Dance Combos

Once upon a time there were dance halls across rural America. That time was in the 1930s and’40s–and everybody danced. It was the Big Band era of Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller et al. who had hit records and were all over the radio–and juke boxes.

Those famous 21-piece national aggregations never appeared at the Japanese Gardens in Marcus(run by the Nagles) but a hall in Fielding once booked Lawrence Welk, his accordian and small orchestra. That South Dakota boy was in the very early stages of his career. My small town of Marcus, Iowa booked “territory bands” who played for dances once a week. There was Tommy Tucker and his band and Little John Little (who was of course, fat)and his orchestra. And the young folk danced to The Six Fat Dutchmen out of Sioux City. My brother’s band–Graveyard Reed and His Ten Tuneful Tombstones–was composed of local MHS boys and alumni. And Jimmy Smith–our town’s finest musician–and his orchestra played for a lot of local dances like the Fireman’s Ball–a yearly fundraiser–into the early ’50s.

The Avalon Ballroom in Remsen–“The Paris of Northwest Iowa”–(so labled because you could buy liquor by the drink in that town)–was THE place to be on Thursday nights in those days. Folks came from all over NW Iowa to “trip the light fantastic” at the Avalon. And I tried to work my way through college with Bob Reed and The Varsity Men–a 17-piece group that did one-nighters in dying ballrooms in S.D., Nebraska, and Iowa in the early ’50s.

Alas, Elvis and rock-and-roll and television pretty much killed the Big Bands and the dance hall custom during that time. Country western was “cowboy music” in those days and while it was listened to, most folks didn’t dance to it in western Iowa. Was it too rural? Today even wedding dances with combos seem to have become a casualty of the times in small town America. Pity.