My first exposure to the type of music which was to occupy a major part of my younger years came while I was still very young, probably no more than 7 or 8. My father used to take my brother and I along while he fished in the Nemaha river, generally during the evening hours. During the 1920's there was a dance platform on the banks of this river, and many of the traveling "jazz" orchestras played there regularly. The strains of "Nobody's Sweetheart," "Who's Sorry Now," and "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland," as well as other popular tunes of the time, made a deep impression on the young boy sitting on the river bank.
Since we had no radio at home, I had very little opportunity to listen to music. An exception was when my mother's singing group practiced at our house. I'm not sure how good they were, but I thoroughly enjoyed their renditions of "Moonlight and Roses," "Whispering Hope," and other standard classics of the day. They never got into the popular "jazz" numbers, however, which tempered my enjoyment.
About this time, I began taking piano lessons from a lady who lived down the street. At this time piano teachers did not look favorably on the popular music of the day, and I had to be content with the old standards by Beethoven, Bach, etc. I never got very enthused over this schooling, and it was only when I could get my hands on one of the popular modern numbers that I put in much practice time. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, however, a school band was organized under the direction of an old German gentleman, Professor Hagenau. I decided I would like to play trumpet and talked my Dad into taking me to Lincoln to buy an instrument. We couldn't afford a top line trumpet (at that time a Conn), but settled on a Pan-American at about half the money. I believe we made a good buy as this horn served me admirably for several years.
The school band improved steadily through practices once a week and Saturday night concerts in the park during the summer. Starting in about 1930 or 1931, we also entered the state fair band contest and won the class C championship and the over-all championship once or twice. Also during my last year in high school I began playing with a polka band from the neighboring town of Virginia. A friend, Lawrence Stehlik, was playing in this band and I would ride with him to the dances -- usually on Saturday nights. We generally stayed over at the home of Stanley Sudik (the band leader) and returned to Table Rock on Sunday. We usually ended up with two or three dollars apiece for the night's work, which was pretty good pay in those days.
During my senior year, I entered the state high school music contest and was lucky enough to come out with a "superior" rating, the highest given. I say lucky because I played "Carnival of Venice," an arrangement so difficult that I doubt that I could have ever handled it later on in my career.
Shortly after graduation from high school, I was invited to come to Lincoln by a former neighbor, Lawrence Sites, who was playing in a dance band there. I sat in with this band (The Musical Skippers) for two jobs, but soon found that I wasn't quite up to playing the modern numbers they used. I returned to Table Rock for the summer.
On August 10 of 1934 (my birthday) I came home from working on my uncle's farm to find a call from Mrs. Sites (our former neighbor) in Lincoln. Evidently one of the orchestra leaders I had met in Lincoln now had a vacancy and was sufficiently desperate enough to give me a try. I caught the evening train to Lincoln, and the next night went with the Everett Hull orchestra for a job in Elk Creek. Later on in the summer I joined the Ted Harris orchestra, a new group -- mostly very young musicians. This was a non-union orchestra which was just getting started in Lincoln. Being a new group, we did not play the best spots and consequently did not bring in a lot of money. Non-union bands, in those days, generally played for a percentage of the receipts. As a result, if a dance was not well attended, we might end up with a dollar or so in our pockets. After paying ten cents for a bowl of bean soup and another dime for a hamburger, we had very little left to pay the rent. I took a part-time job washing dishes in a little cafe just north of the Orpheum Theatre (12th and P Streets) for my meals and was able to get by.
During this time I lived at Mrs. Sites' rooming house on 1121 Q Street. We were just across the alley from the Rosewilde Ballroom and were able to listen to some of the better Lincoln bands who played there regularly -- Dave Haun, Mel Pester, Blondy Baughan, Gay Feistner, plus an all-girl orchestra, Rose Bulin, I believe.
