Charles & Fabulous 4
CHARLES & FABULOUS 4
Charles Marburger grew up in what was pre-urbanized Round Top, Texas. It was a quiet town, one, maybe two stop signs, and weekend dances at local dance halls and family drinking establishments. Attending the dances, Charles was equally interested in the girls as he was in the sounds that were coming off the stage generating the happiness of the dancers. As he matured into adulthood, the sounds, particularly the instruments, coming out of a radio or wooden dance hall stage spoke to him but he was never sure he could play.
Approaching middle age, he finally overcame his doubts and bought a cheap guitar and began learning the chords. After plugging away at it, he became confident enough to start sitting in with friends and learning the ways of playing with others (which is a whole separate artform from just pickin’). With some steady practice and playing informally, The Fabulous Four was born.
Charles, Curtis Oltmann, Toto Kwiatkowsky, and David Feist played a paying gig in 2001 at Rose’s Store in Warda, north of La Grange. The requests began coming in and they began playing private parties and local establishments.
Curtis started playing guitar in his early teens, like most of the great guitarists, on a Sears Silvertone. By 1955, Curtis had learned enough licks to join some friends from Columbus and they called themselves The Village Boys. Uncle Sam called in 1958, and while stationed in Korea, he got together with a bunch of friends and played music to entertain each other. In the late 60s, a bunch of Curtis’ friends got together and formed The Hi-Notes, which was in high demand in Central Texas for over a decade.
Curtis played guitar and fiddle. He describes some of the places as where the “patrons drank the beer, threw the cans on the floor, and danced between them.” Curtis kept his pick in the game playing with Rabb’s Creek Band and Orange Blossom Special until Charles asked him to play with his band.
CHARLES PLUS FOUR
By 2007, their popularity grew and The Fabulous Four began feeling the need to expand their sound. Central Texas steel guitar legend David Simper (see TPN January 2016) was added resulting in Charles and the Fabulous Four (CaFF) being born.
David had been playing steel guitar for over 50 years with his brothers, George and the Country Boys, The Henkhaus Playboys, The Shuck Brothers, The Velvets, and The Rhythm of the Road. David is best known for his four decades of work with the Velvets which literally covered Central Texas with great country music in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
He describes his playing as “cotton-field country pickin’.” David’s steel brought a new dimension to set lists and also gave the band five vocalists. They could now play classic country, Cajun, 50s & 60s rock, and with David’s knowledge of Czech, could play more polkas and waltzes. When the band starts into Got a Little Bit of Heaven, David’s vocals brings a crowd to the bandstand to hear him.
The word was out on CaFF’s talent and the band performed twice on the Big Joe Polka Show in Round Top. They were invited to Ennis to be filmed again but could not make it due to a booking conflict.
PARTY BAND TO THE STARS
The Warrenton-Round Top Antique Show has created celebrities within its large circle. Two of them are the Junk Gypsies and Rachael Ashwell. These two threw a large anniversary party which was filmed as an episode by the Great American Country television show film crew with country star Miranda Lambert as a guest. CaFF was the party band and had an extremely interesting time playing for and mingling with “high rollers” from California and Nashville at the party in Round Top. Charles commented that “many times at some of the large events, we country boys felt a bit out of place, but each time we stood our ground.”
The stream of weekend public and private dance gigs kept coming in, as well as the larger shows, such as El Campo’s Prairie Day’s Festival main stage. The band's geographic reach expanded from Fayette County to Houston to Sefcik Hall near Temple to Martinez Hall near San Antonio, and to the Gulf Coast.
As with all bands, several members drop out and the current roster of CaFF has been together for about two years. Charles, Curtis, and David have welcomed the latest members, Martha Jones and Troy Arndt.
EXPANDING THE TALENT
Martha grew up listening and performing in her father’s band, the Country Playboys. Her father, Harry Supak, bought her a bass guitar and by the age of 10, Martha, along with her father, and eight-year-old sister, Shirley, on drums played a wedding dance. The jobs kept coming and they became the Country Playboys.
