Ralph C. Vavra was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was the son of
Lodge J. and Anna Lillian (Petrus) Vavra. His grandfather Josef Vavra,
was born in 1863, an immigrant from Bohemia who came to Cedar Rapids in 1882.
He went to work for the T. M. Sinclair packing house. He had three children: Lodge,
Joseph, Jr. and Mary.
Lodge, the oldest, became a machinist and eventually the machine shop
superintendent at Universal Engineering. He also had three children:
Rudolph, Helen and Cyril. "Rudolph" was soon Americanized to "Ralph" by the
time he entered school. Czech was the spoken language in the family and he
did not learn English until he attended elementary school.
He took an early interest in music and started playing the trombone in the
Van Buren grade school orchestra by age 11. The trombone was his featured
instrument, although he became adept at the clarinet, trumpet and saxophone and
could also play piano.
After graduation from Grant High School in west Cedar Rapids in 1933, he became
a full time member of the Joe Fisher Concertina Orchestra that was based in
Mt. Vernon, Iowa. He had played weekends with the band while still in high school.
He toured with the Fisher Orchestra throughout the 1930's and into World War II.
The band traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and was featured on several
radio stations in Iowa, including WMT (Cedar Rapids), WOC (Davenport),
WSUI (Iowa City), WHO (Des Moines), KWCR (Cedar Rapids) and
The orchestra signed with Decca Records and produced all ten of their Decca
recordings on September 28, 1934 in Chicago. Ralph played the trombone solo
for the Trombone Polka for Decca. Two waltzes and two polkas
were recorded for the RCA Victor label. After the outbreak of World War II, he
joined his father at Universal Engineering in Cedar Rapids in July, 1942
as a welder.
Ralph later entered the U. S. Navy in 1942 and after attending sound school
in San Diego, California, became a sonar man aboard a YMS class minesweeper
In the South Pacific, his ship was in action at Leyte and Lingayen Gulf,
the Philippines, off Tarakan, Dutch East Indies (Borneo) and in the
East China Sea.
When he returned to Iowa in early 1946, he married Marjorie L. Fisher (1923-1990)
of Mechanicsville, IA. (Note: She was unrelated to Joe Fisher, who had passed
away some months before).
They had three children, Alan (1947-1989), John (1949)
and Marsha (1952).
Anxious to play again, Ralph initially played with a friend's band, the Jack
Jaxon Orchestra. Arturo J. (Jack) Jaxon was a neighbor and co-worker, and Ralph
enjoyed being able to get back into the music business. After a number of
months with the Jaxon band, and frequent trips to Chicago with Jaxon
to their appearances at the Aragon Ballroom, Ralph decided to start his own band.
In early 1948, he formed "Ralph and His Gloom Chasers", or simply "The Gloom
Chasers". The band played mainly Czech polkas, waltzes, big band numbers and
many "hillbilly" tunes. Tunes by the popular hillbilly singers such as
Red Foley, Tex Ritter and Eddy Arnold were favorites.
Ad copy - Circa 1950s
For 100 Club
If it's dancing you want drop in
it the Local 100 dub this weekend
to hear the fine bands of Ralph
Vavra (and His Gloom Chasers) and Earl
The Gloom Chasers open
the weekend Friday, October 17,
and the Fulton combo follows Saturday.
Located at 111 Third avenue SW,
the Local 100 Club is conveniently
located and attractively decorated
for an evening of good entertainment.
Anyone who is a member of an
AFL-affiliated local is eligible to
use club facilities. Private parties
can be held in the club, if suitable
arrangements with the management
are made ahead of time.
Ad verbiage courtesy
of John Vavra, son of Ralph Vavra
The band began touring Iowa in a 1947 Packard Limousine, playing both
large and small venues. Ballrooms ranged from the Electric Park Ballroom
in Waterloo, the Crystal Ballroom in Coralville, Armar and Danceland Ballrooms
in Cedar Rapids, to the Col in Davenport.
By 1951, travel slowed and engagements were limited to the Eastern Iowa area.
Cedar Rapids area engagements were typically smaller audiences, like the
Royale in Fairfax, Hi-Way Gardens in Stanwood, Prairie Moon Ballroom
in Prairieburg, Danceland, Thornwood, CSPS Hall, ZCBJ Hall and Park in
Cedar Rapids, and his favorite, the Local 100 Club in Cedar Rapids.
He cut several records with his own equipment, but was not able to
land a contract with a recording company.
Vavra gave up playing and traveling at the urging of his family in early 1954.
His trombone and all other equipment were sold. He enjoyed listening to
music immensely, but never played again.
He passed away in 1973 at the age 58 of a heart problem.
Ad from Cedar Rapids Tribune, December 31, 1953
Gala New Year's
Eve Dance Slated
At Local 100 Club
Ralph Vavra and his orchestra
will provide the music for the gala
New Year's Eve dance Thursday
at the Local 100 club, 111 Third
Paper hats, noisemakers and all
the other fun "gimmicks" of a big
New Year's Eve party will be
Doors will open at 7 p.m. and the
fun will continue well into 1954.
There will be no dance Friday
night, Jan. 1, but the club will
be open from 10 pm.. (till the
regular closing time).
will be resumed Saturday
night, Jan. 2, when Ray Long
and his orchestra take over the
Ad copy courtesy
of John Vavra, son of Ralph Vavra
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank John Vavra
for contacting us and providing us with information about his father's
musical career and photos as noted.