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Monday, May 28, 2012

Eddie Blazonczyk R.I.P.

Wisconsin's Polka King Passes On

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Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr, came from Wisconsin rock'n'roll roots, but in Chicago he became one of polka's most innovative, prolific and entrepreneurial figures. He died May 21 of natural causes at 70 years of age.

Blazonczyk formed his first band while a teenager living in Crandon with his father in the late 1950s. After moving back home with his mother in Chicago, he and his band, The Bell-Aires, recorded a handful of rockabilly-oriented singles, often with comedic themes. "Masked Man (Hi Yo Silver)" and "The Great Great Pumpkin" number among the most memorable and collectible of  those 45s.


At the urging of the owner of one of the labels he recorded for, Blazonczyk ditched rocking for the polka of his Polish heritage. Blazonczyk built upon stylistic forebears such as Fankie Yankovic, Marion Lush and Li'l Wally by incorporating taste for other genres including country and zydeco. The band he led until 2002, The Versatones (later helmed by son Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr.), incorporated a unique formation featuring accordion and concertina alongside drums, trumpet and electric bass. The resultant variation on traditional Polish style became known as the Chicago sound, influencing many polka groups throughout the U.S. The Versatones discography numbers over 40 albums and includes the 1986 Gramnmy-winning Another Polka Celebration and a brief stint on Cleveland International Records, one-time home of Meat Loaf.


"He was one of my polka heroes," said Jerry Halkowski, former host of Polonia Polka Hits on WYMS and Hardtford's WTKM. Halkowski co-presided over a Milwaukee area Blazonczyk fan club from the mid '70s until 2002. Halkowski also leads The Julida Boys, a curently semi-active ensemble that carries on with their own take on the Blazonczyk legacy sound. "He was kind enough to buy an ad on Polonia Polka Hits for 20 years," Halkowski said of the late singer/multi-instrumentalist who was presented with a National Heritage Fellowship award by Hillary Clinton in 1998.


Apart from a packed concert and recording schedule, Blazonczyk found time to oversee two record companies, Bell-Aire and Ampol, as well as a record shop and weekly radio shows on Chicago area AM stations WCEV and, most recently, WPNA. The International Polka Association he co-founded in 1968 continues to to bear his musical legacy, as does son Tony Blazonczyk's current band, New Phaze.
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