Today, I said goodbye to Jimmy Brosch. I knew the day would come. After all he was 89 years old. But somehow it hit me hard. I cried through most of the Polka Mass held in celebration of his life. And what a life! He was a pilot, motorcycle rider, speed boat captain, railroad switchman, egg salesman, car salesman, horse rider, bull charmer, molasses maker, boxer, fiddle player, harmonica player, saxophonist, band leader, dancer, singer, entertainer, writer, artist, comedian, beer drinker, Catholic, Democrat, businessman, friend, husband, dad and grandfather. And I probably forgot a few. He packed a lot into those 89 years. I had known about Jimmy all my life as my dad had all of his albums. I was formally introduced when he came to my dad's funeral in 2009 and played some of my dad's favorite polka tunes on his harmonica. Jimmy, as I would learn, never left home without his harmonica. You never knew when the mood would strike for a polka or country tune. Then I saw Jimmy at a dance at Lodge 88 in Houston. I had just started polkabeat.com in honor of my dad and planned to start a "legends" column and wanted Jimmy to be the first person I wrote about. He agreed to be interviewed and invited me to come over to his house. While we were talking, he said, "Why don't we write a book? I have these polka bands I want to write about. People have forgotten them and I think their stories need to be told."
I jumped at the chance and we set on our way to write about 10 Texas Czech Polka Bands. Then Jimmy increased it to 15 and finally 20 legendary polka bands. For a year and a half, we traveled to the homes of the families who shared their stories, photos and hospitality. Little did Jimmy's wife, Lucy, know this would become her project, too as she drove Jimmy to many of the appointments. We also were joined by Mark Hiebert who documented the visits with his camera.
These were interviews, but they seemed more like visits - remember how people used to go visit friends and spend the afternoon talking? I had the privilege of not only breaking a kolache or two with some of the most down-to-earth people I have ever encountered, I was there for personal concerts - Jimmy jamming with Alfred Vrazel, singing and jamming with Helen Kurtz Shimek and Laddie Kurtz, playing harmonica to Clarence Baca's percussion, singing while Dan Pavlas played accordion and Bernice Migl Dobecka played piano and watching June Krenek on the dulcimer.
Once all the interviews were done, I started getting the calls. Have you written any of the chapters yet? Do you have some more for me to read? I would tell people at polka dances, "Don't tell Jimmy I was here. I'm supposed to working on the book!" I worked with Jimmy's son, Jeff, who designed the wonderful cover for the book and laid out each chapter. To keep Jimmy busy while we were working on the book, I suggested he create a companion CD to the book featuring a song from each band. After all, we were writing about music, you should be able hear it!
Jimmy liked telling people, "While you're reading a chapter on Joe Patek you can cue up his song and listen to his music." He researched printing shops and calculated and recalculated what we should charge for the book and the combo price for the book and CD. And hardly anyone qualified for a "free" copy of the book. I had to pay for mine!
We enjoyed the book signings. The best was at Cactus Music. Folks were lined up to get his autograph on the book. Some brought albums they wanted him to sign. All had a story about how his music touched their lives, or the lives of their parents. It was a great day! Jimmy always signed the book, "To my good friend..."
The Polka Mass was wonderful. I lost count of how many musicians showed up to play one last song - the Corn Cockle Polka. You've heard the saying, "they played their hearts out." Well, they did. It was a rousing version and we didn't want it to stop. I was so glad to hear Willie Bohuslav announce that the Polka Lovers Club of Texas Museum will plant a bed of corn cockles in Jimmy's honor.