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All Over the Place -- Radoslav Lorković: Thursday, 5 p.m., Tent Stage PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 18 June 2009 13:22

Radoslav LorkovicOn any number of subjects, pianist, accordionist, and organist Radoslav Lorković will preface his response with something along the lines of: "That's a funny story."

When asked about his appearance in the 2009 Naked Folk Calendar, for example, he said that the photo was taken at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in 100-degree heat. Lorković was playing the accordion and (of course) naked, and a man roughly 90 years old approached the group and said, "You know, I got some stories about Woody Guthrie," the musician recalled. "He looks at me completely ... unfazed, and keeps on telling this story about Woody Guthrie."

Or about how, in the fifth grade in Iowa City at a show-and-tell, the Croatia-born Lorković performed a classical piano piece, and that was followed by a solo violin concerto by William Preucil Jr., who is now concertmaster for the Cleveland Orchestra. "Pretty heavy music for a bunch of fifth graders," Lorković said. And a pretty lucky fifth-grade class, it turns out.

Or about how at the first Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, when organizers expected 3,000 to 4,000 attendees and were "completely overrun" by many times that number. "You could tell it [the festival] was a big force, and it was going to turn into a really big deal," he said.

Or about how, while touring in Italy in 1994, he was turned on to a gig in Alaska that he agreed to without ever having been there. "I never sold so many CDs in my life as I did that first gig in Alaska," he said. The 49th state is now a regular tour destination for Lorković.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of Lorković's memory - his recitation of names and places is uncanny - but these stories illustrate how widely traveled Lorković is, both geographically and musically. While he's still based in Iowa City, he has regular work in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. When we spoke recently, he was in New York to record with members of the Ribbon of Highway tribute to Guthrie. He collaborated with Iowa roots legend Bo Ramsey for 14 years (through 1994), and he toured for three years with Odetta, known as the voice of the civil-rights movement. "I go where the music is, and it's all over the place," he said.

His paternal grandmother was the premier classical pianist in Yugoslavia for three decades, he said, and his other grandmother was a singer, so by the time he began piano lessons at age eight, "it kind of was like falling off a log."

He was taught the blues scale in 10th grade, and as with most blues musicians, the connection was instantaneous. "That did it," he said. "I was lost. I was gone. You couldn't keep me away from the piano."

Ramsey recruited the pianist at age 19. "He gave me stacks of records to study," Lorković said.

He said he was introduced to the accordion at a party, and it is, of course, a funny story: "All of a sudden, an accordion literally landed in my lap. My buddy ... found his grandma's accordion and said, 'Play this.' I said, 'Uh, okay.' ... It's a piano, just push air through it. How hard can it be?"

Lorković played it into the morning, showed it to Ramsey at a sound check the next day - it was at Gabe's, he said - and Bo approved. Flaco Jimenez and Clifton Chenier provided "the beginnings of my style," he said, and he loves the instrument's versatility. "I really see the accordion as a pretty boundless instrument," he said. "It can emulate strings. It can emulate horns. It can be a saxophone. It could be a harmonica. It can be a lead guitar."

From there, Lorković added organ to his repertoire, and he agreed that he's a bit of a musical sponge: "I soak it all up."

While Lorković has traveled and played far and wide, he said he is happy to return to this blues festival. "It kind of completes the circle," he said. "It's a bit of a homecoming to be part of it again."

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