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New Grammy Helps Win Respect For Lowly Polka

February 10, 1986

CHICAGO (AP) _ Poke fun no more at the lowly polka, that peppy music of ethnic weddings and blue-collar beer halls, say two Chicagoans whose recordings are nominated for the first-ever Grammy for ″Best Polka Album.″

The polka at last will get some respect, they say, when the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presents its polka Grammy Feb. 25.

″I see it becoming a craze, possibly a trend-setter like disco was,″ said Lenny Gomulka of Chicago, whose ″Simply Polkamentary″ album is a Grammy nominee.

″The Grammy will do a lot to help polka music,″ added Eddie Blazonczyk of Chicago, nominated for the ″Polka Fireworks″ album he recorded last year on his own label, Bel-Aire.

With more aggressive promotions aimed toward younger listeners, Blazonczyk, Gomulka and others hope to push the polka out of its ethnic niche - maybe even onto the national charts.

″For years the polka has been stereotyped and associated with the barroom image,″ said Gomulka.″We’re trying to give it a more modern image.″

While such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Lionel Richie sell millions of albums each year, a polka recording is considered a smash if it sells more than 25,000 copies, Blazonzcyk said.

Major labels such as RCA once kept a polka artist or two in their lineups, but bouncy polka beats now come from 15 or 20 small, independent companies, Blazonzcyk said.

No one seems to know how many polka albums sell each year. There is no polka chart at Billboard, and other organizations, including the Recording Industry Asociation of America, say they have no information on polka sales.

But polka lovers hope the Grammy will draw attention to what they say is a fresh, contemporary polka sound that could lure new listeners.

Gone, they say, is the ″oom-pah-pah″ sound associated with the polka. Contemporary polka bands keep the beat with a bass guitar, not a tuba.

Gone, too, are the traditional lyrics that often invoked images of the countryside or compared love to a tree, Blazonczyk said.

His ″Wheel of Fortune Polka,″ inspired by the television game show, is an example of songs that address more modern topics, Blazonzcyk said.

″Love is like a wheel of fortune, spinning ‘round and ’round,″ the song goes.

Blazonzcyk, 45, and Gomulka, 35, descendants of Polish immigrants, once played rock ‘n’ roll, but switched to polka years ago. Lenny Gomulka and the Chicago Push, and Eddie Blazonzcyk’s Versatones are established bands in polka circles now.

Both say they’ll be in Los Angeles for the nationally televised Grammy awards program even though the prize for ″Best Polka Album″ will be presented before the broadcast and only mentioned during the show.

″That’s great for the first year,″ said Gomulka. ″We’re all winners just being nominated.″

Other nominated works are ″Brass with Class″ by the Brass Release, of Pittsburgh, ″Polish Feelings″ by Lil Wally & Orchestra, of Miami, and ″70 Years of Hits″ by Frank Yankovic, of Cleveland.

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