Don Hunjadi grew up with polka music, often watching his father, Dick Hunjadi, perform
on stage as the drummer with Milwaukee polka great, Louie Bashell. Although he started
playing trumpet in the fifth grade, by age 14, Don started playing bass guitar and
the following year became the bass player with the Joey Klass band - once again along
side his father who played drums with the band. When he was 17 he had his first opportunity
to enter a recording studio when he went to Bight Productions, ran by polka great
Roger Bright, to record "First Klass" with the Joey Klass band. Already having a
big interest in electronics and recording, Don was fascinated with the recording
process and equipment.
Upon graduating from high school, Don entered college with a focus on electronics.
By this time he had moved into the top-40 music scene playing bass and sax with a
variety band he started with a friend called "RSVP". While going to school full-time,
often playing four nights a week, including at Alpine Valley, a local ski resort
and outdoor music theater, Don also began obtaining recording equipment in hopes
of opening a studio. It was in the Fall of 1981, at the age of 18, that Don, together
with a childhood friend, Blaine Gellings, decided to build a recording studio in
the basement of Blaine's parent's home. Construction took them into 1982 but when
it was done, HG Studio was born. That is where the name HG came from - H for Hunjadi
and G for Gellings.
The very first record release was 45 RPM recording for Don's Top-40/Variety band,
RSVP. The very first polka recording came a few months later with another 45, this
time by the "Straight and Fuzzy Band." Having only a four track reel-to-reel recording
machine along with an 8-channel mixing board, Don knew if he wanted to become a serious
recording studio and even get close to the quality of sound that the big studios
produced, he would have to buy bigger and better equipment. To help finance the equipment
that was needed, Don recruited six Wisconsin polka bands to be part of the first
full LP from HG Studio - "Six Pack of What Made Milwaukee Famous." With Steve Meisner,
The Joey Klass Band, Grant Kozera & Jeff Winard, Bill Savatski, The Straight and
Fuzzy Band, and Bill Rochon all signed to be on the release, Don purchased a brand
new Tascam 8-track reel-to-reel machine, new Ramsa mixing board and top of the line
AKG microphone. The "Six Pack" album was released in the Fall of 1982 and HG Studio
was officially off and running.
During the next 18 months, The Steve Meisner Band (Songs of Love), Bob Doszak (High
Flyin), Hank Thunander & Edgar Heatcoat (Polka Jamboree), Verne & Steve Meisner (Meisner
Magic) were all recorded at HG Studio and released to polka fans everywhere. With
the quality of his recordings steadily increasing, the small studio soon found itself
booking more and more sessions - not only for polka bands but for all styles of music.
HG Studio soon became the place for bands in Wisconsin and surrounding states to
come to record their albums. With his talents on bass guitar, sax, clarinet, flute,
trumpet and piano, Don also found himself performing on many of the recordings as
a studio, session musician.
As HG Studio continued to grow, the interest in recording by Don's partner, Blaine,
started to diminish. With recording needs expanding, studio space being limited,
and having the studio housed in a residence of a partner looking to sell off his
share of the business, Don began searching for a new location for HG Studio. As luck
would have it, Don's grandfather was looking to sell his home right down the street
from the original HG Studio. Having bought out his partner and with the purchase
of the home complete, construction on a new and much larger HG studio was started
in the summer of 1985. Even though Blaine Gellings was no longer a partner in the
studio, the name, HG Studio, would remain. By early 1986, the new studio was operational
and ready to do it's first polka recording. This time it was Gordon Hartman who came
in to record his first album called "Premiere".
Don and Gordon quickly became good friends while both recording "Premier" as well
as playing some jobs together with Gordon's band. One night while returning home
from a band gig, Don and Gordon discussed the possibility of Gordon purchasing and
then leasing a new 16-track reel-to-reel recording machine to HG Studio. Having just
purchased the new home and expending tens of thousands of dollars on studio construction,
a new, much larger mixing board, and many other new pieces of recording equipment,
the lease offer was too good to pass up. By the end of 1986, the new 16-track tape
recorder was up and running at HG Studio.
By this time, the studio had developed into a full-time business for Don. During
the day advertising agencies, multi-media production companies, audio for video projects,
and advertising jingles were being produced in the studio. At night and on the weekends
bands would book time for various projects from demos to albums. Already popular
among polka musicians, HG Studio soon became a leading destination for Southeastern
Wisconsin's best rock, country, jazz, and even rap artists. As the studio continued
to grow, clients as large as UPS, Allied Van Lines, The American Bowling Congress,
Peterbilt Trucks, Hal Leonard Publishing, National Automobile Dealers Association
(NADA), S.C. Johnson Wax, and even McDonalds had various regional and national projects
completed at HG Studio. Meanwhile, polka bands of all styles continued calling HG
Studio their home. Both Verne and Steve Meisner, John Check and his Wisconsin Dutchmen,
Don Peachy, Bob Doszak, Gordon Hartmann, and Barbara & the Karousels are just a few
examples of bands who used HG Studio to produce all of their recordings over many
years - some of them recording and releasing over a half dozen recordings with HG
In 1988, already with hundreds of projects completed, HG Studio released one of the
first polka Compact Discs (CDs) when Gordon Hartman released "Polkaholic" on CD.
