In high-school there were four or five of us who picked up acoustic guitars and played. We all started with the same songs – the ones we could hear all around us, on the mountain hiking trails in Beskidy and in the cities. From Wolna Grupa Bukowina to Ela Adamiak, from Nasza Basia Kochana to Wały Jagielońskie – those hits of sung poetry and hiking songs were ours to take, they became our singing and playing ABC.
That’s when I wrote my first song. We had to take Russian language at school, and to get out of another memorizing assignment, I wrote music to a Lermontov’s poem and played it in the classroom. The unexpected consequence was that I was drafted to perform at the annual October Revolution anniversary celebration at school – an unwanted occurrence, one I survived by dragging a friend of mine on stage, so that I didn’t have to do it solo. That was my first official performance.
The second song I wrote was a blues. As a freshman at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (theoretical mathematics, really) – I spent six months splitting time between going to classes and staying in an empty apartment I had rented, with occasional visits at my aunt’s – for free meals and conversation. Hence the title – “Blues pustego domu” (The Empty House Blues) – a simple 12 bar blues with my lyrics, born out of loneliness and spending too much time on my own.
And then things changed. I started a family, we had a baby, and I switched to studying English. My friends and I started an American folk music band, and soon enough we were playing all over Poland. From the first concert as Bus-Stop in the library of our English Philology Institute of the Jagiellonian University, to the first paid one in the student club Zascianek, we went on to play and to win some prizes as well. We won the first and third edition of “Anybody Can Sing” competition (kind of a local, amateur and original version of Idol in Cracow, before anyone ever imagined there would be Idol). We got invited to FAMA, a big student event at the Baltic seaside (kind of a month long, organized Woodstock) and got an award there. We played student venues, country and western ones (yes, country and western was big in Poland), got invited to student and main stream festivals, like SFP in Cracow and the Festival of Music in Opole, and we won some awards there as well. We recorded our own tape deck LP and participated in recordings of other bands, like Chwila Nieuwagi.
When Bus-Stop disbanded, I went solo and played with other musicians or bands. I joined Sweet Misery Band for a while, a Cracow based folk and country and western band. I joined Wojtek Belon and Adam Ziemianin, a bard and a poet, to play in their “With a Guitar and a Pen” program, and we played together until the premature and tragic death of Wojtek. I played my own gigs, and formed a habit of inviting friends – musicians to play with me – some of these friendships are still alive. And so I played with such talented guitar players as Maciej Śliwiński, Jan Hnatowicz or Ryszard Styła, bass players as Wojciech Bobrowski, Bogusław Mietniowski, and drummers like Grzegorz Sznajder. It was around that time that I recorded 5 songs for children and started to write “Kołysanka dla Kasi” (Kate’s Lullaby), which I only finished years later in Chicago. Also around that time I recorded a traditional „Hangman’s Tree” song for the „Corinna, Corinna” compilation of Polish country and western and folk singers, and took another prize at the Student Song Festival in Cracow, this time performing two songs with my music, „By na starość” „ Moja piosenka” (lyrics by Zbigniew Książek).
All that time I kept playing the traditional American folk repertoire, but I was getting more and more interested in writing my own songs – be it lyrics, music, or both. I wrote music to some Wojtek Belon poems („List o czekaniu”, „Jasnej”, „Jeszcze mi brzmi”) and translated American lyrics into Polish (like Paul Simon’s „The 59th Street Bridge Song” - „Piosenka mostu 59-tej ulicy”). I wrote another blues song (“Nie płacz mała” - Don’t Cry Baby). And I kept playing concerts, until I got drafted in 1987 and migrated to the U.S. in 1989.
The first few years in the U.S. focused around working and music. We played a bit – around that time, a lot of my friends and musicians ended up in Chicago. Wacław Juszczyszyn (WGB) got me my first job in the U.S. Bogusław Mietniowski, Jan Hnatowicz, Anna Treter joined us soon after. Grażyna Auguścik had already been there (and still is). Andrzej Pawlik, Grażyna „Zając” Kulawik”, Alan Baster, Maciej Śliwiński, Zbyszek Książek, Tomek Wachnowski, Ryszard Styła, Marek Stryszowski and many others came, stayed for a while and left. We had our night clubs with live music, not just the dancing kind, but places like Café Lura, where we hung out and played our concerts into the wee hours of the night. We lived and played together, made friends, enjoyed life...
The new century changed the landscape. Old friends left for Poland, new friends appeared. We formed a band – 5000 - Piotr Kucharski, Leszek Fil, Wojtek Namaczyński, Waldek Stalewski. We played for a few years, mostly Nalepa’s songs, Belon’s, mine. Under the aegis of Stowarzyszenie Wietrznych Studentów we recorded three of those for the compilation of Polish bands playing in Chicago at that time („Grammy” CD, a play on words – in Polish gramy means We’re playing). Then the band broke up and I kept writing. I wrote music to poems of friends of mine (Maciek Danek or Tomek Wachnowski), I wrote my own lyrics and music, I wrote my lyrics, slowly creating more and more material.
And so, around 2000, Jan Hnatowicz talked me into recording a CD. Without his push and support, Z Krakowa do wczoraj wouldn’t have been recorded, I wouldn’t have written these words and prepared this website. Thank you, Jan.
What’s next? I hope more recordings – I have enough ideas for at least three CDs. Time will tell…
Z Krakowa do wczoraj