National Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum
605 East 222nd Street Euclid, OH 44123
Toll Free: 1-800-66POLKA
Many top names in Cleveland-Style polka music got their start in the orchestra led
by Al Strukel. The accordionist boosted the careers of future bandleaders Al Markic
and Joe White and young performers, such as Paul Yanchar, Frank Mahnic, Bob Gospich
and Mirk Yama. Al learned the button box at age nine and often jammed with childhood
friend Johnny Pecon, his neighbor in Cleveland’s Collinwood district. After service
in the Navy, Al organized his band featuring Polka Hall of Famer Al Markic. The group
performed at local night spots, like the Welcome Tavern, the Bank Bar and the White
Horse Tavern. Al’s orchestra was the very first to appear on radio station WSRS.
In 1948, Al recorded tunes for the Continental label, including "Tonight by Candlelight,"
"Rob ’em Blind," and "A Night in May." He opened and closed every engagement with
his theme song, "Thinking of You." Illness forced Al to sideline his entertaining
in the mid-1950s, but he returned in the 1980s to host polka bus tours with Milan
Racanovic. He was made a life member of the Cleveland Federation of Musicians.
Al was a police lieutenant in Wickliffe, Ohio. One night he stopped Johnny Vadnal,
who was driving home from a late-night gig. Johnny didn’t recognize him at first
and Al took advantage of the situation. When Johnny couldn’t produce any identification
to verify he was the famous bandleader, Al made him get out his accordion to prove
it. It was a tale they both enjoyed telling.