The Harris Band managed to get enough work to keep going and in the spring of 1935, they booked a series of jobs in western Nebraska. Starting out at Ord and Burwell, we played in Taylor, Hyannis, Ogallala, and other sand hills towns in Nebraska, and in Sterling and Julesberg, Colorado, before returning to Lincoln. Shortly after, we played at the Lindell Hotel (just across the street north of the Cornhusker at the time) and were auditioned by Mr. C. A. Linebarger, who owned a resort in Arkansas. He approved of us and offered us a job for the summer at Bella Vista, Arkansas. This job was a real pleasure for us! Most of us had not been that far away from home in our lives and the idea of having all day to do nothing but swim, play golf or tennis and loaf, was very attractive. The social life was also great as there were many families from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri which spent the summer there and we made many friends among them. Our pay was $10 per week plus board and room which was more than adequate for most of us. All too soon, however, the summer ended.
By our Last day at the resort, Ted Harris had managed to book the band with a stage group, the Chicago Follies. (The Follies, I don't believe, had ever seen Chicago, but no matter.) We met them at Henderson, Kentucky, where the show was organizing and started our tour in this area. The show consisted, in addition to the band, of a pair of tap dancers from Omaha, the Ellison sisters, an exotic and acrobatic dancer, "Peg" Jones, who did a routine with one peg leg, a contortionist, an acrobatic and trapeze team, a couple of singers and a comedian, "Dub" Taylor, who later made a name in Hollywood.
We opened at Henderson, Kentucky, then followed with pretty solid bookings through Indiana and into Ohio, where we spent most of November and December. Toward the end of December, however, things started to deteriorate. For some reason or other our pay was falling behind. Although our bookings remained solid, the orchestra members were not being paid regularly and this situation became quite serious. Finally, in Cambridge, Ohio, on December 24th, things came to a head. The orchestra members demanded their back pay or, they said, there would be no show. After a great deal of wrangling, the band leader promised that all pay would be available the next morning. Although most of us were pretty hungry by this time, we agreed to wait.
Next morning, as we gathered to get our money (and some breakfast), we found that the show manager and the orchestra leader had gone to Columbus for the day and left no money. The pot boiled over at this point and the orchestra members went on strike, canceling the matinee and evening performance at the theatre. Late that night, when the two bosses returned from Columbus, things were in an uproar. The two accused me of being the ringleader of the strike, ended up by firing me and refusing me even my back pay. Only one other orchestra member supported me, Wayne Scharfenberg, the bass player, and he was fired also. Our situation looked bleak!! What a position to be in on Christmas Eve!
After thinking things over, I finally decided what to do. I went across the street to the theatre, picked up the lead trumpet music for the show and returned to the hotel where the troup was getting ready to leave for Wheeling, W. Va. Once I informed the bosses that I had the lead trumpet music and intended to keep it until I was paid, they became more rational. I ended up receiving my back pay but still fired!!
After the band left the hotel I decided to see if there were any jobs available in Cambridge. The theatre manager gave me the name of a local dance band leader and I called him. Lo and behold, he needed a lead trumpet desperately. He also agreed to use my buddy, the bass player, and we played a Christmas night dance job with them in Cambridge, earning the princely sum (for us) of four dollars apiece.
I remained in Cambridge for most of January playing with the Fritz Liddell orchestra. I was alone, however, as Scharfenberg (the bass player) had decided to go back to Nebraska. My new band had some excellent musicians and I enjoyed working with them. Our New Year's Eve dance at the Gold Hall in Zanesville, Ohio, and one a few days later at Marietta College were quite successful and really "bigtime" for me. The days, however, got lonesome and it was a cold and snowy winter.
In May we came back to the midwest, played Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and then a few jobs in Illinois. After a short vacation, we moved back south, playing a few theatres on the Gulf (Gulfport, Biloxi, Pensacola) then worked our way north into Tennessee.
By this time, good jobs were getting very scarce, and we were having a hard time making ends meet. We headquartered in Nashville and played an occasional show in some of the smaller Tennessee towns. My friend, Jim Beatty, left the show to return to Lincoln, and a week or so later, I followed him. My days as a stage band musician were over!
