Interview with Jimmy Schwab (JS)
Conducted by: Homer Rudolf (HR)
Strasburg, North Dakota, 10 September 2004
Transcription by: Amanda Swenson
Editing and Proofreading by: Jessica Holkup and Linda Haag
German Expressions corrected by Marvin L. Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
HR: Your name and where you were born.
JS: Jimmy Schwab, and I was born 6 ½ miles northeast of Strasburg.
HR: Can you tell me where your family lived in Russia, and when they came to the United States?
JS: From the history that I’ve read, they were from the Baden area. They were German Russian. They went from Russia to the United States, in 1839, was it?
HR: What are your earliest memories of music when you were growing up?
JS: When I was growing up, the first thing I recall, my dad and brother playing wedding dances. Sometimes I’d listen to them at night; they’d practice it in the house until 2 o’clock in the morning. I would enjoy that, listening to it in bed. It seemed like it was so much nicer than it ordinarily sounded when you woke up and heard it.
Anyway, when I first got involved, it was the first time I remember hearing of Lawrence Welk, in 1938, when I was 7 years old. He had done his first broadcast from the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. We had a sod house, also like the Welk’s home. They had the deep walls and windows. That’s one of the things that got me started or interested I guess, because that was they’re first radio broadcast. My dad listened to it sitting by that window, and we had the radio sitting on that platform there. Other than that, I guess, from then on in, well I knew who Lawrence Welk was. Then later on in 1942, I think he came with his whole band. They played down here at the school gymnasium. I got to go, while I was a youngster to listen to the band.
Later on when I was in high school, I started with my dad, playing weddings. Well he didn’t play too much anymore then. I started playing with him and then different guys like Eugene Weisbeck, I played with him for a while. I played some with Mattie Lip. Then later on, while in school, we had a high school dance band, performed six pieces called “The Silver Six”. In 1956 when I went into the service, I was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska Fort Richardton. We had a four piece band up there called “Four Spots”, I think it was, “Blue Notes, Blue Notes”. And after the service when I came back, we had already started the Bubbling Quintet, before I went into the service in 1956. So when I came back we just kept on going. We got bigger and started doing a little different kinds of music.
For the old time, Gene Weisbeck was the man we used. We called him the “Waltz King”. And from that we kept on playing: old time, some wedding music, like you still hear once and a while. But we went also a little more into big band songs, in the 50’s and 60’s. People were dancing like mad. Sometimes we’d play 6 or 7 nights in a row, without getting any nights off and having to do the chores, it was sometimes pretty tough. Every so often, I’d lie beside the tractor wheel and rest for 10, 15 minutes and I was ready to go again. Those were pretty tough years, many hours of sleep lost, but we still enjoyed it; the people made it fun. It was a very good experience. Until the 19… well when Gene retired, in the late 1980’s, early 90’s, we more or less, started doing maybe a little bit less of the real old time, because Gene was the always one who would take the lead in those tunes. Then we slowly started drifting, the crowd started getting smaller. We started playing at more night clubs. Then we were doing three piece, “Bubbling Trio”, the same outfit we first started with three piece, and it was the same three guys that were left at the end, that still played. That was about 1992, a couple surgeries, I had a couple, my brother had one, and so I said, “I’m not going to play no more, we put in our time and that was enough”.
Now we are not doing anything, unless, maybe some party comes
up. But I’ve been trying to keep my trumpet in shape and
going. And then when you get older, you can’t blow no
more. So we were pretty well all done with that business. Now
I take it a little bit easier
living in town, doing a little bit more card playing, and stopping at the casino once in a while. There are other interests. I suppose that sometimes, a person misses it a little bit, you know, after so many years, but I don’t regret, even though it was tough sometimes, I don’t regret it.
HR: Who was in the Bubbling Quintet?
