Ingo Froelich: Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer
Who, you ask? Well, this probably is not the first time you have reacted like this to a T&R Hall of Fame induction. But I will admit that Mr. Froelich is our most obscure pick. So, here's the story of the man who, as best I can recall, was the first accordion player I ever saw.
Back in the day, the family used to spend a lot of time in the Catskills. For most of my early childhood, there was one week a year when the Ford Fairmont would be packed up and we'd settle into the Brown House at Eva's Farm in Purling, NY, where we'd meet up with all the other families that visited that same week every year. It was a week of ringing dinner (and breakfast and lunch) bells, shuffleboard, Donkey Kong (and, later, QBert), square dances, and, in retrospect, watching adults drink a lot (the centerpiece of the Dollar Beer Racket night was when couples would pair off, the husbands would don baby bonnets, and the wives would give them a baby bottle filled with beer...first to finish wins). When other kids were going to Disney World, we were going to Eva's Farm. I suppose the other kids thought they were getting the better deal. They were wrong.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and after a change in ownership and a quick subsequent downturn, Eva's Farm ceased to be. Luckily, by that point, we had settled into a summer rental in nearby Windham, where we could come and go whatever week we wanted to, but the other families were left without someplace to go at the end of July. And the area, once a hotbed of family resorts, was on its way down, too, so it wasn't so easy to find a spot like Eva's. But finally a few of the families settled on Wolff's Maple Breeze in nearby Catskill. For sure, it wasn't Eva's, but it was close enough. There were good video games (including World Series, maybe my all-time favorite) and, most important, different parties and activities every weeknight, which, though we were staying in Windham and not at the resort and thus had no right to attend, we crashed regularly. I suppose the management just assumed you'd have to be crazy to make the effort to crash a "Schnitzelbank" performance and just let it go.
There were only a few summers at Wolff's, and I was in my teens at that point, but I will forever remain in awe of the times I saw the incomparable Ingo Froelich and his one-man show at Wolff's. Ingo, who also performed with Helga (a woman who played glasses, whatever that's called) at the German Alps Festival in Hunter every summer, did the resort circuit in the Catskills during the summer, sometimes with his band (the Continentals) bot mostly solo. He was, as you may have surmised, German, and I reckon that if he had it his way, he would have played German songs all night. But he was at the mercy of the tourists, so while he was able to sneak some German tunes into the sets (and, really, he played until no one remained), the bulk of the night was handed over to interpretations of oldies and more recent fare.
For the solo shows, he would just have his accordion and keyboard, so the keyboard was in charge of the beat. And when I say "the beat," I mean "the beat." There was but one. Sometimes it would be slow, sometimes it would be fast, but it all sounded pretty much the same and was at the sheer discretion of how much Ingo felt like hitting the beats-per-minute button on the keyboard. Appropriately, there were two surefire showstoppers in the Ingo repertoire, one slow--"The Lady In Red"--and one fast--"Blue Suede Shoes." And both benefitted from the unique interpretation afforded by Ingo's thick German accent, which rendered "The lady in red/Is dancing with me/Cheek to cheek" as "Zee lay-dee een red/Eez dahn-zing vith me/Chik to chik" and "Stay off of my blue suede shoes" as "Ztay offa my blue svede schuss." It was magical.
Sadly, I have no video proof to share with you. And my own personal Ingo collection is woefully inadequate. Last year, I had the glorious good fortune to find the live album above in a store in Phoenicia. The album features his brother, Manny the Singing Chef--whom I never had the pleasure of seeing--and a live drummer that, it should be noted, is only marginally more vibrant than the keyboard beat. As I write this, I am listening to Ingo sing "Rhinestone Cowboy" on the album, and it is every bit as awesome as I remember. The neighbors, I imagine, are scared.
And in one of the last times I saw him at the German Alps Festival, I was smart enough to buy a cassette of "Etwas Gewagt mit Ingo." I'm not sure if the "Somewhat Bold" underneath the title is the proper translation, but it sounds about right, particularly when you see the cover.
That tape, by the way, rests on my kitchen table, which I bought from IKEA for one reason: its name is Ingo.
I do not know whether Ingo Froelich is dead or alive (the Internet should be ashamed that it cannot provide a definitive answer). I like to think he's alive, but he would be quite old at this point, so who can say? What I can say is, Ingo Froelich, wherever you are, today you are a Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer.