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Frank Yankovic (1915-1998)


Frank Yankovic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was Frank's 1944 recording session band. Frank is on accordion, and standing behind him is pianist Albert Naglitch. Joe Miklavic is on banjo and standing behind him is bass player Johnny Hokavar (Hocevar). Drummer Hank (Henry) Bokal, who had replaced Lee Novak, was not playing and is missing in this photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Jolly 78 RPM

This was the first Jolly 78 put out: My Honey Polka and Give Me My Heart Back Waltz - Jolly Recording #500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank on Continental

Here is a reissue on Continental from 1948 with Don Gabor's name underneath the title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jolly Polka, Don't Forget Me, In the Plains, Jolly Fellows Polka - REP 55.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RLP 1026: Polka Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Wife's Chirping Polka, Golden Stars Polka, Cherry Polka, Happy Minutes Polka - REP 62.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search The Remington Site

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to YouTube and type "Frankie Yankovic", or click this LINK

 

 

 

 

Born July 28, 1915, in Davis, a small town in West Virginia, accordionist Frank Yankovic grew up in the Slovene-Italian section of Collinwood, Ohio. His parents were Andy Yankovic and Rose Mele.

According to the liner notes on Columbia CL 6307, Frank began playing the accordion when he was seven, and he acquired his first "piano-accordian" when he was 15 as is stated in the liner notes on the back of Columbia 10" LP CL 6307, though other sources mention that his mother gave him that piano-accordion when he was 17.


The liner notes of Columbia CL 6307 - Frankie Yankovic's Original All Time Hits:

One of the most popular polka artists in the country and the leader of a unique dance-band combination, Frankie Yankovic here presents eight of the tunes that have brought him nation-wide fame. The polka and the waltz have always been favorite dances but never have they enjoyed the enormous success that they do today. And this success is largely focussed on the Continental-type melody such as Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks play so delightfully. These tunes have a solid steady beat that is ideally designed for dancing, and a generous lilt and gaiety that sets up an infectious toe-tapping. Those selected by Frankie Yankovic for this collection are eight of his favorites, and they are favorites of his listeners too.

Frankie Yankovic was born in West Virginia, but his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was less than a year old. It was there in Cleveland, that at the age of seven he picked up a small German-made accordion and without any previous musical training began to pick out tunes. In no time at all he was proficient on the instrument, and played frequently for his own enjoyment and that of his family.

When he was 15 years old and an accordion virtuoso, he acquired a piano-accordion. A year later he organized a three-piece band which played at many neighborhood dances and parties. Upon graduation from high school in 1932 he formed his own larger Slovenian polka band and with this organization toured the east and midwest, performing at dances and over the radio.

In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army and was sent overseas. Wounded in action, he spent four months in the hospital and was then assigned to a Special Services unit that toured oversees camps, entertaining the troops. After his discharge in 1945, he reorganized and enlarged his original polka group and became an exclusive Columbia recording artist. From the first his records were successful, and with his recording of Blue Skirt Waltz he became the unriveled King of Polkas. This title was formally conferred upon him in a midwestern competition, and his right to the crown is demonstrated by the polkas in this collection.

Ohio Polka - Clairence Waltz - Shandy Polka - Happy Hour - Hurray Slovenes - Strabane Polka - Rendezvous Waltz

Frank's first enlarged polka group consisted of Albert Naglitch (piano), Johnny Hokavar (Hocevar) (bass), Bill Dunlavey (sax), Frank Skufka (banjo), and Lee Novak (drums). They became the most popular band in Cleveland performing at weddings and all sorts of parties. 

Already in 1938, then 23 year old Frank Yankovic asked Columbia and RCA to make recordings of his band. Both companies turned him down. So Frank decided to produce two 78 RPM records under his own "Yankee" label. It was Heinie Martin who took Frank and his band to the Cleveland Recording Company Studios, in Downtown Cleveland. Fred Wolf owned the studio. Since Frank was not thinking of a music career yet, he used "Slovene Folk Orchestra" for his band name. Frank put up all the money for his first records. All 4,000 copies were sold by Mervar's Music Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, in just a few weeks.