JS: Bubbling Quintet, well at one time we even had six piece. We had Bill on the accordion, my brother Larry on the piano, my brother Clarence on drums, Gene Lispeck on the accordion and I was on trumpet. So we had six, and we’d switch, we’d use three trumpets sometimes, and saxophones. Bolser passed away, well that was way back in 1970’s I think when he passed away, we didn’t have a sax player. So we added Doug Webber with the tuba, but that was a little problem carrying that big tube on top of a van or a station wagon; you had to tie it down. Anyway, Doug died in about 1989 or 1990. But even by that time, we weren’t doing any five or six piece jobs anyway. My brother died, the drummer died, then I had to do double, I had to drum and play trumpet at the same time, and that’s when I had my surgery. I said, “I can’t hold that trumpet up and play drums at the same time, my arm can’t take it”. “So,” I says, “if you guys want to book any jobs, you can go ahead and do so, but,” I said, “Bill, you’ll have to use your automatic drummer, and I’ll try to play trumpet”. So anyway, that’s where we’re at, we just haven’t been playing much, and we don’t really care to.
HR: What instrument did your dad play?
JS: My dad played accordion. He played the old time wedding waltzes. He played mostly all the weddings years ago. He had done it without an amplifier, in that big blue room down there. He had that old accordion; it had a good loud sound to it, and the people they danced like mad. (laughs) He played until about ’58 or something like that, then he died, wait a minute, no he didn’t play till ’58, he died in 1956 when I was in the service, after basic training, when I came home is when he died. He was only 54 years old when he died. So people loved, well he was one of those guys who was good for weddings. He’d play and sing, and make fun for the people and they enjoyed that.
HR: Do you know how he learned to play the accordion?
JS: He learned from a young kid, just playing by ear all the time you know. I don’t know, there’s a little story I might mention. He used to be up late at night and play. Years ago, the people had a habit of trying to dry their corn upstairs in their house, you know. But one thing they forgot, the rats like corn. He’d sit up and play at night, and he had his .22 next to him, and that big window, where they’d have a hole up in top or down in the corner. He’d sit there and play and practice, and then when a rat or mouse would come, he’d shoot it with that .22. I don’t know if he ever got any or not, I was too small to remember that. But, that’s how he tried to get rid of those mice and rats, but I think they learned their lesson to do that corn cleaning over in the barn. So, there’s little things you think of once and a while, but sometimes when you want to remember them, you don’t.
HR: Well, how did you learn to play?
JS: How did I learn to play? Well, I bought-- my dad bought me-- a trumpet. I said I wanted to join the high school band, me and a couple of my buddies. I told my dad I wanted a trumpet, I’d like to play trumpet in the band. So, he got me a trumpet for 100 dollars, and we played in the high school band. That’s where we started the “Silver Six”. After high school, I went, well, in 1950 then I started our own band with some of them guys from before. Bill was a very good accordionist, but he didn’t care too much to play the old time like Gene did. They just had a different style, so it was good that we had two different accordion players that could do one or the other. From there on, I just kept on going until ’56, and then my brother and I went into the service. I was drafted and he volunteered so we’d get out at the same time. We were in there from ’56 to ’58, then we came right back and just kept on going for another 40 years.
HR: Did you read music then, or play mostly by ear?
JS: We played mostly by ear. Bill had written a few arrangements that we used, but it was more or less some of the Guy Lombardo or Glen Miller style or some of it. We worked on some of the theme songs that the big bands were playing, like Russ Morgan-“Dust Your Heartbeat for Me”, and Lawrence Welk- “Bubbles in the Wine”. What was its name again, I can’t think of the name now. I should, he’s a very popular star, he died a couple of years ago. I even saw him when I was up in Alaska; he almost went on tour with their band. “Thanks for the Memory”- Bob Hope. He came up in 1956 to Anchorage to the army base, to entertain the troops, and that’s where I saw him. But anyway, we did some of those theme songs from some of those bands, during the Big Band Era. But that wasn’t quite as much as the old time as what you’re probably more interested in, in this documentary. The old time music was different, was more lively music, I guess.
HR: More about old time music, what do you mean by old time music?
JS: Well, the old time waltzes and polkas. Like my dad played with Gene Weisbeck. Then my dad would do a lot of them old marches like the “Repass Band March”, “Under the Double Eagle March” and all that stuff. Then he’d run bass on the accordion. He’d practice them late at night, and we’d be in bed and listen to it. So I don’t know what else about old time music I can say, you had some last night here. I’m sure that they played a lot of the stuff, I know Victor Schwaan does any way. And Marv, well he might have a little different style but he’s pretty much old time too. They do a pretty good job. We just used to play both and when we quit, I just figured, well that was long enough. You have to quit, there are only so many years you can put in.
