Jerry M. Darlak has devoted his whole life to the promotion of polka music. In his thirty-seven years as a working musician, he has performed and recorded with the nation's most prestigious polka orchestras. Today he continues this tradition with his own band and work as a promoter.
All too often, musicians like Jerry Darlak are overlooked for honors that are bestowed upon the industry's most identifiable names. However, Jerry has been much more than a professional sideman: for over thirty years his sole occupation was that of a polka musician.
Jerry Darlak was born in Chicago on September 22, 1946. He began his musical career behind a drum set a the age of 7. By age 12, he joined his first polka band. Within two years, at the age of 14, he was playing polka music three nights a week with his own band, The Lucky Stars.
Inspired by the great polka legend Li'l Wally Jagiello, Jerry took interest in the concertina and began lessons on that instrument at age 11.
In 1962, at the age of 16, Jerry joined Li'l Richard Towalski's band as a concertina player. He spent over a year and a half with Chicago's "Polka General" learning the ins and outs of the Windy City's polka circuit.
Shortly after, at the famous Caldwell Woods on Chicago's North Side, he was introduced to the international polka star, Marion Lush. Learning that Lush's Musical Stars would soon be in need of a full-time drummer, Jerry asked Lush for an audition. Impressed with both the talent and enthusiasm that Jerry had to offer, Lush chose the high school junior to be the back beat of the Musical Stars.
Jerry played drums with Lush's band until 1965, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, he flew back to Chicago every weekend to perform with the Lush orchestra. He also played drums with the 5th Army Band, which was assigned to Fort Hood. He soon received orders that he would be stationed in Germany. This, however, would not keep him away from his beloved polka music: with his duffel bag and mess kit came his concertina.
Now a member of the 7th U.S. Army, he auditioned for drummer with that division's band. He won the position and performed throughout Germany and parts of Europe. However, when it was learned that he was a full-time polka musician-and had brought his concertina with him-he soon was a featured artist with the group, playing Polish, German and other polkas at the Band's numerous shows.
Jerry returned to the United States in February 1967, and was again a member of Lush's Musical Stars. In addition to working as the band's concertina player, he also served as Lush's booking agent and handled all the band's business arrangements.
After nearly a decade as Marion Lush's drummer and concertina player, Jerry became a member of the award-winning Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, joining that group in 1972. Like Lush, Blazonczyk's achievements and accomplishments were astonishing.
For the next 15-plus years, Jerry played concertina with the Versatones, performing as a full-time polka musician forty-two to forty-four weeks of the year. During this period, both the Versatonesand Jerry chalked up countless awards, citations and other commendations for their sound and their dedication to the preservation and continuance of polka music.
Jerry retired from the Versatones in 1987, and moved to Cheektowaga, N.Y., a suburb of yet another polka capital --Buffalo, New York. The move marked the first time in twenty-five years that his livelihood was not that of a full-time musician. ...But not for long.
Employed by the Town of Cheektowaga, the administration of the Town's Annual Polish American Arts Festival soon learned of Jerry's move, and asked him to be a member of the committee. The Polish American Arts Festival Committee sought Jerry's years of experience to make this already-highly successful event even more so. He also joined the Bellares, one of Buffalo's most respected polka groups, led by area polka legend "Big Steve" Krzeminski.
Jerry has recorded over 600 songs on nearly 60 albums in his career, and has among his numerous citations two Grammy awards. He has performed across the continental United States and Hawaii, Canada, Poland, Germany, and Austria.
Jerry's years of experience have allowed him to continue as a fill-in member of such groups as Lenny Gomulka's Chicago Push, The Ampol Aires, Li'l Wally, Jackie Libera's Classics, the Dyna-Tones and countless others. He was also a regular member of many ad hoc groups, such as Chet Kowalkowski's Polish Carolers, and the Polish American Journal'sPolish Village Musicians.
In 1995, when Big Steve Krzeminski decided to retire, Jerry again proved his love for polka music by forming his own band, Jerry Darlak & The Touch. The band has quickly become one of Buffalo's most popular orchestras, as it concentrates on providing the solid "pod nogi" type of polka music that Jerry was raised on.
....Mark Kohan ----Buffalo, New York
*The Touch received the "Favorite Band Award" at the
POLKAS ON THE HILLS FESTIVAL in Fairpoint, Ohio.
"C'mon Back Polka" voted #1 song on Matt's Polka Page on the internet.
Jerry Darlak elected into the IPA Polka Hall of Fame in Chicago, Ill.
Among the highlights of Jerry's career are the two Grammys that he won for "Polish Celebration" and "My Mary Lou,"-- both with Eddie Blozonczyk's Versatones and also Jerry's induction into the IPA Polka Hall of Fame in 1998.
