Top shelf — that’s how polka musician Bruce Korosa of Tinley Park described Joliet native Robert “Bob” S. Doszak.
Doszak, an accordionist since childhood, entertained people across the U.S for more than 70 years. Korosa, who knew Doszak for most of those years, called Doszak’s death on Oct. 30, a huge loss for the music community because “In my eye he was one of the best accordionists around,” Korosa said.
“He was such a great musician,” Korosa said. “He played not only the polkas and the waltzes but all the pop tunes everybody liked…he always had a smile on his face.”
Doszak performed so many festivals, weddings, dances, parades and church events, people dubbed him Joliet’s Polka King, Korosa said. When Doszak moved to Arizona 17 years ago, he played three to five jobs a week at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and retirement centers, Korosa said.
“He dedicated his life to the accordion and satisfying so many people,” Korosa said.
“He’d walk into these nursing homes and see people hardly able to life their head up or barely speak or barely able to open their eyes But when he started playing that first note of a song they recognized, they’d perk up like they were 20-year-olds again or start singing along. And I guess with my dad, that was his biggest joy, seeing that happen.”— Chris Doszak of Wisconsin, son of Joliet's Polka King Bob Doszak
Learning the accordion
Born and raised in Joliet, Doszak attended the former St. Joseph Catholic grade school and graduated from the former Joliet Catholic High School, now Joliet Catholic Academy. His daughter, Kim Doglio of Coal City, said Doszak grew up near a dance hall on Broadway Street in Joliet.
“That’s here he first aspired to play the accordion,” Doglio said, “after hearing the music at that dance hall.”
Doszak recalled in a 2010 Herald-News story his first accordion lesson. Doszak’s mother told had told the 6-year-old Doszak to get cleaned up because the Fuller Brush man was coming. Soon Doszak heard a knock at the door and a man stepped into the house, carrying a large case.
According to Doszak, man opened the case, displayed the accordion and said, “Do you think you’re big enough to handle this?”
“That’s how I started taking lessons,” Doszak said. “My mom used to holler at me, ‘You’ve got to practice,’ and she took away my cap guns so I couldn’t play cowboy anymore. I’m thankful that she did. I’ve made a real career of music.”
According to Doszak, he was 7 years old when he landed his first performance playing job. Doszak said he played at the Snake Pit in Joliet, the tavern across the street from his boyhood home.
“The guy who owned the place would have me come sit and play on Sunday afternoons,” Doszak said in 2010. “They would have other bands there, such as Frank Yankovic. My mom and dad had to take me over because I couldn’t sit there by myself. The people there would give me a dime or a quarter. That was big money back then.”
Korosa said he and Doszak were approximately 11 years old when they first met and performed together.
“His mom and dad used to bring him to my dad’s nightclub – the Baby Doll Polka Club – on Western Avenue in Chicago,” Korosa said. “They drove him all the way from Joliet to be on the bandstand. We did three did three radio shows on Sunday for three different radio stations, starting in the afternoon.”
‘A gathering place’ for polka music
During high school Doszak drummed for the concert and marching bands and by age 14 he formed his own band. In later years, he founded the Illinois Polkafest, an annual event that’s celebrated Slovenian style polka music for 35 years, acccording to Doszak’s obituary.
Joey Miskulin of Tennessee, another lifelong friend and former accordionist for Yankovic, said he met Doszak “at a young age” when Doszak played in Chicago. Doszak occasionally played onstage with Yankovic when Yankovic invited him from the audience to join him, Miskulin said.
Like Doszak, Miskulin had played accordion from boyhood.
“He had a certain feeling for the music,” Miskulin said. “He appealed to people that were first or second generation Americans, whose parents had come from Europe. He played that style of music. And he played it very well.”
Doszak also owned and operated Bob’s Auto Supply in Joliet and Plainfield for 25 years, he previously said.
“Even though I did pretty well, I knew I could probably not make a livelihood playing music,” Doszak said in 2010. “I had a wife (Judy, deceased) and three kids to support, so I wanted a steady income.”
But it was Doszak’s music that defined him, Doglio said.
“When we were kids, he played five, six nights a week,” Doglio said. “For many people, he played their wedding, their anniversary, their kids’ wedding, their kids’ anniversary… Vacations were out of state where he was playing. He always brought his accordion in case he found someplace he wanted to play.”
Out-of-town polka bands often stayed overnight at Doszak’s ranch-style home with finished basement, Doglio said.
“They’d have jam sessions at night, and my dad would fire up the pancake griddle and make coffee,” Doglio said. “People would continue to drink their beer and other people would be drinking coffee and eating bacon and eggs. Our house was the gathering place.”
Chris Doszak of Wisconsin, a musician and Bob Doszak’s youngest son, said his father played the melody with his right hand, the bass with his left and sang with the music. Chris Doszak himself started playing drums by sitting on his brother’s lap. By 8, he playing professionally with his father.
“At 8, I was big enough to reach the pedals,” Chris Doszak. “And I played my first four-hour gig with my dad’s band. I learned by watching my brother and musicians. I never had a lesson.”
Bob Doszak’s oldest son, also Robert F. “Bobby D” Doszak, was also musician. Bobby Doszak died in 2011.
Chris Doszak said he veered away from band gigs in high school, preferring to play sports rather than “making money on the weekend,” Chris Doszak said.
But Chris Doszak said performing music taught him good lessons: respect for people, proper behavior in public, a good ear for music and excellence in performance, regardless of his mood that day.
“You always show up with a smile on your face,” Chris Doszak. “And you do your best to make people happy.”
Chris Doszak said his father “loved making people happy.”
“He’d walk into these nursing homes and see people hardly able to life their head up or barely speak or barely able to open their eyes,” Chris Doszak said. “But when he started playing that first note of a song they recognized, they’d perk up like they were 20-year-olds again or start singing along. And I guess with my dad, that was his biggest joy, seeing that happen.”
Bob Doszak recalled in 2010 one performance where no one responded to his music.
“They just sat with their heads down. There were no fingers or feet tapping, no singing, nothing,” Doszak previously said. “Then I played, ‘God Bless America’ and half of them stood up.”
Miskulin said people can still enjoy Doszak’s music through his many recordings, at last 10, by Bob Doszak’s previous count.
“He’ll be missed but his music will go on,” Miskulin said, “even though Bob is no longer with us.”
Tezak’s Home to Celebrate Life at 1211 Plainfield Road in Joliet is handling Saturday’s arrangements. Visitation will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Funeral service will start 2 p.m.