by Roy Hodge
Not that I’m trying to forget them or anything like that, but I was taken back to my accordion days again this week when my mother-in-law sent me a clipping from “The Wall Street Journal” – a review of a book called “Squeeze This! A Cultural History of the Accordion in America” by Marion Jacobson.
In his review, author Ken Emerson noted, “Too low brow for classical music and too cornball for rock – not to mention too white-bread for jazz – the accordion gets no respect. So you’d think that a book devoted to the instrument would be as flat as a boxed set of Lawrence Welk’s ‘champagne music.’
“But,” he continues, “Marion Jacobson’s ‘Squeeze This!’ bubbles over with fascinating information and intriguing insights.”
My wife’s mother knew that I could connect to the review and to the book it is written about, because she had heard about the years that I not only had to struggle with puberty but with the additional burden of taking accordion lessons.
During those years, the accordion came first in the area of after-school obligations to take care of before delving into fun and games with my friends.
My father was a devoted fan of both Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren – “Wunnerful, Wunnerful.” He watched those “squeeze box” masters each week and then would say something like, “That could be you, you know.”
The reason that I, along with many of my friends, was lured into thinking I could squeeze my way into musical fame was not Lawrence or Myron, but a smiling young accordionist named Dick Contino.
According to the clipping my mother-in-law sent me, Marion Jacobson in her book, “Squeeze This!”, wrote, “Contino won national acclaim in the late 1940’s as the ‘Valentino of the accordion,’ playing ‘Lady of Spain’ more than 40 times on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’”
She also noted, “By the 1980’s some rock ‘n rollers, including Bruce Springsteen, John Mellancamp and Sheryl Crow, began to introduce an accordion into their music…this modest revival continues today.”
Dick Contino and his Ed Sullivan record had nothing on me as I had played that very song, the accordionist’s anthem, “Lady of Spain,” not on a television show – but in my mother’s living room, probably well over 40 times – before various audiences of family and friends.
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