John’s Music Makes Polka Fans Happy

John’s recent summer tour mate Bob Dylan has got a lot of attention for including a polka version of “Must Be Santa” on his new Christmas album—not to mention shooting a delightful music video in support of it. Now comes word that Cleveland’s award-winning polka bandleader Joey Tomsick has been incorporating two of John’s songs—“Wild Nights” and “Cherry Bomb”—into his concert sets.

“We’re a polka band, but nowadays we can’t go an entire night just playing traditional polkas and waltzes,” says Tomsick, an accordionist whose Joey Tomsick Orchestra just won the Band of the Year award from the Polka Hall of Fame (he also won the Best Musician-Individual award, the Recording of the Year award for “Polka Funhouse,” and Best New Original Polka award for that album’s titletrack; his band also won the Band of the Year award, while bandmates Phil Hrvatin and Hank Guzel, Jr. won Best Sideman awards).

“So we need to change gears now and then and do some contemporary pop music that younger crowds are familiar with,” Tomsick continues, “and one of my all-time favorites is John Mellencamp. And since he uses accordion, I can play it on some of his songs--which is so cool! People go, ‘Oh, my God! That sounds just like Mellencamp!’ But not the singing!”

At bigger venues Tomsick brings along his sister-in-law Mery Tomsick to join the band on guitar and sing MeShell NdegeOcello’s duet part.

“When we do weddings, as soon as people hear the riffs from ‘Wild Nights’ and ‘Cherry Bomb,’ they know right away what the song is—which is what’s so cool about John’s music,” says Tomsick. “And even when some of the purists complain that it isn’t polka, I say, ‘That’s absolutely not true!’ because I play a polka version—and it works!”

Tomsick quotes Cleveland’s legendary “king of polka,” the late Frankie Yankovic:

“He told me this a long time ago--and it’s true for any young musician out there,” Tomsick concludes. “He said, ‘Joey, just play for the people—and keep going with that smile! Play what people want to hear and you’ll be on top all the time.’ And that’s really the whole thing. And when we play John’s songs, the King’s words come true—and everyone’s smiling!”

-- jim bessman