About The Artist
Once in a while we get a note asking about someone and one thing leads to another. Art Wenzel is one of those occasions, except it took us a bit longer to get around to let you know what we've learned about Art and his career to date.
In a 1936 article, Art had apparently become known for his musicianship with the accordion. But it wasn't his first instrument of choice. He had already learned to play the piano, banjo and saxophone as well as playing with various orchestras since he was fourteen years old. But later in life, when he was married to a gal named Mabel and the year was 1929, they attended a party where one of the guests had an accordion.
Art asked if he could try it out and played a few tunes on the 'piano' side of the instrument. But Art took more than a passing interest in the instrument at that point - he got hooked on it. Three weeks later the story goes in WLS Stand-by in 1936 finds Art buying his own accordion and playing it in an orchestra the next New Year's Eve.
Music wasn't what paid the bills for Art back then. He worked in the trust department of an insurance company up in Milwaukee back then. But when he came home, he practiced three or four hours on the new instrument to make sure he could play that first New Year's Eve engagement.
The 1936 article notes that Art found that accordion players were more in demand back then than say, a piano player, saxophonist, so he decided to become a professional accordion player.
Now imagine if you will the value of a dollar back in 1936 compared today. Now imagine an accordion back then and costing $1,000. In 2007 dollars, that's $14,722!!! A virtual cadillac of an accordion one might think.
The article notes that Art wasn't exactly fond of practicing so much on the piano growing up. But his mom prodded him to try and do so at least an hour each day.
He graduated from North Division High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He then continued his education at an extension of the University of Wisconsin by attending evening classes. He did that while working during the day for the insurance company.
His first radio job was working with an orchestra on the school of engineering station in Milwaukee. Before he came to Chicago in 1935, he had worked as a soloist on the "Badger State Barn Dance" on radio station WSTMJ. Sally Foster, another WLS alumni, was on that show back then as well.
The barn dance show wasn't the only musical experience he had then. He also taught piano to various students, playing with local orchestras in addition to running his own music store.
Art got the attention of folks at WLS when he met with Otto and the Novelodeons around the time the group was looking for an accordionist as Ken Wright had moved on to WKY in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Art drove down to Chicago with a friend who was bringing a female singer for an audition and Art needed to visit an accordion manufacturer to order some for his music store.
After Art did his dealings, he accompanied the other two to the audition. During that session, it must have came out that Art played the accordion, for he was asked to audition as well. The folks sent him almost immediately to a guy named Bill Ellsworth on Tuesday. On Thursday, the had him auditioning with the Novelodeons. When Easter Sunday came around, he and his family were moving to a new residence in Chicago.
But all was not happy in the Wenzel story. Art was new to Chicago and missed his old hometown area of Milwaukee. When he moved, he left behind his two year old son, his mother and sister. His wife had passed away about a year and a half before; the dates are unclear; but the article mentions they were happily married for over six years. And yet, at the time all this became known in 1936, he was just 29 years old.
Matt Pelkonen wrote in a 1946 article that Art was part of a session group that backed Tin Ear Tanner on Beltone Records.
By 1944, Art was working on radio station KPAS out in Pasadena, California. This station later changed its call letters to KRLA. Art Wenzel's Ragtime Cowboys were on the air from on the 11-10 Ranch from noon to 12:30pm Monday through Friday. In May of 1947, Sunny Ciesla was writing that Art had included Dusti Lynn as a vocalist in his group, the Ragtime Cowboys. At the time, Art's group had an opening for a female vocalist. Their previous one, Colleen Summers, had left to work with Gene Autry on his Melody Ranch shows.
In July of 1947, a publication indicates that Art had joined up with the Texas Rangers outfit in Hollywood and had a show over radio station KFWB.
By 1949, he was working for Foreman Phillips and his Country Barn Dances in the Los Angeles area.
Another tale springs up from a 1949 issue of Cowboy Songs in an uncredited column called "West Coast Corral" that's written in sort of humorous cowboy-speak, but does provide some interesting tidbits. Among them was the fact that the Hollywood Palladium was to begin hosting western dances - in addition to "...that city slicker music." The column notes that Art Wenzel and his group were signed to be the intermission band during one engagement. But when the management there found out what type of music they played, they were asked to where tuxedos.
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