Last Sunday I spent some time researching with the microfilm reader at Pittsburg Public Library starting with the November 11, 1935 Sunday edition of the Pittsburg Headlight & Sun.
Quite a different paper - the comics section alone was big as the current Morning Sun. After getting hung up there a while (on Our Boarding House with Mr. Blotto) I moved on to looking for ads for dance halls and bands.
As I scrolled along I came to a column titled FRANKLIN that caught my eye. Most all the little towns in the area had one of these sections in the paper back in the day. We had a little box with a slot in the top at Pallucca’s grocery that was marked Frontenac News in which locals would drop hand written items like who was in town visiting who – whether they be from Detroit or Breezy Hill – as well as assorted neighborhood happenings.
Happenings that week in Franklin included a Ladies Aid meeting with quilting and a covered dish luncheon, a surprise handkerchief shower, and a discussion about the origin of Franklin school with accordion selections by Jules Melchiori of Girard.
As serendipity would have it, I also discovered a little item about Mrs. John Paulin (my wife’s grandmother) throwing a birthday party for her daughter, Frances (the mother of Linda’s cousin, Debbie Reilly Skahan).
A couple of pages further on (just to the side of an ad for a Claudette Colbert movie at the Cozy) I found a small square that read: DANCE - GAY PARITA, Tuesday Night. Music Furnished by Brin Thomas and His Casa Del Re’ Orchestra. Admission 10 cents and 35 cents. BOXING AND DANCING WEDNESDAY NIGHT.
One little ad revealed both something new (boxing matches were held at the Gay Parita) and posed the question (who is Brin Thomas?).
On Tuesday I got connected by phone to Anita Zafuta Lunn, the daughter of Harry Zafuta (still another accordion player who learned under Prof. John Catanzaro) and leader of Harry and The Hotshots, a swinging dance band that played all the latest hits in local taverns and halls, as well as on a radio show in Joplin.
Besides Zafuta on accordion (sometimes called the ‘squeezebox’ and ‘stomach steinway’) the band featured brothers Tony and Louie Amershek (tenor sax and trumpet), Louie Hebenstriet (alto sax) and Joe Tocci (drums). Sometimes renowned bass man Tuffy Scalet (of The Blackfriars) would sit in.
Anita told me her mother, Lois, was an accomplished musician who would buy sheet music of the latest hits at Ernie William’s Music in Pittsburg and transcribe copies for all the band members by hand (some copies of which Anita still has after saving them from the mice in her parents’ basement).
Thursday morning I talked by phone with Archie Jameson, owner and operator of Jameco Accordion Service in Lawrence where he’s been selling and repairing accordions for 40 years in his basement. He’s 94 plus years old and has an incredible memory.
Still another of Catanzaro’s students, he grew up east of Pittsburg near the Lone Star corner. Jameson recollected that the brilliant Catanzaro was once a conductor of a philharmonic orchestra in Kansas City. He remembers that Catanzaro had four sons who were such good musicians that they toured with the big city bands in the 30s and 40s. Also a daughter who was a singer.
In 1945 he formed Arch Jameson and The Melody Kings, a dance band that played current Hit Parade top 10 songs as well as old standards. Although it had different members over the years, it originally featured his brother, Earl, on saxophone, clarinet and vocals; Louie Massaglia on trumpet and cornet; Bess Clark on piano; her husband, Ray Clark on drums; and Darrell Bryant on guitar and vocals.
Not only did they play the local halls and clubs like the Trianon, Gay Parita, Little Gay Parita, Parkview Club, Club 50, Silver Slipper and P.P. Mingori’s, they traveled quite a bit - to Ozark Gardens in Nevada and the Twin Oaks Club in Ft. Scott, for instance.
For a time in Joplin, the band played Saturday nights 9 – 12 p.m. at the Log Cabin Tavern and then packed up and moved to The Moon where they played 1- 4 a.m. (for the swing shift lead and zinc miners who wanted to celebrate the week’s end).
Archie said the best gig he ever had was at the Rendezvous Club (located between Scammon and Columbus), which was run by the Parise family. “Mama Parise was a real sweet lady. We had great crowds and I had really good musicians.” Jameson recalled that her young son, Mike, who would go on to form his own dance band, would go on the stage to play sax during his band’s intermissions.
How good was Archie playing and repairing accordions? Good enough to play for 13 years in a band with internationally known Kansas City accordion virtuoso Don Lipovac — whose instruments he also repaired and tuned. Something he learned from Little Balkans master, Leo Prenk.
I asked Archie what big name touring bands (Dorsey Brothers, Blue Barron, Guy Lombardo) he’d seen at the Trianon, Gay Parita and Tower through the years. “Not many,” he lamented. “Most times I was playing a club dance with my band. I did see Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys at the Gay Parita though. He had some incredible musicians … and a unique style – played every song once, then waited a few seconds and played it again. Never took an intermission.”
Well, unlike Bob Wills, I do need to take an intermission — so that’s it for this week. Time to get back to the library and the microfilm machine to mine for more local music history. No telling what I’ll find out next. Since there was boxing at the Gay Parita, maybe they staged bear wrestling at the Trianon and circus acts at the Tower between dances? I’ll let you know.
— 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, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762