Welk Shrugs Off New Rhythm and Blues Fad

Calls it Only a Seasonal Dance Craze

Ames, Walter. "Welk Shrugs Off New Rhythm and Blues Fad." Los Angeles Times, 23 January 1955, sec. 8C.

He’s Not Jumping- The current rhythm and blues craze among teenagers leaves Lawrence Welk calm. He sees it as quick way to empty a ballroom.

A lot of corn has been husked in Iowa sinceLawrence Welk hid behind a barn and practiced dancing-with a pitchfork. But he must have learned his lessons well because the dances he improvises on his Friday evening 8:00 KTLA (5) show are among the more popular items on the program.

I hasten to add the Lawrence’s partners, first, Roberta Linn, and the current Champagne Lady, petite Alice Lon, are quite an improvement over the old pitchfork partner. But someday, don’t be surprised if he revives the fork routine. He’s one of TV’s top showmen and certainly inspires his entire band organization to assert themselves into special routines to keep the show near the top of all local polls.

“I’ve done pretty well in keeping the pitchfork out of the picture so far,” Welk admitted when I trapped him during rehearsals in the Ocean Park Aragon Ballroom the other day.

He Shrugs off Fad

Since most of Lawrence’s melodies are on the smooth side, I tried to erase his smile with a jab about the new teen-age craze for rhythm and blues music. It’s a real fad that has true music lovers concerned. But Lawrence shrugged it off as just one of the usual seasonal freaks.

“I guess if the teensters want to go into contortions when they dance, that’s their privilege. I know if I played that stuff all night long, I’d empty the Aragon of my steady customers before 10 p.m.”

Currently Welk and other top-notch bandleaders in the country are making a serious study of dance music. They feel they lost a generation of dancers during World War II and don’t want to lose another generation. One of their big concerns is the tendency of recording companies to feature small combos singing novelty numbers instead of trying to sell big name bands for dancing purposes.

Father Man of the Soil

“Father always tried to keep me down on the farm,” said Welk. He happened to be a man of, the soil and a blacksmith by hobby. Although he didn’t discourage my love for music, he wanted me to stick around the old homestead. If he ever knew I danced behind the barn, he never let on.”

“I finally made a deal with him on music. I promised to stay on the farm until I was 21 if he would buy me an accordion. I guess he knew he was working on a long-shot, because he agreed. I took a few lessons and started playing for wedding festivals, square dances and other community affairs. When I reached 21, father offered me 160 acres of the farm for my own. But the long-shot venture didn’t come in. Music was in my blood and off I went,” Lawrence smiled.

Under Kelly’s Wing

“A gentleman named George T. Kelly who had an act titled ‘Peerless Entertainers’ took me under his wing when the going seemed the toughest,” Welk smiled. “He convinced me a band-leader had to be a good businessman, a top-notch greeter and, above all, had to be able to fit himself to the mood of the audience he was playing for.”

How true this held for Welk is shown during the depression years when ballrooms were closed tight. He found himself stranded with his crew in Phoenix. After hocking a diamond ring for $75 to feed the fellows-and his own family-Welk proved to be a smooth talker by getting a ballroom opened so he could play dances. His key-a promise to assume all losses personally.

“My assets at the time totaled nothing,” he grinned.

That proved to be the turning point and Lawrence admits “God must have been sitting in for a chorus or two that night. He certainly was on our side.”

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