said to me, the first night I was with him, he said, “We sit the band down now and then, we don’t travel all year, we don’t do one-night stands all year long.” And three months later he set the band down and I thought I was dying. I was so tired by then, I couldn’t believe. You know, coming out of a radio station, you don’t do one-niters; you go to bed at nights and so forth. It’s a different life. And I thought, good Lord in Heaven, I had worked a lot of one-niters, but certainly not three months succession: every night, every night, every night. [And there were], like, 500 mile jumps in between. That’s a little rough.

MM: What was the name of the band at that time? Do you remember?

JR: The Champagne Music of Lawrence Welk.

MM: The Champagne Music of Lawrence Welk?

JR: Uh-huh. It was his big band.

MM: At that time, he was traveling a great deal in what area?

JR: All over the United States. It wasn’t one area. We just repeated all the towns over and over, you know. Of course there were ballrooms in those years. There were ballrooms sitting out every place because all the bands were doing that. We’d see all the bands on the road: [A029] Goodman, Harry James and, oh God, all those named bands. They were all traveling; we’d meet them on the road. We’d play one night, then the next night they’d play, you know. And they were running all over the United States. Everybody was doing the same thing.

MM: And you, of course, remember traveling. What were some of the highlights that you remember relating to the traveling and with some of the shows?

JR: Highlights? [Laughs.] Not too many highlights! There were a lot of problems, but not too many highlights. The war years were the worst, I think, for traveling for all of the bands, including Lawrence’s band, because it got to the point where we didn’t have tires for our cars. And then, when we had to go away, we [didn’t have] gasoline, so we had to do away with that, with cars. And then Lawrence would rent buses.

He rented a sleeper bus out of New York one time and we turned that over out in Iowa some place and got it in a mud hole and walked six miles to some little town with a gas station. And we ate everything in that place because it was, like, four or five o’clock in the morning when we were walking that six miles. And it was pouring down rain.
I know I won’t forget that. But, if it weren’t for the farmers in that area with big tractors to pull out that bus – of course, we left the bus and the driver there in the ditch. So Lawrence had to rent cars and try to get us – you know, we missed one one-niter. That’s the only one we missed in all the years I was with him.

MM: You missed only one show?

JR: One dance. We only missed one booking in all those years. [That’s] pretty good, considering we had ice and snow and sleet and hail. And then, we’d travel in those cattle cars because the army had all the trains. You know, they transported troops; they put them all on the railroad tracks because they ran out of planes, too. And they have bars on the windows. I guess they used to use them for convicts or something, to transfer them from jail to jail. Anyway, [those cattle cars were] dirty in the summer, and freezing in the winter! [Laughs.] No heat, no air. Oh, it was murder.

MM: What kind of person was Lawrence, on the road?

JR: Oh, he was a terrific guy. Lawrence has no temper. I mean, not to the point of where he screams and hollers and gets real upset. He’s very quiet when he gets mad. He really doesn’t have a temper and he’s considerate, always considerate, of his people. And he’s kind and, really, he’s a good guy - a good guy all around. I couldn’t believe that the man was like that, you know what I mean? Everybody has to get upset sometimes and stamp their feet or do something...scream and holler or swear or do something, you know? Nope, [he] never swore. I couldn’t understand that. He’d get really upset and then his eyes would just get like steel. You knew when he was mad, but not a word from him. He kept it all within him and, you know, maybe that was bad too because he’s a very nervous man, very high strung man. He had a bad set of nerves and, I think, sometimes people like that who keep everything within and don’t let it all out, so to speak - maybe, you know, you wonder sometimes. I used to wonder how he could be so calm and things would be – for instance, on the road one time...

Well, I remember that I did most of the driving on the road. Lawrence was always so tired after the dances, you know. And I loved to drive at night. Everybody would go to sleep and I’d turn on the radio. I loved to drive on the highways at night. And so anyway, I remember this one night. Everybody was asleep; we had three boys in the back seat, Lawrence was next to me and I was driving and I was listening to the radio. And, all of a sudden, I decided I was getting a little tired. I’d been driving a long time and I stopped at this truck stop, which is where we’d stop most of the time in those days - at the truck stops.

So I pulled into this truck stop and went in to get a cup of coffee. So, pretty soon, here comes two guys from the back seat, two of the musicians, and they came in and I had left the car running. It was very, very cold so I lowered the window and left the motor running for them and left because I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going’ to be in here very long, so they’ll stay nice and warm. They won’t freeze to death out there.’ And so they decided, every one of them, to come out and come into the coffee shop and they all slammed the doors and locked the doors...and the car’s running. [Laughs.]

They all left the car and so I said, “You bunch’a dummies! The car’s runnin’ out there, the keys are in there! Didn’t anybody notice the car? It was warm! The car’s stopped and it’s warm!” And Lawrence just kept shaking his head. Well, one of the truckers got us in the car anyway. We got into the car right away, but I looked around and I thought, ‘here they all are. I wonder – how about the car?’ They didn’t even realize, they just got out half asleep and slammed all the doors and locked all the doors. So at that time I thought, ‘golly, he would blow his stack.’ You know, you get mad. You’re tired anyway and it’s cold and somebody’s locked all the doors and the car’s running. But no, he never, uh-huh.

He just figured we’d get the car unlocked, which one of the truckers did. The truckers in those days - all the road work that we did - the truckers were marvelous. You know, they’d tell you things that were happening ahead, in towns ahead, and they were so good on the road about passing and when the road is clear and where there’s a curb. They were wonderful in those days and they knew all the good places to eat, all the truck stops that had good food.

MM: Do you remember, Jayen, some of the ballrooms or dance places you performed in?

JR: Oh, yeah. Well, I remember both of them: the good and the bad. The bad ones were the ones out kind of, like, in the middle of fields, so to speak – in the middle of corn fields with the outdoor toilets in the back, you know. And so then, you get on your coat and your boots and you get in line to go and snow is up to your rear end and it’s cold, you know. Those I remember real well. And the good ballrooms, like, with indoor ladies’ rooms and all that, yeah.
There were a lot of nice ballrooms, too. But we played – in those days there were a lot of ballrooms out in the middle of fields. They’d build a ballroom and the town’s down the road a little bit, you know. In summer, it’d be outdoors. It had a roof, but they had these things that lift up on the side to open it up. [Laughs.] And in the winter, they have to wait for the people to come and warm up the hall so, when we came in, it was cold. And we’re dressing in cars, you know. Yeah, I remember that. It was rough. But then, like I said, it wasn’t just Welk’s band, it was all the bands. That was just the way they were.

MM: Did you ever remember coming back to North Dakota to perform?

JR: Oh sure, North and South Dakota at least once a year, maybe twice a year. And I used to get a big kick out of – they have a dinosaur park.

MM: Near Rapid City?

JR: Yeah. I used to get a big kick out of the dinosaurs up there. We used to climb all over those cement dinosaurs they’ve got out there. And then Deadwood where they did – in those days, they had a lot of stuff with the tourists, even then: the Jesse James...the big fight and shoot out. They’d have that everyday, twice a day, for the tourists - you know, kill everybody in sight. And, one year, we were out there in the Badlands and the Badlands were all green that year instead of being black – you, the black hills and all that. [Laughs.] They were all beautiful green. Nobody could understand why they were like that.

