Interview Transcript of Richard A. Kuzdak (“RK”)
At Border’s Book Store, Novi Town Center, Novi, MI
Monday, February 18, 2008, Conducted on Behalf of the
West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society
INTERVIEWER: We’re here on Monday, February 18, at Border’s in Novi and we’re with Mr. Richard Kuzdak of South Lyon, originally of Detroit. Born on Otis Street?
INTERVIEWER: And we’re conducting an interview for the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society. And we’re going to start off by asking Mr. Kuzdak where his grandparents were from.
RK: They were both from Poland.
INTERVIEWER: From Poland. And do you remember their full names?
RK: On my mother’s side that was Palac. P-A-L-A-C.
INTERVIEWER: And her first name?
INTERVIEWER: Was that short for something? Or was that her full name?
RK: That’s all I remember is Nellie.
INTERVIEWER: And your grandfather?
RK: Jacob. That was on my mother’s side.
INTERVIEWER: And your paternal grandparents?
RK: Hedwig was my grandmother, and Casimir.
INTERVIEWER: And the last name?
RK: Kuzdak. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Do you know what part of Poland they came from?
RK: No, I don’t.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And do you know when they came over?
RK: They came over when my mother was nine, and she was born in 1909, so I guess around 1900.
INTERVIEWER: That would be on your mother’s side.
RK: No, I’m sorry. Nineteen-eighteen, it would be. Because she was nine when she came here, and she was born in 1909. So it would make it 1918. Right? Is that the math right?
INTERVIEWER: If she was born in 1909-so they would have come over around 1918.
RK: Eighteen, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Eighteen. Is that right?
INTERVIEWER #2: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Yes, that’s right. And what about your dad, your grandparents on your father’s side?
RK: That I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: And what were your parents’ names?
RK: My mother was Josephine, father was Joseph.
INTERVIEWER: And your mother’s maiden name?
RK: That was Palac.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that was Palac, that’s right. And what year was your father born?
INTERVIEWER: And what did your grandfather Jacob do?
RK: He kind of abandoned the family. I just knew him by name. In those days people didn’t get a divorce. He just walked away from everything.
INTERVIEWER: Exactly. Right.
RK: Same thing with my other grandpa. The same way.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s very interesting.
RK: Yes. Never really knew them growing up. Just the grandmothers, that’s all.
INTERVIEWER: Now, did they-where did they settle? What neighborhood?
RK: In the Junction-Michigan area.
RK: Yeah. In fact, my grandmother lived on Hammond.
INTERVIEWER: That would have been your grandmother-
RK: On my father’s side.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry, your grandmother Hedwig?
INTERVIEWER #2: What part of Hammond was she, between Federal and Ranspach or closer to Otis?
RK: I think she was closer to Otis.
INTERVIEWER #2: Okay.
INTERVIEWER: And did either one of your grandmothers work then?
INTERVIEWER: They just did their best to support-
RK: Yes, I think they took in laundry and did housekeeping for other people. Not a regular job at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what about your father? What did he do for a living?
RK: He was a butcher.
INTERVIEWER: Oh. Did he work in a grocery store or did he work-
RK: He worked in a grocery store, in fact, across from St. Hedwig’s Church. Diedzic’s. I don’t know if you know what-if that’s a familiar name or not.
INTERVIEWER: Spell it for me.
RK: Okay. Diedzic’s. D-Z-I-E-D-Z-I-C, I think.
INTERVIEWER #3: That would be it.
INTERVIEWER: That name has come up before in interviews.
RK: Yeah, then he actually, when then he left there he had several groceries stores, my mother and dad, only because he had, you know, skills as a meat cutter and stuff, so-
INTERVIEWER #2: What was the name of his stores?
RK: I have no idea. They were just neighborhood stores.
INTERVIEWER: “Grocery store.” Like “Bar.” [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: So yours was probably-
RK: Probably Kuzdak’s. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: Kuzdak’s. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: I remember it came up in one interview, somebody was telling me some guy who said they owned a bar, and I said, “What was the name of it?” And he said, “Bar.” [Laughter] That what it was. It was called Bar. So, now, how many siblings did your father have?
RK: Two brothers and two sisters.
INTERVIEWER: I want to get back to the grocery stores again, but I want to get this down. And what were their names?
RK: Peter and John, and he had two sisters, Mary and Sophie.
INTERVIEWER: And your mother, how many siblings did she have?
RK: Let’s see. I’ll just name them: Sylvester, Julius, Fred, Florence, and Jeanne.
INTERVIEWER: So there were six in her family. So your dad worked as a butcher and he owned the grocery stores. And how did he meet your mother? How did your parents meet, going to school, or, just in the neighborhood, or-
RK: No, in fact, my dad only went up to the sixth grade and I think mother went like to the fourth grade.
INTERVIEWER: In what school?
RK: That I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: But in the neighborhood there-in the Junction Avenue neighborhood?
RK: I would, you know, I suppose. I mean, they didn’t have any automobiles, that I can remember, so it must have been somewhere they could just walk to, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: So your mom just helped him run the stores?
RK: Yes. Yes. She was the counter lady.
INTERVIEWER: And do you remember what year they got married?
RK: Got married in 1932.
INTERVIEWER: And do you know where they were married?
RK: I’m just assuming it was St. Hedwig because we lived right by there.
INTERVIEWER: And how many children did they have?
RK: Just myself and my brother.
INTERVIEWER: Your brother’s name?
INTERVIEWER: And what year was Raymond born?
INTERVIEWER: And you?
INTERVIEWER: And where were you living when you were born?
RK: On Otis.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the address?
RK: No. All I know is we were about two houses away from the bakery. Polanski Bakery.
INTERVIEWER #2: Polanski’s was my friend’s. We were on Otis.
