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The Perko & Peanuts Story





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.





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