#421 Silk Umbrella Polka/ Always Jolly
#422 Hooray Slovenes Polka/ Waltz Medley

The success of these records led to the recording and release of two more 78 RPM discs in 1939, but this time, they were on the "Joliet" label and the name of the band was "Joliet Jolly Jugoslavs". The band members were the same as for the first releases. I could not find the reference numbers of the following 1939 recordings.

#??? Free Spirit Of Slovenes Polka/ Joliet Illinois Waltz 
#??? How Good For Me Polka/ Girl In The Garden Waltz 

Again, these records were quickly sold out. 

Frankie Yankovic Trio - Lee Novak - Albert Naglitch
The "Frankie Yankovic Trio" with Lee Novak and Albert Naglitch celebrating Independence Day with fellow immigrants, family and admirers. The text reads: Loyalties 2nd Annual Field Day - July 4th 1941 - S.N.P.J. Farm. Picture courtesy Tom Bokal.

Although Frank had achieved some success, he still was short of cash. This was the more serious since he also had a family to raise. To earn more or less a regular income, Frank joined the tavern business and opened the "Yankovic Bar" in November 1941. He bought a tavern at 528 East 152nd Street. Frank's sister, Rose, and her husband, Tom Milakovich, were his business partners. Everyone thought he was crazy and predicted that his music career would soon come to an end. Because of the uncertain situation Frank Skufka and Lee Novak decided to quit the band.

Lee Novak was replaced by Henry "Hank" Bokal who played with Frank from 1941 thru 1947. Despite this fact, Frank had a recording session with Albert Naglitch (piano), Johnny Hokavar (bass) and Joe Miklavic (banjo) in 1942. In the recording the drummer was not replaced.

Albert Naglitch (piano), Hank (Henry) Bokal (drums) and Frank Yankovic (accordion) in the early nineteen forties.
In the picture below (standing, from right to left): Frank Yankovic, Hank Bokal and Johnny Pecon who also played the accordion and was a member of the band from 1947 till 1949, the year when he signed up with Capitol records and started a career on his own.

(Pictures courtesy Tom Bokal.)

Tom Bokal (son of Hank) writes:


Henry "Hank" Bokal (1920-1982) grew up on the corner of 153rd street and Holmes Ave. in the Collinwood area of Cleveland, Ohio. Hank joined the Yanks after Lee Novak left in 1941 and before Frank Lovsin joined in 1948.
Hank, born of Slovenian heritage, had much community exposure to European folk music. He developed a passion for playing drums in the 1930s with many of the local ethnic bands.
Inspired by the Harry James Orchestra, he developed a unique drumming style which applied jazz techniques to both traditional 2/4 polka and 3/4 waltz time signatures. This sound would later be heard in the rhythm sections on classic hit records such as "Just Because" and the "Blue Skirt Waltz" from the Yanks.

Hank joined the Hank "Yonkee" Yankovic band after drummer Lee Novak left in 1941. Yankovic's Lounge was a focal point for musical activity in the Cleveland area. The "Polka Rat Pack" hung out there during the war years with local talents like Pecon, Habat, Kozel, Bass, Sokach, Hokovar, Cook, Kling, Vadnals and others.
In addition to the trap Drum set, Hank also played the Marimba and Accordion. He composed and recorded many records with the Yanks. His original songs included "The Charlotte Waltz" for his daughter born in 1947 and the "Euclid Vets Polka" just to name a few. The Yanks song writing process was unique, many songs were brainstormed in the basement of Yankovic's Lounge where the band practiced. Yonkee, Trollie and Pecon usually started the melody and chord progressions for songs. Then the rest of the band joined in to assist in refining the final arrangements.

When Frank returned from Europe in December of 1945 after serving in World War II, the Yanks were again reassembled as a trio. After signing a contract with Columbia records in 1946, Hokovar, Cook and Pecon joined to expand this trio into a full sounding orchestra.
The endless touring put strains on the married members of the band and one by one Hokey, Hank, Al, Johnny and the rest eventually had to leave the Yanks at the peak of their popularity.
Hank reluctantly left the Yanks in 1948 due to his wife Josephine's complications during pregnancy with their 2nd child Henry Jr., born May 21 1948.
During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Hank continued to actively play every weekend in a variety of polka bands in the Cleveland area. Hank died from a heart attack in his Willoughby Hills, Ohio home in 1982 at the age of 62.