INTERVIEWER: And Polanski’s is spelled how?
INTERVIEWER #2: It’s P-O-L-A-N-S-K-I.
RK: Is that still there?
INTERVIEWER #2: Oh, no, it burned down.
RK: Oh, did it?
INTERVIEWER #2: My girlfriend’s dad was Frank Polanski, Jr.
RK: I used to love the aroma in the morning.
INTERVIEWER: That must have been fabulous. So, obviously that’s where you got your bread and pastry?
RK: Oh, absolutely. Bread and pączki.
INTERVIEWER: Now, did you and your brother work in the grocery stores?
RK: Only I did for a very short time. They went out of the grocery business when I was about 12 years old.
INTERVIEWER #2: So about 1946?
RK: Yeah. Timing was really bad for the grocery business at that time because there was so much shortages of everything. Everything was-you had to have two boxes of sugar and such because everything was rationed. And if you wanted a name product, you had to buy a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t selling to get, you know, a Domino’s sugar or something like that that people were asking for. It was terrible. Timing was very bad during the war years.
INTERVIEWER: So what did they do after they went out of the grocery business?
RK: My dad went into the automotive. He went and got a job in the auto-worked for Chrysler. Actually, it was DeSoto, really. It was on Ford Road and Wyoming.
INTERVIEWER #2: It was on Warren and Wyoming.
RK: Warren and Wyoming. Okay.
INTERVIEWER #2: My dad was in their sit-down strike.
INTERVIEWER #2: What’s the pin?
RK: That for my, where I retired from the Free Press.
INTERVIEWER #2: Good for you. Congratulations.
INTERVIEWER: You were there many years. Now, were your grandparents involved in your life when you were a child? Did you see them frequently?
RK: Yes. My mother was very close to her mother so we were there quite a bit. In fact, I think we lived about a block away from her.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go there for holidays?
RK: Oh, yes. Always.
INTERVIEWER: Did you celebrate traditional Polish Holidays? Wigilia?
RK: Oh, yeah. Easter, with the barscz.
INTERVIEWER: Were your aunts and uncles there, too?
RK: Yep. Yep.
INTERVIEWER #3: And did you all speak Polish to each other, or a mix?
RK: They did. I understood parts of it. I never could quite get the language. My grandmother on my dad’s side never spoke English through her whole life. And she just was too stubborn. If you didn’t understand Polish, then she didn’t talk to you.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you go to school?
RK: St. Hedwig’s for six years and then I finished at St. Andrew’s.
INTERVIEWER: Did they teach any Polish language at either one?
RK: They both did, just basic stuff, you know, how to read. I can read Polish but I don’t know what I’m reading. Polish is an easier language to read because you pronounce everything. You know, nothing is silent in the language.
INTERVIEWER: All those tenses, that’s what throws you.
INTERVIEWER #3: The cases, yes.
INTERVIEWER: So you went to church every Sunday at St. Hedwig?
INTERVIEWER: Who was the pastor back then? You get bonus points if you remember.
RK: I don’t know. No bonus points.
INTERVIEWER: Did you walk to church?
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember weddings and things in the neighborhood being celebrated with the music on the porch?
RK: Oh, yes. In fact, I did that myself, you know.
INTERVIEWER: We’re going to get to your music career, yes. I know you did a lot of that.
RK: [Laughter] Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: When you were a child, do you remember all of that?
RK: Oh, yeah, it was pretty traditional.
INTERVIEWER: Did they have large celebrations for Corpus Christi or things like that, parades or processions outside?
RK: Just in May.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, you remember that?
RK: I wanted to be an altar boy so bad and they wouldn’t let me.
RK: Because I couldn’t afford sneakers. You had to have certain sneakers. You couldn’t wear like tennis shoes or anything like that. I don’t know why that rule was in effect.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s so sad.
RK: Yeah. I never forgave the church for that. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: That is very strange.
RK: Yes, it was. [Laughter] It’s funny how you remember something like that, you know?
INTERVIEWER: Sure, I would. It stays with you. What do you remember about the celebration in May? The street processions?
RK: Just communions and stuff that they had, you know. All the kids wore, I remember we had to wear a suit and a white tie in the procession. That’s about all that I can remember.
INTERVIEWER: So you were actually in the processions.
RK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we were involved with them.
INTERVIEWER: All the children in the church took part?
RK: Yes, that were in the school, and the groups.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a very solemn occasion?
RK: I can’t remember. No, because there was a lot of singing going on. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Singing in Polish?
INTERVIEWER: Was your brother also involved?
RK: No, I can’t remember him being involved.
INTERVIEWER: He was a little younger than you.
RK: Yes. Six years younger than I was.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did your brother go to St. Andrew’s, too?
INTERVIEWER: Here you said you didn’t have anything to tell us, and you’re the first one and only one we’ve interviewed who was in one of those street processions.
RK: Oh, yeah?
INTERVIEWER: You have a lot more to share, I’m sure. So, you were not far from the Dom Polski.
RK: No. That was my dad’s-when I was-started to take accordion lessons I was eight years old.
INTERVIEWER #2: Who was your teacher?
RK: First one was Guzek. And then my mother threw him out of the house.
INTERVIEWER: Who was that?
RK: G-U-Z-E-K, that’s how I remember it. Then I had, Peraino was my other teacher that I had for a few years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember Guzek’s first name?
INTERVIEWER: Are you sure it was “ek” and not “ik?”
