Playing polka music for polka dancers and audiences has been a passion of Walter Ostanek for over 50 years.
To him, playing polkas is the greatest job in the world. You see, it’s really gratifying to see people having a good time as they're listening or dancing to their favorite polka after a hard day at work.
He's had the pleasure of recording well over 100 polka albums and polka videos since 1957. He's even been fortunate enough to be recognized three times by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences with the highest honour in the music business, the Grammy Award.
Brian Sklar started playing music as a child. He would take the long walk with his violin over the North Saskatchewan River bridge in Prince Albert Saskatchewan to the Academy Presentation of Mary, where he took lessons from Soeur (Sister) Gertrude Des Anges. At the age of eight, he won a silver medal from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, achieving the highest test score in Saskatchewan. Five years later, after spending several years with the Prince Albert Concert Orchestra, Sklar shifted gears and became an old-time fiddler, joining the Halldorson Family Orchestra, and later, at the age of 16, forming his own group.
At the age of 19, he went on tour for a year, playing mining towns in northern Ontario and the northern United States. It turned out to be the never-ending tour, which has included performances with virtually all of the legends of the Grand Ol Opry, including an appearance on the world-famous show with his good friend, Jean Shepard.
Sklar has a room full of awards from country music associations all over North America and Europe. He has, at this writing, done 43 European tours, recorded 39 albums, hosted and/or appeared in over 310 network and syndicated television shows, played 42 Calgary Stampedes, over 60 telethons, helped raise in excess of ten million dollars for children's charities, has an impressive display in the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and most recently was accepted as a member of the Canadian Association of Country Music Legends. On December 6th, 2007, he added the title "Grammy Nominee" to that list of achievements.
Although he is best known as a country entertainer, Brian Sklar has had a long association with polka music. It all started during his childhood years, when he would hang around in front of the stage at family weddings. Just about every band had an accordion player in those days, and just about every radio and television station programmed live polka music, usually on Saturday afternoons. Groups like the Canadian Polka Kings and the Happy Roamin' Rangers played Cleveland-style polkas, and Sklar was totally taken with the happy staccato sound of the music.
So it was no surprise when after a night of jamming in 1976, Sklar suggested that a group of musicians travel to Edmonton to cut an album. The Western Senators were born.
Since 1993, Sklar and his wife Trudy, as well as his two sons, Aaron (a high school teacher and drummer with the Western Senators) and Damon (a music promoter and marketing guru) have lived in Regina, Saskatchewan. Summers are spent playing North American country music festivals in July and then touring Europe in August. Winters are spent playing one-nighters with his own group, the Tex Pistols (Canada's primo Western Swing and 60s-style Nashville band) and the Western Senators with Canada's Grammy Winning Polka King, Walter Ostanek.
Mark Leik was born and raised in Killaly, Saskatchewan. His early achievements in the music business include 12 years with The Killaly Rhythm Kings, and numerous trips to Kimberley British Columbia for the International Accordion Championships, where he placed first many times in the 19 and under age category.
He now resides in Yorkton, Saskatchewan with his wife, Lindsey and their three children.
A master of both the piano and button box accordion, Mark continues to tour and record with the Western Senators and has penned several of the Senators' recordings, including the Flying Fingers Polka, which can be found on the Senators' Grammy nominated album, Dueling Polkas, and the Hot Box Polka, which is featured on the Senators' Freshly Squeezed album.
Born in British Columbia, Wayne Kuntz has had a long career in the music business, including stints with Buddy Knox, Janie Fricke and other noted rock 'n' roll and country stars. Wayne now resides in Regina, and has been a part of the Western Senators and Tex Pistols since the inception of the Tex Pistols in 1995. He does all the bass work and low harmony vocals on both the Senators and Pistols albums, as well as on the Senators' TV series, PolkaRama. Of course, Wayne was also proud to make the trip to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards when the Western Senators were nominated in 2008which was very special because the nomination came on the 50th anniversary of the Grammy Awards.
Wayne is the consummate Saskatchewan Roughrider fan, and the biggest day of the year is Labour Day, when he sponsors the annual Winnipeg Blue Bomber/Saskatchewan Roughrider tailgate party in his backyard, which just happens to butt up against Mosaic Stadium, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Married 18 times, Wayne has been looking for number 19 since he joined the band. Applicants for the position can reach Wayne by phone...he's in the Regina directory.
Born in Calgary Alberta, Aaron now resides in Lumsden Saskatchewan with his wife, Lindsey and their Pug, Esiason.
Always interested in music, Aaron became an avid fan of traditional country music before he could walk. His mother, Trudy Sklar, would put on Ray Price, Johnny Bush, and Mel Tillis albums for Aaron to listen to as he would spring in time to the music in his Jolly Jumper. His mother recalls Aaron swaying back and forth between songs waiting for the next track to begin.
Once Aaron was old enough to hold a 1/4 sized violin, he began lessons...but he would always sneak over to the back door neighbors' house to play Wayne's drums. The violin lessons would continue for another eight years, but in Aaron's first year of junior high the violin would be set aside for a pair of drum sticks.
Aaron's first band was "Youngstir" which was based out of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan with Randle Currie (now the steel player for Brad Paisley), Aaron Young (formerly with Barrage), and Tyler Kushneryk (The Cleavers).
In 1995 the movie "Frankie and Walter," which featured Frankie Yankovic and Walter Ostanek, was filmed in Saskatchewan. Aaron was hired to be a roadie on the tour, as well as the set photographer. Just prior to taping, drummer Lorne Pavelick suffered a heart attack. Concerned for Lorne's health, the band asked Aaron to sit in with the group after sufficient shots had been taken by the film crew. It wasn't long afterward that Aaron was asked to become a permanent member of the Western Senators, and remains so to this day.
Aside from playing with the Western Senators, Aaron plays drums and does some of the vocals with the Tex Pistols. At this writing, he has completed thirteen European tours. In addition to the drums, he plays violin, guitar, and piano. When he is not touring, Aaron is a high school physics and chemistry teacher and records traditional country music in his home-based, digital studio..
Todd Barrie Lueck was born and raised in Saskatchewan. His dad played sax in a polka band, which Todd joined when he was a very young man. Later on, he was the band leader and guitar player with the 80s group the Red Hot Burritos, who won numerous contests and eventually performed on Ralph Emery's Nashville Now TV show on the Nashville Network.
Todd became a member of the Tex Pistols in 1995, and by extension, a member of the Western Senators. He now doubles on guitar and banjo, as well as providing the high fifth harmonies on all of the band's tunes.
Todd has made twelve European tours with Brian Sklar and company, and continues to tour with both the Tex Pistols and the Western Senators..
Joe Schultz was born and raised in Grayson, Saskatchewan. His early achievements in the music business include stints with The Happy Roamin' Rangers, and The Canadian Polka Kings, two groups who were pioneers in radio and television and sound recordings.
In later years, Joe settled in Calgary, where he would remain until retiring from a career in the water purification business.
One of the two remaining original members of the Western Senators, Joe now resides in Melville, Saskatchewan with his wife, Olga.
Joe continues to tour and record with the Western Senators, and has penned several of the Senators' recordings, including the very popular Schultz's Polka and the Grenade Polka, which can be found on the Senators' Grammy nominated album, Dueling Polkas.