Many polka fans didn't even own a CD player at the time but purchased the then new
machines to play the CD. The Polkaholic CD went onto become a Grammy finalist in
the polka category for 1989. It was shortly after that when HG Studio made the move
to a 24-track reel-to-reel tape machine and operated as a 24-track recording studio.
Once again, Gordon Hartman made the purchase and leased the machine to HG Studio.
Although projects were now being mixed to 2-track digital (DAT) tape, it was still
years before the first affordable digital multi-track recorders would hit the market.
As the 1990s continued, changes began to hit both the recording market and Don Hunjadi's
career. By this time he had already become a firefighter/paramedic and started using
his business, marketing, and writing ability within the emergency services industry.
With the advent of computers and the Internet, recording equipment started to become
much more affordable and more available to not only musicians but to advertising
agencies and other clients. Rather than pay an hourly rate to a recording studio,
some artists found themselves making their own recordings at home and later on their
computer. Many advertising agencies did the same thing.
With all these changes taking place, Don refocused his career as the director of
a support association for EMTs, Paramedics, ambulance services and fire departments.
While the studio continued to complete recordings, by 1995 it was no longer Don's
full-time career. Little by little, the corporate, advertising and other non-band
or musician aspects of HG Studio began to come to an end. Still, throughout the next
years, polka bands - including veterans like Roger Bright, Bob Doszak and Verne Meisner
still came to HG Studio to record, but now they were being joined by newer artists
like Mike Schneider, Eric Noltkamper and the Sidemen, calling on HG Studio to complete
their recordings. Even artists doing recordings on their own at home still came to
HG Studio to mix their final masters or record drums, large vocal groups, or other
instruments. The slowest time for HG Studio was the mid to late 2000s where the studio
only completed a few projects each year. In 2008, HG Studio celebrated their 25th
anniversary by releasing a CD of previously unreleased polka recordings, called the
"HG Studio 25th Anniversary Special."
Following a car accident in the Fall of 2009, Don again returned to HG Studio with
a renewed focus. No longer having to dedicate 60 or more hours a week to a career
in emergency medical services, he was free to devote more time to other things including
recording and performing music. While more and more bands today are recording at
home or on their own, HG Studio has still seen activity with full projects for polka
bands like Gary's Ridgeland Dutchmen, The Jan Garber Band with Howard Schneider,
and button box great, Bud Hyrczyk, as well as tracking and mixing for polka stars
like Mike Schneider, David Austin and Steve Meisner, who all have their own home
studios, but still call on Don and on HG Studio to help with portions of their recordings
and especially with final mixing and mastering.
Having been in the recording business since 1982, Don Hunjadi and HG Studio have
gone from reel-to-reel tape machines and vinyl records to today's digital recorders
and computer software, compact discs, and digital media files. Where in the past
everyone had to be in the same room or at least within the same building to make
a recording, today, it is not uncommon for someone to record their button box or
accordion tracks in Texas, send the files via the Internet to HG Studio in Wisconsin
where Don records more parts, sends them to Cleveland so banjo and guitar can be
added, then over to another studio in Milwaukee for a few overdubs and then back
to HG Studio again where the final master is created - sometimes all within the same
With today's technology and equipment, almost anything is possible. Still, Don says
it takes talent, ability and experience to make it all work and for that classic
polka sound to be created. Don says it is no different than anything else. "You can
give me the best wood working equipment there is: the best table saw, jointer, edger,
plainer, finishing room, etc., but I still can't build you a desk. It is not only
the equipment that you have but how you use it and what you do with it." Having now
recorded thousands of musicians and projects, Don is one of the longest running polka
recording engineers in the United States. There are only a select few engineers and
recording studios with more than 30 years of polka recording experience.
Don plans to continue operating HG Studio and providing audio services for anyone
who needs them; as well as performing both in the studio and live on stage with the
many, various, bands he plays with, for as long as he can. "God willing, I still
have many years ahead of me. I just hope that polka music continues to be popular
with the fans. Without fans willing to buy CDs or go out and listen to polka music,
it doesn't matter what I might do in the studio or on stage. We have to have fans
wanting to hear great polka music. We can't do it without them."