RK: I’m not sure about that. He’s the one that sold the accordion to my mother and dad, and then he was a teacher and then he got-it was so funny because you were supposed to get a half-hour lesson, right? And he would like, after 20 minutes, be going out the door. My mother would be watching the clock, you know. She says, “I’m paying you for 30 minutes. Why are you leaving in 20 minutes?” “Oh, he’s all set. He knows what he’s got to do.” She says, “Don’t you ever come here again,” and she followed him down the stairs because we lived upstairs. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: So typical. So typical. [Laughter]
RK: [Laughter] She wanted her money’s worth.
INTERVIEWER #2: Absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: Of course. And the good ones did the whole allotted time or more. You know, most of the teachers-
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Gave you more than your lesson. So your second teacher was who?
RK: Peraino, Al Peraino.
INTERVIEWER: How do you spell it?
INTERVIEWER: And did you want to play the accordion? Is that why you started playing?
RK: At first, no. I just wanted to play with the kids outside, you know, instead of practicing. But as I got older, and the second teacher really got me into it.
INTERVIEWER: So it was your dad’s idea or your mom’s idea that you play?
RK: Mom, my mom was, of course.
INTERVIEWER: Did she want this because she wanted you to have a career or because she wanted the music in the house?
RK: No, she wanted me to have a career.
INTERVIEWER: So when did you start liking it?
RK: Probably when I got into high school.
INTERVIEWER: When the girls started liking you.
RK: Yeah, yeah, when the girls started liking musicians.
INTERVIEWER: And when did you actually start playing for gigs?
RK: When I was a sophomore in high school.
INTERVIEWER: About what year would that have been?
INTERVIEWER: Did you play with a band, or by yourself?
RK: I had my own. It was funny, we lived on Burnette Street.
INTERVIEWER: What street was that?
RK: Burnette. It was off Warren Avenue.
INTERVIEWER: Spell it.
RK: And the next door neighbor was-you remember Clare Wite?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah.
RK: His cousin lived next door. And his brother Eddie, who’s a drummer, they came to visit, he heard me practicing next door. He came and knocked on the door and he said, “I’m a drummer.” He says, “What do you think of us starting a band?” [Laughter] And I said yeah, but we were only about 15 years old. “Yeah, but we need a horn player, saxophone player.”
So what we did, because none of us had a car or drove, we put an ad in the West Side Courier for a saxophone player: MUST DRIVE. Or MUST HAVE CAR, or whatever, you know. [Laughter] And so we got a call from a guy from Wayne State who was studying music there. And just out of curiosity, you know, he called and says, “What are you planning on doing?” I says, “Well, we have a drummer and I play the accordion and we need a horn man and we need somebody, if we get jobs, we need somebody to drive, you know.”
So he came over and we were practicing for a while, and then we picked up weddings.
INTERVIEWER: Who was he? The sax player?
RK: Marvin was his name. I can’t remember his last name.
INTERVIEWER #3: And what kind of music did you play?
RK: Polish and polkas, American.
INTERVIEWER #3: Did you sing, too?
RK: No. No. Didn’t sing.
INTERVIEWER: And who was your drummer?
RK: Eddie Witkowski. And he changed it to Wite.
INTERVIEWER #3: Did you have a favorite song you used to play or a favorite melody?
RK: Well, mostly it was whatever was standard at the time, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Now around that time were the English numbers becoming popular as well? Were you playing any of the Top Ten? Some of that?
RK: Yeah, whatever ballads they were coming out with.
INTERVIEWER: “Let me Call You Sweetheart.”
RK: Oh, yeah. “Daddy’s Little Girl” for the weddings where the bride dances with the father. Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: “Goodnight Irene.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah, “Stardust.”
RK: In fact, that was the name of our first band.
INTERVIEWER: Was it?
INTERVIEWER #2: How long did you operate under that name?
RK: Probably about three or four years.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you make any money?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER #2: Three or four years is a long stretch. Did you end up doing full-fledged weddings?
RK: Yeah. Weddings and anniversaries.
INTERVIEWER #3: Now, did they process from the church to the hall? Like with the bands, too, like after the wedding? Or was it just, you know, set up at the church and then set up at the hall separately?
RK: We used to play, in the morning we used to play on the porch. The Polish March.
INTERVIEWER: The Morning March.
RK: Serdeczna Matko (Dearest Mother). See, that was Polish. I said that. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Um-hum, perfect. [Laughter]
RK: [Laughter] Everybody cried. Then we went to the hall. At that time, you know, the weddings, you had breakfast afterwards.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play the anthem, the Polish National Anthem?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Sorry to interrupt you, but I had to get that in. So then from the porch you went to the hall.
RK: Hall and wait for them to come back from the church and have breakfast. Played till like, I think it was like, most of the time it was like an hour and half. Then they came back at night about 6:00 and played until 1:00.
INTERVIEWER: So the evening receptions. That was grueling wasn’t it?
RK: Oh, yeah, like 6:00 to 1:00 in the morning. That’s like seven hours, right?
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you drink? [Laughter]
RK: No, but I’ll tell you what I did pick up is smoking. You know, I was real young and I wanted to look older so I started smoking because everybody was smoking. Musicians smoked, too. So that’s about the only the bad thing that came out of it.
INTERVIEWER: It’s very hard not to in that lifestyle.
RK: Yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Now did you play poprawiny?
RK: No. No. Never. No. I don’t remember ever doing that. We were too tired from the night before.
INTERVIEWER #3: Do you remember any specific traditions at the wedding ceremony or the receptions?
RK: Oh yeah, they used to have the bride sit on the groom’s lap, and then they took the veil and put the veil on all the bridesmaids.
RK: There was a song involved, Twelve Angels, Dwana?cie Aniołow.
INTERVIEWER: And how about Jak Szybko Mijają Chwile (How Quickly Time Passes).
INTERVIEWER #3: My mom cries when she hears that song. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Everybody says that.
INTERVIEWER #3: Because it’s true.