Through the 40's recordings (single mic-mono), my Dad was only heard playing on the studio recordings with spoons, muffled snare drum, foot stomping and the occasional yip-yip-yahoos. Only on the live recordings could his Slingerland Radio King drums with Zildjian cymbals be heard. The reason was that Frank did not want the drums to overpower the Accordion and Banjo on the studio recordings (as heard in the 1930s Novak recordings). - Tom Bokal

Frank's band recorded 10 tunes which were released only five years later, in 1947 that was, and the label was Don Gabor's Continental label. Here are the record numbers and tunes that were released on Continental 78's:

#413 Detroit Polka / Jolly Fellows Polka

#414 Don't Flirt With My Gal/ Herkulovic Waltz - also found as Herkulovic - Watw - Treba ni, treba ni

#415 My Wife's Chirping Voice Polka/ To The Left, To The Right Polka - also found as Moje zenke glas - Na levo, na desmo

#416 Darling, Who Will Take My Place Waltz (featuring vocals by Dorothy and Rosie Kravos, Frank's nieces)/ My Darling-When You Go Wandering

#417 Dizzy Day Polka/ Happy Minutes Polka 413 Detroitska polka /Dizzy day polka

bandmembers of 1944 recording session

Like so many immigrants, also Frank had joined the Armed Forces in 1943. When he was on leave for two weeks in the following year, he decided to make a few more recordings.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 2, 1944, Frank called in Miklavic, Naglitch and Hokavar to do a marathon recording session for the "Jolly" label. He recorded 32 songs on 16 78 RPM discs at Carnegie Hall Studios of the Cleveland Recording Company Studios.
#413, #415, #506 and #512 here played by the "Plymouth Polka Orchestra", released on 7" 45 RPM Continental CEP-3

These records were also the first Yankovic recordings with the Solovox (electric organ). The recordings were produced by "Heinie" Martin Antoncic and studio owner Fred Wolf. There was no time for rehearsals and no time to fool around. If they hit a wrong note they just kept on playing. In fact, Frank even brought in Seagram's "to keep the boys happy". If you listen to some of these recordings, they do sound like everyone had a good time!

These are the 16 Jolly 78 RPM records, which give credit to "Frankie Yankovic's Slovene Orchestra":

#500 My Honey Polka/ Give Me My Heart Back Waltz
#501 Jolly Polka/ Vadnal Waltz
#502 Don't Forget Me Polka/ Yankovic Polka
#503 Be Mine, Be Mine Polka/ Slovene Waltz (No.1)
#504 Don't Flirt With My Gal Polka/ Kukavica Waltz
#505 Jolly Fellows Polka/ Herkulovic Waltz
#506 Be Happy-Polka/ Bye Bye Baby Polka
#507 Wifey's Chirping Voice Polka/ Playful Boys Polka
#508 Three To The Left, Three To The Right Polka/ Orphan Waltz
#509 Cherry Polka/ My Honey Is Wandering In Tirole Waltz
#510 Happy Minutes Polka/ Venitian Waltz
#511 Daisy Polka/ Jingling Tingling Polka
#512 Golden Stars Polka/ Detroit Polka
#513 Where Is That Fly Polka/ Summer Night Waltz
#514 St. Clair Polka/ I Know Of A Sweet Little Girl Waltz
#515 Clap And Turn Slovene Folk Dance-Polka/ Yours Polka

Continental 78 RPM:

Fred Wolf sold all the copyrights and some masters from the 1942 and 1944 cuts to Don Garbor for $3,000. Gabor began re-releasing these from 1948-1949 on. There have been many more, but this is all that I have found so far of "Frank Yankovic and his Orch." on Continental 78's:

