By Gary E. McKee
From the August 2015 issue of Texas Polka News
This journalist after hearing: my cousin, father, sister, grandfather, uncle, etc. played in or has a polka band, is beginning a random series attempting to untangle the family grapevine that is prevalent in this culture. If any readers have a musical family they would like documented please contact the Texas Polka News or Polkabeat.com.
The Hodde musical legacy began in a blackland prairie town named Cele, founded in the 1890s, southwest of Taylor. The social center was the Richland Saloon, established in 1891. In 1951 the Weiss family purchased it and began servicing the farmers of the area with gasoline and basic food items including beer. The Weiss families were musicians and their weekly jam sessions at the store invited other folks to come sit in and play. Lorenz (“Boots”) Hodde and his uncle, Fritz Wendland were regulars, with Lorenz playing banjo and Mr. Wendland playing guitar with popular and traditional songs, such as You Are My Sunshine. Playing with them was a young Fritz Hodde. The many jam sessions paid off with Lorenz forming a small combo that went by the name of Boots and His Buddies.
The first “professional” gig came when the band scheduled to perform at a family reunion cancelled the morning of the reunion. Lorenz received a call to see if they could come play. Several phone calls later they showed up and a band was born.
The word-of-mouth gigs kept coming and soon they were playing live on KGTN radio out of Georgetown. This free publicity increased their bookings and the need for a name soon. A.J. Zrubek, a band member, suggested Fritz Hodde’s Fabulous Six and the name stuck, mostly, an advertisement in a 1968 West newspaper invited folks to Linden Hall in Elm Mott for a wedding dance by Fritz Hodde’s Fabulous Five.
Fritz’s family was growing, and son, Scott, began showing interest in music. At the age of nine, he began keeping rhythm with a pair of spoons to his Dad’s music. His persistence convinced his dad to buy him a button accordion and within a year he had mastered If I Were A Bird. After several years of learning the songs and stagecraft, Scott formally joined the band in 1990. Father and son were playing even more frequently and doing studio recording. Scott, like his father, was becoming proficient on saxophone, trumpet, and drums. When the time was right, Scott married Diane Pavelka (an accomplished accordionist) and a son, Brandon, was born. Between hanging out with his future bandmates at picnics and festivals Brandon’s desire to play music took the lead.
At the age of twelve Brandon became a full-fledged member of his Grandfather’s Band. He started on drums, learned the saxophone, guitar, and is presently teaching himself the steel guitar. He is currently working for the county while taking online college classes in business management. When asked whom he wished that he could share the stage music there were two choices, one was Tommy Strmiska, a drummer with the Vrazels, who has passed on, and Vince Gill, the country music performer.
Growing up in family band, Brandon spent many hours hanging out with the children of other musicians as their parents were on stage or meeting fans. The frequent exposure to music at an early age implanted the songs in their brains and when they started to learn instruments the melodies were known to them so they just had to figure out how to apply the music to their chosen instrument. As he and his friends (still mostly pre-teen) were learning their chops on stage, they began to get together to play without adults. These informal gatherings soon led to The Ennis Czech Boys and then All Around Czechs was formed.
Brandon’s perspective for playing is fairly common in the music world: “I do it because I love it, when you’re on stage, particularly with my dad and grandfather, there’s not a feeling like it on earth, the bonding on stage with other musicians. As my friend and bandmate Jerry Petter says, the money we receive at gigs is for the setting up and tearing down of equipment, the time between spent playing music is pure pleasure.”
In 2015, Brandon entered the Accordion Kings and Queens contest, sponsored by Texas Folklife. The contest is aimed at giving young accordionists a chance to compete with others of their genre. Brandon won the state wide contest in the Czech polka category and recently performed at the Miller Outdoor Theatre to a crowd that was larger than most of the towns he had been playing at in the Central Texas area. His experience humbled him as he shared the stage with others in his age group that were playing Zydeco, Cajun, and Tejano styles along with the masters of music such as Los Lobos and the Texmaniacs.
Along with one of his bands, All Around Czechs (all under 30), he hopes to inspire other “youngsters” to keep carrying on the tradition.
The Hodde family is a fine example of keeping the music tradition alive. Brandon said that when he starts a family, he hopes there will be a musician included, but “no pressure, of course.”