INTERVIEWER: And it’s funny how some of the musicians I’ve interviewed actually said that they would cry because they’d see everybody crying.
RK: Oh, yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And then they would cry while they were playing.
RK: I’m losing my daughter! [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: And then one of the other musicians I interviewed said he would be playing on the porch and they’d playedSerdeczna Matko, and he said he would be bawling his eyes out and he’d look around and say to himself, “What the heck am I crying for, I don’t even know these people.” [Laughter]
RK: I was there when the mother gave the blessing, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Very sentimental-but such a beautiful tradition. Those traditions were just so beautiful. So wonderful.
INTERVIEWER #2: Do you remember the names of any of the halls you played at or where any of the weddings were?
RK: Well, one on Martin. There were two on Martin where we used to play often. I don’t know if they were called Martin Hall or not. They were between-just off Michigan.
INTERVIEWER #2: North of Michigan.
INTERVIEWER #2: Across from the library.
RK: Yeah, a little farther down.
INTERVIEWER #2: A little farther down. What was the name of that? I remember having meetings there.
RK: I thought it was Martin Hall.
INTERVIEWER #2: Could be.
RK: But there were two of them. One was a little shack and one was a little bigger one. Dom Polski. We played a lot there. And Proctor Hall. I remember they had a little wood picket fence around it. But actually all it was a bar with a banquet room. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: That’s all you need.
RK: And then there were those three halls on Oakman Boulevard. Italian and something else.
INTERVIEWER: Italian-American Hall. Well, you got into the circuit at absolutely the best time.
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: When the war had ended, and that’s when the christening parties and weddings-
INTERVIEWER #2: Everything was big.
INTERVIEWER: Anniversary parties were happening. So were you-then did you become a professional musician after high school? Is that what you were doing at the time?
RK: Yeah, well that was still a side job. I started working at theFree Press right after high school. But my weekends were pretty much full.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do at the Free Press?
RK: I was the Circulation Manager.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you do any military time?
RK: No. Every time they called my draft number-well, first of all, I got a deferment because my dad died and there was nobody to take care of my mother, so I got a deferment. Then when I got married, they weren’t taking married guys. Then when we had our first child, they weren’t taking any fathers. So I kept one jump ahead of them all the time.
INTERVIEWER: Well, not a bad thing. And so how did you meet your wife?
RK: I stood up to my cousin’s wedding and she was one of the bridesmaids that was there from his wife’s side.
INTERVIEWER: And is she Polish, too?
RK: No. She’s French and Finnish.
INTERVIEWER: Did that present a problem for your family?
RK: No. No. She likes more Polish food than I do. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: And in what year did you get married?
RK: Nineteen fifty-six.
INTERVIEWER: Did all your musician friends play at your wedding?
RK: Yep. Yep. In fact, Clare Wite played. Wally Duda. Paul Bronchak.
INTERVIEWER: What church did you get married at?
RK: St. Christopher.
INTERVIEWER: Where is that?
RK: It’s on-off Tireman.
INTERVIEWER #2: It’s way on the inside of the neighborhoods. It’s on the west side of Detroit.
RK: Between Southfield and Evergreen.
INTERVIEWER #3: Was it a Polish-style wedding?
RK: Yep. We got married on Thanksgiving Day. That was a tradition in our family. My mother got married on Thanksgiving. My aunts got married on Thanksgiving. In fact, we had three priests. I don’t think there’s a parish that has three priests today. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: You had a solemn high Mass.
RK: Yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER #2: That’s very interesting.
INTERVIEWER: Very interesting. So did you have kiełbasa-stuffed turkey?
RK: We had a traditional-for breakfast we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. You know, turkey and all the trimmings. Then at night we had the regular Polish food – kiełbasa, city chicken, all that good stuff.
INTERVIEWER: I’m going to get a little ahead and then we’ll backtrack and go more back to the traditions, but how many children do you have?
RK: Our TV was broke a lot. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: And where did you live when you first got married?
RK: We lived on Minnock Street. We rented a flat.
INTERVIEWER: And did you attend church at St. Christopher?
RK: No. At Ss. Peter & Paul.
INTERVIEWER: On Grandville?
INTERVIEWER #2: Do any of your children play music?
RK: No. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: Did any of them try?
RK: No. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: So, when was the first time you went into the Dom Polski? How old were you?
RK: You mean professionally?
INTERVIEWER: Just to go in.
RK: Probably around ten years old.
INTERVIEWER: Your dad took you in?
RK: My dad took me in there and he said, “Someday you’ll be playing here.” That’s what he told me. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: Wow, that was prophetic.
INTERVIEWER: Lovely. Did you think that was pretty awesome when he did that?
RK: Oh, yeah. It was one of the nicer halls in the area.
INTERVIEWER: And then did there come a time when you actually heard a band playing on that stage?
RK: Oh, yeah. In fact, we used to walk-he used to take me for a walk, like on Saturday nights, just to hear the band. We’d walk by and he’d say, “Someday you’ll be there.” [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Can you imagine how it sounded to have those doors open?
RK: I remember how it sounded. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #3: Did you call him Papa or did you call him Dad or-
RK: I just called him Dad, I think. I can’t remember anything else.
INTERVIEWER: Junction Avenue was, that was the strip back then.
RK: Oh, yeah, definitely. Like you said, the doors were always open. It wasn’t air conditioned, so you had the doors open. There used to be a hall right above a bar on Junction too, that I always heard music, too. I forget the name of that one. A lot of bars had rooms where they had the weddings in the area.
INTERVIEWER #2: If not upstairs, in the back, or whatever.
RK: In the basement, or whatever.
INTERVIEWER: And then they would actually convert the storefronts to dance halls, right? If you needed to have a dance hall for a party.
