By Gary E. McKee
From the September 2015 issue of Texas Polka News
The Joe Patek Orchestra, founded by John Patek, was the result of John bringing his musical abilities from Moravia when he immigrated to the Lavaca County area in 1888. After playing in various community bands around Shiner, John formed his own orchestra in 1920. In the 1940s, his two sons, Joe and Jim, joined the band, with Joe assuming leadership.
The band became a regional favorite among the Czech communities of South and Central Texas, particularly with The Shiner Song and Beautiful America. Their recording of an 1800s Mexican folk song, Corrido Rock, even appeared on Tejano jukeboxes.
Patek’s Orchestra recorded more than 24 78-rpms (thick heavy vinyl platter) and 24 45-rpms (smaller, large hole), and several tapes (cassette and 8-track) and LPs (large, thin, small hole). The Patek Band had a signature sound that set it apart from others in the U.S. with a strong brass sound and emphasis on swing. For years, the band played with only a single microphone for the lead singer. This lasted until the 1970s when a second microphone was added to boost the acoustic guitar, and by 1980, three microphones were used when performing.
Dance Floor Prayer
The stories surrounding the Patek band and associates are endless, but this one reveals the loyalty of their fans. Quentin Hoffman and his wife loved to dance. They made two or three dances every weekend back in the day when Bill Mraz’s Ballroom and Lodge 88 were holding polka dances every weekend. One night, Quentin went up to the Lodge 88 bandstand to request one of his favorites, the Youth and Pleasure Polka. As he was guiding his niece around the floor, he crumpled to the floor, stricken by a heart attack. Quentin had always said that when the time came he wanted to die dancing. He got his wish, but just too early; he was only 55. Later, when Quentin's son, Johnny (who had witnessed his dad's passing), got married, he danced the Youth and Pleasure Polka with his mother.
Pateks in Demand
The popularity of the band by the 1950s found them playing at least twice every weekend and being booked a year in advance. It must be noted that the vast majority of polka musicians to this day have day jobs, and playing music is not financially rewarding; they do it cause they love it. One musician told me he looks at it this way: "I get paid to travel, set-up, and tear-down, the time between is pleasure." The Patek Band with various members continued until its final performance at the Annual Fireman’s New Year’s Eve Dance in 1982.
In 2013, the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange put together a tribute to the Patek Orchestra by assembling a crack group of veteran musicians to recreate music that the Patek band had created. By all accounts, both band side and audience side, the Patek magic came alive that clear, moonlit night as opposed to the cold and rainy night 31 years earlier when the music stopped.
Performing that evening was one of the final two members of the band, Daniel Malik. The other surviving member was Paul John Darilek, who had filled in for several months following the death of one of the Patek brothers in 1982.
When I arrived in Shiner to interview Daniel Malik, I was personally unfamiliar with him and unsure how smooth the interview would progress. Arriving at a well-kept house in Shiner, the door opened and a handsome, open, smiling face greeted me. Daniel, with the aid of a cane, escorted me into the dining room, where on the table a fantastic display of photographs and posters of the Joe Patek band was laid out.
When he sensed that the Patek Orchestra was nearing the end of its amazing 62-year run, he began gathering memorabilia. As his lovely wife, Carolyn, entered the room he was proudly showing me the poster advertising the last performance of the Patek Orchestra in Shiner and the poster of the last out of town performance of the band in Needville. Carolyn was digging in a box and produced tickets and photographs to the last performance of this legendary band.
Daniel’s father and uncle both played polka music informally with family and friends and Daniel played along on trumpet. This feeling of camaraderie instilled the desire to entertain and play music that was fulfilled when the Charlie Tousek Orchestra had an opening for a saxophone player. Daniel went right out, bought a sax, learned to play it by ear, and was a member of the orchestra two weeks later. After doing several years with them, he left to become a founding member of Yoakum’s the Hub City Dutchmen. The Dutchmen once performed 14 days in a row. They had been invited to perform in Wisconsin and booked a gig in each state that they drove through there and back.
Polka Dream Fulfilled
In 1970, an opportunity presented itself for Daniel to fulfill his dream, there was an opening in the Joe Patek Orchestra for a sax player. There was only one problem, he had his own band, The Dutchmasters. He privately discussed it with Joe, voicing the conflict with his own band. Joe understood and told him to go talk it over with his band members. When Daniel assembled his band at the local cafe, he had apparently forgotten he lived in small town, as they already knew he was being considered for the prestigious position and told him to go for it. When I asked Daniel why he had always wanted to play with the Patek band, he immediately responded, "Their style!"
Thus, Daniel began his 12-year stint with the Patek orchestra. The seven-man band he joined was already one of the hardest working bands at the time playing three gigs a weekend. Daniel related how once, they left Shiner at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon, drove 300 miles to San Angelo, played, packed up, drove back to Shiner arriving at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, got out of the station wagon, went to 8 o’clock Mass, went home, showered and changed shirts, got back into the Patek wagon, where they drove to East Bernard (only 72 miles!). They played the Kolache Festival, drove back to Shiner, arriving at 5:30 p.m., and he went home to Carolyn who had a big pot of chicken noodle soup waiting, which he consumed, and went to sleep. That adds up to 744 miles, two gigs, in 27 hours! The Bill Mraz Ballroom in Houston, had a standing agreement that every two weeks the Patek Orchestra would play, which went on for years.
For the Love of Polka
In 1962, when Daniel first started out with the Tousek band, the musicians were paid $7 a night, and later when he played with Hub City Dutchmen, he made $10 dollars a night. When Daniel finally reached the Patek band, Joe was paying them $14 a night.
Other gradual changes occurred during Daniel’s time with the Pateks. One large station wagon now pulled a trailer with the Shiner Beer emblem on it, replacing the two vehicles, and meat wagon (from the family's Patek Meat Market). And, as mentioned earlier, the band went from using one microphone on stage, to eventually having three mikes.
After the last performance of the Joe Patek Orchestra on New Years Eve, 1982, the band dissolved. Daniel was burned out from playing several times a weekend for over a decade and rarely picked up his sax for four years. (A 1982 dance listing shows 28 gigs that year.) An opportunity to play with The Wence Shimek Band came along and Daniel returned to the stage to play sax with them for five years before retiring again. Now, he sits in with the Shiner Hobo Band, and is mentoring his 13-year-old granddaughter, Cindy, who is proficient on flute, piano, alto and tenor sax, and presently learning guitar.
The spirit of the Patek Band was once again resurrected on October 17, at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange, as Daniel Malik and other top-notch musicians brought the magic sounds of The Joe Patek Orchestra back to life again. See the photos. The Patek sound never left, it just took a really long break. WOO-HOO-HOO!