MM: Do you remember ever going back to Strasburg, Lawrence’s home town?

JR: Oh yeah, we went there. You know, it’s been so many years. I think it was a catholic school in Strasburg that asked Lawrence if he’d bring his band out. And I think, I’m not real sure, but I think that they charged each person ten cents to make money for the school. Either they were building a new room or a building. You know, it’s been a long time ago, I’m trying to remember.

But anyway, it was a fundraising thing. And so Lawrence asked us and we said, “Of course.” We did a lot of that sort of thing - not fundraising, but a lot of stuff during the war. We did a lot of freebies. We were glad to do it in the hospitals and all the camps and everyplace...airbases. But anyway, we played in this auditorium. It wasn’t very big as I recall. I don’t recall the school, but it was in the school. And so, somebody brought [Lawrence’s] mother in. We had been out there before, but his mother, of course, never came around the band or anything.

But, this was in the afternoon before we were playing a dance out of Strasburg. And so, they brought his mother in and Lawrence just absolutely folded up. I mean, ‘see the big man cry.’ [Laughs.] I mean, we had never seen Lawrence cry! He just didn’t cry! He might be sad, but oh... It was terrible. The trumpet players were splitting notes back there trying to play; they couldn’t play. You know, it just hit us all terrible to see a big man like that go to pieces. And his mother was a little, little woman. I said to her, “I’m Jayen and I’m a singer in the band.”

I’m sure she never understood because I don’t think she spoke any English, for one thing. She looked quite elderly, and maybe she wasn’t. But maybe, in her life, she’d led the kind of life where a woman who really wasn’t that old would look that old. She looked very old to me and I have no idea how old she was. But she had a little shawl on her head, you know, and she was kind of sitting’ there...tiny, tiny lady. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that she was Lawrence’s mother; he’s such a big man, you know. So anyway, we left town and we went – oh, I guess it was a few weeks later – we went to play in Pittsburg.

We had planned a little party like we usually did for anybody’s birthday in the band, like a family situation. We were always together so much. So anyway, we were planning a birthday party for my birthday and it was August 28th and Lawrence had, that morning, received a wire that his mother had passed away. So, I just remember that she died on my birthday. And we had just been out there just a few weeks earlier when she passed away. Now, whether this was sudden, we never really knew. I don’t know if she was ill, you know, when we saw her.

I just never knew, nobody ever said and Lawrence never talked about it. So, she passed away. We used to see his brother Louie. He came to most of the dances when we were in that vicinity. And I knew he had a sister in Aberdeen, [South Dakota]. Jerry Burke, of course, knew the family very well because he had been with Lawrence...oh my, Jerry Burke had been with Lawrence for many years already when I joined. I believe Jerry was from Aberdeen, South Dakota and his family lived there.

He had a sister, Mary, and his mother, at that time. So, he knew much about Lawrence’s life since he had been with Lawrence since Lawrence had a little band, like five or six pieces, you know. So, of course, Jerry died quite a few years ago.

MM: Did Lawrence talk much about his life back in North Dakota on the farm?

JR: Oh yeah. He’s constantly telling me – you know we traveled all the time together. Like I said, I drove his car all the time because he didn’t hate to drive, but he was always tired, especially after dances. So anyway, he’d go on and on about how... He had this idea that he’d tell these wild stories and make up all this stuff like, ‘he was chained in the basement for days and they’d throw bones to him,’ and all this crazy stuff. He just made up a bunch of stuff.

Of course he was kidding, you know, but I think it was just for conversation. You got a lot of miles to go - it’d keep us all awake and that’s the kind of stuff that’ll keep you awake. And then, some of the truer stuff was that it was tough. His life was not easy, you know, where they don’t have running water and they don’t have all the facilities indoors. Everything’s outdoors. And Lawrence hated the fact that he might ever go into farming. He never liked farming.

He had to make success in the music business, or something, because he was never going back to the farm, you know. And he had been a very sickly child that we knew. As strong as he grew up to be, the big man he grew to be, like he said, he was a weakling in the family. “I was sickly and I was skinny,” [Lawrence said], and all that sort of thing. And I thought, well, it’s hard to believe those things when you see the man many years later, you know. But he loved farmers as friends, and they certainly were his friends. But he hated farming; he never wanted to be a farmer – never. [Laughs.] “That’s hard work,” he’d say. And I’d say, “Well, band business is not easy.” But he worked very hard

Lawrence worked very hard, people were crazy about him and he was a very nice person. [He was] one of the nicest band leaders that I ever met - really, a very nice person and nice to work for. We always got along really [well]. Oh, we had our little to-dos about – you know, we’d go in to record and he’d give me all these songs that I hated. When you’re a band singer you sing all kinds of stuff, you don’t just sing the pretty things. You sing crazy songs and ‘Mersey Dotes’ [A182] and that crazy stuff they had out...and Elmer’s Tune. You want the ballads and the pretty things to sing, you know.

MM: What were some of his favorites that he wanted you to sing?

JR: Well, we had a big fight for months. We were going into New York to record and it was during the war. It was one of times we went into New York to record and he had me singing this dumb song, ‘Cleaning my Rifle and Thinkin’ of You.’ And I thought, that is the dumbest song. I said, “Lawrence, girls don’t sing that song, that’s for the boy singer to sing.” [He said], “No Jayen, that’s your-” Okay, okay, so I’m cleaning my rifle. Every time I had to sing that on the band stand, he’s like, “I’m going to make a record of that.” I hate that song. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not a girl song, you know, it’s a boy song.

So no, uh-huh, no. So, we went in that morning to record – we were with Decca at that time, and Dave and Jack Cap owned Decca. We’d driven all night, incidentally, to go in there. And I was lying down on a table there and he says it’s time for me to get up and sing. So, I got up and put this music up and it’s ‘Cleaning my Rifle and Thinkin’ of You.’ And I started singing my chorus that the band played, you know, and Dave or Jack Cap was in the engineer’s room. So I’m singing, [sings] “Cleaning my rifle...” and one of the Cap’s cut off the thing and said, “Jayen, what are you singing?” [Laughs.]

And I said, “I’m cleaning my rifle and thinkin’ of you!” And he said, “Get the boy singer and get the piano player and go in the next room and he learns that song. That’s not a girl’s song.” And Lawrence was hysterical! Oh, he was so mad because, mainly, I think he just got stubborn about the whole thing. I mean, I was not going to do that song and he was going to see to it [that].

I was going to sing that song - you know, it’s what he wanted. So anyway, I got rid of that song and I believe it was Bobby Beers that had to sing that song – had to go in the next room and woodshed, although he almost knew it because he’d heard it so much during the time we had played it at the sessions. So I can think of some of the songs and I can think of other things, but that’s just one that comes to mind. It’s kind of hard to remember things that many years ago. I’m surprised I can remember as much as I do.

MM: What about the kinds of fans that followed Lawrence? I’m sure you had some.

JR: Oh, wonderful people. I’ll tell you, they just loved him and they’re so devoted. Actually, to the day that he dispatched his band, he still had – a lot of the people had been following him since the years when I was with him. I still hear from people, you know, through the letters sent to the Welk office and I still hear from people who were still following Welk’s band that followed him when I was with him. They send me Christmas cards I sent them in the `40s.