RK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that was the strip, you’re right. Junction strip.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any musicians whom you looked up to or you were inspired by? Who did you listen to?
RK: Wisniach. I thought he was a marvelous accordion player.
INTERVIEWER: Did you listen to his records or did you actually hear him?
RK: Yeah. Not his records. But we used to play at halls where there were multiple bands and he would be one of the bands. I always admired him.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how old you were when you first heard him play?
RK: No. I was in my twenties, I guess.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you play any of the big Polish picnics they used to have out in New Boston or Romulus?
RK: Oh, yes. Yes, oh, yes. Those really were fun. Used to get the accordion all dirty, with dirt flying around off the floor, you know. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: And when you squeeze the bellows you get a big puff of dust coming out.
INTERVIEWER #2: Sawdust and everything else.
RK: When we went on break, I’d make sure I put it in the case, you know, and not leave it out in the open like that.
INTERVIEWER: So how old were you when you went in your first bar and played?
RK: I didn’t do the bars until I was in my thirties. And then I started, I played at Julia’s Bar on Warren.
INTERVIEWER #2: How many years did you play for her?
RK: A couple of years.
INTERVIEWER #2: She kept that place going for many years.
RK: Oh, yeah. She was quite a character.
INTERVIEWER #2: Yes, she was. My mother knew her. What kind of accordion did you have? How many different accordions did you own?
RK: I just owned one, a Universal. I still have it.
INTERVIEWER: Is that the one that Guzek sold you? When you were young?
RK: No. No. That’s the one that Peraino sold me. The one that Guzek sold was a piece of junk.
INTERVIEWER: It was a student model, most likely.
INTERVIEWER #2: The accordion that you have, you have the same accordion. Did you ever have-if it breaks, what breaks on an accordion?
RK: You have to get new bellows and whatever, inside. The buttons, they stick. Everything is handmade. The one I bought, which was-absolutely-was-I paid $1,250 for it.
INTERVIEWER #2: That’s a lot of money. In what year? Forty-
RK: In forty-eight.
INTERVIEWER: That was a good accordion.
INTERVIEWER #2: My accordion didn’t cost that much. [Laughter]
RK: But everything is done with, like, everything is handmade inside. In fact, for my birthday, for my 70th birthday, I hadn’t been playing it-some keys weren’t working, and my daughter snuck it out of the house and had it completely refurbished.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that was wonderful.
RK: So I had to give them a concert on my birthday party.
INTERVIEWER: Of course.
INTERVIEWER #2: Do you do any of that now in nursing homes or anything like that?
RK: No, I just pull it out at Christmas time for my grandkids, and they’re in awe.
INTERVIEWER #3: How many people play the accordion anymore?
INTERVIEWER: How many reeds does your accordion have?
RK: A hundred twenty, bases. The bases-it has 120.
INTERVIEWER #2: After you broke up the Starlighters, then what name did you operate under?
RK: Well, then I wasn’t a leader anymore. I was just playing in different groups. So I didn’t have-until I got-our drummer passed away, Joe Zitka. Do you remember that name?
INTERVIEWER: No. Joe Zitka?
RK: Zitka. Z-I-T-K-A. I played with him for a number of years. Then when he passed away I took over the band and went by Four of a Kind. We added a trumpet player.
INTERVIEWER #2: Who were the people in the Four of a Kind?
RK: Their names?
INTERVIEWER #2: Yes, if you can remember?
RK: Yeah, Richard Dohring.
INTERVIEWER #2: D-O?
INTERVIEWER: What did he play?
RK: Saxophone and clarinet. And then Joe Felek.
INTERVIEWER #2: F-E?
INTERVIEWER #2: And he played?
RK: The trumpet. And then John Walsh.
INTERVIEWER #2: W-A-L-S-H?
RK: Correct, he was the drummer.
INTERVIEWER #2: And that was Four of a Kind.
INTERVIEWER #2: And how long did that group stay together?
RK: Probably about 12 years.
INTERVIEWER #2: Mostly weddings and the same kind of dinners?
RK: Yeah, we were a house band at Roma Hall.
INTERVIEWER #2: Out here in Livonia?
RK: Mostly in Livonia, but they had, no they had one in Eastpointe, Roma Hall, and they had Roma Hall in Garden City, and then they had a Roma Hall in Bloomfield Hills. All that’s gone now.
INTERVIEWER: You did well.
INTERVIEWER #2: But you were a house band for their whole operation for 12 years then?
RK: Yeah. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER #2: Wonderful. What other group names did you play with that you might remember? Because you kind of said you sat in with other groups for a while?
RK: I used to sub for Eddie Pelts, some jobs. I played with Sadrack, a few jobs.
RK: Adamus, yeah.INTERVIEWER: And when you played with these different groups, what were the occasions?
RK: It was just weddings.
INTERVIEWER #2: And when you went with Four of a Kind, then you stayed with them for a long time?
RK: Yeah. That was when I was the leader.
INTERVIEWER #2: These groups were between the times you were in the Starlighters and Four of a Kind.
INTERVIEWER #2: Okay. We’ve got a good chronology now.
INTERVIEWER: What else do you remember about your musical career?
RK: It was fun.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play with Clare Wite?
RK: No, because he was an accordion player.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s right.
INTERVIEWER #2: What? No duets?
RK: No. No. I used to sub for him from once in a while. Mostly when I played with his brother, Eddie, that’s when we started.
INTERVIEWER: What about Eddie Hoyt. Did you know Eddie Hoyt at all?
RK: I knew him but I never played with him.
INTERVIEWER #2: After Roma Hall what else did you do?
RK: I retired after that.
INTERVIEWER #2: Then you retired from music.
INTERVIEWER #2: And you do it now only for your own pleasure.
