Every week, week in and week out, a group of local musicians called The Mavericks lightens up the lives of seniors at retirement homes in the McMinnville area. The group specializes in spirited renditions of American music classics.
Wednesday evenings throughout the year, The Mavericks, which counts a dozen members at full force, regales residents at Life Care, The Heritage Place, Alterra Villas and Parkland in McMinnville.
Four times a year, during months with five Wednesdays, the group adds Rock of Ages/Valley View Retirement Center to its itinerary.
It’s a labor of love for musicians who savor the opportunity to perform with the added bonus of receiving instant gratification from appreciative audiences.
Among their extensive repertoire are “Roll Out The Barrel,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “My Wild Irish Rose,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Golden Slippers” and “Red River Valley.”
When was the last time you attended a live performance that included any of these pieces of American history set to music?
Each one constitutes an integral element of this country’s colorful folklore. Origins range from as far back as the 1830s to as recently as the 1940s.
“Barrel” also know as “Beer Barrel Polka” was written by a Czech composer in 1927. It was popularized in the U.S. when polka mania swept the country after World War II.
Wisconsinites love the polka so much, they declared it their state dance.
The polka originated in Eastern Europe during the 1830s. It spread first to Germany and Austria, then to The Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. It remains popular across Europe to this day.
“Sunshine” was composed in 1939. It was first recorded by an Atlanta group called The Pine Ridge Boys. It has since become one of the state songs of Louisiana.
“Sweetheart,” written in 1911, was popularized in a 1934 recording by that quintessential crooner Bing Crosby. Folk legend Woody Guthrie wrote and first sang “This Land” in 1944.
“Golden Slippers,” a permutation of “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” stemmed from a spiritual adapted by blackface minstrel performers following the Civil War.
“Rose,” written in 1899 for a stage production, was the creation of playwright and composer Chauncey Olcott. Olcott, who made his name on Broadway, also wrote the 1912 hit “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”
“Valley” was a folk song of uncertain origin, probably dating to the late 1870s or early 1880s. It was adapted by early cowboy singer Carl Sprague in 1925. And Guthrie recorded it in 1944.
The genre has been given new life locally through The Mavericks. Frank Dummer and Norm McGrew, two lifelong musicians who maintain the band’s momentum, reminisced about how it got started.
Dummer, who plays accordion and piano, and McGrew, who plays acoustic guitar, are 85 and 89, respectively. The weekly outings keep them well-practiced and raring to go at a moment’s notice.
“Back in the early 1980s, we were volunteer firefighters who got together and formed a little musical group mostly for our own amusement,” Dummer said. “But it wasn’t long before we were encouraged to play in public.”
Some also belonged to Old Time Fiddlers of Oregon, which did not allow instruments other than the fiddle.
Disagreement over the ban caused a schism. Several members broke off to form their own group.
In addition to the fiddle, the band factors the guitar, accordion, mandolin, harmonica and piano into its mix. What better name, under the circumstances, than The Mavericks?
Occasionally joining the band is world champion whistler Patty Ediger of Dayton, who can whistle along to any tune they can play, or go solo with a whistle specialty like “Cattle Call.”
During their working years, Dummer and McGrew couldn’t spend as much time as they would have liked on music. Now that they’re retired, they can devote the time to staging the weekly gigs.
Dummer, an Oregon State University graduate, advanced through school administration posts over 29 years. During his career he was superintendent of the Dayton School District.
He subsequently served as Santiam School District superintendent before retiring. He then returned to Dayton, his favorite Oregon town.
McGrew studied at St. Martin’s College in Lacey, Wash., then took a job as an auto mechanic at Gilbert Tilbury Motors in McMinnville. Del Smith, founder of Evergreen International Aviation, was so impressed with his abilities that he hired the young man away to work on helicopters.
McGrew worked for Evergreen for five years, then struck out on his own. He founded Western Helicopters in Dayton, and ran the company until his retirement 36 years later, in 2002.
Throughout their working years, both men continued to pursue their passion for music whenever possible. Now they can indulge it on a regular basis.
Both have been involved with The Mavericks since its founding in 1975, though Dummer took a leave during his tenure as school superintendent in Santiam.
Both are highly motivated Mavericks who get involved in lively banter over the merits of the music and which ones they should emphasize.
Dummer loves stuff honoring states — The Tennessee and Kentucky waltzes, Beautiful Ohio and absolutely anything about Texas.
McGrew is a huge Eddie Arnold fan. He’d have the band playing Arnold standards like “Make the World Go Away,” “Take Me In Your Arms,” “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” and “Welcome to My World” all evening long.
As with success in any endeavor, compromise is the key. The musicians share a common chord that overrides their differences. More than anything else, they just want to play.
They also like to have a little fun along the way, which is why, in 2004, Dummer came up with an idea that everyone liked. He created The Yamhill County Folk Music Hall of Fame.
“All it took was a fairly large plaque with room to add on smaller name plaques,” he said. “Since it was my idea, I chose Norm as the first honoree. He got to keep the plaque for a year.
“Since Norm was the first, he got to choose who would be admitted the next year.” Dummer continued. “He picked Don Wood, who plays guitar and is one heck of a good yodeler, to boot.”
And so it went. McGrew and Wood chose guitarist Dennis Brutke for 2006. The three decided on fiddler Marie Bailey for 2007. Her husband, guitarist Bob Bailey, got the nod in 2008.
For 2009, the hall of famers, now five strong, decided it was Frank Dummer’s turn. After all, he had started it all and he was a pretty darn good accordionist, not to mention piano player.
The annual honor continued; guitarist/harmonica player Johnnie Williams in 2010, guitarist Terry Lowells in 2011 and fiddler/composer Marilyn Owen in 2012.
The 2013 honoree won’t be named until the fall. But one thing seems certain. At some point, they’re going to have to buy a larger plaque.
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — letting the world of polka music and live dancing swirl around me while counting one and two, three and four, one and two, three and four.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 503-687-1227.