Gary James' Interview With
Jimmy Sturr

In the world of Polka, they don't come much bigger than Jimmy Sturr.

Let's put it this way: Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra are to polka fans what Benny Goodman was to the Swing crowd in 1937 or what Dizzy Gillespie stood for with the boppers in 1947.

Jimmy Sturr's popularity has resulted in his group being voted The Number One Polka Band In The Country for the past fifteen years. Their recordings have earned both Album Of The Year and Song Of The Year in the music industry.

Q - Jimmy, last year you won your 13th Grammy Award. Did that surprise you?

A - Well, you're always surprised when you win a Grammy. It's a good surprise and a good feeling.

Q - How much competition do you have?

A - Well, there's a lot of it. There's some great bands around the country...some great polka bands.

Q - When you win a Grammy, does that mean your asking price goes up?

A - I don't think so, no. A band like ours is just on the road all the time, and has been for quite a few years. We do approximately 160 dates a year. In the polka field, you can only get so much financially out of it.

Q - What is the audience for your music? Are you getting the younger generation at your concerts?

A - Oh, yeah, especially in recent years. When I do an interview and someone asks me what the demographics are, I'll actually say 8 to 80. They're younger people and older people and in between.

Q - That's refreshing to hear.

A - Everybody hears the word "polka" and all they think about is ethnic. Your Grandmother's / Grandfather's music, and it's not anymore. I feel the reason we've gained the popularity is because I've tried to Americanize the polka. I've just finished my third album with Willie Nelson. Not because we want to be a country band, that just gains a broader audience. I just won my 14th Grammy. Charlie Daniels was on it along with Boots Randolph and Bela Fleck.

Q - An all-star crowd!

A - And again, not because I want to be jazz or country or whatever. It's just another way that I feel that will open up a wider audience.

Q - How did you first get interested in polka music?

A - I live in this little town of Florida (New York) all my life. It's the onion capitol of the country. We possibly grow 30% of the country's onions. Well, there's a lot of farming. We have 25,000 acres of pure muckland or black dirt. Well, many of these people came from Europe, including the Polish and the German, to work on these fields in this area. Of course they brought their traditions with them, one of which was their music. When I was at school, our high school dances had a polka band. The local radio station played polkas every day. You might have heard about the three day Polish weddings. All the weddings were played by polka bands. While everybody else was listening to Elvis and all the Rock and Roll, I was listening to polka music. And that's how I fell in love with that kind of music.

Q - Where is Florida, New York?

A - It's sixty miles North of New York City.

Q - You were asked to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. That would, on the surface anyway, appear to be a rather strange gig.

A - Well, I don't know how strange it would be. We've been there, I think, four times. We used to do the Nashville Network, the TV show station. Usually the next night, we'd go next door and do the Opry.

Q - How long did it take you to attain some kind of success?

A - I started my band when I was eleven years old. I graduated from a military academy, went into the Army, the band stayed together and we just kept right on going.

Q - How did going to a military academy help manage your musical career?

A - Well, as a leader, I think it helped.

Q - Discipline?

A - Yeah.

Q -What did you think of John Candy's spoof on polka music?

A - Well, that didn't bother me. I thought it was funny. Maybe it wasn't the best thing for Polka. At least they spelled it correctly.

Q - You have a lot of businesses. You own a record company, a production company, a travel agency and a syndicated radio show.

A - Right.

Q - Doesn't all that take away from the time you need to create music?

A - I do that for a living. I never actually work in the travel agency.

Q - The business though...

A - I've got people that do that. Now, we were talking about rock 'n roll before. I actually record for Rounder Records.

Q - George Thorogood's label at one time.

A - Sure. He was on there. Right now, Alison Krause. They got a bunch of people on there. A lot of bluegrass. A lot of Cajun. They're a very, very good company. We had an album come out in July (2004) and it was their idea to come up with 50s and 60s music done in polka style.

Q - Oh, I like the idea.

A - We took songs like "Personality", "Charlie Brown", "Splish Splash", "Dream Lover", "Don't Be Cruel", "Since I Met You Baby", "The Great Pretender"...those kind of songs. We did those in polka style. Actually, Willie's on that...Lee Greenwood and Alison Krause. I wasn't sold on the idea until we finished the product. Man, we thought it came out very, very good. We're all excited about it.

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