Western Swing Accordionist Marc Wald, professional musician for over 70 years
Excerpts from a fine story in the Vancouver Sun about the life of Vancouver’s Marc Wald, I so wish I’d have met him to talk about his career and what he knew about the other Western Swing accordionists. I’ve gathered the names of 60 or more Country accordionists, and it’s very hard to find any information about them at all. Very sad to have missed meeting Mr. Wald. Thanks to John Mackie at the Sun for his piece:
Marc Wald, who died this week, was a professional musician for over 70 years
King of the country and western accordion helped the Rhythm Pals swing
VANCOUVER — It’s hard to imagine today, but in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s one of the key instruments in a Canadian country and western act was the accordion.
Marc Wald was one of the kings of the instrument. Together with guitarist Jack Jensen and standup bassist Mike Ferbey, he formed a silky-smooth C&W trio called the Rhythm Pals.
Starting off on Bill Rea’s Western Roundup radio show on CKNW, the group went on to national fame, winning three RPM awards as the best Canadian country group in the 1960s.
“They had a beautiful blend, very original,” says singer Juliette Cavazzi, who appeared with the Rhythm Pals in the 1950s on CJOR’s Burns Chuckwagon show.
“The harmony was so close, it was hard to tell who was singing what. It was beautiful.”
Wald died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Nanaimo April 16, a month after his wife Ruthie passed away from pneumonia. He was 90.
He was a childhood phenom on the accordion, winning a pair of provincial talent competitions in Saskatchewan. When he was 18, he turned pro with a group called Sleepy and Swede. They toured across the west, and Wald wound up in Vancouver just before the Second World War.
Back in Vancouver in 1946, he was impressed by the dulcet tones of singer Jack Jensen on Bill Rea’s radio show. So Wald and bassist Ferbey went down to the station with their instruments.
“They went down to play, because it was like a jam session,” relates Wald’s friend Ken Maclean.
“They didn’t play a lot of records [on Rea’s show], it was mostly live. [Wald, Ferbey and Jensen] decided to go together and do a few numbers, and they got such an overwhelming response from people Bill Rae gave them a regular slot.”
Rae had a contest to name the new group.
“Somebody wrote in ‘How about Mike, Marc and Jack, the Rhythm Pals,’” says Maclean. “From there they became very well known.”
“The three of them made very good music. Mike played the standup bass, which gives you a tremendous beat and sound and volume. Jack was very very good on guitar, and the accordion could outshine everybody, because it was louder than everybody.
“Marc was absolutely terrific, and very very good looking. He was the tallest of the three, and extremely good looking.”
The band wound up as regular performers on The Tommy Hunter Show on CBC-TV for almost two decades. The band also did several more albums for labels like Arc (Onstage with the Rhythm Pals) and Arpeggio (Thank God We’ve Got Music), and won the RPM award as best country act in 1965, ‘67 and ‘68.
The group also backed or played with many country stars, including Johnny Cash, the Sons of the Pioneers, Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison, Merle Haggard and Wilf Carter.
In 1986, Wald decided to come back to British Columbia and retire. Jensen and Ferbey continued until 1991, when the band folded. Jensen is now living in Kelowna, but Ferbey passed away a few years ago.
In recent years, Wald continued to play piano in a duo with trumpet player Dan Hughes.
“After he turned 90, he played a soup kitchen fundraiser in Courtenay,” says Maclean. “Just a wonderful guy.”
“One of the handsomest guys you could ever hope to meet,” says Juliette. “He was rrrreally gorgeous. Absolutely. And a great accordion player.”