The year was 1965 and the Art Perko Orchestra was roasting some "Peanuts on the Cleveland
pop radio scene. The 45 rmp record exemplified the band's versatility. Not only could
the Perko Orchestra play polkas and waltzes but the group was in tune with the times.
Featuring Art Perko (accordion), Bill Tomsick (sax), Mike Dragas (bass), Ray Sterle
(drums) and Al Markic (banjo), "Peanuts" landed at number 13 on the KYW Radio 1100
- Sound 11 Survey for the week beginning April 23. It climbed to ninth the following
week when the survey's top single was "A Ticket to Ride" by the Beatles and "Help
Me Rhonda" by the Beach Boys held the 11th spot. Perko's version of "Peanuts" enjoyed
a six-week run on the Sound 11 Survey. The song also cracked the top 10 on the WHK
1420 pop survey chart. The Perko Orchestra cut "Peanuts" at Cleveland Recording Studios
and released the song on the Taurus label. Dragas, who was working for Atlantic Records
at the time, heard a master tape of "Peanuts" by the Sunglows from Texas on World
Artist Records while on a business trip to Pittsburgh in late March of 1965. "I was
in the music business and had an ear for music . I knew the song was going to be
a hit and wanted to cover it," Dragas said. "A few days later we were rehearsing
the song in Perko's basement and two days later cut it. Within two weeks, thanks
to Ron Schager, the single was released to the public. I knew we could pull it off."
Dragas had an inside conection at WHK and took the single to the radio station on
a Sunday afternoon. "They put it on the air and the phones lit up," Dragas recalled.
The Perko Orchestra was hitting on all cylinders. Roger DiBenedict (guitar/banjo)
replaced Markic shortly after the recording of "Peanuts." Two months later, the Perko
Orchestra recorded it's first album, Polka Hits, on the Taurus label. In addition
to "Peanuts," the album also featured "Magic Trumpets," "Perko's Polka" and "Gornik's
Polka." "Roger was the missing link." Tomsick said. "He really fit in with the rest
of us. The band's rhythm went from good to great." "We had the ingredients for the
cake and Roger was the yeast that made it rise," Dragas said. The Perko Orchestra
definitely had pizazz. "We were just having a good time," Dragas said. "We were the
new kids on the block and free wheeling. We played how we felt and let it all hang
out. The way we played together came naturally and that's what made the band so good."
The Perko Orchestra released 10 albums, two on the Taurus label, one on Rim Records
in 1969 and seven on World Renown Sound Records including a Reunited series of three
records in 1997. The Perko Orchestra was known for its peppy and progressive style.
The group was the first to add a piano keyboard giving popular music a sound of the
times. "It was difficult at first to win over some of the people because they weren't
used to hearing polkas played with this new and modern style," Dragas said. "The
tempo was a little faster with a touch of Polish and a pop music flair." The band
prided itself with "being tight" without changing rhythm and maintaining the upbeat
sound started at the outset of a tune. Tomsick arranged a lot of the group's music
intertwining new ideas from time to time. He also was the innovator of the two-sax
sound by overdubbing the harmony parts with the melody track which was unheard of
on a polka album at the time. In January of 1960, the band made its first appearance
on the "Polka Varieties" television show broadcast Sunday afternoons on WEWS, the
ABC affilate in Cleveland. The Perko Orchestra was one of the featured groups and
appeared on the show's last telecast live from Geauga Lake Park in September of 1985.
The Perko Orchestra also played on most of the Polka Varietes road shows. The Perko
Orchestra also appeared with Buck Owens, Dottie West, Gene Krupa, Bob Hope, Charlie
Pride, the Temptations and Roy Clark at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. There was
no shortage of work for the band during a 15-year period when the group averaged
two weddings and up to three night club appearances. The original Perko Orchestra
was formed in 1956. Tomsick, Sterle and Dragas were the core but the group needed
an accordion player. Tomsick knew Perko since grade school and convinced Art to leave
his band to form a new one. The rest is history. Stability was a key to the success
of the Perko Orchestra which maintained the same personnel for 32 years.