#??? "Poppy Polka" (B-side is "Slovene Polka" by the Lausche Trio)
#418 Daisy Polka/ Jingling Tingling Polka
#420 Clap And Turn Polka/ Venetian Waltz
#422 "The Oak Tree Polka" (B-side is "We Won't Go Home" by the Lausche Trio) What's funny is that "Oak Tree" is actually a reissue of Frank's 1939 Joliet recording "How Good For Me Polka". Which is very odd that Gabor also got a hold of this.
#1201 Be Happy Polka/ Bye Bye Baby Polka
#1203 My honey Polka - Happy minutes Polka
#1204 Yankovic Polka/ Fly Polka (This was also released in an album set "Frank Yankovic In Polka Time" on Continental #49)
#1205 Jolly Fellows Polka/ Yours Polka (NOTE: These two 78's could have been also released in an album set, Continental #49. But I have not yet been able to find the others and I don't have the album for this.)
#1206 Golden stars Polka - Cherry Polka.
#1214 St. Clair Polka/ My Honey Is Wandering In Tirole
#1219 Playful Boys Polka/ Orphan Waltz
#1220-B Jolly Polka (A-Side is "Too Fat Polka" by Jimmie Dale and his Prides of the Prarie")
#1231 Don't Forget Me Polka/ Vadnal Waltz
#1239 Give Me My Heart Back/ Cukoo Waltz "

Frankie Yankovic's Band in 1946
Positively no jitterbugging - Yankovic's Bar band (Left to right):
Mickey Kling, Pete Sokach, Kenny Bass, Eddie Habat, Frank Yankovic, John (Hokey) Hokavar, Jim Kozel, and Johnny Pecon.
Picture courtesy Tom Bokal.

Many of these recordings had either the beginnings or the ends chopped off . On the majority the annotation "Arr.: Don Gabor" in between brackets was printed below the song title. Did Gabor mean that he really had arranged the music or just did arrange for the release? In most cases it was Frank himself who wrote the songs. Manipulation was another Gabor's trademark. He even had vocals dubbed in by Scotty MacGregor and Patsy Garrett who of course were not on the original recordings. I am not sure if Gabor did this himself.

#1249 What's-A Gonna Be? (which is really Daisy Polka)/ Mountain Wedding Polka (Jingling Tingling Polka) with vocals by Scotty MacGregor.
#1254 Tinker's Song/ Whistling Sweethearts Polka. This record was issued on red shellac with black spots over it, with vocals by Scotty and Patsy. A reference number is yet unknown to me.

Soon after the introduction of the 45 RPM disc by RCA, Gabor transferred several titles to 45 RPM Continental records in 1949-1950. So far I have found three, but I have also spotted others.

Continental 45 RPM:

#009 Golden Stars Polka/My wife's chirping voice
#036 Herkulovic Waltz

#038 Playful boys - polka/Jolly polka

Remington 78 RPM:

#15009 (Golden Stars Polka/ My Wife's Chirping Voice Polka)

Remington 45 RPM: 

#036 Herkulovic Waltz/ Daisy Polka

#1017 To The Left, To The Right Polka
#1061 "Fly Polka/ Daisy Polka"
#1062 Jolly Polka

Remington also 45 RPM box sets:

# RB-906 Bye Bye Baby Polka/ Yankovic Polka/ To The Left, To The Right Polka/ My Honey Polka/ Cherry Polka/ St. Clair Polka

#RB-921 "Polka Time" Daisy Polka/ Fly Polka/ Jolly Polka/ Playful Boys Polka/ Dizzy Day Polka/ Golden Stars Polka

Don Gabor often used the title "In Polka Time", especially for 10" LP's and Extend Play 45's. Often the same songs were released with different titles like "In The Plains" and "Joliet". Scotty MacGregor and Patsy Garrett on vocals could also be found on yet another release:

#1029 "Yankovic In Polka Time"

Continental Extended Play 45 RPM:

#CEP-3 Polka Parade Tracks: Jolly Fellows Polka/ Golden Stars Polka/ Be Happy Polka/ To The Left, To The Right Polka

Buckingham 45's:

