Band Members:Walter Ostanek:
Walter Ostanek was born in Duparquet, Quebec. When he was a child, his parents moved to Ontario where Walter can remember them working both day and night to support the family. "We were so poor," Walter says, "my dad would make my hockey sticks by hand so I could play street hockey with the other children in our neighborhood."
Just starting out, music couldn't make ends meet, so Walter took a job at Canadian Tire. It was his work in automotives that has probably led to his fascination with cars. Driving down the highway, Walter is sure to identify any vintage automobile that is passed on the road or found rusting in a farmer's field.
In a music career that really shows no sign of slowing down, Walter continues to tour steadily and spends most of his sunny summer days at Canada's Marineland where his band has been a feature attraction for over a quarter century.
Over the course of his career, Walter has had 22 Grammy nominations, and has taken home the award on three occasions. Canada's Polka King has recorded 97 albums and has worked with Mel Tillis, Roy Clark, Ronnie Milsap, the Oak Ridge Boys, Slim Whitman, and his hero, Frankie Yankovic. "He is the reason I'm here," Walter declares, while on stage at Canada's last grand ballroom, Danceland, Manitou Beach Saskatchewan. "He is the reason we are all here."
When not performing, Walter helps his son Richard run Ostanek's Music in St. Catharines, Ontario with his wife Irene. Walter's hobbies include a collection of over 200 accordions and an autograph collection that includes signatures from almost anyone who has played an instrument and performed on a stage...or strapped on a pair of skates and played in the NHL.
Brian Sklar started playing music as a child. He would take the long walk with his fiddle over the North Saskatchewan River bridge on his way to the Academy Presentation of Mary to take fiddle lessons from Soeur (Sister) Gertrude Des Anges in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. At the age of eight, he won a silver medal from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, for achieving the highest score in the province. 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, then 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 41 European tours, recorded 37 albums, hosted and/or appeared in over 280 network television shows, played 41 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 and Walter Ostanek.
Born in Cleveland and raised in Euclid, Ohio, Ron Sluga began his musical career after he broke his wrist at the age of three. His doctor suggested a stringed musical instrument for therapy and his parents bought him a mandolin. Aside from being an accomplished musician on the banjo, guitar and mandolin, Ron is a gifted vocalist.
Ron’s first public job was playing banjo with his brother Herman on accordion at their father’s shop Christmas party when he was only eight. It was this first gig that inspired Ron to pursue a career in music. At 15, Ron became part of a 5-piece ensemble called the Tune Toppers, joined the Joey Stradiot Band at 16, and was recording and making TV appearances with Kenny Bass at 17.
When Ron was 19, he began working with Frank Yankovic and later joined Cleveland’s Polka King, Johnny Vadnal. It wasn’t until he started working with Johnny that Ron had an opportunity to develop his singing ability.
Aside from his music career, Ron also attended The Cleveland School of Engineering, achieved his Associate Degree and became an engineering supervisor at White Motors in Cleveland. Music and engineering were his life for many years. When White Motors left Cleveland, Ron opened his own music store and Sluga Music served his community for fifteen years.
Ron has been honored as a seven-time winner of the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame's "Sideman of the Year" award and 2002's "Best Vocalist" award. Other honors include being an integral part of the first polka Grammy, which was accepted by Frank Yankovic.
Currently, Ron resides in Willowick, Ohio with his wife Patty. When he is not touring nationally or internationally, Ron spends time in the studio, recording solo projects and doing the banjo work on most of the polka albums produced in both the US and Canada.
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 twelve 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.
Jay was born and raised in Saskatchewan and weaned on polka and country music. At the age of 13, he won the international dulcimer (cymbaly) competition and held the title until he moved Stateside in the late 90s. He worked in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for some years with the American Country Music Revue. He currently resides in Nashville, touring with some of the biggest names in country music as both a musician and personal bodyguard.
Jay's musical abilities cover pretty well all of the instruments you might find in any music store. That's because when he was in his teens, he worked in a music store and started a competition with a co-worker to see who could learn to play new instruments faster. He is indispensable to touring groups because of his ability to play virtually everything on stage, as well as sing lead and background vocals.
Although he no longer tours with the Senators, he continues to contribute to all of their recording projects, both as a musician and co-producer.
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.
Norm was raised in Girard, Ohio. He recalls music always being played around the house; it was there Norm mastered the trumpet, banjo, and guitar before making the tenor saxophone, clarinet, and flute his primary instruments.
In 1944, Norm joined Jack Persin and the Jolly Jesters. A short three years later he was recording with his father's band, Stan Kobal and the Airliners.
Eventually, Norm's love of music prompted him to attend Youngstown State University, where he earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Music. Norm's love of music is only exceeded by his love of sharing music with others. It was this attribute that led Norm to teach students in the Lakeview and Girard School System, and eventually the Strouss Music Centre at Youngstown State.
Norm spent seven years with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, directed and played jazz concerts, made guest appearances with the W.D. Packard Concert Band, logged three years with the 702nd Air Force Band in Omaha, and performed with Greek, Italian, Country, and Broadway show groups. Over the years, Norm backed luminaries such as Al Martino, Jerry Vale, Wayne Newton, Sergio Franchi, and Robert Goulet. He inspired the likes of Johnny Pecon, Lou Trebar, and Eddie Platt; Norm was irresistibly drawn to Slovenian polka music.
In addition to being a house musician on PolkaRama, Norm recorded two solo projects (My Alice Waltz and I Wanna Call You Sweetheart), appeared on all three of Walter Ostanek's Grammy winning albums, and was a well respected writer (Emily's Waltz - named the Greatest All-Time Cleveland-Style Waltz at the Polka Hall of Fame Awards Show XI). Norm was the POPP's Man of the Year in 1972, the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame's Musician of the Year in 1992, Sideman of the Year in 1995 and 1996, was feted with the Tony Klepec Orchestra's Band with Recording of the Year honors in 1992. Shortly before his death in 2010, Norm recorded a solo album, The Other Side of Norm Kobal, which showcased his incredible mastery of the sax, clarinet and flute.
Much like the pioneers he worshipped as a young man, Norm became a Cleveland-Style legend in his own right with Cleveland-Style players across the country studying and emulating his techniques, stylings, and licks.
Norm has aptly been described as the "Benny Goodman of Cleveland-Style music."
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.
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.
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 2008. In the picture above, he is wearing his Grammy Medal...which is 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.