Ignoring the advice of music teachers who feared he was too young, Wally Dombrowski began trumpet lessons when he was only five. His parents, both of Polish heritage, brought Wally to polka shows as a toddler and he was enamored by the trumpet by age two. When his rhythmic drumming on sand pails caught their attention, he was encouraged to learn polka with his brother Rich. Rich founded the Polka Country Musicians in 1977 when he was 18 and Wally was just nine. The brothers took the music their parents loved and made it their own.
Polka originated from peasant dances in Eastern Europe and grew widely popular in the mid-1800s. When immigrants brought the music with them to the U.S., new regional variations developed as the music took root. Polish polka split into two major styles: Chicago and East Coast. The Polka Country Musicians play a version of the Chicago style called “push.” Push polka bands typically feature double horns, accordion, concertina, bass, and drums. Over the years, and as players changed, the band developed its own distinct sound and adopted a slightly slower tempo suited for covers of country songs. When the band is playing in top form, audiences can be so captivated by the music they stop dancing to fully listen. “Connection with the people is huge,” Dombrowski explains, “it makes us want to perform that much better.”