HR: Did you play barn dances?
JS: Barn dances, maybe two or three of them. I was pretty small yet, when I first started. Larry and my dad had a few that they’d play. I played maybe two or three of them. Gene and I played a few proms. We played a prom at Hag once, just two of us, you know, some of them would only hire two guys. We also played some of the bigger ones, at the bigger schools, and then we used four or five piece. I know I have a picture at home, where we played one at Linton. We had a picture of that, then, I don’t know, I probably got some more pictures at home, but I can’t think of them. Probably proms and maybe school dances that we’d play for.
HR: How far did your group travel?
JS: Oh boy, we traveled throughout North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Washington D.C., and Austria; we got around a little bit. That was when we still had five piece.
HR: When you played in North and South Dakota, did you stay overnight?
JS: Sometimes we did. Like we used to go to Bowman, and play there on a Friday and Saturday night, we’d stay there on Friday night, but on Saturday night after we were done, we’d drive home 160 miles. We’d get home at 8 o’clock in the morning, and then we went to like, Aberdeen. We used to play down there once a month at the VFW Club and the Legion Club. But there we usually went one night, and we came back the same night, if it wasn’t too far. Fargo we’d stay overnight. Jamestown, Valley City, we’d usually go home, unless we had two nights in a row.
HR: Was that common, to have two nights in a row?
JS: Yes, certain areas and certain times like Aberdeen, they were for quite a while, we’d play two there. Bowman we’d play two all the time because it was so far. Fargo, we’d take two nights, and otherwise we’d just go home the same night, because most of us were milking cows and had chores to do. So we would try to get back, if we only had one night, we’d try to get back that same night.
HR: Were there women in the bands very much when you were growing up?
JS: No, no, except in Alaska, we had a woman piano player there.
HR: Did Larry say that you had a sister that played?
JS: Oh, Florence. Yeah, she would, she could play, but she never played dances all that much, just with my dad.
HR: What did she play?
JS: She played piano.
JS: Yeah. Larry and her both played piano. I played some, but just for my own entertainment. I still try it once and a while, but the fingers are so stiff so I don’t get there or where I’m supposed to go. I try to do it for exercise, to try to stay in shape a little. But it’s funny how you forget the tunes after many years, or remembering the keys. Which keys to push, and the air: you don’t get enough air.
HR: How many tunes do you figure you knew?
JS: Oh my gosh, probably 150 or something, if something that one guy didn’t know, another guy did. Bill could play anything in any key, and he could take the lead on the stuff. Like with the trumpet he couldn’t play all the way through anyway, because it would be too hard. So I’d take apart, or he would take apart, or the other guys would take a part, so we’d switch off.
HR: Do you remember playing for weddings?
JS: Oh for weddings, yeah, a lot of weddings. Even after my dad, we still played some after Gene retired you know. His health wasn’t so good anymore so when he retired we were still playing weddings and stuff, but probably not quite as much old time.
HR: Was there music that you needed for a wedding that you didn’t use for other stuff?
JS: For a wedding, oh like the old waltzes, the old “Strasburg Waltz”, and stuff like that, even though we played them at the clubs too, once and a while. We tried to mix up for whatever people liked. There’s some numbers that you never forget; when you play certain numbers, people are out on the dance floor. “Somewhere my Love” the theme from Doctor Shavago, was one of them, when you played that dance, there was somebody out on the floor. There was “Spanish Eyes” and what were some of the other ones, oh, “My Darling Anne”. Those were little, not the old time waltz, they were nice listening to, more or less like dinner music waltzes. “My Darling Anne” “Beautiful Rose” there was just a lot that Bill played when Gene wasn’t there anymore.
HR: When you were playing old time music, what were some of the numbers people would request?
JS: For old time, “Du liegst mir im Herzen,” “O du lieber Augustein,” stuff like that. Especially some of the older stuff, and then at weddings, they’d sing, they’d like that.
