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Eddie Blazonczyk

July 12, 1941 - May 21, 2012

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Polish American Eddie Blazonczyk was a popular entertainer and bandleader and a powerful organizing force in the polka world. His band, the Versatones, played in the driving "push" Chicago style. Photograph by Wm. A. Crooks, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Eddie Blazonczyk (right) and the Versatones, courtesy Eddie Blazonczyk
Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones, courtesy Eddie Blazonczyk

Eddie Blazonczyk was the son of immigrants from the rural Tatras Mountains region of southern Poland. His parents owned and operated Chicago's Pulaski Ballroom, where Eddie heard some of the most influential polka players of the day, such as Steve Adamczyk, Lil' Wally Jagiello and Eddie Zima. Blazonczyk's mother directed a music and dance ensemble, and his father played cello in a band, exposing the boy to Polish Highlander (Goralska) music, as well as to the popular polka rhythms.

When the elder Blazonczyk bought a new tavern in the Wisconsin north-woods village of Hiles, the young Eddie was exposed to the music of other Slavs, Scandinavians and "Kaintucks" -- Kentuckians who came to work in the timber-producing region. As a teenager, Eddie began playing the new popular rockabilly music with his group, Eddie Bell and the Hill Boppers. When he moved back to Chicago in 1963, he rededicated himself to the Polish music of his heritage.

Blazonczyk formed his own polka band, the Versatones, and created the Bel-Aire record label. He worked to forge a new polka sound that incorporated the more raucous approach of the much-admired Lil' Wally with the polished style of the influential vocalist Marion Lush. Blazonczyk played several instruments but preferred to play the bass, which freed him to sing both English and Polish lyrics in his pleasant tenor voice.

He met his wife, Tish Zielinski, at a polka dance in 1962 at Polonia Banquets, formerly the Polonia Ballroom. Tish operated the family business, Bel-Aire Enterprises, in Bridgeview outside of Chicago, while the band was on the road. She also joined her husband in hosting polka radio shows on WCEV-AM and WPNA-AM.

Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr., a concertina player, joined the band after his father had open-heart surgery. "The doctor told me to take it easy," Blazonczyk Sr. said. "Junior was going to start up his own band, so I told him this was a great opportunity for him. Now, he's responsible for everything- - booking, transportation, lodging, payroll. All I do is show up and play!"

Blazonczyk Jr. described the band's "push" style Chicago sound as "the driving rhythm which is anchored by the heavy accordion bellows-shake and pushing drum and then amplified by heavy brass and soulful polka vocals.... I'm the leader of the band, but the man is still Eddie! He's the one who the people want to see, and he's still fronting and emceeing -- and he's what the band's all about."

Blazonczyk Sr. was a powerful organizing force in the polka world and received numerous honors for his work. He was one of the five founders of the International Polka Association and promoted many dances and festivals. His Bel-Aire record label has recorded and distributed a wide range of polka music. In 1986, his Polka Celebration recording received a Grammy Award.

The family has continued the business since Blazonczyk's death. Eddie's son Tony leads a band called New Phaze.

Bibliography
Greene, Victor. A Passion for Polka: Old Time Ethnic Music in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Sisario, Ben. "Eddie Blazonczyk, 70, Polka Singer and Bandleader, Dies." New York Times, May 24, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/arts/music/eddie-blazonczyk-70-polka-singer-and-bandleader-dies.html

Discography
Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones. Another Day at the Office. Bel-Aire Records BACD 8392.
______. Greatest Hits, Vol. II. Cleveland International CIR1018-2.
______. Shakin' Not Stirred. Bel-Aire Records BACD 3051.

Watch

Eddie Blazonczyk, 1998 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Eddie Blazonczyk, abiography, produced and recorded by Alan Govenar, edited by Andrew Dean, narrated by Bob Ray Sanders

Eddie Blazonczyk, 'Talkin' to the Wrong Man,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk, 'Tweedle Dee,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk, 'You Can't Judge the Book Polka,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk, 'Chicago Town Polka,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk, 'Polka Music's Here to Stay Polka,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones, 'When I Hear The Music Polka,' Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones: Greatest Hits Volume II, 1997, Cleveland International Records CIR-1018-2

Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, 'Try A Little Kindness,' My Father's Shoes, 2002, Bel-Aire Recordings BACD-0037

Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, 'The Fox,' Under the Influence, 2005, Bel-Aire Recordings BACD-6170

Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, 'Chlopak' Batteries Not Included, 2006, Bel-Aire Recordings BACD-7045

Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, 'Kukuleczka' Live and Kickin', 2001, Bel-Aire Recordings BACD4431

Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, "10 O'Clock," Highways & Dancehalls, 2004, Bel-Aire Recordings BACD-5379