While my times in the stage band were sometimes difficult long jumps between theatres, sometimes in frigid weather -- and at times very little money to show for it there were more pleasant moments. For one thing, most of the theatres we played had great acoustics. The building itself made us sound great! Also, some of the places we played provided plenty of opportunity for recreation. Vancouver, BC, and Seattle, Washington, were particularly pleasant, and we had a week in each place to enjoy ourselves. Gulfport, Biloxi and Pensacola on the Gulf provided good swimming and a lot of time in the sun. And, of course we saw a lot of the United States. We played in at least twenty-three states according to my records.
The remainder of the summer of 1936 was spent mainly in Lincoln, where I managed to get work with several bands Johnny Cox, Dave Haun, Mel Pester, Blondy Baughan and Jerry Winters, to name a few. I lived in a boarding house at 1117 L Street (now long gone) with the family of Jim Beatty, our lead sax man on the Follies. I borrowed enough money from my brother to join the Musicians Union (absolutely necessary to play with the Lincoln bands) and also enough to start taking some classes at the University of Nebraska. The Union initiation fee was $35, which in those days was a lot of money, and I didn't have that much cash to show for my year on the stage. Fortunately for me, trumpet players were in short supply at that time, and I had little trouble keeping busy. There were several good dance spots in Lincoln at that time -- King's Ballroom, the PlaMor, the Cornhusker Hotel, the Rosewilde Ballroom, and on occasion, the Lincoln Country Club. Occasionally too, the University fraternities and sororities needed bands. The Turnpike Ballroom opened up a year or two later, I believe. Popular songs we played a lot in those days were "Is It True What They Say About Dixie," "Moon Over Miami," "No Greater Love," "It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane," "Blue Hawaii," and Carelessly." Name bands were Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Shep Fields, Wayne King, and later on, Harry James and Glenn Miller.
In addition to the local work, all the Lincoln bands played in outlying towns, some a hundred miles or more away. In Omaha there was Peony Park, the Chermot Ballroom, the Music Box, the Athletic Club, and occasionally at the Fontenelle Hotel or one of the country clubs. Outstate there were thriving dance halls in Kearney, Grand Island, Schuyler and Wilber as well as some in very small towns. Union scale at this time was $4 for a three hour job and $5 for five hours or for Saturday nights. The Lincoln musicians union, at this time, was well run by Mark Pierce, secretary and Doc Zellers, president.
I played intermittently, with most of the Lincoln bands during the rest of 1936 and early 1937. Mel Pester and Dave Haun had the top local bands at that time, and playing their library was very demanding. The Beck-Jungbluth orchestra was also one of the very best. My friend Jim Beatty, was playing in Jerry Winter's orchestra, and, as time went on, more of my work was with this band.
In the spring of 1937, this group was taken over by Beatty and the trombone player Dale Nichols, and reorganized as the Dale Nichols orchestra. This band rapidly became one of the best in the territory and we had no trouble in playing the best spots -- not only in Lincoln and Omaha, but also in the prestigious Archer Ballrooms, the Arkota in Sioux Falls, the Rigadon in Sioux City, and the Frog Hop in St. Joseph. We eventually booked the summer resort of Bella Vista for four weeks later extended to eight weeks. We were all young enough to really appreciate the resort atmosphere, with very little to do during the day except for swimming, boating, tennis, and golf.
At the end of the summer, we returned to Lincoln, but found to our sorrow that the cancellation of our bookings following our decision to stay at the resort for an additional month had put us in disfavor with our booker, and jobs were few. We played occasionally at the Turnpike Ballroom south of Lincoln. It was a new dance spot which was starting to book name bands. These few jobs, however, were not enough to keep the band from breaking up, and when Dale Nichols pulled up stakes for California, the band, for all practical purposes, folded. I went back to jobbing with various bands, eventually playing pretty regularly with Johnny Cox -- who had a new, and fairly good orchestra. When Jim Beatty organized a group to do four weeks back at Bella Vista, however, I went along.