HR: How were you paid?
JS: Not very much in the beginning, we used to make 8 to 10 dollars a night in the first years. Well later on towards the end when things got more expensive everywhere, we got up to pretty good salaries. I don’t know if I want to dare mention that.
HR: If people heard the “Bubbling Quintet” would they, could they, know it was the “Bubbling Quintet”? Did you have a style that was different from other people?
JS: Well, yeah, a lot of them told us we had the Lawrence Welk style. So, and then uh, if you played the Guy Lombardo tune, a lot of them would know it was Guy Lombardo.
HR: Do you remember anything about Names Days?
JS: Oh yes, I forgot about that. Yeah, in the old days before I had a trumpet, or before Larry or my dad even played that much they had Names Days. Every year, you’d kind of look forward to that Names, and people would come from town they’d come out there and celebrate Names Days, church feasts, like St. Peter and Paul, St. Mary’s at Hague. And New Year’s Eve, I used to have some of my uncles come out with my dad, late in the morning after 1:00, after the bars closed up. They’d come out there and shoot the shot guns, and scare us kids. They were having their fun. They’d come in the house and make a bunch of noise, but that’s what it was all about in those days. People they looked forward to that. Those tough years, in Russia and Germany I suppose, they were just glad that they were free and they had things they could do, the way they wanted to. I don’t think they could have carried a shotgun in any of those countries.
HR: So what is a Names Day?
JS: Names Day? That’s the name of a Saint, like Saint John, my dad was John, St. James would be mine. Whatever these ordinary names are around here, and from German territory or Russian territory. Whenever they had a Names Day, there were so many ordinary names, they had lots of names, lots of Names Day parties.
HR: Was that the same as a birthday?
JS: Well, somewhat yeah. A birthday is when you were born, that’s your date of birth. And your Names Day, was the Saint of that name. Whatever the Saint was that was their Names Day.
HR: What would they do at a Names Day Party?
JS: Oh, they would play cards or they’d drink. My dad would play when they come here; they would dance and always had something to do. They had excitement, and they had fun.
HR: Were Names Day for the kids?
JS: No, they were for the parents; the older people. Well the kids enjoyed that, we loved it when all the company came. Then when it was all over with and they’d go home in the evenings. You were kind of sad and let down, everything is empty, the yard is quiet, so you kind of miss them leaving in a way.
HR: What if your Names Day was in the summer, during the harvest season?
JS: That I don’t know. In those days, they probably quit, they weren’t as rushed as they are nowadays, with the big machinery and stuff. They can’t hardly take off now; they can’t keep up no more, not enough people to run the machines. The machines are getting way too expensive. But I really couldn’t remember if they, well they didn’t on certain holidays, they didn’t work anyways. Like the big church feast down there at St. Mary’s, on St. Mary’s day, August 15, they didn’t work. Names Days, well I think that they even quit for that. Well, maybe not, not too many of them because usually they were on a weekday. In those days, your weddings were usually on a Monday, or a Tuesday. They maybe went on for two or more days. Felix knows all about that, and Katie. They attended plenty of them. The weddings were plenty long. And I don’t know how they do it, like my dad would play until the next morning, lay down for an hour, and get up and start playing again. I was too young, in those days, so I didn’t have to do that. But we had plenty of times on the road where we lost sleep.
HR: Did both your mother and your father have Names Day parties?
JS: I don’t know if I remember my mother’s. Her name was Magdelina. I’m sure she had a Names Day, but I don’t remember which it was anymore. It was usually the man in the family that would celebrate the Names Day. Maybe somebody else could enlighten you on that.
HR: Thinking about music of the church, was there special music for the funerals?
JS: Funerals, of course, I attended very few funerals, until I got up to high school I guess, and after I had been in the service. Now almost every week, you have to go to a funeral. Neighbors, we’ve lost so many lately, and it seems like you can’t hardly keep up. The funerals in those days, I know my folks used to go if a relative died, but when we were maybe 15, 16 years old, we didn’t go. Maybe the parents felt it was not the best thing for the young kids to be at.
HR: Was German used very much at all in the Catholic Church?