You know, they make photo static copies and send me copies of things like that and they thank me for – we used to send candy and cookies in overseas and stuff and we used to make little records. One of the boys had a Wilcox [A227] I think it was: a little machine that made those little 45 – they were little tiny records in those days. And I remember we made, like, ‘White Christmas’ at Christmas time and we’d send them over to the boys and they had stuff to play them on, you know.

And, gosh, you can’t imagine. I get things people have kept out of the papers from the `40s - stuff write-ups about the band. You know, I got one not too long ago from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Some guy had kept this thing – he was in the service when we played there. He came to see the band every time we were around Pittsburg, you know. We played around Pennsylvania a lot and he sent me this article. It’s almost pulverized, it’s so old. And, you know, you handle it and it’s kind of eerie to think that somebody had kept that all those years. It’s a write-up about a band being there...it’s so funny.

And they’re all older people, but...oh God, he has wonderful fans. It really kept Lawrence where he is. Although, after all, his band got much bigger, it got much better, it sounded better, you know, and then he got a lot of singers and a lot of dancers when he first broke out into television. Although, I think he was on television maybe four or five years before he went national, before Dodge picked him up. I think that’s the way it was, I’m not sure.

MM: You mentioned a person in South Dakota that Lawrence would always make sure to get to the concerts.

JR: Oh, the lady that was paralyzed?

MM: Yeah.

JR: Beresford [A248]?

MM: Right.

JR: Yeah, a lovely lady. And she had all our pictures all around her bed. Every time we were around there, Lawrence would make a special trip out of the way to go by and see her and talk to her and then he’d have an ambulance bring her to the concert when we were near her home. And, oh, it just thrilled her to pieces and Lawrence would almost cater the whole evening to her. You know, they’d put her by the band stand over there. And, I guess, local people knew her and knew that he did this. And she was quite ill.

MM: And the name? Do you remember the family name?

JR: No, I don’t remember the family name. I don’t remember her name at all. You’d have to find someone that could go back that many years and actually would know. No, I wouldn’t know - unless Bobby Beers, the boy that was singing in the band at that time, [would know] because Bobby was with us at that time. And unless Bobby would happen to remember, because Bobby is from Des Moines - I think he’s from Des Moines...not Omaha. I think he’s from Des Moines, because that’s where he’s living now and I think that’s where he was from. He might remember the woman’s name, but then again, it’s been a lot of years. I don’t know.

MM: Through the years, of course, you were with the band as the first champagne lady up until 1947.

JR: Uh-huh.

MM: Since then, did you keep in touch with Lawrence?

JR: Oh yeah, certainly, because I was like a friend of the family’s. I watched the children grow up. Larry was born while I was on the band and he’s got to be 51 or 52 years old by now. So, you know, that goes back a long time. And the two girls were very young. And Fern, his wife, she was just one of the most wonderful women you’d ever want to know. She’s just a terrific woman. And so we were just more like family, you might say.
We were very close, anyway, and I used to visit in their home a lot, you know: Sunday’s, dinners and that sort of thing when we were in Chicago, especially, because they lived in Chicago at that time. And before we’d go to work at [A275], we’d have Sunday dinner and stuff like that. But one time after I’d left the band, Lawrence called me and his wife had been in a very bad accident with another couple. This was before seatbelts and before all the [A279] or whatever. There were three of them sitting in the front seat, and I think they had been playing Bridge at someone’s home or something.

They got hit out there around River Forest, where they were living, and both women were very, very hurt and the man had broken ribs. I forget their names. They were very good friends of Lawrence and Florence and I can’t think of their name right now. But, at any rate, Lawrence called me and wanted to know if - they had notified Lawrence - and wanted to know if I’d go out and take care of the children until he’d got someone in there because...I don’t know where he was.

He was on the road someplace. He couldn’t get in town right away, so [he asked if I] would I go out there and stay with the children until he got something arranged, which I did. I mean, I stayed; I don’t know if it was a week or two. Fern had a broken pelvis and legs and, oh, she was in real bad shape. She was in the hospital a long time. And finally, they got someone from – it could’ve been through his family, maybe through Aberdeen or something - but they got a woman to come in, some relative came in and took care of the children. And, of course, Larry was maybe about five years old.

He was just a little fella then. But like I said many times, when Lawrence called me, it wasn’t just a catastrophe like that. We kept in touch because we were friends, you know. And I was very fond of Fern, and like I said, we were good friends and so it was a nice association that way. You know, he wasn’t too happy that I left the band, because I left the band and then rejoined him once. I wanted to go out as a single and he didn’t want me to go out as a single, he wanted me to stay with the band. I couldn’t see much future at that time. It looked like more one-niters and I had done my share of those.

MM: You mentioned Pennsylvania earlier.

JR: Yeah, we played the state a lot. We played a lot of the old mining towns, you know. Those people are hard working, rough people. I mean, they were good people, but they just rough house a lot. And we’d play these ballrooms and Keith [A306], who was our manager at the time, would – after every session, Lawrence would send him up to the front to collect the money so far because he was afraid he was going to come out of there without getting paid, you know, in those towns.

So, the boys one time – we never got off the band stand at those places. If you had to go to the bathroom, that’s too bad! You just stayed on the band stand! It was that rough out there, you know. So anyway, the boys decided they’d go get a drink and they went off the band stand. “You’re on your own,” Lawrence said, “You want to go, go.” [Laughs.] And they went into this little bar that was off the ballroom and there was a big fight in there and the guys had broken bottles. You know how you hear about how they break bottles and shove the glass end into people’s faces?

You’ve heard about that rough house kind of stuff? Well, that’s what they were doing. There was blood everywhere! [The boys] came running back to the band stand and, boy, they never left the band stand again. You know, you don’t want to make enemies of the coal mine workers. After all, they had a rough life. That’s a rough life underneath there, digging out that coal. But they were a hard living bunch of people. And, like I said, there are a lot of places in Pennsylvania that we played for that aren’t like that, but we played some of those [old mining towns].

MM: But they loved Lawrence Welk’s music?

JR: They loved his music! Danced up a storm! Yellin’ and hootin’! They drank a lot.

MM: Would these dances go on late at night?

JR: Well, they’d go until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, yeah.

MM: And you’d pack up and all of you went to another town?

JR: Right, within 500 miles. 500 mile jumps.

MM: Did you ever play in New York City?

JR: Oh yeah. We played Low State – no, not Low State; I played Low State after I left the band - Capital Theatre and Edison Hotel and we played a lot of one-niters around New York City, you know, in the state there. And we did a lot of recording there in New York City, in Manhattan.

MM: Did Lawrence get to know some of the other bands leaders at that time?

JR: Oh sure, if there was another band around, particularly New York City and Chicago, which would have a lot of bands playing over the city. Like if you have a day off - if you were playing a hotel and you had a day off, Monday or Sunday as I recall were the days - you would find out who was playing that night at another place, another ballroom. So, we went to hear Harry James and went to see [A357] at the Starlight Room and Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and yeah. We’d go see just about any band that was around. And then on the road, of course, if we’d have a bigger jump, like a day between for instance, which was very seldom, and there was a band in that vicinity that was playing - there’d always be a band around to go see. We always had another band to go see: Louie Armstrong, and oh, some terrific bands. There were great bands in those days. They were called the Band Days. They’re really orchestras, but they were always called the bands, the Band Era. You always think of a band as a Marching Band, you know, but they were called bands and rarely do you hear anybody say the Orchestra Days. There were some wonderful bands. And Lawrence had a commercial band. You know, the style of it was like [A373], that style of band. Sandy Kay: he was in a different field from Goodman and Dorsey and some of those other bands. They had a good orchestra.

