Friday, October 19, 2012

wacky tacky icons: Jo Ann Castle

Last week we did something musically that we have been wanting to do for a long time; we went to a little jam session called "Ja, Just Accordions."  Our good friends Kevin and Jody mentioned the event very casually in a conversation one evening, but after I heard the words "Ja, just accordions," my mind wandered to what is most likely the wackiest, tackiest, and most beautiful instrument in the world and I never heard another word they said (sorry guys).

The whole gang getting hot

Held at The Phoenix Club, a German social club in Anaheim, CA, "Ja, Just Accordions" is a monthly meeting of accordionists, dancers, and enthusiasts.  Accordion music is in my blood.  Being from the Midwest, my paternal grandparents were avid polka dancers - I'm pretty sure it's mandatory.  My father took accordion lessons when he was young; I think it was part of my grandma's devious plan to raise the next Frankie Yankovic (her favorite of all the polka kings). Shoot, Mary asked for an accordion for her twelfth birthday - and GOT ONE!!!  So you see, despite our California zip code, our hearts are living in accordion country.

Shirley & Mary
Shirley was GREAT!  She played a lot of songs that we could dance to
 including a medley of "In the Mood" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

Pat just makes me happy.

Were we by far the youngest people in the room by at least thirty years?  Ja.  Did that make us superstars in the eyes of all our new found German friends?  Ja.  Were we given constant adulation every time we pretended to dance the polka and invited back to every upcoming event?  Ja, you betcha.

Ed giving Mary a little polka instruction
Youll be safe saying "Hi Ed" to any guy in the place;
Every man who introduced himself to us that night,
introduced himself as Ed - no joke.

Surrounded by all that dreamy accordion music, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite television stars of all time, Miss Jo Ann Castle.

Jo Ann Castle
(3 September 1939 - )

Taking her stage name from the Castle Accordions that she favored, Jo Ann Castle is best known as a regular performer on The Lawrence Welk Show from 1959 to 1969. On screen she always appeared absolutely carefree and totally filled with the joy of the music she performed - usually standards or ragtime arranged for honky tonk piano and polkas for the accordion.

See what I mean?
An early duet of "Tea for Two" with Myron Floren

I guess it goes to show you that you never know what is going on behind the scenes.  Upon doing a little research, it became evident that Castle's life was not all "champagne music."  Although I can't vouch for the veracity of the written account - it seems as if it was penned by a scorned lover/estranged family member- to read more, go here.  Instead of disturbing you with upsetting details, I thought I would simply indulge you with several of her best clips from TLWS.

"Hejre Katy"
Jo Ann gets a surprise cake and a new job on her 20th birthday.

"The World is Waiting for the Sunrise"

"Get Happy"

"Dark Eyes"

"Song of the Islands"

"A-Tisket, A-Tasket"
Welk was a cruel task master.

"Piano Roll Blues"
The hair is everything.

"The Happy Norwegian Polka"

"Chopsticks Boogie"
My most favorite of all - hilarious and disturbing!

Although it is a polarizing program, I don't know if there was another show in the history of television that embodied the spirit of wacky tacky, however unintentionally, like The Lawrence Welk Show.  Jo Ann Castle stood out from the crowd because instead of being just a lip-synching bobble-head, she was a sturdy, Bakersfield girl (I'll bet you thought Buck Owens was the only star to hail from that fair city), full of energy and talent! Unfortunately, like all of the greats before her, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, et al., there was a lot of pain hidden behind the smiles and accordion trills, but I guess that is the life of a rock star.  Has VH1 ever thought of doing a "Behind the Music" on Lawrence Welk stars? Or at least a "Behind the Hair?"  

"Queen of the Honky Tonk Piano," "Ragtime Piano Gal,"
"Queen of the Ragtime Piano," or just plain Queen of my heart!

Be honest, do you love or hate The Lawrence Welk Show?  Do you have a favorite personality/performer from the show?  If you are a fan, there are so many great clips on YouTube, that you could keep yourself busy all day!

Remember, if you're in the area, feel free to join us at The Phoenix Club on the second Thursday of every month for "Ja, Just Accordions!"

The Phoenix Club
1340 S Sanderson Ave
Anaheim, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. The accordion is one of my favorite instruments. A lot of zydeco music has them and I adore zydeco. Got to listen to a lot of it in New Orleans.

    I love the Lawrence Welk Show as well. Such camp.

    1. TLWS is definitely a happy place for me. I sing along with it!!!

  2. Damn, I wish that I *could* make it to The Phoenix Club. That looks like a great time! I love The Lawrence Welk show and watch it most weekends. And Jo Ann too. Has there been an authorized book done about the behind the scenes of the show? If not, that would be a great read!

    1. I don't know if there is a behind the scenes look at TLWS. I have a feeling things got pretty intense backstage - the demand for "perfection" can create a lot of drama. I always thought Anacani was playing patty cake with Mr. Welk. Bobby went through at least three dance partners. Guy & Rolna got divorced, but they still perform together. And apparently, Jo Ann was a pill popper! Things aren't as square or squeaky-clean as they seem!!!

  3. Chris,
    Are you the one who strong-armed KOCE to quit pre-empting LW three or four Saturdays per month? Or did a fan drop a big donation on them, with strings attached?
    My mom hates to have a week without the show... BUT... she doesn't care for Joanne Castle. Oh well.

    1. Pardon me...
      JO ANN Castle

    2. I wish I wielded that much power! I'm with your mom - MORE WELK!!!

    3. But i guess we don't agree on everything. Obviously, I am a Jo Ann fan!

    4. My mom was kinda... bemused?... by HER mom's need to be taken home (two miles) from any of our family get-togethers (rare) which happened to be on a Saturday... taken home in time to watch Welk.
      And she was downright annoyed by her mother-IN-LAW not wanting to tear herself away from Welk, the time we drove cross-country for days, in order to attend a 50th wedding anniversary. (Oh heck, what's the difference? He's only on for an hour...)

  4. How cute is it that one of the many Eds present was kind enough to offer Mary some polka steppin' lessons! Ah! I do wonder why accordions have gone so out of vogue in the last thirty years or so...judging by the number of them I see at estate sales, it seems like at least one in five amateur musicians back in the day made it their medium of choice! And if your name is Ed, I guess, that more than doubles the likelihood. :) Matthew's grand-dad could play and had a beautiful, mother of pearl-inlaid red one. This post makes me want to learn how to play!

    1. I think that is one of the reasons I like them so much; accordions are beautiful. One of the gentleman carried a 1920, Slovenian, button box that was inlaid/enameled - it was incredible!!! I wish I had the coordination, dexterity, and musicality required to play. Watching accordionists fingers fly over those keys is an inspiration and proof that I'll never play the accordion.

  5. I spent many of my formidable years when the Lawrence Welk show invaded the mecca of midwest tacky...Branson, Missouri. I lived there and worked for 4 years. I ran with a "pack" of girls that turned out to be Peggy Lennon's daughters and they took us to Jo Ann's house many times.

    I'll say that I still love her, love the show, but there were many liquor-fueled ramblings and things going on with her. Poor thing. For a great read, pick up Lawrence Welk's book "Wunnerful Wunnerful." Nothing earth shattering, but each comes SIGNED!!!

    1. What awesome memories! I have promised myself that I will make it to Branson one day but I can't even get out to Escondido to the LW Village out here! I thought that tickets to see Guy & Ralna reunited would be cheap but boy was I wrong! Thanks for checking out the blog!