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Polish Progeny Combine Polkas, Parodies And Vintage Rock

June 21, 1988

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) _ The synthesizer sounds just like an accordion as the band swings into a traditional polka rhythm. Young women on stage swirl and stomp in step to the music, singing along in Polish.

But the women are in miniskirts, the lead singer wears a leather jacket and the song they sing is not exactly standard polka:

″I went out Friday night with you know who - that babcid with the size 12 bowling shoe. She feeds me kielbasa and makes me drink that wine. And then she likes to dance that Love Polka Number Nine.″

Irreverent? You bet.

Offensive? Not to the people on the crowded dance floor bopping to the beat of The Polish Muslims as they do their version of the 1959 Clovers hit, ″Love Potion No. 9.″

For six years the group has tried to break into the big time while building a following as one of the Detroit area’s most popular bar bands. They like to blend standards, chiefly the dance tunes that put Motown on the map, with parodies celebrating life among Poles. But at the same time, they retain the music and spirit of the songs.

″Respect,″ ″Nowhere to Run,″ ″Rescue Me,″ ″Come See About Me″ and ″Doo Wah Diddy″ sound like live versions of the originals.

″It’s all for fun,″ said Dave Uchalik, the eight-member band’s 33-year- old lead singer. ″We want to come across as a cross between Poison and Frankie Yankovich.″

Not so, says guitarist Ken Kondrat: ″We’re like ‘Weird Al Yankovic’ with talent.″

The Polish Muslims’ version of the 1963 Beach Boys hit, ″Surfing U.S.A.,″ is ″Bowling U.S.A.″ The lyrics, revised to laud the popular sport, mention the two-story alley that served as an inadvertent backdrop to Pope John Paul II’s outdoor service here last fall.

″If everybody had a bowling ball across the U.S.A., then everybody’d be bowling like at Playdium Lanes. They’d all be bringing their rosin bags and their numbered shoes . . .″

They shuffle lyrics to make room for Polish phrases and references to pirogi, kielbasa, bowling, the Catholic Church - a little bit of everything. Prince’s ″Let’s Go Crazy″ became ″Let’s Golambki″ - a tribute to stuffed cabbage rolls.

Where an original hit climaxes with a wailing guitar solo, the band will insert a riff from ″Peanut Polka″ or some other polka classic.

″Our humor doesn’t go over anyone’s head. We try to stare right about eye- level - nothing too subtle or forget it,″ said Kondrat, 30, who like six others in the band is a Catholic of Polish descent.

In honor of the Polish pontiff, the Beatles’ ″Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da″ was rewritten as ″John Paul Two, John Paul One,″ and Ricky Nelson’s ″Travelin’ Man″ became ″Travelin’ Pope.″

Their blend of rock and polka puts The Polish Muslims into a tiny musical subset, according to California record producer Ron Goudie.

″The Polish Muslims are one of eight bands in North America that is playing rock polka or punk polka,″ said Goudie, who sought out the bands for ″Polka Is Now,″ a sampler LP to be released Oct. 7 by Restless Records.

Goudie identified the genre’s leading group as Brave Combo, which works out of Denton, Texas, and treats polka rock much more seriously than do the Muslims.

San Francisco has the 20-piece Polka Side; Los Angeles a group called Rotondi; Minneapolis boasts The Wallets; Milwaukee, the Black Holes; Edmonton, Alberta, The Romaniacs; and New York is home to the all-female polka punk band Das Furlines, whose leader goes by the name Deb O’Nair.

″All these bands play for rock audiences,″ Goudie said. ″They do rock clubs and punk clubs and weirdo gigs.″

The most successful bands create original music layered on a polka base, Goudie said.

″The Muslims’ ‘Bowling U.S.A.’ is a godhead, but as cool as those little covers are, they can’t make money off them,″ he said. ″They need original material.″

The problem, he said, is that the original composer collects the profits when a parody becomes a hit. Of course, that’s if the music publisher gives permission for the parody in the first place.

″Bowling U.S.A.,″ to the tune of ″Surfin’ U.S.A.,″ which itself was to the tune of ″Sweet Little Sixteen,″ got the thumbs-down from Chuck Berry’s publishing company, and Michael Jackson, who owns the rights to ″Dance to the Music,″ wouldn’t let the Muslims record ″Dance to the Polka,″ Uchalik said.

They got away with recording ″Love Polka Number Nine″ only because the publishing house failed to answer two letters, he said.

That record was a self-produced, self-distributed single.

It was followed up by ″A Yuletide Rock Opera,″ in which the Gloria chorus of ″Angels We Have Heard on High″ got a heavy bass line and the word yelled out, letter by letter: ″G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria 3/8″

For Goudie’s compilation, the group wrote an original song: ″That’s Why God Invented the Polka.″

It will be their first national exposure.

But if the record doesn’t catch on, the Muslims will still be packing them in at Paycheck’s Lounge.

″There are a lot of real good bands around town that you go to see and you know they’re not making gas money,″ drummer Mike Miller said. ″We haven’t had problems booking anywhere, knock on formica.″

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