RK: Yes because I got spoiled over there because I didn’t have to solicit or advertise because they always had the work for me. So when they finally went under or sold out the property-
INTERVIEWER #2: What year did you retire from Roma then, about?
RK: Nineteen eighty-five, maybe.
INTERVIEWER #2: Eighty-five. That was a nice run.
INTERVIEWER #2: That got your kids through college.
RK: Yes, because my wife never worked so it worked out good.
INTERVIEWER #2: What do you mean she never worked? She had eight children. You’re talking to three women. [Laughter]
RK: Well, I knew I said the wrong thing. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: Just teasing. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Oh, did you ever play at the-what was that place in Melvindale? Remember Mr. D? He had the Sunday afternoon dances there with the bands.
INTERVIEWER #2: That was a good question. Did you ever do anything on the radio?
INTERVIEWER: Now, did you listen to recordings by any of the East Coast bands or the Chicago bands? Did you have a favorite style or a favorite band?
RK: No. Not really. I kind of liked Chicago, the Polish bands-I thought Sadrack had one of the better bands as far as he had good musicians with him all the time.
INTERVIEWER: You never did any recording?
INTERVIEWER #2: What was your worst experience that we can talk about? Or what was your very best experience?
RK: I don’t know. I just always had fun. I can’t really-
INTERVIEWER: Anything funny or really hilarious happen at a wedding, or you know, on the stage? A musician falling off the stage? Somebody told me some guy was playing away and he was getting so excited playing that all of a sudden his chair just fell right off the stage. Not that that’s funny-he didn’t get hurt, but it was humorous.
RK: I had a bass player that did that. [Laughter] At Dom Polski. He took one-he had a little too much to drink and he had a bass and he walked off the stage and there was a big drop. He landed on his feet and he said, “I’m okay.” But that one step, you know.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you play in any churches?
RK: Oh, I remember playing at a funeral. I never knew that someone would hire a band for, you know, after church.
INTERVIEWER #2: What church was it?
RK: It was in Livonia somewhere. It was at Roma Hall, you know, when they come for the lunch after. And all they said, all they wanted was Dixie music. I says, “What?” “Dixie.” You know, just like New Orleans style. And I, we played it, and I-I had-that was the most happiest bunch I’ve ever played for.
INTERVIEWER #2: Wonderful.
INTERVIEWER #3: That’s a New Orleans-style funeral.
RK: And the trumpet player did a real good job. And it was amazing, it just, more than a wedding, I mean, that’s how much they enjoyed it because they said that’s what the father wanted.
INTERVIEWER #2: That was the style, yes.
RK: For his funeral. But that was the only time I ever played for a funeral. When they first asked me to play I said, “You know, I don’t know about that, you know.”
INTERVIEWER #2: Do your remember who he was?
INTERVIEWER #2: Or his background? Or where he was raised?
INTERVIEWER #2: He wasn’t Polish? He was from New Orleans?
RK: No. No.
INTERVIEWER: I wonder if he was a musician?
RK: No, he wasn’t a musician. But I guess he just wanted Dixie.
INTERVIEWER: He wanted everybody to be happy.
INTERVIEWER #2: You can add to your repertoire that you played a funeral.
INTERVIEWER: That’s very interesting.
INTERVIEWER #2: Like McNamara’s Band.
RK: But I guess that’s pretty common in New Orleans. They have parades and everything.
INTERVIEWER #3: They’re known for those kind of funerals. We have one at our school. We have a funeral for Old Man Winter, when spring comes and everyone goes through campus and they have like a Dixieland band. It’s a joke, really, and they say good bye to Old Man Winter and they have a funeral procession.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did your wife attend any of the dances, weddings, parties, aside from the ones that were like family?
RK: Just before we got married.
INTERVIEWER #2: Before you got married.
RK: After we got married she didn’t.
INTERVIEWER #2: She didn’t. She was busy with the children.
INTERVIEWER #3: I was going to ask you about the Polish National Alliance or the PRCUA? Were those big deals around that time? Do you remember any events or any kind of organizational things with PNA?
RK: No, I don’t recall any.
INTERVIEWER #3: That’s what I was going to ask you. Were your parents or grandparents involved in any of the alliances or the fraternities like the PLAV or the Polish National Alliance?
RK: My mother was in something with St. Hedwig. She had an insurance policy with them.
INTERVIEWER #3: That would be the PNA.
INTERVIEWER #2: Your mother would be Josephine.
RK: Yes. I have to keep thinking when you say Josephine. Nobody ever called her that.
INTERVIEWER #2: What did they call her?
INTERVIEWER #2: Jessie?
INTERVIEWER #2: She was born in the United States?
INTERVIEWER #2: No, she was born in Poland.
RK: Both my parents were.
INTERVIEWER #2: Your parents. You’re first generation.
RK: My parents, no. My mother and dad, they were both born in Poland.
INTERVIEWER #3: So that makes you first generation American.
RK: Yes, right.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know where in Poland they were born? You don’t know that, do you?
INTERVIEWER #2: You have to find out. That’s your assignment.
RK: Yes. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: You’ll be working on it for the next 25 years. [Laughter] Now, did you teach any of your children any of the Polish customs and traditions, Wigilia, any of that?
RK: No, no.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any of that?
INTERVIEWER #3: I was going to ask about Palm Sunday or even?migus-dyngus. Do you remember separate traditions, I mean specific, Easter Monday, Palm Sunday?
INTERVIEWER #2: You did bless baskets, though, at St. Hedwig?
RK: Oh, yes, that part, that was, Friday had to get the baskets done.
INTERVIEWER: When was the last Morning March you played? Do you remember? Was it-did you play a Morning March like in the ’70s, or had that already died out by then?
