Lojze Slak Story


By Janez Pavlin







   Lojze Slak


If we searched the world for the best known person from Dolenjska, it would definitely be Lojze Slak. Thirty years have passed this year since he first began entertaining audiences with his trio of musicians and Fanti s Praprotna (The Boys from Praprotno). Even in the smallest village he attracts young and old, and he is equally well known to our immigrants in America and Australia as he is to the people of Gorenjska, Štajerska, Primorska, and his own Dolenjska. He is the only one to have played the "frajtonarica" or button accordion at the world center of country music in Nashville, Disneyland in Florida, and in many other places. The Slak Ensemble is definitely the most successful: more than four hundred of his songs have been published and they have sold three million records, not to mention cassettes, CD's, and other material. As the first such group, they will celebrate their thirtieth anniversary on June 4th in the large hall of the Cankarjev dom Cultural Center in Ljubljana. On this occasion, Helidon records will present him with a diamond record. Lojze has never denied his roots, although he liked to say that he was from Mirna pee even though he was born in Jordankal, hidden a few kilometers away below the forested Mount Golobinjek. Lojze never considered this little village, where ten children were born to the Slak family, to be his own. His paradise was Mali Kal, where he spent a happy childhood with his grandmother and his Uncle Ludvik. "They tried to get me home once when I was three, but I resisted with might and main. After a three-day hunger strike, they realized they couldn't win and took me back. Perhaps to blame for my stubbornness was Uncle's accordion, which I was already inspecting and caressing hidden in the closet. Many times I stayed at home and treated myself to a music lesson, pulling the bellows and experimenting with the instrument. Nobody in the house was supposed to know because the accordion was my uncle's most precious possession. But one day, I had to play for him. He patted me and allowed me to push the buttons again sometimes. But then the war came," remembers Lojze with sadness. Uncle Ludvik was taken to an internment camp and the Partisans borrowed the accordion for a feast, not returning it until the end of the war. Uncle Ludvik and the button box returned home, and the growing Lojze played at his first wedding; the guests filled his hat with his first coins and at fourteen he bought his first accordion. "Even in those times, I was stubborn enough to play my own music. My idols were Uncle Ludvik and Franc Potočar, the best known Dolenjska musician of the time. The first played well with his right hand and Potocar was excellent on the bass notes. I united their playing styles and created my own way of playing which opened the road for this much despised instrument to records and cassettes," says Lojze, not forgetting to mention the decisive year of 1958 when during his first public appearance as "a young man from below Trška gora" as he was then called on the radio program Pokaži, kaj znaš (Show What You Can Do), he set the entire hall on its feet and won. "Slak was the first Slovene to start playing the diatonic accordion the right way; that's why he succeeded," wrote the late Lev Ponikvar. Lojze never played from musical scores but rather felt the music which grew through his heart to his hands and the buttons. He himself realized that the button box lacked something and that he would never be able to play it the way he wanted to. It is no wonder then that for a few years he took up the chromatic accordion. Nevertheless, he returned to the wooden diatonic "box" and suggested that its makers install the additional button which even today is called the "Slak button." The first Slak Ensemble was composed of four Slak brothers. Matija played the clarinet, Stane the bass, Tone the trumpet, and Lojze pulled the accordion. In turn, Tone and Matija were called up for their army service, but the group was well established by them and was invited to play for various occasions. They were then joined by Niko Zlobko, and in 1961 the quintet made their first radio recording of "Mirnopeška polka" (The Mirna Peč Polka). In 1964, the serious work really started. "I wanted to be different from Avsenik, so that people needn't wonder whose music they were listening to. I was impressed by men singing four-part harmony, and when I first heard Fanti s Praprotna, I knew they were what I had been wanting and looking for for a long time. When I added the sound of the guitar, the baritone, the clarinet, and, of course, my button box to their harmonic singing, a genuine folk tone appeared," he says about the beginnings of today's Slak combination. Then came the recordings, and their first record album Kadar pa mim hišče grem (Whenever I Go by the Little House) sold 100,000 copies. In 1967 they made their first television broadcast from Trška gora, where Lojze later found the peace and space to create new melodies and songs.





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