JS: Oh yeah, in those first years. I couldn’t speak English until I was six. I’m still not good at it. In all the schools, everything was in German, until you started going to school, then you had to learn English.
HR: Did they sing in German?
JS: Sometimes, mind feels a little bit.
HR: So you were at the folk festival in Washington D.C., why don’t you tell us about that?
JS: Well, that was in ’76, September I think it was. They had all kinds of entertainment from all over the United States; they had them come in from Mexico and everywhere. They all did their thing you know, whatever they did. We would play between two and three sessions a day for five days I think it was. Then you’d play for maybe it was between a ½ hour and a hour, you’d play and then somebody else would come on and you had the rest of the day free, to go around and sight see and stuff. We had taken a couple around from Pettybone, they were the most loyal people, two old people, he just died this last spring. They were our dancers, and we sometime put on weddings too, and had them dance. They went along to Austria with us, and their son and his wife, they went along too, and we had a nice time, so much to see, and so much to do. We wore out our shoes; we got sore feet, so we had to buy new shoes. That’s how far we walked, but it was a good experience, and we had five good days, and other than that, I guess there’s not too much I can say.
HR: Were you playing inside or outside?
JS: They had tents put up outside. Yeah, they had big tents, they had them all over the place wherever, every band would play or whatever they had, in a different place.
HR: Did people dance when you played?
JS: Oh yeah, there was some dancing going on. Not as much as the wedding dances I guess, but sometimes I didn’t know what the people wanted or liked the best. You sometimes don’t know, you just got to try until everything falls into place.
HR: Do you remember there being, since you played trumpet, a town band in Linton or Strasburg?
JS: In Strasburg, years ago, yeah, those old guys had the Strasburg City Band. But I don’t think they had anything recorded. That was before recorders came out. Every Saturday and Wednesday night they’d have the bandstand that’s out at the Welk farm, that’s what they’d play on, they’d be in there and they’d play all them marches and they were good too. They had a lot of horns, probably a 15 to 20 piece band. They would do it twice a week, so they knew just what to do I guess, and I’m sure they read the music too.
HR: When you were in high school, did you play in the bandstand at all?
JS: No, we didn’t. I don’t think we had that, it was kind of in bad shape, they weren’t using it anymore when I was in high school, but they played like I said, two nights a week. How long they were there, there’s probably some older people around that would know more than I do about that. Because I remember they weren’t using that bandstand anymore when I started high school as far as I can remember. It was there, but there wasn’t any more bandstand being used.
HR: When I grew up in Wishek, we still had outdoor concerts. Did you do some outdoor concerts without the bandstand?
JS: The school band you mean?
HR: Actually, in the summer we had a community band that played concerts.
JS: Oh, well I don’t know, maybe they did before my time. In the high school band, we never did much, maybe a parade, sometimes a parade marching through town you know then the high school band, sometimes we’d play.
HR: Do you remember anything else?
JS: Not really, I got married in ’56, and then I was in the service in Alaska for 18 months, and then I came back again.
HR: Were you a full time musician in the service, or did you do it on the side?
JS: In the service, that was just a side band that we got together. We used to go to the Seal Club or whatever, and they had piano there, and if you wanted to practice or play and that’s how we met I guess, and then we started this four piece band, we would play on Friday and Saturday nights; the Clubs, Service clubs.
HR: And you were paid?
JS: Yeah, we were paid there, we were on our own, that had nothing to do with the service. I think we were getting 12-15 dollars a night.
JS: Well, that was a little side money. You didn’t get paid much when you were in the service. Then they send over half the check home to the wife, so you had to make a little extra bit of money.
HR: Was there anybody singing with the band?
JS: Anybody singing with the band? Bill used to and but then when Gene quit and he played accordion all the time then. He played trumpet also, like I mentioned we had three trumpets, a tuba, drums, and two accordions. Bill and Doug also played trumpets, so we used three trumpets sometimes. Then Bill would sing some of the tunes but when Gene retired and he started doing some singing, not all that much. After Gene retired, he said, I can’t play accordion and sing at the same time. Anything else?
HR: I think that did it, thank you very much. That was good.
JS: Thank you.
End of Conversation.