RK: No. I did some of that in the ’70s. But it was dwindling, you know, down to, mostly-most of that stuff was done in the ’60s, early ’60s.
INTERVIEWER #3: What about Hamtramck? Did you go there much? Or did you stay in your part?
RK: No. Mainly west side.
INTERVIEWER #3: Was there a big, kind of, I don’t want to say-
INTERVIEWER #2: Yes. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #3: Between like west side and Hamtramck, there was a competition?
RK: Oh, yeah, there was, absolutely. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #3: And you didn’t really cross borders?
RK: No, no, they-
INTERVIEWER #2: It really wasn’t necessary.
RK: No, it wasn’t.
INTERVIEWER #2: No, it just didn’t matter.
RK: We had enough Polish people on this side of town.
INTERVIEWER #2: I didn’t know about Hamtramck until I was way an adult. Who are they? [Laughter] We had enough on our side of town.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever play at the east side Dom Polski?
INTERVIEWER #2: I remember the wives stayed home because mostly you had one car, right?
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard for you or your wife or your family, or was it-you managed? It was good?
RK: I thought it was real good.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you often play two nights on a weekend or just one?
RK: Mostly two.
INTERVIEWER #2: Mostly two?
RK: Mostly three, actually-when I was at Roma Hall. Sometimes I played five nights a week. I remember one-they used to have a lot of Christmas parties for different, like corporations would have parties like for their employees and stuff. One December, I think we played 17 nights in a row. All Christmas parties.
INTERVIEWER #3: While still working at the paper?
INTERVIEWER: That is rough.
RK: That was fun.
INTERVIEWER #2: It was such a change of pace.
RK: Yeah, it was.
INTERVIEWER #2: And you were with people and it was fun.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the thing about music. You’re giving so much to people and they’re enjoying it so much, it’s kind of like a high, isn’t it? A natural high?
RK: Oh, yeah, yeah. At the tail end, when another generation was growing up, you know, when I decided to quit, or retire, or whatever, from the music, we used to come in the band-because all the guys in the band were about the same age, you know. And you’d hear the songs from the kids, you know, around the tables, you know. “What an old band,” you know, and, I said, “Time to get out.” [Laughter] You know, they want to hear songs like on a record, you know. Number one, we don’t have the instrumentation to do that with all the guitars. I said, we got too much, and then it stopped being fun, you know.
INTERVIEWER #2: When you did any of the picnics, did you do a lot of them, or did you do a few of them?
RK: No, not a lot.
INTERVIEWER #2: Do you have any memory at all of them?
RK: All I know is people had a lot of fun at them picnics.
INTERVIEWER #2: Yes, they did.
RK: Never stopped dancing.
INTERVIEWER #2: Do you remember any of the parks you were at?
RK: No, not-you know, it’s so vague. I know they were out in the sticks. That’s all I remember.
INTERVIEWER #2: They were out in the sticks by those standards.
INTERVIEWER: That’s part of what made it so much fun. You packed the car and you just, like the whole-you know, drive forever to get there.
RK: Oh, yeah. I mean, you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden there’s Liberty Park.
INTERVIEWER: On Bredow.
INTERVIEWER #2: Liberty Park. What else did you say?
INTERVIEWER: On Bredow.
INTERVIEWER #2: Yeah, it was way down.
RK: I remember Liberty Park.
INTERVIEWER #2: I think it’s a flea market now. No, but seriously, did you do a lot of those, or just a few?
RK: No, not a lot.
INTERVIEWER #2: And it was fun?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER #2: And so he does remember doing picnics out in the Romulus area.
INTERVIEWER: There was Wanda Park. Did you play Wanda Park?
INTERVIEWER #2: Wanda Park.
RK: That’s a name that just popped up.
INTERVIEWER: Belvedere Park? Did you do Belvedere Park?
RK: I’m not sure about that.
INTERVIEWER #2: And people really, really danced in those days.
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER #2: The floors were really crowded.
RK: It was nice. You could be two blocks away from the hall and you could hear the music.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play on any of the cruise ships?
RK: No. I played on Bob-Lo.
INTERVIEWER #2: Oh, did you?
INTERVIEWER: Did you play on the midnight moonlight cruise? Is that what they called it?
RK: But I was just subbing. It wasn’t my band. They just wanted a sub.
INTERVIEWER #2: And it was a Polish night on the Bob-Lo boat or were you just playing all kinds of music?
RK: No, it was just all kinds.
INTERVIEWER #2: Just all kinds, okay.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a singer in your band who sang any Polish lyrics?
INTERVIEWER: Mostly instrumentals?
RK: Yeah, it was instrumental. My latest sax player that was with us mostly at the Roma Hall, he was a singer, but he didn’t sing Polish. He was Italian. He sang Italian and that impressed the people at Roma Hall because they were Italian. [Laughter] So that worked out.
INTERVIEWER: We want to go back to that and pick up anything we might have missed. Where did you shop for like your clothing? Did you shop at Witkowski’s, or-
RK: Yeah. Federal’s. There was a Federal’s on Michigan Avenue.
INTERVIEWER #2: Federal Department Store.
RK: I think my mother liked to go there. She said they had the best deals. It was kind of the Wal-Mart kind of-
INTERVIEWER: And did you walk to all these places?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Or take a bus? You walked?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: They were within walking distance?
INTERVIEWER: And where did you-Now, for your-when your parents were in the grocery business, of course, they got your food right there from your own grocery stores, right?
RK: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And did they have certain vendors that they ordered the meat from, and they ordered their pastry from?
RK: If they did, I wouldn’t know who their vendors were.
INTERVIEWER: But local vendors, obviously, would come in and supply?
RK: There was a lot of competition with grocery stores in the neighborhood.
