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Donnie Klossner

Musik mit Herz

May 11, 2008
By SERRA MUSCATELLO — Journal Staff Writer
NEW ULM — When Donnie Klossner was young, his father Roland saw him trying to play his button accordion — so he purchased a double-reed Lange concertina for $80 for his son from a neighboring farmer.

This simple act of love began a life-long passion for music for Donnie.

“I just love music. It’s a passion for me. I can’t get enough of it,” said Donnie, “I like all kinds of music ... I like jazz, I like country ... I like Big Band ... classical — Mozart has a special place in my heart. I was just thrown into the polka world when I was very young.”

When Donnie was about 13 years old he began taking concertina lessons from Ray Meidl of Brown and Meidl Music Store in New Ulm.

“It’s (the concertina) an interesting and challenging instrument,” said Donnie.

Several years later, his father bought him a new Star E flat concertina from Wenzel Fischer.

Donnie began playing in small groups in bars, dances and for home parties.

He remembers one of the groups he played in was “Happy Bill” with Bill Hahn.

Their 1950s band poster read, “The happiest, snappiest band in all the land. Get that thrill with Happy Bill, smiling Don, cousin Slim (Slim Kalz), the drummer, and Uncle Herb and all the boys.”

In “Happy Bill,” he played with veteran musicians like Al Kopetzki who had played with the “Whooppe John” band.

Donnie also gained musical experience by playing in a high school polka band with other players Art Fiemeyer and Jake Lentz.

About this same time he was also filling in for local bands like “Elmer Scheid” and “Brunno Randalls.”

On May 26, 1955 Donnie landed his first dance job gig with the “Babe Wagner Band.” The dance was held at the Interlachen Ballroom in Fairmont, Minn. He was replacing Cliff Mathiowetz as the featured concertina player.

“I had a job at the time when I took the job with the Babe Wagner Band where I was doing roofing — we were shingling barns and houses for a roofing company from Winthrop, Minnesota. It was very hard work. We put ladders up against the barn and we carried heavy bundles of shingles up on to ladders. We had no mechanized method of doing this ... it was a good job and paid well,” said Donnie, “But then this job came along with the Babe Wagner Band ... playing five, six nights a week .. which seemed like a lot more fun than carrying shingles up a roof.”

From 1955 to 1969 he played with the Babe Wagner Band until the band disbanded.

While in the band, Donnie learned how to arrange music, not only for the concertina, but also for a complete band.

“Babe had passed away already when I was on the band, but his brother Swede ran the band,” said Donnie, “Swede was an excellent trumpet player and arranger. He wrote some wonderful arrangements. He was a technician on the trumpet. He could play anything.”

After his time with the Babe Wagner Band, Donnie (and his first wife Carolyn) joined a St. Peter band owned by Lee Gansen called “The Red Birds.”

It was several years later, that Donnie and Carolyn formed the “Don Klossner Band” along with Vern Schueller and Al Drage and they performed together for about six years.

The 2nd Don Klossner Band was eventually formed with Wayne Welsch and Jerry Moeller and they played together about 10 years.

After the 2nd Don Klossner Band, Donnie played country and old-time music with the Mel Storm Band for about five years.

Throughout his performing career, he has filled in with other bands including: Clif Hermel, Ray Dorschner, Al Maves, Jolly Brewers, Six Fat Dutchmen and Wally Pickel.

“I was really honored with some of the fine musicians I got to play with ... for a young kid coming off the farm not knowing too much ... I had an opportunity there,” said Donnie.

For at least 12 years now, Donnie has been performing as “Musik Mit Herz,” (which means “Music with Heart” in German). His band is a one-man band using midi-electronics.

He performs for festivals, parties, dances and special events throughout the area playing the music of his Austrian and Swiss heritage. He also performs the music of the bands he used to play with like the Babe Wagner Band, Six Fat Dutchmen, and Jolly Brewers.

“I seem to do quite well on short notice bookings,” said Donnie, “Because I don’t have to ask a lot of people if they can make it to play with me.”

It takes him about one hour to carry his equipment in to his gig and set up, and it takes him an hour to tear down.

Donnie has written some original tunes and many band and concertina arrangements. He also records his own music in his home music studio.

With an education and background in electronics, he has been able to marry electronics with his music.

For about 17 years he repaired televisions. He also worked with electronics at Brown’s Music Store and at 3M.

Donnie has assembled his own music system. He is able to produce the sounds of a whole band, playing four horn parts, four rhythm parts, concertina and three-part harmony vocals (which he sings by himself.)

“What I have is a keyboard without the keyboard,” said Donnie, “It’s controlled from the concertina from an electronic midi system.”

A foot switch allows him to make changes while he is playing.

“You develop your own arrangements on the fly,” said Donnie.

Donnie has recorded CDs of his music: “Donnie Klossner 50 Years of Music ...”, “A Touch of Kloss,” and “You Asked for It,” (a collection of requests he gets from people).

In 2005 Donnie was inducted into the World Concertina Congress Hall of Fame, headquartered in Michigan.

“I was honored by that. There’s all kinds of great players in there,” Donnie said, “I’m honored and humbled by that.”

Donnie said he was also honored by being inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Donnie is married to Carol. They live in rural New Ulm along the Bottom Road (County Road 21).

Article Photos

Klossner (left) as a teenager performed for several years with the band “Happy Bill” (Bill Hahn is pictured at right).



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