When I was a boy, most of the music around our place came from my dad’s records. For the longest time, the only music I heard my mom listen to were a few Englebert Humperdinck records, and even then, not so often. That is until one day I came across 3 or 4 records in the house by a guy who went by the name Li’l Wally. These records were all sung in Polish, and one of them seemed to be all spicy tunes because when my mom listened to it, her face went red and she laughed so hard.
I didn’t know anything about this Li’l Wally guy. How would I know about some guy who sang in Polish? I couldn’t speak the language. My mom could, although there were holes in her Polish. She would use it when she talked to her sisters on the phone, when she didn’t want me or Susan or Joey to know what they were talking about. She filled the holes with English words though, and there were enough of them that sometimes we could get the idea.
Li’l Wally was Walter Jagiello. He played Chemnitzer concertina and drums, and he made up polkas which he sung in English and in Polish. He started out playing with Eddie Zima’s group in Chicago before starting his own Happy Harmony Boys. He was the King of Chicago Style polka, maybe the King of all polka, I don’t know. What I do know is that he had that something that no matter what the genre, makes someone a star. I don’t know how to define it exactly. Maybe the word is charisma.
Here is Li’l Wally performing Johnny’s Knocking on the Lawrence Welk show.
And here’s the When I was Single Oberek
And one more…Oh How She Lied….featuring Li’l Wally on drums and vocals
My sister Susan has pointed out that there was lots of other music around our place back when I was a kid, and it’s true, there were her records and my records too, and as well, my sister played piano at home quite a bit. I can remember her practicing Fur Elise a lot, for instance. Still it was my father’s records that I remember most, from the Dixieland to the Mills Brothers to Mr. 5X5, Jimmy Rushing.