#002 Daisy Polka/ Detroit Polka #004 My Wife's Chirping Voice Polka/ Clap And Turn Polka #005 Jingling Tingling Polka/ My Honey Polka #007 To The Left, To The Right Polka/ Golden Stars Polka

Don Gabor also released most of these recordings on his later labels in 1956. The earliest I could find was on the Paris label:

#6 "Frank Yankovic and Other Polka Stars" (side B is Victor Zembruski)

The same recordings of the same songs were released on both the Masterseal and Paris labels:

Masterseal #5009 "Frank Yankovic's Polka Party" 
Palace #704 "Frank Yankovic's Polka Party" (both have the same exact covers, and both have V. Zembruski on the flip) 

Frank's recordings, which were released on these albums were also issued on a 10" Lp on the Cadillac label, which was also related to Remington. Even late in the nineteen fifties these early recordings were reissued, for example on the Altone label:

#235 "Polka Festival" with Frank Yankovic. 

This album has two selections with Scotty MacGregor, "Boarding House Polka" (which is the same as "Playful Boys Polka") and "Whistling Sweethearts Polka". 
All of the albums mentioned here are related to Remington and Don Gabor. The back side of these albums say "500 Fifth Ave. New York 36, NY".

Don Gabor was a master in using the same recordings over and over again. He could do this because he was sure that there were a lot of Yankovic fans around.
The majority of the recordings mentioned on this page were also released on 3 cassette tapes (and possibly on record, I'm not sure) called "Frank Yankovic, The Early Years", on Sunshine Records around 1990-91. Johnny Hokavar later said about these recordings, "We all had a good time, especially Fred Wolf. He couldn't believe how many records we were cranking out!" Johnny passed away on July 20, 1991. 

Albert Naglitch continued to record for Frank until about 1950. He even recorded Frank's hit "Blue Skirt Waltz" with the Sakach-Habat Tunemixers. He died in March of 1983.
I don't know what happened to Joe Miklavic.
As for Frank, when after his first success he had signed up with Columbia Records in 1946, he recorded "Just Because" which sold over a million copies. Following that was "Blue Skirt Waltz" which sold even more copies.

Polka Party on Masterseal, Waltzing With Yankovic on an early 1950's European Philips release, and Yankovic Plays the All-Time Great Waltzes in Stereo on Columbia.
Yankovic All Time Hits Columbia CL 6307

Original All Time Hits on Columbia CL 6307 from 1950.

Below left is Waltzing With Yankovic on an early 1950's European Philips release, and at right Yankovic Plays the All-Time Great Waltzes in Stereo on Columbia.

Release of Columbia LP All-Time Great Waltzes
Columbia Frankie Yankovic plays the All-Time Great Waltzes

Frank Yankovic achieved national fame and was crowned "America's Polka King". He released countless amounts of recordings and hits. After the Remingtons and Masterseal reissues, he recorded several Columbia stereo discs like 'The All-Time Great Polkas' and 'The All-Time Great Waltzes'.

In 1986, Frank was the first polka star to win a Grammy Award. He is the only Slovenian polka artist to have a full length biography and a PBS documentary. Frank was inducted into the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall Of Fame, and is a big legend in the history of polka music. 

Frank passed away on October 14, 1998 at his home in New Port Richey, Florida. Johnny Pecon (vocals & accordion) was born in 1915 and died in 1975. As mentioned earlier, Hank Bokal lived from 1920 till 1982. Al Naglitch was born on May 30th, 1914 and died in March 1983. Data about Georgie Cook (banjo) and Hokie Hocevar (bass) are not known to me.

A special thank to Frank Smodic, Jr. for his book, "Through The Years" with Frank Yankovic. And thanks to Brian Juntikka for his notes from the tape set "Frank Yankovic, The Early Years". It is possible that some of the information which I give on this page and comes from my own research may not be 100% accurate. If you happen to have any addition and/or correction please click below on "Contribute" so your information can be included. - Ryan Barna.

Ryan Barna - Research and original text.
Additional research, editing and updating - Rudolf A. Bruil.

Thanks also to Tom Bokal for additional information and black and white pictures.
Page first published in April, 2001.

 

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