After several decades playing with the Playboys, local country bands, and being a house band member at the Columbus and Rosenberg Opries, she sat in with CaFF at a dance at the Eagle Lake Community Center in 2013. The next week Charles called and offered her a job playing bass for him, which she agreed to and has been enjoying entertaining dancers ever since. Martha’s vocal talents have expanded CaFF’s repertoire to include Patsy Cline and other like-flavored songs.
The band was in need of a drummer in 2017, when Martha’s father suggested his drummer, Troy Arndt, a fine all around musician. Troy started playing drums at the age of 4. By age 11, he was playing professionally. In high school he played drums and was in the Blinn College Band. In 1982 he was hired by the Country Playboys and learned that he could handle the vocals with ease. He spent several years playing with Mike Black and Randy Pelt and opening for national acts such as Alan Jackson and the Georges - Jones and Strait. His vocal talents range from R & B to pure country. His day job is the music programmer and morning DJ on KTEX radio out of Brenham.
Recently, Charles updated his sound system to a digital platform and hired Adam Cernosek as a sound technician. Adam is from La Grange and his father, David, is a respected musician in the area.
Since Charles has realized his passion to play music, he has added saxophone and keyboards to his show and has put the button accordion and a fiddle on his bucket list to conquer. Charles is the band’s manager and booking agent.
Since he began, Charles and his band have performed over 1,200 engagements all the while building a large following of fans who travel many miles across Central Texas to dance to their quality music. The band has a FaceBook page: Charles & The Fabulous 4 and a website www.charlesandthefabulousfour.com to find out more information.
Charles and his members would like to thank their legion of fans for filling the dance floor, taking their photos, buying their CDs, and spreading the word. Charles and the Fabulous Four send a special thank you to their families for their patience and support while they go play their music.
One of CaFF’s favorite engagements (it must be, they have played there over 140 times) is nicknamed Music City USA, the venerable old dance hall and Community Center in Sweet Home, Texas (see related story). Charles and his band of musicians will ring in the New Year, on Dec. 31, so make your plans now to spend the evening at a real Texas country music event at a real Texas Dance Hall.
In 1887, the railroad began being built from between Yoakum and Eagle Lake. The route passed just south of the original settlement. A depot was designated in an unnamed community. The Sweet Homians relocated to this depot, acquired a post office, and declared it to be Sweet Home, Texas. There were mercantiles, saloons a shareholder-owned dance hall/ meeting building, already in place.
However, according to an oral history, the concept of a dance hall did not meet moral standards. A Catholic Church was needed more; and the citizens raised the amount needed, purchased, renovated, gained the Bishop’s approval, and Queen of Peace Catholic Church was built in 1895. from Hallettsville drew 200 ticket buyers (ladies free) in January 1926, indicating that the dance area was an enclosed space. Rother’s popularity would have been the equivalent of the Red Ravens nowadays; Patek’s Orchestra was just gaining traction then.
In 1931, a dance was held to benefit the Sweet Home Literary Society. In 1936, a tract of land with a Sons of Hermann hall (only 24 by 30 ft.) on it was purchased and for the next 15 years meetings and social events were held in this cramped building.
The location of music in Sweet Home during this time is rather murky, but more than likely any dances were on a platform outside the small hall or at the Wagon Wheel Tavern. The Wagon Wheel was, according to an oral history, a round building with rafters coming off the center round vent in the ceiling giving the building its name. The Wagon Wheel opened in late 1935 or early ’36 and was apparently a fairly spacious venue since it hosted Dave Garcia and His Ten Music Masters. Frequent dances by the Patek Orchestra, The Cuero Turkey-Trotters, Joe Heimann’s Orchestra, The Melody Ramblers, and George & His Buddies kept the squirrels in the many live oak trees a dancin’. The Sweet Home Catholic Church picnic was held in the Wagon Wheel in 1936.