INTERVIEWER #2: Oh, gosh, yes.
RK: In fact, in order to survive my parents would take numbers, you know, like the lottery, which was illegal. The mistake they made was that they skipped credit. They got burned.
INTERVIEWER #2: You mean people didn’t pay up? Because we all had those little books.
RK: No books, right.
INTERVIEWER #2: I was going to ask you about the little books. They would write down what you owed them and when payday came, Mom would send us down there and we’d have to pay up because you wanted to have that credit for the next week.
RK: Well, yeah, and you wanted the business.
INTERVIEWER #2: And your mom and dad got burned by that, right?
INTERVIEWER #2: That’s too bad. I always thought everybody paid.
RK: Yeah, you’d think. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER #2: Maybe our block was more honest than yours.
RK: Yeah, probably. [Laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Unless they just didn’t have the money and couldn’t, you know, during the war. A lot of people probably just-
RK: People moved out. All of a sudden we’d go to their door and they were gone.
INTERVIEWER #2: Sometimes they honestly forgot.
RK: Well, yeah, but-
INTERVIEWER #2: Some of them.
RK: But just listening to my mother, I was too young to be the enforcer or anything, but I went to the house and knocked on the door and they moved.
INTERVIEWER: One lady we interviewed for the society whose parents had a grocery store down on Magnolia, she said that when they eventually closed the store and they moved to Dearborn, it was about 20 years later they got a phone call from a woman.
INTERVIEWER #2: Somebody called them to pay their bill.
INTERVIEWER: They found them to pay her bill.
RK: Really? Oh, that’s nice.
INTERVIEWER: And she said, “Did you own the grocery store on Magnolia?”
INTERVIEWER #2: Yeah, people were notoriously honest because we were all Catholics.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. And she said, “Before I die I want to make amends.” Isn’t that something?
INTERVIEWER #2: And of course the neighborhoods were so tight everybody knew your business. [Laugher] So it was shame on your family. [Laughter] Did you suffer that on Otis, too? Shame on your family.
So you were at St. Hedwig’s and then you graduated. Where did your father graduate from? He didn’t graduate. He was a butcher and then he went into the business. Then he went into DeSoto’s.
RK: Right. My mother worked at Hudson’s for 25 years.
INTERVIEWER #2: Downtown?
INTERVIEWER #2: What department?
RK: She was a wrapper.
INTERVIEWER #2: Gift wrapper.
RK: Gift wrapper.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, what a fabulous job.
INTERVIEWER #2: When people got jobs like that they stayed forever.
INTERVIEWER: I would love a job like that. You have a beginning and an end of a project every day. You get it done and then you go home and you can forget. And it’s creative.
INTERVIEWER #2: And then again you’re with people.
INTERVIEWER: Make people happy.
INTERVIEWER #2: What does your brother do? He’s not a musician at all?
RK: No. No, he’s retired. He worked at the Free Press with me.
INTERVIEWER #2: Did you ever work at the West Side Courier or anything else? And the Dziennik Polski or any of that?
INTERVIEWER #2: Were you ever a paperboy?
RK: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER #2: Okay. Who did you deliver papers for?
RK: Detroit Times.
INTERVIEWER: How old were you when you did that?
RK: You had to be 12, and that’s what I was. I did that until I graduated from high school.
INTERVIEWER #2: But you were over by Warren Avenue already when you did that.
INTERVIEWER: Did your brother play any music?
RK: No. He tried the trumpet for a while but he gave it up.
INTERVIEWER #2: How did you pay for your first car? With music money?
INTERVIEWER #2: What was your first car you bought with your music money? Everybody remembers their first car.
RK: Nineteen thirty-nine Ford.
INTERVIEWER: So what did you tell your children growing up? What values did you instill in them about life, about your life, your parents?
RK: Well, just that whatever job they have, I didn’t care what they wanted to do for a living, just to give it their all. Give it their best shot. And my sons tell me that I was a good role model.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sure you were.
INTERVIEWER #2: That’s very nice.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sure of it. I know his son and I can tell you that he was a good role model based on my knowing his son and what a wonderful man he is. He’s a wonderful man.
INTERVIEWER #2: And to have done so much and to have been so busy while the kids were coming up and for them to still see that and express that, that’s very, very nice.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, and to have so much respect. And I know you’re still a very close family today, aren’t you?
RK: Oh, yeah, very close.
INTERVIEWER: Your son told me at Christmas time you had music in the house on the piano and you sang Christmas carols together.
RK: He hosted the first Christmas party for Christmas Eve at his house. He has a beautiful big home, and everybody in the family was there.
INTERVIEWER #2: Are all the children still in Michigan?
RK: Yeah. Now they are. We have 16 grandchildren.
INTERVIEWER: How important do you think the Polish culture was in your upbringing?
RK: I think that just-I mean, if somebody’s paying you to do some work, you do the best you can. I mean, you don’t fluff off. I think the Polish culture teaches you to work hard and good things will happen.
INTERVIEWER: What about the faith? Has faith been very important?
RK: Oh, absolutely. You can’t do it without the help of God.
INTERVIEWER: When did your mother pass away?
RK: Ninety-six. Nineteen ninety-six. My dad passed away in 1956. He died a month before we got married. That was tragic.
INTERVIEWER: That had to be. You never knew your grandfathers.
RK: Not really. I think I saw them, saw them once.
INTERVIEWER: And you never knew-never found out what happened to them?
RK: Nah. They just went up to heaven.
INTERVIEWER: Did your grandmothers remarry? No, they couldn’t. But did they find somebody else?
RK: No. They never-
INTERVIEWER: They just made it on their own.
RK: They made it on their own. I think it made the family closer, too. Because her children were always there.