I was sitting at my desk on a recent Saturday evening. It was 7:38 p.m. and I realized I was tapping my foot to the rhythm of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra playing Tequilla. Suddenly I realized just how old I must be if this is what my Saturday evenings have turned into.
Mentioning this to some friends I soon discovered just how popular Welk remains to people of my generation. Even younger people, who not have liked Welk’s musical style have fond memories of their parents turning on his program and singing along with Lawrence and his regular cast of musicians, singers and dancers. One acquaintance said, “Every Saturday night in the late 50’s early 60’s, my grandmother would baby sit me. Every Saturday night, we’d watched Lawrence Welk. I bet I’ve seen more Lawrence Welk episodes than anyone. To this day, when I am surfing PBS and Welk comes on, I pause, listen, and say, ‘There you go Grandma.'”
My mother was a great Lawrence Welk fan. Next to Liberace, Welk was her go to guy for music. Right up to her last days mom would sit in front of the TV and watch the timeless reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show. I have to admit that I too enjoyed Welk. Some of my favorite musicians got their start on his show. Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, who both became Dixieland legends, were members of Welk’s family and they introduced me to New Orleans jazz and to this day I’m still a fan. I learned to appreciate Irish music by listening to tenor Joe Feeney sing songs like Danny Boy and Big Tiny Little taught me to enjoy ragtime and honky-tonk piano.
I got to see Welk in person once while living in the Los Angeles area. I had met a gal named Alice Schwab and after mustering up the courage to ask her out she agreed and said she had some free tickets to see Lawrence Welk at the Hollywood Palladium. I can remember questioning the sanity of wanting to date a girl who walked around with Lawrence Welk tickets in her purse. But I was somewhat smitten so, what the heck!
Alice and I made the trip to Hollywood on a Saturday night and there, live on stage, was Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers, complete with machine-made bubbles wafting onto the dance floor. We were probably the youngest couple in the Palladium and by far the least experienced dancers. The band played all the standards, Lawrence and Myron Florin dueling with their glittering accordions, Joe Feeney singing Wild Irish Rose and Tiny Little poundin’ out Beer Barrel Polka on the upright piano.
When we first entered the Palladium we were handed blue 3×5″ cards on which to write a question we’d like Lawrence to answer. Between each set an announcer would appear on stage and read the name of the person whose question had been selected, followed by Lawrence’s answer. I don’t think Alice and I submitted a card but every time they read the name of the person whose card was chosen a big roar of approval would rise up from the table where that person was seated. This apparently was a time-honored tradition at Welk shows and much enjoyed by the “older” set.
I’ll admit that the evening turned out better than anticipated. Alice and I had a great time, didn’t step on each other’s toes too much, and went on to have several more dates. Matter of fact, I fell pretty hard for her. A month or so later my job sent me to Sacramento, CA for ten-weeks and we corresponded for a few weeks via the mail. Then one day I got one of those Dear John letters I’d witnessed so many sailors get while in the Navy. Half way through the second paragraph it’s usually revealed the girl had gotten tired of waiting and met another guy. In Alice’s case, however, it wasn’t just any other guy, it was Jesus. Alice, a Roman Catholic, had decided to become a novitiate in an area convent. Alice was to become Sister Alice, or maybe Sister Mary Louise-Louise or whatever nuns do with their names after they’ve decided to give up their regular gig.
So, while others may think of their grandmothers when flipping through the five-hundred channels on today’s TVs and come across a rerun of the Lawrence Welk Show, I think of Sister Alice. I don’t know whatever became of Alice but Lawrence and his crew are probably entertaining my mother and her friends in some heavenly music hall. Wonder if snow is nothing more than frozen champagne bubbles from heaven?