GOOD MUSIC, GOOD ORDER
In 1949, The Kutac family donated two acres of land to build a new Lodge #63 hall. In 1950 the new hall (50 by 60 ft) was dedicated. Brother Havlik gave the introduction speech in English, then in Czech, thanking all concerned (singling out donations for kitchen and Bingo stands) and specified that the hall: “is to be used as a recreation center for our members and our friends of the entire community as well as the general public.” He also promised “courteous service, good music, and good order.”
The hall was built with community donations of materials, time, and money toward the final cost of $7,500. The floor was extracted from the then shuttered Wagon Wheel Tavern and moved three blocks down the street. The SPJST district meeting was held there in October 1950, and the new hall was described as: “a fine lodge hall, opened from all sides by wooden hinged windows with a smooth hardwood dance floor, smooth, well-constructed benches around the dance floor (the construction of the benches speak of old-time carpenters, possibly one apprenticed in the trade in Europe which this country has so few left) under the giant oak trees.”
The writer continued: “It is an ideal place for picnics, dances, activities of the Lodge youth, a lovely country Hall. We should be proud of our Halls, for they would truly cost a pretty penny to build these days and they have proved their worth by their service to needs of the different localities. Let’s take care of them, for every one of them speak of hours of loving labor that went into their construction by those already gone, who willed them to the present membership to keep for the next generation of Lodge workers who may still be in diapers. We are the stewards of these Halls and must not break their trust!” This hall saw the likes of the Joe Patek Orchestra and the Tommy Vanek Orchestra.
In 1958, The Sweet Home Fire Department purchased the building, and the VFD held dances as fundraisers for the department and rented it out for family reunions, receptions, and community meetings. Once again that Patek sound was heard along with The Hub City Dutchmen and the Worthing Old Time Band.
Sadly, in 1967, Hurricane Beulah ravaged the giant live oaks shading the hall, causing the building roof and walls to be destroyed, however, the floor survived. The community came together once again and the hall you dance in today is the result of the cooperation of the citizens of the area keeping the pledge of Brother Havlik. The foundation of the present floor is the original one taken from the Wagon Wheel. The music and fellowship continued, after more than a decade the VFD decided that the hall was too difficult to manage, so they began looking for a managing entity.
In 1990, the Yoakum C.B. Club bought the hall. Most folks think that Citizen Band radios are for vehicles motorvating down the highways, however in rural areas, they were a lifeline between farm houses whenever power failures occurred. If an emergency happened, the message for assistance could pass from base station to base station to the appropriate party. As cell phones became more prevalent and reliable, the C.B. club renamed itself the Yoakum Citizens Benefit Club. It is officially a non-profit group whose mission it is to keep the hall open for community use.
This hall is a fine example of a group of citizens pulling together to fill a need in their community, as all are volunteers and all the monies collected go back into the hall for maintenance and local charities.
The Sweet Home area is a wellspring of musicians, dozens of bands have and still do call Lavaca County home. Tony Janak was an orchestra leader of over 50 years with the Tony Janak Orchestra and the Sweet Home Playboys who frequently entertained in the hall. Tony was also the hall manager for many, many years and delighted greeting people at the door and ensuring that all had a good time.
Several miles away in “Old Sweet Home” is a dance hall named Mustang Hall. For a while in the 1990s both halls were having dances on Saturday night, splitting the crowds between them. The two owners got together, as the story goes, and flipped a coin to decide who would get Saturdays and who would get Sundays. Sweet Home got the Sunday choice.
The Club still manages the hall and puts on well-attended dances, and is the center of social activity for the area. When you enter the hall, from the grass parking lot, and hear the steel guitar of say, Charles & The Fabulous Four, the boots shuffling on the floor under cowboy hats, the laughter coming from the dark corners of the dimly lit hall, you know that you are in a real Texas dance hall.