MM: What made Lawrence’s champagne music so popular?

JR: Well, I think...He had a good dance band and, in those days, people loved to dance. I mean, it was a different era. You know how they dance today, it’s like one guy’s in one part of the room and the other is – they’re just moving around individually. [Laughs.]

[Our dancing] was together dancing, and ballroom dancing was very big in those days: ball dancing - not only [at] ballrooms, but every place.

People liked to dance, you know and he had a great dance band and Lawrence is a great dancer himself. I don’t know where he learned to dance, but he is a wonderful dancer. And liking to dance himself, you know, I think he’d get out on the dance floor and I think he realized his band was a good dance band. And then, people liked him. The public loved Lawrence. They were crazy about him and he made friends with the public. He was real good with the public and he never shied away from any of them.

He was always at their beck-and-call for any appearances or anything and people just liked him. Particularly the farm people, I think, were especially close to Lawrence. I think they realized he had come from a lot of the background; he would be familiar with their background. And they used to say [farmers] were the hardest working people in the world. And they are. They work very hard, those people. But they could sure dance all night, you know. [They would] take care of the fields and dance all night.

You looked out from the band stand – of course, in those days, the girls always sat on the band stand with the band – and you’d look out into the ballroom and there were all these heads that were white from the eyebrows up, you know, where they wear their hats, and then the face is bright red. The whole damn hall would be full of these heads that were all white right where the hats end and then the face was red [A406]. But we used to have some wonderful pheasant dinners. Those people in those towns where they know there’s no place for nineteen people to eat - they just don’t have that kind of food, unless you want to get a local bread and bologna in a gas station or something.

And so, those people would get in the churches and make us these wonderful – it was the first time I’d ever eaten pheasant and wild rice. Oh, and after that, I had to have pheasant and wild rice every time they were in season. I said to Lawrence, “Let’s go out and get some pheasant and wild rice. Let’s go play out there where-” These woman would get in these churches where they have these cooking facilities and, if they knew we were coming, they’d make these big dinners and have the whole band out there and make a big party out of it, you know. And they did that because they were so fond of Lawrence.

He was a very good friend. Gosh he had good friends. If we needed – like, for instance, the boys couldn’t get their suits cleaned. I mean, you’re on the road. Where are you going to stop and get a suit cleaned? And so, Lawrence made sure that they would have clean shirts and a shoe shine, but you couldn’t do much about the suits. They were wrinkled at one-niters. There’s not much you can do about that. But anyway, they were bathed and shaved and their hair was cut and the shoes were shined and the shirts were cleaned – as clean as you could get them, anyway, because I’m sure they were hand washed.

But in Aberdeen, South Dakota, it seems that there was a man who was in the dry cleaning business, and I could be wrong about the town. But I’m thinking it was Aberdeen, because every time we’d play there, this man would dry clean all the uniforms; like strip them as soon as we got off the band stand and have them clean when we left the next morning. And that was strictly gratis, you know, just doing him a favor, because those suits could stand up by themselves after three months.

I mean, you can imagine how dirty those uniforms would get. But you know everybody had the same problem; it wasn’t just us. And then there was a man that had an ice cream factory and Lawrence was mad for ice cream. He loved ice cream and this man would pack it in dry ice. [Lawrence] would leave town with this car full of ice cream packed in dry ice. It either was winter or summer, it didn’t matter; we had it all packed in the car. Lawrence would sit there and eat ice cream until he almost got sick. He just loved ice cream!

The man watched his weight all the time because he had a tendency to put on weight anyway, but he loved to eat. He had a terrible appetite. [Laughs.] But he had to be careful because he didn’t want to get fat, you know. And he never really was that heavy of a man, but I could see, with the way he ate, he could be. Very religious man: he was a catholic man – a boy that just loved his religion. Anytime we played a town, he’d go looking – not just Sundays, but any other day – he’d go looking for a catholic church because he wanted to go to mass or he wanted to see the priest, you know. And, as far as his marriage vows, he was 100 percent for his family.

I mean, that’s all Lawrence wanted to do was really get very famous and make lots of money for his family - for Fern and his family. And boy, he had all these girls after him. No way, uh-uh, just Fern. She was thee one in his life and that’s the way it was. That’s the way Lawrence lived his life. He’s just that kind of guy, that’s all. And he and Fern worked out a deal where he was going to go out on the road and she was going to raise the children and that’s the way it was. Of course we came home long enough so they had three kids, you know. [Laughs.]

I always wondered how they’d managed that because we weren’t home that much, you know. But anyway, they’re a wonderful family. Gosh, I just love them and we’ve been good friends for years. So, like I said, it’s not only been an experience having been with him as a champagne lady because, in my day, the champagne lady was thee champagne lady. We only had one girl on the band and it was me. Well, I think during the war, we had a violinist. You know, they were drafting. Every night we had a different band because they – ‘Greetings; you’re coming, we want you.’ [Laughs.] And they were drafting the guys off the band stand over night, so we wound up with – sometimes our band was weird sounding because whatever he could get he hired.

They were drafting men left and right and we lost a lot of our boys, so we had a girl violinist during the war. I said I was the only girl on the band. It comes to mind that Josephine Bowman was from Chicago and he hired her as a violinist because he couldn’t get a male violinist. But yeah, we had a lot of boys. And then, during the war, there were times the band was good and times it was very bad because you’d have people maybe a week and then they’d have to go, you know.

So it was hard to keep organization. But we just managed to travel. And some of those ice storms and oh that Minnesota - that Duluth, Minnesota! Oh good Lord! I never will forget that I didn’t know that, in the world, there was a place that cold. Duluth is the - I don’t know - I think that’s the coldest place I’ve ever been. And, of course, in the summer and in the spring it was gorgeous. But in the winter! I don’t know how much below zero they get, but they really go. I mean, it’s cold! I used to say, “Lawrence, let’s not play there. Minneapolis is bad enough.”
But we’d play that winter for Carnival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you know. We’d play for that and it’s always snow time; I mean, like, it’s building big snowmen and all of that. They’d always dress Lawrence in one of these German outfits; they had the leather short pants with the thing. They’d dress him in one of those little outfits and, me, they’d let have a coat on. They’d put me in one of those – whatever those things are that the German girls wear - you know, the ruffled things or whatever. But they’d let me, at least, put a coat on. Poor Lawrence: he almost had Pneumonia one year.

They stuck us out there and took pictures and had us dancing and carrying on. And, oh, Lawrence kept saying he’s freezing and his legs were purple, you know, because they got socks and his legs were – the poor man was freezing to death out there. It was cold out there! So anyway, that night he was very sick. Oh God, he’d got the worst cold and we thought, ‘We’re going to lose Lawrence. He’s going to be in the hospital from the Winter Carnival.’ [Laughs.] So, the next time we went, we told them, “Lawrence almost ended up in the hospital last Winter Carnival.

