As during this week I’ve been focusing on the rock and roll portion of the Music of the Little Balkans exhibit at the museum in Franklin, I spent some time talking with Walt Kennett at his place in Arma.

Walt is a walking history of the genre, having played lead or bass guitar in arguably the area’s four best bands of the 1950s and 60s – Conny and the Bellhops, The I.V. Five, The Seibrings, and The Gass Company.

I’ll be writing a long piece about Walt and his time with the Bellhops - as well his other musical escapades and explorations - prior to Jamie Ortolani’s presentation on rock and roll and country at Miners Hall Museum March 22nd. In the meantime, I decided to go to the internet and gather a little more on the Bellhops. Here’s a little tease of trivia I’ve put together so far: 

• Conny’s real name was Edgar M. Conrad III.

• The group often practiced behind Walt’s house and traveled to their gigs in a converted hearse painted fire engine red with ‘Conny and the Bellhops’ emblazoned on the side.

• Walt told Nikki Patrick in a 2010 interview that he called dance nights at The Tower a “two for one show” - “You’d pay a dollar, and get to hear music and see fights.”

• The Bellhops have been inducted into the national Rockabilly Hall of Fame as well the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

• In 1959 the group recorded at Sun Studios (now known as Phillips International) in the same studio where the legends Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded. Scotty Moore, lead guitar player for Presley, served as engineer for the Bellhops’ recording of “Shotrod” and “Bopsticks.” (You can listen to “Bopsticks” and “Shotrod” – complete with its scratchy 45 rpm start and Conny’s vocal sound effects ending on YouTube. 

More evidence that the Trianon was the place to be in the big band era: At mid-week I received an e-mail from a man named Tom Laing who said after listening to jazz while visiting his brother in Kalispell, Montana years back, he met a swinging, 80-something year old sax player who, when he learned Tom was from Kansas, told him about traveling with the Harry James orchestra and playing in Croweburg – “how jammed the place was, and how great the crowd was.”

Also at mid-week, Carol Ann Robb, MFRL, sent me an e-mail message that said, “This has your name written all over it.” Turned out to be a site with slang phrases from the 1920s. As lots of photos in the MHM exhibit are from that time, I thought I’d share them and see if you, dear reader, ‘know your onions’ (definitions are in italics at the end of the column). 

1) “Butt me!”; 2) Cheaters; 3) Choice bit of calico; 4) Gasper; 5) Giggle water; 6) Handcuff; 7) Iron one’s shoelaces; 8) Get the icy mitt; 9) Jake; 10) Mazuma; 11) Oliver Twist; 12) Ossified; 13) Petting pantry; 14) “Phonus balonus!”; 15) Pull a Daniel Boone; 16) Sheba; 17) “Tell it to Sweeney!” 18) Zozzled 19) Ankle; 20) “Now you’re on the trolley!” 

Gene Corsini and I visited in my kitchen on Thursday about his upcoming Miners Hall Museum presentation on accordion and polka – January 26th. 

Although no one knows for sure, Gene said, it’s likely the accordion originated in Vienna. Wherever, it soon took off all over Europe, with the finest ones being crafted in Italy.

I showed him some old photos I’d gotten from Steve Crosetto featuring his dad, Jules, from whom Gene took lessons. (He started giving lessons when he was 14). Steve told me that when his dad left on the bus from Pittsburg for the navy, he took along his accordion. His mother later related that she could hear Jules playing “Anchors Aweigh” as the bus pulled out.

1920s Slang Definitions: 1)“Give me a cigarette!”; 2) Eyeglasses; 3) A good-looking woman; 4) Cigarette ‘fag’; 5) Liquor, alcoholic beverage; 6) Engagement ring; 7) Excuse oneself to go the restroom; 8) Be rejected by the object of one’s affections; 9) Okay, fine 10) Cash, money; 11) An extremely good dancer; 12) Drunk; 13) Movie theatre; 14 “That’s nonsense!”; 15) Throw up, puke; 16) Sexually desirable woman; 17) “I don’t believe you!”; 18) Bombed, very drunk; 19) Walk; 20) “Now you’ve gotten it right!”

— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, jtknoll@swbell.net, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762