When polka loses control: Meet the Happy Schnapps Combo
By Todd Haefer • For The Post-Crescent • July 18, 2010
When Oshkosh resident Patti Waldecker recently planned her college graduation party after a 32-year odyssey, she knew it had to be special.
There was one set-in-stone condition: it had to include The Happy Schnapps Combo.
“I needed something outrageous because my accomplishment was outrageous,” Waldecker said. “It was a perfect fit. They are just so inappropriate, which appeals to my sense of humor.”
The band played outside during a block party at her house, ceremoniously presenting her with a variety of sausages during its performance not only for her academic accomplishment but also in honor of serving a Wisconsin beer, Point Lager, instead of the foreign-owned Miller or Budweiser brands.
Ahh … The Happy Schnapps Combo. Its raucous and irreverent polka-inspired lunacy is more fun than a pile of mettwurst. The band is a truly unique Wisconsin phenomenon, best known for “The Bears Still Suck,” the ode to the Green Bay Packers’ long-time nemesis, which is as relevant now as back in 1991 when the band first started playing.
“How could you ever love a team with Jim McMahon
Not even Porky Pig was as big a ham.”
Or maybe you’ve heard “The Fleet Farm Song,” which the company homogenized into a country tune for its recent commercials:
“Fleet Farm, Fleet Farm
When I’m feeling down it’s like a shot right in de arm
You women got your fancy malls, but men we know real charm
We’re headed for the aisles at Fleet Farm”
This is not a politically correct band. It proudly honors Wisconsin’s drinking culture as a celebration of life, not something to be ashamed of and over legislated.
Women walking in front of the stage may be showered with offerings of Slim Jims from lead singer Dave (Stosh) Dvorak. There may be schnapps breaks. There will definitely be drinking toasts.
Its next performance will be at 3 p.m. July 25 at Clear Water Harbor, N2757 County Road QQ, Waupaca.
The band was the twisted brainchild of the late Manitowoc native Jim Krueger, guitarist and songwriter for the Dave Mason band, best known for the hit, “We Just Disagree.” He beat a retreat from the L.A. lifestyle and returned home in the 1980s, starting the band Jim Krueger and the Normal Adults, which specialized in killer Steely Dan covers that showcased his guitar skills.
He then came up with the idea of a guitar-based polka band and quickly wrote a prolific number of original songs.
“When we were little kids, we already had a huge passion for polka music,” his brother and Schnapps drummer Rich (Wenzel) Krueger said. “We didn’t want our parents to find out, because they were rock and rollers.”
He said the band first played on Super Bowl Sunday in 1991 doing polka standards, but the crowd went wild. Instrumental to the success of the band was the beat, which can be relatively stiff sounding in polka. The Schnapper’s looser sound has more in common with Brave Combo than Frankie Yankovic.
“I did sort of a mixture of Tex-Mex and country and polka, accenting the upbeat instead of the downbeat, like with rock,” Rich Krueger said. “When we got new band members, we had to tell them that it would take six months to deprogram themselves.”
Jim quickly started writing a prolific number of original songs for the band. “Com’mere Once.” “Blatz and Sauerkraut.” “On Da Badger.” “Please Pass the Schnapps” “Dis Ain’t My Toilet.” The hits just kept on coming and the band played regularly in the Fox Valley.
Alas, Jim Krueger died unexpectedly in 1993 after the release of the band’s first two albums, “100 Proof” and “Raise It.” The band carried on, however, until 2001 with the departure of flamboyant frontman Bill (Horst) Soucy.
“He found his Yoko Ono, who made him move away,” Rich Krueger said. “We now have two rules for the band — you have to come up with a cool name and no Yoko Onos.”
The reunion was relatively shortlived, with several reunions occurring through the years.
“Everyone kept crawling up our butt to get back together, but it was hard to replace Horst,” Krueger said. “We didn’t want a subpar product.”
Dvorak was playing with Barry’s Truckers when a fellow member turned him on to the Schnappers in the mid-’90s.
“He gave me some recordings and I thought, ‘I got to see these guys.’ When I did, I was flabbergasted,” Dvorak said. “I tried to think of how I could sit in with them. So I picked up my trumpet that I hadn’t played since college and started practicing. They finally let me play with them on some songs.”
Dvorak made his case to Krueger that he could replace Soucy and the band started playing again in 2006. Dvorak has become a consummate showman, with a variety of wigs, quips, instruments and sausages to entertain the crowd.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. “I feel like this band is a piece of Wisconsin and I want to bring my grandchildren to a museum in a few decades and show them the Happy Schnapps Combo display. Actually, I hope the band carries on with new members to new generations.”
The group now has seven CDs and a live DVD under its belt. It recorded a live performance June 19 at Wienerfest in Whitelaw that will eventually see release and all things Schnapps can be found on its Web site at http://www.happyschnappscombo.net/, including the infamous Alcohol of Fame page.
Krueger was asked how he would best describe the Happy Schnapps Combo.
“Pure goodness in a world of crap,” he replied.
Rich (Wenzel) Krueger: drums, vocals.
Dave (Stosh Dombrowski) Dvorak, vocals, harmonica, accordion, trumpet.
Scotty (Sgt. Roxhoff) Meyer, guitar.
Chris (Otis Stuka) Okkerse, bass.
Kevin (Stumper) Hemb, percussion.
“Football Trash Talk”
“Wisconsin Soul (Live Once)”
3 p.m. Sunday, July 25, Clear Water Harbor, N 2757 County Road QQ, Waupaca.
8 p.m. Friday, July 30, Elite Hall, 2016 Calumet Drive, New Holstein.
8 p.m., Saturday, July 31, Valders Picnic, Valders Memorial Park, Valders.
2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 1, Lions Fest and Fish Derby, Marina, 106 N. Lake St., Port Washington.
Noon, Saturday, Aug. 7, Brat Days, Kiwanis Park, Sheboygan.
9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 7, Weekend for Kids, Manitowoc Lakefront.
2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 15, Weekend for Kids, 2741 N. 40th St., Sheboygan.
2:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 28, Manitowoc County Fair, 4921 Expo Drive, Manitowoc.
2:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 5, Sheboygan County Fair, County Fair Park, Plymouth
7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, Blue Collar Ball, Harley Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal St., Milwaukee.
Todd Haefer of Scandinavia writes a weekly Beer Man column that can be found in Thursday’s Weekend section and on foxcitieshub.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org