Let’s not do any funny things like getting dressed in the short pants and all that jazz, you know. Let us go out there with coats and hats and gloves!” [Laughs.] And so they did. But that one year, I guess they thought that was going to be real cute. It was darling costumes, you know, but Lord, who goes out there in that below zero weather. My ears: I almost froze my ears. And I didn’t know - you know, I always kept those ear warmers or bun warmers or something. I’d always get those on the road when I traveled because I knew it was cold. So anyway, they looked at my ears, one of the men there with the school.

[End of Side A]

MM: So Chicago was pretty important in Lawrence’s life?

JR: Oh yeah, the Trionon and Aragon ballrooms: beautiful ballrooms. There was nothing in the United States like the Trionon and Aragon ballrooms because they were specially built floors. They did [B003] so that when we danced – those people danced for hours – [B004] so you never got tired. And not only that, one was French and one was Spanish [B004] and they were magnificent ballrooms, just beautiful ballrooms - nothing like them, and we played at every ballroom in the United States.

There was nothing like Trionon and Aragon. But, they tore down the Trionon. And, of course, the Parsons family – you know, one had a son but the older one died; Bill and Andy Parsons. They were from [B009] people. Oh, they had a magnificent - and all the bands played there. You know, they had two stages at each ballroom, two band stands, and every weekend they had Battle of the Bands. So, we’d have Goldman and we had Dorsey and we had, you know – they always had another band on the weekends for Battle of the Bands.


But we’d play that winter for Carnival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you know. We’d play for that and it’s always snow time; I mean, like, it’s building big snowmen and all of that. They’d always dress Lawrence in one of these German outfits; they had the leather short pants with the thing. They’d dress him in one of those little outfits and, me, they’d let have a coat on. They’d put me in one of those – whatever those things are that the German girls wear - you know, the ruffled things or whatever. But they’d let me, at least, put a coat on. Poor Lawrence: he almost had Pneumonia one year.

And then, we’d trade off. Aragon was the north side of Chicago and Trionon was the south side of Chicago. So then they’d trade bands; we’d go to Aragon and the band that was out there would come to Trionon. So we’d trade bands for a couple weeks. Lawrence tried to put his band down there as much as he could to get them off the road for a while. But we were always there. We still did a lot road work because the ballrooms were closed on Mondays, and we’d go out and do a one-niter.

So that meant we’d play seven days a week. So we’d go within 500 miles of Chicago and then, Tuesday, it was back to the ballrooms. We’d stay there for a while and then we played hotels around the United States too, you know, when we would sit the band down for a couple of weeks anyway. But, it was mostly one-niters [B022].

MM: What were some of the hotels that you remember most?

JR: The [B023] Hotel in Houston, TX and – golly, now I’m trying to think [B024].

MM: Did you ever play in [B025] in Milwaukee?

JR: No we didn’t play the - we played the Schrader Hotels in Milwaukee. I played there after I left the band as a [B026], they called it. [B027]. That was right up the street from the Schrader Hotel.

MM: [B029] a certain part of the country or was it generally all over [B030]?

JR: I think he liked the Trionon and Aragon because we had the national broadcast out of there at least three nights a week.

MM: Radio broadcast?

JR: Radio, right. And that gave him a lot of good air time, which was worth a couple of bucks, you know? Not only were you [B032]. But they can always put you out on national on radio, not just locally in Chicago, but all over because it was national broadcast. I know, down here, my mother used to say that Lawrence needed more national hook up because she only heard him three days a week down here on the radio. She wanted him on seven days a week, if possible. But that gave him a lot of air time. That was one of the things he had in mind, to have the band there. He also got this national hook up, air time, which was worth a lot of money to a band in those days.

You know, like TV today; you can just have one show and look at the people you can hit with just one show. Well, in a smaller way, radio was like that. When you get three national hook ups, you’re covering a lot of territory just sitting in one place. So that gave us a lot of air time all the years we played at those ballrooms, you know. It helped him a lot. But as far as his following, well – a very strong following in the Middle West: Omaha, Nebraska, Iowa...and I don’t know whether you’d call North and South Dakota Midwest...and Minnesota.

And then, we’d trade off. Aragon was the north side of Chicago and Trionon was the south side of Chicago. So then they’d trade bands; we’d go to Aragon and the band that was out there would come to Trionon. So we’d trade bands for a couple weeks. Lawrence tried to put his band down there as much as he could to get them off the road for a while. But we were always there. We still did a lot road work because the ballrooms were closed on Mondays, and we’d go out and do a one-niter.

So that meant we’d play seven days a week. So we’d go within 500 miles of Chicago and then, Tuesday, it was back to the ballrooms. We’d stay there for a while and then we played hotels around the United States too, you know, when we would sit the band down for a couple of weeks anyway. But, it was mostly one-niters [B022].

MM: What were some of the hotels that you remember most?

JR: The [B023] Hotel in Houston, TX and – golly, now I’m trying to think [B024].

MM: Did you ever play in [B025] in Milwaukee?

JR: No we didn’t play the - we played the Schrader Hotels in Milwaukee. I played there after I left the band as a [B026], they called it. [B027]. That was right up the street from the Schrader Hotel.

MM: [B029] a certain part of the country or was it generally all over [B030]?

JR: I think he liked the Trionon and Aragon because we had the national broadcast out of there at least three nights a week.

MM: Radio broadcast?

JR: Radio, right. And that gave him a lot of good air time, which was worth a couple of bucks, you know? Not only were you [B032]. But they can always put you out on national on radio, not just locally in Chicago, but all over because it was national broadcast. I know, down here, my mother used to say that Lawrence needed more national hook up because she only heard him three days a week down here on the radio. She wanted him on seven days a week, if possible. But that gave him a lot of air time. That was one of the things he had in mind, to have the band there. He also got this national hook up, air time, which was worth a lot of money to a band in those days.

You know, like TV today; you can just have one show and look at the people you can hit with just one show. Well, in a smaller way, radio was like that. When you get three national hook ups, you’re covering a lot of territory just sitting in one place. So that gave us a lot of air time all the years we played at those ballrooms, you know. It helped him a lot. But as far as his following, well – a very strong following in the Middle West: Omaha, Nebraska, Iowa...and I don’t know whether you’d call North and South Dakota Midwest...and Minnesota.


I think his biggest following was, like, the center part, the Midwest. But, we never played at a place where he didn’t have [a following]. We never had it where you go and there’s ten people that show up. We never had that. We packed every place we played. It was a fun time, you know, we gave them a good show. [B050]. He would go out and dance with the women, you know.

MM: So he would go out and dance?

JR: Oh yeah, and send the boys in the band out: a big showman. [B052]. He’d say, “I see that woman out there, she’s looking at my trumpet player. She likes my trumpet player.” The first thing you know, the trumpet player’s out on the dance floor dancing with the girl. We never had any problems back then, like the guy’s not upset – she’s happy that she gets to dance with the trumpet player on Welk’s band. We never seemed to get into any problem with it. But, the girl was thrilled to death that she got to dance with the trumpet player. Then, he’d send the whole band out there. He’d pick up his accordion and I’d sing and he’d play accordion and we’d take care of the dance music because his whole band was out there dancing with the girls.

MM: What songs would he play?