Jerry (the concertina artist) sings traditional Polish--Chicago Style polkas --that everyone of all ages enjoys. His band --The Buffalo Touch --has released 5 album CD's (Touch This ,For Our Friends, Polkas For Christmas, Let The Good Times Roll) and currently releasing their 5th album. The popularity of the Touch has taken his band to perform all over the country from California to Florida and from
Las Vegas, Nevada to the Mardi Gras in Louisiana. Looking at Jerry's busy schedule makes you realize that everyone is "touched" by his music.
Mike Nowakowski who was recently inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame ans the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame has been a Vocalist, and Accordion player for the TOUCH since 1999. Known as one of Polka music's most accomplished players with groups such as the Dynatones, The Knews, Big Steve, and a long list of others.
He also is the President of the Sunshine Record label and acts as Executive Producer of many of the recordings that have come out of Sunshine Records. Including 13 Grammy Nominated Albums including performing and producing the 2002 and 2003 GRAMMY NOMINATED recordings by Jerry Darlak & the TOUCH.
Ken is a lead vocalist, trumpet, and M.C. for the group and is an original member of the TOUCH joining in October of 1995. Being a multi-talented musician, he plays Trumpet, Trombone, Concertina, Accordion, Keyboard, Drums and is the featured vocalist for the "Touch". Since the 1960's--playing with the Buffalo Hi-Notes and then organizing the Goral Boys-- Ken has carried the nickname "Maly Lush," because of the similarity between his voice and the late renowned Marion Lush.
Prior to joining the Touch, Ken was the leader of Western New York's popular Pop band "New York Transfer" along with Tadj, Steve Michaels, John Hill, Dave Kolata, Jim Edwin, Artie Lutz, Bill Bushen, and Mitch Gawrys playing at most of the finest lounges, weddings, parties, and banquets in WNY for over 30 years.
Ken is a retired Architect for Erie County in New York. Other interests for Ken are his family-- wife, Carolyn; loving daughter and son-in-law Matt & Julieann Zdyb and Grand daughter Alexandria Thea; and two sons-- Nick and Ken Jr. Nick proudly contributed vocally to the song "C'Mon Back" on the "Touch This" album. Ken Jr. has been traveling with the group as a record salesman, driver and "Jr. likes to Party!"
Like the rest of the band, we are avid Buffalo Bills fans, Ken is a true fan of the Buffalo NHL Hockey team, the Sabres. Ken and Tadj put together a Sabres Polka Single in 2006, "Let's GO Sabres" Let's get the Stanley Cup (Stasui's Cup) the Play was tremendous and we're looking forward to the 2006-2007 season with a new version to follow!
Golf and Traveling are some of Ken's hobbies.
Looking forward to seeing and entertaining Polka fans around the Country!
Ray is a member of the East Side horns, playing saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet, and is one of the lead singers with the Buffalo Touch.
Ray brings another dimension to the group with his talented writing ability --composing original material-- as well as years of playing with the original Big Steve Band in the 1960's, and the PoleCats, Mix 'n Match, and Honkey Hoppers in the 1990's. In addition to these bands, Ray also performed with Li'l Wally.
Ray lives in the Buffalo, NY area with his wife, Gerrie and their daughter--Becky. Being a computer enthusiast, he composes many of the Touch originals using the PC - something that still amazes Jerry! Ray has released "Polkas From Cyberspace" album from Sunshine Records. This great collection of songs symbolize the blending of traditional polka music with a "virtual" band using a mixture of simulated band instruments. This CD is truly a labor of love and will remain forever in our virtual world of Cyberspace!!
In addition to his interest in computers and music composition, Ray is an avid Buffalo Bills fan and, according to Jerry, loves "partyin'." In the real world, Ray is business manager of a six million dollar human service agency.
Ricky joined the Touch in 2006 after a temporary hiatus from playing which only last a few short months. He has been playing drums in various bands since he was only 12 years old. Living in the suburbs of Buffalo, his mother would drive him to halls around Buffalo letting him play with bands while she patiently waited for him. His parents' love of the music and promotion of their culture was instrumental in Ricky becoming an early musician in a polka band.
Prior to joining the Touch, Ricky has played with such bands as Honky Hoppers, Steel City Brass, Lil' Wally, Mix & Match and many other Buffalo-based bands. Through playing in these bands, he has been fortunate enough to travel to numerous polka festivals and make many life-long friends.
Ricky who was originally born in Torun, Poland enjoys being a part of the close-knit Polish community in Buffalo. His fluency in Polish gives him the fortunate opportunity to communicate and assist many new Polish families coming to Buffalo to make their new "home". He is active and promotes Polish cultural events throughout Buffalo.
When he is not traveling as a sales representative for work, Ricky resides in Cheektowaga with his wife Jennifer and daughter Cara. Their daughter keeps them extremely busy with school activities as well as dance competition. Ricky and Jennifer also enjoy theater, live concerts, traveling, and relaxing with friends in their spare time.
Ricky has always enjoyed entertaining crowds with his quick wit and sense of humor. He is proud to be the newest member of the Touch and looks forward to seeing lots of his polka friends very soon.