Duane (Oley) Olson
I was a student in college at Buena Vista in Storm Lake, and was playing the second trombone part in the King band in the middle 50's. Mr. King asked me if I would consider switching from trombone to baritone, and offered to loan me his personal baritone if I agreed. Naturally, I was flattered, and accepted the opportunity, giving little thought to the responsibility of playing baritone under the direction of someone who had not only been a fine baritone player himself, but had written some of the finest and, in some cases, the most challenging parts written for the instrument. At the same time, Walt Englebart, the band manager, asked me to assume the duties as band announcer.
Shortly after my conversion to baritone, we were rehearsing an old operatic transcription and the baritone had a solo passage, a short operatic aria. I played it note correct, etc. Mr. King did not look up, just said, Let's take that again. So again I played it , again note perfect and correct. This time Mr. King climbed off his rehearsal stool and walked back to where I was sitting. He put his hand on my shoulder and asked, Do you know what your problem is playing the baritone?
No, I replied, afraid I was about find out.
Your problem is that basically, you're a good clean-cut Scandinavian kid. What I need to play that part is a dirty, low-down licentious wop. I don't want you to just play that part, I want you to make love to it!
That was my one and only lesson on the euphonium to date. It has served me in good stead.
Until he passed, Duane Olson had been the band's announcer
when he was asked to fill that postion by band manager Walt Engelbart.
Though he had only an eighth grade formal education, Mr. King was never-the-less an extremely well educated well-read person, and like his music training, by personal effort. He could converse with anyone on literature, history, politics or philosophy, and be completely at ease. He was easily the best and most entertaining after dinner speaker I ever heard. He wrote easily and had a very wry humor. When in the company of close friends, or rehearsing his band, his language would become a bit salty, and his circus background would be evident. While he never cursed or swore, he did cuss, if you get the difference. He would frequently invoke the name of the deity, not to be blasphemous, but just for emphasis, or to lend weight to his argument or the point he was trying to make. His favorite expression was, GAWD DAMN, which he could deliver with the conviction of Charlton Heston.
Mrs. King was the perfect companion for Mr. King. Tall, with a regal bearing, an elegant dresser, personable, and friendly, they were a most handsome couple. While everyone enjoyed and valued their friendship, they were not social climbers in any sense of the word. Mr. King belonged to a couple of the local service clubs, and Mrs. King enjoyed her membership in the Fort Dodge women's club, they did not belong the country club, dance clubs or do a lot of entertaining. They enjoyed their family and home and entertained their close friends.
Trombone played by Dean Olson
My brother, Dean, was one of the youngest members ever to join the Karl King Band. He was in the ninth grade, playing in the school band, when he was invited to join.
|In 1955, Dwane Mickelson, baritone player and announcer
in the King band, moved to California to teach where teaching salaries
were much higher at that time. I had started on baritone in
the seventh grade, but had changed to trombone so that I could play in
orchestra also. King asked me if I would be interested in switching
to the baritone and said I could use his horn if I would. Being
young, and in retrospect extremely naive, I said yes, and abandoned my
relatively safe and obscure position on the second trombone part, to play
baritone for Karl King.
The horn is a Conn 20-I, short action valve, baritone, manufactured in 1936. It was Conn's top model at the time, with a frosted silver finish and a 14 carat gold plated bell. Mr. King told me that he had purchased it to play in the Des Moines Shrine band. By the time I joined the band, Mr. King had false teeth, and no longer played. Once in a while before rehearsal, he would come back and pick up the horn and blow a few notes, then tell me that he couldn't play anymore, because of his teeth. You could hear the regret in his voice that his playing days were over. I always wished that I could have heard him play when he was in his prime.
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After teaching a few years, I purchased an interest in the Mid-Bell Music store in Storm Lake, so obviously could have furnished my own instrument. But I loved playing his horn, first, because it was a very good quality horn, but most importantly, because it was his. Finally, my conscience got the best of me and I asked Mr. King if he'd like me to return his horn and provide my own instrument. He put his hand on my shoulder, and in his slow, raspy drawl, told me, No, I kind of like to see it being used, and if you like to play it, that's fine with me. I never asked him again and I continued playing it until his death in 1971.
I did not know if Mrs. King knew anything about the horn or that I had been playing it all those years. After a respectful length of time, I went to visit Mrs. King and I told her that I had the horn and asked if she wished me to return it to her. She said that she'd like to think about it and talk to her son, Karl Jr. before making any decision. Shortly after that, I received a nice note from her stating that she had conferred with Karl Jr. and that they both wanted for me to have the horn for my own, and that they hoped I would continue to play it in the band.
Mrs. King's birthday is in June, and every year on the Sunday closest to it, we would play A Night In June, one of her favorites, and dedicate it to her. As I would play the beautiful baritone solo, I would always think of both Mr. and Mrs. King, and their kindness to me.
One of my favorite waltzes was Mr. King's Ariel Waltz Medley. When I asked him why he had never published it, he replied, They occasionally prosecute for plagerism! There's a bit of Victor Herbert in it.
Karl would sometimes say concerning the bridge named
in his honor,
It was originally conceived as a toll bridge to help out retired bandmasters, but it didn't work out. We haven't found enough who were trustworthy, and haven't found any who could make change!
At the 1951 State Fair, Mr. King collapsed from heatstroke and Everett Timm from LSU was brought in to take over the band and finish the season, perhaps even at the Spencer Fair. Shortly after, Karl wrote the LSU Tiger Triumph march for him.
Fredrick Fennel used to hang out at King's place (King
Music House) when he was in Ft. Dodge. In a conversation with
him, he reported that,
It was a circus there! King had several cigarettes going while working on a tune, and was trying to keep track of them as he got up to answer a question from someone coming back from Ruth's store. He would return to writing when interrupted by the phone, perhaps someone who wanted to buy some of his music. He would visit with a band director who stopped by, all the while talking with me and writing. At the end of the day he had finished writing the LSU Tiger Triumph march.
Mr.King, as he reached his upper years, was frequently asked to what he attributed his advancing age. Mr. King's favorite reply was: Years ago I made a pact with the Lord. I promised Him that if He let me live just long enough to get out of debt, I'd go quietly and peacefully.
Mr. King then would then pause as if to reflect , then he'd say, Best GAWD DAMNED deal I ever made!
I've been involved with it (the band) for a long time. That's pretty much my passion. I can remember the Karl King Band since my earliest memories. Back then a lot of people lived in apartments downtown, and there was no air conditioning. People would hear the band playing through their open windows, and crowds would gather to listen. Salesmen would plan their schedules around the Thursday night band concerts in Fort Dodge.
I was always fascinated with King's background. He is easily the most memorable person I ever met.