JR: Oh God, he played all kinds of things. [B059]. So anyway, we’d do our thing and for a whole thirty [minutes?], he’d let the boys out there and dance with the girls. And, oh, that made him very dear to the public. They loved that and he liked to [B062] with the public anyway. And then he’d go out and dance with the girls himself, you know. The thing that Lawrence hated so bad, oh God, when – you know, the band stands are always high off the dance floor– and when you go up and you want to request something, you either call the girl singer who’s sitting over to the edge of the band stand and tell her what you wanted or, if you wanted to get the leader’s attention, you pull his pants’ leg.

That used to drive him crazy. That drove him just absolutely mad! It would make him mad because they’d grab his pants’ leg. Well, that was the only part they could reach: their feet. They’d grab his pants’ leg. Oh God, that was funny. You’d look at Lawrence and you knew he was just ready to start a fight. He hated that so bad! And he knew why they did it; it was the only way to get his attention. But, sometimes, he’d have his back to the audience, you know, when he was leading the band. So, they’d come and jerk on his pants’ leg and we knew the minute that they reached out there, the look that was going to come on his face. He was just going to be so furious of them pulling his pants’ leg to ask him something. But, like I said, the audience never knew. As far as they knew, he was happy that they were shaking his pants’ leg.

MM: When Lawrence would reach out his hand, maybe people wanted to touch Lawrence and shake his hand. Even today when you would see the syndication of the Lawrence Welk show, we see that he was close to his audience. Was that true in the `40s when you were with him; that he would reach his hand out and people would want to touch him?


JR: Always, very close. He would sit on the end of the band stand at intermission – you know, we had one a night - and he’d sit on the band stand. And, sometimes he and I both, would sit there on chairs and autograph and talk to the public through the fifteen minutes we were off, which is something that I noticed that - many years later when he played with concerts down here in San Antonio or Austin, I noticed that he’d get a chair during the intermission when all the boys in the band and everybody would leave.

He’d get a chair and sit on the end of the band stand and autograph and talk to people, you know, until the show started again. So he was really much the [B086] with the public. See, he realized the public is the thing that made him so big. Not only did he entertain them, he knew that that was necessary and also be nice to those people. They’re the ones who put you where you are. That’s what’s very important, that he knew that. And his fans were very important. And I’m sure that he has many fans today that maybe [B090]. But usually, at my age, I hear, “My grandmother loved your band!” [Laughs.] And I’m thinking, oh yeah...And when I go to a doctor and he’s, like, 40 years old, like he has been born since I was a champagne lady, you know and he’ll say,

“Yeah, my mother used to tell me about that band.”[Laughs.] And I’m thinking, ‘really, oh that’s interesting.’ But rarely do you run into somebody that says, “Oh, I used to always dance with Welk’s band.” You know, I don’t run into them anyway. I hear from a lot of people, but person to person, I just don’t run into them. There are a lot of people in San Antonio that are big fans of Lawrence’s band, but only because of television. I mean, it’s not that they were ever at a dance with the band when he was playing dances like that. Well, some of them said they went to Reno or where they used to play out there...

MM: Lake Tahoe?

JR: Yeah, they played off of Lake Tahoe. But, the majority of people have not seen Lawrence, except they know him from television. But the other people know him from having danced or seen them a couple times when they played. So I’m sure that from 1939, if you keep covering the towns over and over – I mean you’d play a Minneapolis bar and then play it again and you keep repeating all these cities - Cleveland and all these cities. You’re bound to make friends, I mean, if they like you at all. They’re going to be happy that you’ve come to play.

So, six months later we’re coming again, you know, and we’re making a whole round again. And after you do that so many years – and he had traveled, I don’t know how much before I joined because he had had a small band, a five piece band. He used to tell the story about how he played at the Baker Hotel. Baker Hotel had a base in Dallas, Texas. It’s one of the big hotels. We played the Adolphus Hotel, that’s another hotel we played in Dallas, as I think of it.

And the Baker and the Adolphus were the big downtown hotels. Anyway, he used to tell the story about the fact that Harry James came by and asked him for a job. You know Harry James; we’re talking musical and he’s looking for a place to play. And he came by and asked Lawrence for a job and Lawrence didn’t hire him because he played too loud. [Laughs.] And he used to tell us this story, and it was true, and we used to think, ‘boy, you’ve got taste.’ I mean, here’s the guy that became a big famous man, and you didn’t hire him because he played too loud!

But anyway, I don’t know how long he played in that; he had five men. But the band that Lawrence adored, adored, was Guy Lombardo. He thought Guy Lombardo hung the moon - not that he knew him personally, at least not when I was with the band. We played double band with him at Trionon and Aragon, and whenever he would come, Lawrence was hysterical. He was crazy in love with the band. He thought Guy Lombardo – see, I never was really very fond of Guy Lombardo’s band. I thought it was a nice band, but I couldn’t see why the man was so crazy about that band.

He always wanted to be like Guy Lombardo. And it looked to me like [Lawrence] was going in a lot better direction, in his time, to make it than Guy Lombardo. I wasn’t too crazy about his band and neither was anybody else on our band. We never could understand why he thought – and he didn’t copy Guy Lombardo’s band. [Lawrence] had a commercial sound that fit with that time, you know, as I said; that different kind of band. And he had that kind of band. But he didn’t want to sound like [Guy Lombardo]. I don’t know what he thought, but every time he would come in to play with us at Trionon and Aragon, Lawrence was just hysterical.

He was just crazy about Guy Lombardo’s band, that’s all! [Laughs.] [B444] And we used to go hear him at the Gold room at the Drake Hotel. And he had a sweet band, you know, a real commercial sweet band; a light kind of thing. But anyway, that was his choice. Like I said, he didn’t try to copy him, he didn’t try to sound like Guy Lombardo, but he thought he was the best. There was nobody as good as Guy Lombardo.

MM: When you were with Lawrence in the [B152], do you remember during your years in the `40s and `50s, did you ever play for a special event or a well known American citizen or anyone like that?

JR: No, we played for [B155], I think it’s Bartlesville, Oklahoma. There’s a man that owns Philips 66 gasoline. He’s a millionaire. We played for his daughter’s wedding, I think it was, on his estate and that was a big – I think it’s Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I’m not sure, but he owns that Philips 66 and, oh, they had a gorgeous estate. I can still remember they had this – I think it was like service quarters or something, but it looked like another big house that they put the band in, you know.

And he sent the servants and they had telephones in there and the man, himself, came and asked Lawrence if there was anything else he needed. And they placed the big tents out on the estate and we played in one of the big tents and the weather was nice, you know. But they were so good. They were so kind to us. You know a lot of those affairs that you play, you’re treated kind of like servants, but this man was so nice. And then we played a school, I think it’s Cover Military School, in Indiana. Very elegant, oh gee.

We played for graduation dance. You know, it’s kind of like...what’s the name of it? I can’t think of it...West Point. Well, it’s like a miniature West Point, that Cover Military School in Indiana, you know, where they have the uniforms, the white gloves and oh...I mean, it is ultra ultra. It was one of the most [B177] that we played, I thought. It was one [B178] night, I can remember. Of course, during the war, we played at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. That was where they had all the ambulatory; no arms, no legs. And at that time, they were my age. Lawrence would play the accordion and we’d have to walk through the wards. And I used to say to Lawrence, “It’s not that I - you know, I’ll sing any place, but I get a lump in my throat like two apples.”