Returning from the resort in August, I started playing with the Beck-Jungbluth orchestra a good "society" band which had the required connections for good jobs at the Lincoln Country Club, the University Club, and lots of the university functions. Two of the members of this band, Verne Buethe and Kermit Mourer, were on the staff at radio station KFAB and when this band was augmented, they steered one of the jobs to me. We had broadcasts a couple times a day one of them was a polka program and the other broadcast was the well known (at that time) Cornhusker Jamboree. The pay was good, $110 a month, which with my dance jobs gave me more income than I had ever had before. Our radio band consisted of Alene McKinney, piano -- Erma Cartwright, violin -- Stan Lowell, bass -- Kermit Mourer, sax -- Dave Haun, accordion -- Dale Nichols, trombone -- Vern Buethe, guitar -- and myself on trumpet.
Early in 1939, budget cuts did away with the radio band and I went back to the university and picked up a few dance jobs to pay the bills. In the summer, Beatty was able to book another four weeks at Bella Vista, and we were able to recruit enough good musicians to have a very respectable sounding organization there.
Upon returning to Lincoln I had a pleasant surprise. It seems that KFAB had landed a prestigious show called "Coffee Pot Inn," a network production which was carried all over the midwest. The program called for a small musical group and I was lucky enough to be hired. Along with two of my friends from the Beck-Jungbluth orchestra, Verne Buethe and Kermit Mourer. This program aired at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and we also had air spots later on in the day. KFAB had a surplus of talent at this time with Texas Mary (a yodeling cowgirl 20 years ahead of her time), western singers Gene Tenhulzen, Verne Buethe, Roy _____, Lonnie _____, and a girls duo, Bette and Verda. They would also have been nationally known had they come on the scene 30 years later.
During this time, however, I had to make two lodging moves, after Beatty's, the family I had been rooming with at 1117 L Street, moved to Colorado. I first moved just around the corner to a place on south 11th Street and then found an apartment at 1118 G Street, which was my home until I left Lincoln for the Army. All of these places are now gone.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was little remaining doubt that my days at KFAB were numbered. My draft number was low and I was in reasonably good shape which practically assured me of a military future. Stan Lowell and I had been taking flying lessons for a few months and I had quite a few solo hours, so I began to think of qualifying as a field artillery observation pilot. At the end of December, 1941, I gave the radio station my resignation and spent the month of January getting my affairs in order. I played my last dance job with the Hank Mattison orchestra on New Years Eve, 1941, at the Cornhusker Hotel. On February 2, 1942, I enlisted in the Army just a few days ahead of my draft notice and was assigned to field artillery.
During the next sixteen months I had very little opportunity to play trumpet. Instead of flying for the field artillery, I found myself stuck in a New Jersey Guard unit which was used as school troops at the field artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In January of 1943 I transferred to the parachute school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and after qualifying as jumper and parachute rigger was assigned to the 101st Airborne division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On September 2nd, 1943, this division sailed for England aboard the HMS Strathnaver.
By this time, I had made the acquaintance of some of the division artillery band members and was included in some of the impromptu jam sessions held on shipboard. I soon teamed up with an excellent jazz guitar player and we became rather popular. Once in England, the musicians decided they needed me in their dance band and I was often given a leave from my duties in "B" battery to join them as they played service dances in the area. This pleasant activity, of course, was abruptly terminated by "D" Day, June 6th, 1944.
My next exposure to music came six months later while I was in a German Prisoner of War camp. Evidently a large part of the 83rd division band had been captured and were assigned to this camp and the Jerries decided to allow some musical entertainment. I ended up playing in the stage band which gave a couple of shows for the inmates -- one, a really good Christmas presentation. Our piano man, Stan Siok, was not only excellent on the keyboard but also a good arranger. Nick Aloisi on clarinet and Jerry Boyle on string bass were also very good musicians. We used instruments borrowed from the French POWs in our adjoining compound.
