By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The wait is finally over.
Lester Prairie’s much-adored polka/Christian band Chuck Thiel and his Jolly Ramblers recently released their 18th and 19th CDs, and they’re every bit as pleasing as their predecessors.
One of them, “Beautiful, My Savior Be,” is a blend of 18 polka, waltz, fox trot, and country melodies with Biblically based lyrics.
The other, “Good Old Polka Rhythm,” features 20 selections, including 13 old-time tunes, five country and modern arrangements, and two favorites from the 1950s.
“We give the people their money’s worth,” said Lester Prairie’s Chuck Thiel.
CDs are $12 each, or two for $20. With a purchase of three or more, each CD is $9.
Chuck personally delivers CDs to people’s homes in Lester Prairie. For a $5 shipping charge, customers can also order by mail, sending a check to Chuck Thiel, PO Box 607, Lester Prairie, MN 55354. Contact Chuck for more information at (320) 395-2746.
Another way to listen and purchase is at the band’s live appearances. This year, Chuck will perform at more than 200 events, including about 50 church services.
Some are solo performances, while others include more members of the band.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, Chuck and his son, Jason Thiel, will play at the Dodge House in Lester Prairie from 5 to 8 p.m.
The weekend before, Sunday, March 11 from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., the band will entertain at an open dance at Pla-Mor Ballroom in Glencoe.
Five people, one passion
The band is currently made up of five musicians. Chuck does vocals and concertina, his son Jason does vocal and keyboard, David Kroells plays percussion, Leon Haefner plays saxophone and clarinet, and Ken Schmidt does vocals, trumpet, and saxophone.
Chuck’s father, Albert, who passed away in 1994, started the Jolly Ramblers in the early 1960s. Chuck started playing with the band at age 11, filling in on drums and vocals.
“This is my 50th year,” Chuck said, adding that Schmidt has been with him 41 years.
Thirty-year-old Jason has also been a Jolly Rambler for decades.
“He’s been traveling with us since he was 8,” Chuck said. “He’s extremely talented.”
Although musicians have come and gone through the years, the Jolly Ramblers have never lost their niche.
“Our style has changed very little,” Chuck said.
Their first recording was “A Barrel of Polkas” in 1974. “Our Kind of Music” was released 10 years later, followed by a new album every two years until 1996.
That year, the group’s followers got a double dose of new music, with a new polka recording and their first Christian track, “Share Christ with Your Neighbor,” which sold well over 5,000 copies.
The next 12 years included three more Christian albums, and five new polkas.
“The last time we recorded was in 2008,” Chuck said.
Since it had been so long, Chuck said people would ask to purchase a CD, only to discover that they already owned them all.
Now, loyal friends will have two new albums to add to their collection.
“We’re anticipating a really good year,” Chuck said.
Ready, set, record
Recording takes significantly more time and concentration than performing live, according to Chuck.
“It’s really intense,” he said. “We expect quality, and we’re very picky.”
Recordings are done at JBM Sound Inc. in New Prague, and production takes place at Encore Productions in Minneapolis.
After the band selects all the songs for an album, it records each one at the studio. In order to ensure a seamless transition from instrumental to vocal, some of the lyrics are dubbed in later.
Then, they balance the sounds, in a process called “mixing.”
“Some instruments come out louder than others, and they need to be evened out,” Chuck explained. “It’s a slow process. We listen for little things that most people wouldn’t even hear.”
For their latest recordings, Chuck and Jason spent five 10- to 12-hour days in the studio.
Although being a musician can be hard work, Chuck Thiel and his Jolly Ramblers find great satisfaction in sharing their passion with others.
In addition to concerts, Chuck often plays for hospice patients and their families through ConnectCare, filling their day with joy and excitement.
“I’ve met some wonderful people,” Chuck said.