Sept. 4, 2006
One man band: the Jolly Woodchopper
By Linda Scherer
“In Heaven There is No Beer,” is not one of the songs on Harold Krueger’s latest CD, but throughout his demanding schedule as the Jolly Woodchopper, that is just one of a number of songs that is requested by his audiences.
With his electric accordion, and modules, keyboards, and pedals providing background accompaniment to his polka, schottische, and waltz tunes, Krueger, of Winsted, is truly a one-man band that is very much in demand.
Playing about 200 jobs a year, Krueger plays and sings for birthdays, anniversaries, nursing homes, and town and church festivals, and for 20 years, he has been playing at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest apple orchard in Jordan, Minn.
For those interested in asking him to perform in October of this year, he has only four days left on his calendar.
Since he was just six years old, Krueger wanted a band of his own. His first instrument was the guitar. He began taking guitar lessons when he was 14, and continued taking them for about four years.
“At that time the guitar wasn’t going over all that well. It was mostly polkas and waltzes. That was all you heard was the old-time bands,” Krueger said.
He switched to an accordion because he felt that an accordion would be more in demand. His dad bought him his first accordion and he took accordion lessons for about one year.
“The older accordions, before electronics, was work, but I was just beginning; now, with electronics, it is half the battle,” Krueger said.
“Harold’s Dance Band” was Krueger’s first band. They played their first dance at Sherman Station, April 9, 1950, after Easter Sunday.
All of the band members were under the age of 20 years old. There were eight young people, including the piano player Joanne Robling, later to become Krueger’s wife.
“I met my wife in 1948. I have a good memory, but it is short,” Krueger adds with a smile.
Krueger writes his own music arrangements and, today, has all of the music stored in a case that is huge. His wife has to sit on it in order to close it, Krueger said.
The dance band lasted only two, maybe three years, and Krueger felt disappointed, but he joined a three-piece band called the Bud Asplin Band that worked in night clubs. He would get $5 a night.
After three years with Asplin, he played for four years with the Harry Jerabek Band and his pay jumped to $7 an evening.
Until Krueger went solo, in his late 50s, he was part of the Jerry Dostal Band for three years, Harold Picha’s three-piece band for 25 years, Cliff Hermel Band for six years, and Krueger’s own three-piece band for five years, that consisted of a drum set, base horn, and accordion.
He has not limited his performances to just Minnesota. In the past, he has played throughout the five-state area of Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Krueger doesn’t like today’s music. “I think the music of today is just noise,” Krueger said. One of the things that he really thinks is missing in today’s music is good lyrics.
Not worrying about current music styles and updating his instrument and equipment with current technology, has kept Krueger in a business that he definitely enjoys being part of.
He purchased an electric accordion with modules that are wired through the accordion and foot pedals. With the added equipment, he has been able to add all kinds of instrumental background music to his performances.
“You don’t know how interesting this is,” Krueger explained of a room full of electronic equipment that he has studied, experimented with, and adjusted to create the sound exactly like he wants.
“He sounds like a seven-piece band,” his wife, Joanne said.
Part of his show used to include “Mike Bits,” which went something like:
“I played one divorce case and I won’t do that again. Right on the end I went to work. I had two minutes left and so I went ahead and I played ‘I love you truly’ and they both got so doggone mad, they went home together.”
He doesn’t do “Mike Bits” anymore because “now you have to be careful what you say, more so now than before.”
Krueger’s latest CD, “The Best of the Jolly Woodchopper Volumes 7 & 8,” has some great hopping tunes, and he sings along on a number of the songs.
“He has a great voice,” Joanne said. “It is one of the reasons why I fell for him.”