I mean, it was terrible. Here are these young men that were my age coming back in this condition, and some of them badly burned [B187]. And we would go and talk to them and they were wonderful the way they were so happy we came; I’m sure it was all the bands, it wasn’t just us. Just Lawrence and I would do a lot of that ward work; you know, walk around to the beds. And of course, for the ones that could come to the shows, they always had an auditorium or a friendly room that they bring them in on wheelchairs. I think the worst ones were the [B193]. Oh it was bad, it was terrible.

But we played all the hospitals, we played all the air bases, we played for all the army camps. We played for award dinners, when they finished a submarine or a ship or airplanes at plants where they made these things. They’d have these big dinners to award these people because they got out so many ships I guess, or whatever. Anyway, there were huge award dinners and a lot of those were in [B200]. And they sold bonds, bonds, bonds! I mean, in the middle of State Street and Chicago they’d put up this stage and stop all the traffic and the bands would do about an hour and sell bonds.

And the band bought a lot of bonds. And then, every time we were in Chicago during the war years, we played at least once a week at the bond center there. They had a center there where all the bands donated their time to play and sell bonds. But on the streets or where ever it was, it didn’t matter, we just jumped on the band stand and the band went up and played quick. You know, those were war days and we were glad to give anything possible that we could give, in the way of time.

I think Lawrence was approached a couple of times about going USO, those USO tours the bands took - some bands, but not all. Not that I’m not patriotic, not that I didn’t lose a couple very dear friends in the war, not that I didn’t care, but I really didn’t want to go overseas. I don’t know that Lawrence wanted to go either. He had some boys on the band that wanted to go, but he asked me and I did not – you know, I’ll sing for anything in the United States of America. [B218] I’ll go, whatever, it doesn’t matter, but I really don’t want to go overseas.

And some of the bands, not a lot, but some of the bands did. Well, we lost a few band members of [B220]. But I think, like, Glen Miller was in the service and Eddy Dukeson was in the navy, he got lost on the ship or something. So, I mean, we lost one boy singer, Bob Casey. I think he was in the marines and he got killed at Iwa Jima and he had been with the band a couple of years and got drafted. Then Tommy Chariton’s brother was at Pearl Harbor when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor I think there was about eight weeks before he could find anything out about his brother because it was such a turmoil out there in Pearl Harbor when it happened; such a shock.

So I think before the war and after the war, those years were better. I don’t remember. We had coupon books for shoes and we had coupon books for – well, of course I wasn’t doing any cooking, but we had a lot of married boys on the band, you know – and they had sugar coupons. We had those coupon books; those big, fat kind of books. The only thing I needed was the shoes and then, whenever I could get stockings, whenever we’d get someplace where somebody had some stockings – like, they’d give me a box of stockings and it was like buying gold. Yeah, those were tough years. It was very hard, some of the places – [B242]. They have a hotel in [B242] that I’ll never forget, although there were a lot of them just like it. But, it’s right on Main Street, I can still see it.

We used to laugh so hard because every time we played [B243], which was a place we played quite often [B244] - but they have, on the floor right by the window, there’s this big rope and it’s by the radiator...[Laughs.]...and it case of fire, you climb down this rope out the window. And it’s a big rope! I’m talking like what you see on these big ships where the anchor goes. [Laughs.]...a big thick rope, I couldn’t even lift the thing, let alone throw it out the window! Now I think the hotel – like, on the main floor I think there were restaurants – so [the hotel] was, like, upstairs like a lot of little towns. [B251] I think it’s like two floors up there.

But anyway, I looked out that window with that rope down there and I used to say – and there was another one, I forget what town it was, that had a rope ladder and you throw that thing out in case of fire and go down that rope ladder. [Laughs.] And it’s a funny thing. I thought, there should be a law about climbing out of a window. You could get hurt jumping because you’re kind of far up there with some of those windows. But we were at this Edison Hotel in New York City when we were playing there, and this guy fell asleep in his bed and burned up the apartment at the floor just below where the band was staying.

The drapes were burning and the smoke was coming up and they, of course, cleared the whole hotel. We were a strange looking bunch in the lobby; not only the band, but the other people in the hotel. And we’re all down there with nightgowns and housecoats and hair rollers and everything and I said it was so funny because of the strange array of people down there in those clothes. Nobody brought anything. We just – there’s a fire, we got to get out of the hotel. What were we going to do for clothes? I mean, that doesn’t come to mind.

The thing is, let’s get down in the lobby. And so, they treated us all to borsch and bacons or something; they gave us all breakfast because they got the fire out. Plus, he burned up the whole room up there, and they couldn’t take the chance that the whole hotel [B286]. But I remember, at least they had a fire escape. [B288]. I had never seen those things, you know. But you can run into a lot of things in small towns. You know, I used to say to the guys, “What if the rope burns? You’re in tough shape if the rope burns! You can’t throw out the rope if it’s burnin’!” [Laughs.] But I presume they thought that’s the next best thing because they didn’t put up those iron escapes like they did in a lot of towns.

MM: During these times, you know, when you were staying in all these motels, was Lawrence pretty good as the leader? And he made sure everything’s okay?

JR: Oh yes. Well, he was very strict with his boys, I mean, as far as – their private life is something else, you know, whatever they want to do. We had band meetings quite often and he’d always tell them they were representing the champagne music and he wanted the people to know that he had nice people on his band. What ever they did, they were representing him and his band and he would like for them to take that into consideration. And, you know, we never had any problem. I mean, we didn’t have boys that drank a lot, we didn’t have boys that – we had a lot of nice men on the band. We had a lot of married men and young married men with children. And we had single boys, but they weren’t a wild bunch.


They weren’t wild musicians. As I look back, I think there were some bands that had some pretty wild stuff going on, you know, even in old days. But we never had any problems; we never had any dope problems or drinking problems. Now, I will say that the boys – living together, sleeping together, eating together - after a while, they get on each other’s nerves. And, every once and a while, we did have a fight on our hands.

But it was only because they were over tired, they were over worked, and it was just night after night. They were tired and sick of each other and so they’d fight, and of course, they would shake hands and be friends after that. They knew how it was, you know. It was just trouble from being exhausted, that’s all. They were looking to get into something because they were so tired.

MM: Do you keep in touch with any of these people that you used to perform with?

JR: Yeah. A lot of them have died, though. A lot of the boys have passed on. I keep in touch with Tommy Chariton, our piano player, and his wife. He was with us a long time. And more recently, I’ve heard from Bobby Beers. I didn’t know where he was. The last I’d heard, he was in San Francisco – had a band in San Francisco or something. But, when I heard from him, I guess he wrote to the Welk office out there like they do, and found out my address, so I have talked to him on the phone several times and corresponded with him from Des Moines, Iowa. And then Bill Taylor, he was the trumpet player.

He was with the band a long time and they live in a retirement home in – he was from Trenton, New Jersey so it’s near Philadelphia where they live, but it’s in New Jersey. And, like I said, [B333], who was the base player – now, he had been with Lawrence a long time. I lost track of him, as I told you. He was in Tucson so I have no idea where he is. I haven’t heard. But you see, it’s funny, because I’ll pick up the phone some day and it’ll be one of the guys, someone that was on the band, and I’ll learn where they are. I’m not unlisted, so they can find me through the Welk office - they’ll want to know why they want to find me, of course, before they release that - or, they can just call the long distance operator, and they know my name, and therefore they can find me listed.