A couple of months prior to this, I had been able to do a little playing when one of the POWs brought me an old trumpet, badly in need of repair, and asked me if I could play it? I managed to find enough tape to make it useable and agreed with a request to go outside after "lights out" and play "Taps." This was strictly forbidden in our situation!! After getting by with this for a couple of nights, someone suggested doing a popular number or two after "Taps." One or two numbers was all I could get away with as it took only five or six minutes before the guards came storming into our compound. The most popular request -- I remember -- was "When You're a Long, Long Way From Home." I have since heard from several of the men who were there and they all remember the "concerts"! Fortunately most of us did not have to spend the remainder of the war as prisoners. With the Soviet takeover of the camp on January 31 and the bungled evacuation attempt by the Germans, many of us were able to escape and make our way back to Odessa, Russia, and from there to Naples, Italy, where we rejoined the American Army.
During the 60-day convalescent furlough which followed, I was able to play for a week with the Riley Smith orchestra at Kings Ballroom west of Lincoln, NE. Upon my army discharge, five months later, I joined the same orchestra for one or two nights a week, while finishing work towards my college degree. I continued this work, even after Marian and I had moved to Omaha, driving the 55 miles or so to Lincoln. By this time, however, the "Big Band" era was definitely in decline and job bookings were reflecting this trend.
In January or February of 1956, my orchestra career ended. While riding back from a job at the Lincoln, NE, Air Base with Riley Smith, bandleader, a drunken airman hit us head-on, on the shoulder of OUR side of the road. This was in the days before seatbelts and I smashed the windshield with my head. The cuts required a large number of stitches and a long time for recuperation. The airman had Texas insurance which wasn't worth the paper it was written on. We found out that Texas allowed companies to take bankruptcy when they didn't want to pay their legal claims, and then they could re-open under another name and continue doing business.
In May of 1953, Marian and I had our first born son, Owen, and in May of 1956 our second son, Marty was born. In 1960 we completed our family with a daughter, Laurie. After the accident I put the horn away and for all practical purposes, forgot it. When Owen and Laurie decided they wanted to play trumpet in the District 66 school band, I did help them get started. The school insisted on a cornet, so we finally located a used one for $50, which they both played. After she started cornet, Laurie became interested in the marimba. A friend of hers played beautifully and was teaching it, so we located a used marimba for $100 and Laurie then took lessons from Carol Pelknar on it and began playing the mallet instruments during her school days. She also played piano with the Westside High Jazz Band.
In 1982, I retired from Metropolitan Utilities District in Omaha, and we moved in 1984 to Table Rock, NE. I joined the Elk Creek American Legion and the Tecumseh VFW Club. They were in great need of a "bugler" to do "Taps" at funerals and for Memorial Day Observances. Branching out a little further, I began playing in the Southeast Nebraska Community band, a group containing a few musicians almost as old as myself, as well as many young ones. Although never developing enough of a lip to play well, I nevertheless am enjoying the opportunity to be part of a good musical organization and to associate again with younger musicians. By this time I am using my fifth instrument (I believe), a "Blessing" trumpet which followed two "Martins," one "King," and of course my trusty "Pan-American." I do not plan to own another!
Many months after completing this memoir, a short postscript is probably in order. One of the more enjoyable jobs I ever played has intervened. In May of 2002, I had a call from the organizer of the Table Rock High School Alumni meeting, which is held every year. He asked me to participate in the program and I agreed. Sometime later I heard from Eddie Hanna, a longtime friend and successful band leader, explaining that the music would be furnished by a four piece Dixieland group with a taped accompaniment. Besides Eddie and myself, we had a trombone player, Loren Joe Stehlik, and another tenor sax played by Junior Karas -- all of us were TR Alumni. (Loren Joe was the son of Lawrence Stehlik. Lawrence and I played in the same dance band when I was in high school.)
On the day of the program, we met briefly for about an hour's practice session. Things clicked immediately and we realized we could look for an interesting evening. For the program itself we did a medley of service songs, plus some background music for other acts plus a couple of Dixieland numbers of our own. We were royally received and I can truthfully say it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever played. I had always wanted to play in a strictly Dixie small group, and finally at age 84, I had my chance. I have since heard from the other three musicians who all appear to have enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
~ by Arley L Goodenkauf