When our Dad was 9 years old, his parents, Joe and Mary Mikesh from Lidgerwood, bought him his first instrument, a button box accordion for $19. After “diddling around with it,” he learned how to make music. At age 12, he bought a guitar for $14.95. At age 15, he talked his parents into buying him a big accordion for $175. He never learned to read music. He played by ear his entire life, a natural talent that can’t be taught, but relies on practice, practice, practice.
Dad’s music career started on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1951, when his parents took him to the Sargent County Fair in Forman, North Dakota, to compete in the “Talent Parade” tryouts. He was one of the top five contestants who performed on the “Talent Parade” broadcast on WDAY Radio hosted by Ken Kennedy. He became the winner of the “Talent Parade.”
As his prize, he won an all-expense paid trip to Fargo, North Dakota, to perform on the WDAY radio program. He rode on the Jack Rabbit Bus Line to Fargo and stayed at the Gardner Hotel. He played one tune per day on the “WDAY Dinner Bell Time” radio show at 12 p.m. for five days in a row.
Tommy and Elaine Martineck were putting a band together in New Effington, South Dakota, when they heard him play on the “Dinner Bell Time” show. They knew his name but did not know how to contact him because there were few phones in the area at that time. Dad went to a dance in Mantador, North Dakota, to see the Minnesota Woodchoppers play. Tommy and Elaine happened to be there too. Ed Staroba, Dad’s neighbor, introduced Tommy to him. Tommy offered him a job on the spot to be a member of their new band. He was just 16 years old and his music career was off and running.
He drove his parents’ ‘47 Chevy to Tommy’s farm to practice. He played his first dance job in 1951 in Hill Head, South Dakota, seven miles southwest of Veblen, South Dakota, and was paid $10.
In the summer of 1952, Dad and Tommy played for one hour every Sunday on KBMW Radio Station in Wahpeton, North Dakota. The radio show was hosted by George Kaufman. He would meet Tommy North of Hankinson, North Dakota, park his ‘31 Chevy truck in a field approach, and ride with Tommy to Wahpeton.
Tommy played for Dad’s wedding dance when he married Louise Stulc in September 1953, in Lidgerwood. He played with Tommy and Elaine Martinek through 1956.
In 1957, he decided to start his own band. Dad on accordion, Jerry Tesch on rhythm guitar, Noel Lawrence on drums, and Wesley Wolitz on sax. They would practice in the old garage at his farm near Lidgerwood. Tommy also played with them occasionally.
Throughout the years until 1989, he had many other band members join him: Gaylen Kath — bass, Odel Johnson — lead guitar, Claude Wolitz — drums, Alan Bozovsky — bass, Jerry Williams — drums, Kevin Klimek — bass and lead guitar, Bill Grieve — bass and drums, Tim Haaland — bass, Caren (Thompson) Mikesh — drums, Tom Kadoun — drums, Dave Olig — drums, Denny Martinson — drums, Eric Blumer — drums, Darrell Oscarson — drums.
The American Legion Pavilion dance hall in Breckenridge, Minnesota, and the Ranch in Sisseton, South Dakota, were their most played venues that put him on the map. The Crystal Ball Room in Fargo was a sought-after venue. He had to become a member of the Musicians Union in order to play that venue.
Since his humble beginnings, he has recorded 16 albums — over 240 songs — and composed 32 of his original songs which are all featured on his Golden Edition CD.
• Let’s Have a Party - First album recorded in 1966 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His original song “Party Polka” became his Theme Song.
• Country Western Favorites — He wrote his famous song called Pepperoni in 1964, which is featured on this album. His drummer, Jerry Williams, named the song; he thought it was a “hot tune” like a pepperoni pizza.
• Accordion Duets — This album and Waltzes and Polkas were recorded in the St. John’s Catholic Church hall in Lidgerwood.
• Waltzes and Polkas
• Dance Time with Al Mikesh
• I Love to Polka — This album features his second wife Caren (Thompson) Mikesh
• Just a Fiddlin and a Pickin
• One Man Band Vol 1-6
• Golden Edition
• Ride, Ride, Ride
• Country Gospel and Polka Mass
During the ‘60s and ‘70s, his music played on the KFGO Radio station out of Fargo. He would occasionally make live appearances.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, he appeared on the WDAY Party Line show in Fargo every Monday, hosted by TV personalities Verna Newell and Boyd Christianson.
In 1989, he decided to change to a one-man band approach with his music and entertaining. He also started to spend winters in McAllen, Texas, with his third wife Delphine (Hitterdahl) Mikesh and later his fourth wife Aggie (Loegering) Mikesh. He played at many mobile home parks and was a regular feature at Rio’s on the River. He also met other musicians and played many “jam sessions.”
The Al Mikesh One-Man Band featured the button box and piano accordion as well as the four-row diatonic accordion, concertina, lead and bass guitar, fiddle, and five-string banjo. Other than a few lessons he received on the piano accordion as a teenager, he learned the remainder of these instruments on his own without any formal training, but a lot of practice!
In the past 70 years, he has entertained thousands of people in 13 states and in Canada. From 1994 to 1999, he hosted a summer-time Polka Festival on his farm near Lidgerwood. He played for many wedding dances and then 50 years later played again for their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.
In 1999, he travelled to Aberdeen, South Dakota, for a formal induction into the Dakota Musicians Hall of Fame.
Our Dad has 10 children. Seven from his first marriage to Louise (Stulc) Mikesh-Johnson and three from his second marriage to Caren (Thompson) Mikesh. We loved going to his dances. Our Grandpa Mikesh taught us to polka at a very young age. Many times we would attend part of the dance, sleep in the car for a few hours, and then drive him home after the dance. As farm children, we learned to drive at a very young age.
He is currently married to his fifth wife, Alice (Gowin) Mikesh. In 1965, he played for Alice’s wedding dance, from her first marriage, at the Pavilion.
Our dad is 86 years old and we are extremely proud of his accomplishments! Throughout the years he was often imitated but never duplicated! He will always be “Smiling Al” to all his fans!
All Our Love,
Larry, Linda, Coleen, Betty, Susan, Marybeth (deceased), Caren, Tammie, Scott, James.