I just got word from my tuba-playing friend Greg Laabs in Appleton that he has purchased the late Larry Pagel’s Martin tuba from Larry’s daughter, and Greg is having the tuba restored. I bought my 1968 Conn 20J tuba from Greg a few months ago, and I hope some day to be able to make the trip back up to the Fox Cities and “Greg’s Tuba Store” to just play a few notes on Pagel’s famous Martin tuba.
The picture at the top of this post is of a recently-restored Martin 4-valve double-B-flat tuba. It’s the kind of tuba that Larry Pagel owned and played during his many years with the famous Red Raven orchestra. The band was named after the Red Raven Inn in Hilbert, where Lawrence Duchow had put the group together as the house band. To say the band made the big-time is an understatement. Pagel played with that famous band from 1938 at venues from coast-to-coast and border-to-border until the band’s last gig, in 1954. Then Larry worked with the Jay Andy Dance Band (which booked out of Appleton), and Larry finished his career playing many years with the Gene Heier band (which booked out of Manitowoc).
This is the family picture of Lawrence Ruben Pagel, who passed away on October 21st last year at the age of 93. I’ve often called Larry the “Godfather” of all Wisconsin old-time tuba players, because he was the first to achieve wide success and recognition for playing tuba in a Wisconsin-based polka band. Pagel is on every RCA record the Red Ravens made - including the first recording of the “Elephant Waltz”, a staple in the repertoire of just about every old-time tuba player. Many others have recorded the Elephant Waltz; Der Cammack recorded what I consider the definitive version of the tune with the Scheid band, in 1961. I recorded it with the Check band in 1976. But Larry’s recording was the original.
How influential was Pagel’s tuba-playing? So much that my original tuba teacher and mentor, Ernie Broeniman, bought a Martin tuba as soon as he saved enough money from his gigs with the Don Peachy Band.
Here’s a shot of Ernie with his Martin tuba – a three-valve model. Ernie said he wanted a Martin tuba so bad that he couldn’t wait to save more money to buy the four-valve model that Pagel played, so when he had enough money together to buy the slightly less costly three-valve model, he pulled the trigger. I learned to play on Ernie’s Martin tuba, and it was his mentoring and support that landed me my first job with an old-time band, filling in for Ernie with Ray Dorschner’s Rainbow Valley Dutchmen in the summer of 1965 when I was a junior at Hortonville High and Ernie was off working on his Master’s Degree at Colorado State.
Ernie got his first professional gig when he was a junior in high school. He played tuba in the Horicon High School pep band. One night, Don Peachey, leader of a very well-known polka band that booked out of nearby Burnett, heard Ernie playing with the pep band, hired him on the spot, and fired his regular tuba player! Ernie worked with and recorded with Peachey, and with the Bernie Roberts Orchestra (Ernie is on the famous Roberts recording of Red Wing Polka); and has worked with many other well-known bands including the Don Schlies band. Ernie founded the great Dorf Kapelle group 25 years ago, and the group is still going strong, doing live appearances and recording.
There are a lot of first-class old-time tuba players that have come from Wisconsin; so many that I’m hesitant to name names, because I know I’ll forget someone who’s really good and likely influenced my playing. But before all of them, there was Larry Pagel – and it’s good to know that his horn is in good hands, and will be cared for properly.
If that horn could talk, the stories it could tell……