So I hear from a lot of them by mail and [B345]. And lately, it seems that the older I get, the more important I seem to become. People are wondering, ‘If she’s still alive, I wonder where she is.’ [Laughs.] [B347] Because a lot of people are dying off and they get in their seventies and they, some how, don’t make it very much longer. Like I said, we’ve lost a lot of band members. I can think of a lot of them I used to correspond with, but one by one they died off. So, either the families or if the wives were living - someone always notified me. Paul Sonny died last year, he was a trumpet player on our band for a long time and he lived in Florida and they called me to tell me he had passed away. And, like I said, you hear about them all the time, or somebody else, one of the other band members, has kept in touch and they heard and they’d let me know.

So, we were always going to have a big reunion, and somehow or other, we never got around to that. Lawrence was always going to have a big reunion out at the [B363] and include all the old band members and the whole group. And somehow or other, we never got to that. You know, we’re so spread out all over the United States and, you know, some of them may not be able to afford to go and some of them maybe couldn’t just drop everything and some of them maybe weren’t well enough to go. So, it’s pretty hard to get an old group like that together. And the years they were talking about doing that – that was quite a few years back – they could’ve found a lot more that were still living, but today, they’re getting littler and littler through. We don’t have that many people anymore.

MM: What do you remember in your era with Lawrence Welk, and of course, you’ve kept in touch with the band and so forth – what would you say your fondest memories or the most important point to remember about the man, Lawrence Welk?

JR: Well, like I said, he was kind and considerate. I mean, considerate – that’s a big point. You’ve got a girl on the road who’s freezing half the time, dressing in the car, trying to keep her hair up, making appearances, autographing records in these towns, going to radio stations in every little town, in every big town. You know, you have to try to look decent when you’re so tired and I think just having a man be that considerate of someone [is great].

You know, you’re so tired and [women] have so much more to do than men have. Women have dressing and makeup and hair and all that stuff, and you don’t have time for a beauty shop. You got to roll your own hair, wash your own hair and try to look decent in your clothes, which have been – you know, you try to hang them up and steam them out with the showers in the hotel rooms and that sort of things. And I think he was always very considerate and I appreciated that a lot.

I mean, he wasn’t demanding and he was pleasant to have around. He is a very likeable man and had a lot of personality. Like I said, I got along real good with Lawrence all the years I worked with him. And when I left, we remained friends – and with the family. We’ve always been friends, you know, and with Fern and the children. And of course, like I said, it’s been so many years ago that the kids have known me since they were young children.

And of course with Larry, like I said, he was born while we were in Houston. He was born in Dallas. So I keep telling Lawrence he has a Texan in the family; of course, they were only living there temporarily before they moved. And then, I could see such talent. Lawrence had wonderful talent with the public. He had this way of handling the public that was just terrific. He was great on the band stand. He had a real love affair with the public. And it was nice working for someone that had that kind of talent that you could see was a natural talent. He just knew what the public liked, that’s all.

He just knew what kind of music they liked, and he also knew how much they wanted to get involved with the band and get next to the band and, like I said, with the boys on the band. He sent them out there as good will men and he’d have me out there as good will, too; [B448] everybody and doing everything and I think we all liked him so well that we were happy to because it was also helping the band and helping us. The better the band looked the better you looked, you know, which was one thing he always tried to stress. You were always representing the champagne music Lawrence loved. No matter what you were doing or where you were, as long as people knew you were a member of the band, they were going to draw a conclusion about if you were you a bad person or if you were you acting terrible. So everybody was kind of, like, on their toes. And, like I said, most of the people we had on the band were real nice. The musicians were really terrific men. He had a real good clean cut bunch. We never had any problems with our band. Never. None. And it was interesting, I’ll say that. And most girl singers that ever have been with a band and you hear about a lot of them. More and more are coming up on PBS, you know. They’ve all been band singers at one time or another, if they’re older, and they can tell you the same story. Oh, I mean that road work was rough and there wasn’t a band that missed it.


You had to be on the road, you had to do road work or your band wouldn’t go any place. That’s how they built their names; they did a lot of road work. And records – records were very big too. That’s another thing. We had appearances in all the record shops. Most towns have a music store, no matter how small of a town, you know, within reason. They usually have maybe two restaurants, a hotel, a motel outside of town, and a music store and a grocery store. [Laughs.]

And a lot of those little towns had radio stations and they might be two miles down the road for coverage, but they’re still the local radio station. So, you always get interviewed that afternoon before the dance, you know, at all the radio stations. But we did everything, you know, whatever we were asked to do, we did it. Of course, I don’t think we always looked that great at some of those record autographing parties because you’re tired, you don’t want to get out of bed and go do record autographing. But, you know, it’s one of the things that you need to do to further your career.

And so, as tired as you are, you get up and do it anyway and try to look decent. That’s the main thing; you try to look decent. And it’s hard to look real good when you’re tired and it’s not like you can get to a beauty shop or get your clothes cleaned and pressed. You just couldn’t do all that stuff, you know. So it was tougher, and tougher on women than men on the road like that.

MM: At the North Dakota State University, we’re making an effort now with the children of Lawrence Welk and the Welk Group Incorporated and Larry Welk Junior, president of the corporation in developing the archives and collections of Lawrence Welk in the University in Fargo and we think it’s a wonderful place because he’s a native of North Dakota, left North Dakota and became famous at WNEX and started his career in Yankton, South Dakota and then went on to Chicago. And, of course, you were with him during those years as the first champagne lady. And then he went to California.

It’s interesting because the Lawrence Welk show is the only television program, according to Margaret [B500], that first was on local television in Los Angeles, went to ABC, then went to syndication and it is now on public television. So there is a renewed interest in the music of Lawrence Welk because of the public broadcasting throughout America. But I think you can play a role in helping us in letting people know of the era of the 1940s so that we can collect material of the days, not only on public television and on national television, but those earlier years too will help us in this effort to develop the collections and archives of Lawrence Welk because I think he will be a very important figure in the popular music, big band era in America.

JR: Oh I’m sure, because I think by the time Lawrence’s band got so big on television, I mean, there weren’t any bands left that I can think of. He had not out lived the people, but the band era. He went on to bigger things where the others had given up, retired or whatever, you know what I mean. His band was about the only one left from the band era, I think.
There were a few left, but there weren’t many. Most of the big band era, they were playing every now and then maybe when they got together. Like down here, once and a while they’ll bring a band in - ‘Glen Miller’s band under the direction of...’ you know, maybe a boy that had been with his band or someone that Mrs. Miller let have the library if she gives them permission, and they can play his library to sound like his original band and that sort of thing. Peter Dukeson, of course, took up his father’s band, Eddy Dukeson, you know, when he was killed in the navy, and in later years, his son came up with the band.

So there were few and far between. So many people knew Lawrence by the time he got that big on television, he was already very well known nationwide anyway because he had done all that road work for years and years. It took him years to become that big. Lawrence worked for years before he became what you would call a real big named band group. It took him a long time; it certainly wasn’t overnight. It was many years that he worked to get to where he got to before he retired.

[End of tape.]

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