The Texas Bohemians

You should all probably run right out and buy volumes one and two of Texas Bohemia, a compilation of live and recorded performances by the Bohemian and German bands of south central Texas.

A German fellow named Thomas Meinecke got excited by the existence of this cast-off bit of Central European folk culture, and visited Texas himself to record bands and buy records. He and his group released two records in the mid 1990s — In Germany as well as the US. Not only is there all the beer-soaked oompa-ing you can shake a stick at, the liner notes to both albums are beautifully-written mini-essays conveying Meinecke’s passion for the Texas heritage of this odd, sleepy part of the USA and the "unbelievably strange farmer-swing" it produces.

Herewith a translation of the first few paragraphs of the Texas Bohemia liner notes. Below, you’ll find a link to a song. 

The Country

As we rolled into the little town of Frelsburg in 1992, our fuel gauge had been on empty quite a while. The sun had already begun to go down, but in Heinsohn’s General Store (Gemischtwarenhandlung!) the light was still on. We drove behind the building and filled up our tank with some cheap gasoline. We could hear old Heinsohn there at the cash register, debating the merits of a new kind of cow feed with a few local farmers. In an unmistakable Lower Saxony dialect. We joined the conversation, asked about the background of the locals, and learned that their great-grandfathers had come from the Bremen area. For dinner, we can recommend Hackemack’s nearby beer hall, and Keiler’s renovated hotel in Fayetteville.

The next day, the oppressive heat continued. After breakfast in Orsak’s Czech Cafe, we bought a package of fresh kolaches at Chovanek’s. In Warrenton, behind Oldeburg and Walhalla, be visited the old wooden Harmonia Liederhalle, and in the tiny town of Round Top an old gray-haired fellow named Herr Knutzen recounted to us, in absolutely perfect Holstein idioms, about coyote hunting and that unfortunate shoot-out in the old saloon that had driven his father ’round the bend 60 years ago. In Sacks’ spic and span mom-and-pop store, we got some ice-cold refreshments, and behold, Ronny Sacks, only 41 years old, conversed with us in the most fluent German you could imagine. We’d read here and there that Germany is in Texas, but the fact that even two world wars weren’t enough to exterminate the German language in the USA was news to us. As with the Cajuns in Louisiana, it was also here the television-driven uniformization (Gleichschaltung) of the youth culture in the 1960s that put an end to the all-too-lovingly cultivated old-country habits of the various individual ethic groups.

In contrast to the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana, the German and Bohemian enclaves in Central and South Texas are less well-known. I heard a reference years ago in an interview with Ry Cooder to the diversity of the musical cultures of the Texas-Czechs and Germans. The fundamental influence of the accordion-driven polkas and waltzes of the German immigrants on the Tex-Mex music along the Mexican border had already been explored by Cooder on his own records, not least through his collaboration with conjunto-accordion great Flaco Jimenez.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Texas bands like the Sir Douglas Quintet or Brave Combo repeatedly brought German and Czech elements into their music, and even the Texas Swing of the 1930s (Bob Wills), as well as the beer-soaked Honky Tonk music of the 50s (Hank Thompson) was clearly based on the central European two-step, the Polka. In the 1980s, the California folk label Arhoolie/Folklyric brought out two albums which made the Bohemian music of Texas a bit better-known: one collection called Texas Czech-Bohemian bands, based on early shellac records from the 1920s to the 1950s, and a collection called South Texas Swing, with historical recordings from the Western-swing pioneer Adolph Hofner. I grabbed up both records, and was thrilled — as with Cajun and Tex-Mex music — by the aesthetic bonus of European folklore music gains overseas (rhythm, soul, booze, and electrification), and could not wait to visit Bohemian Texas myself.

And now, for your musical enjoyment, the Knutsch Band with "Zwei Wie Wir Zwei".

4 thoughts on “The Texas Bohemians

  1. I started, not only was the plan adopted but legislation based on it was passed within a few months of the plan’s submission, and began being implemented more than one year before the plan was adopted. This is half the time that was required for the Eastern Pla

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.