Dennis Zech


I guess we share a mutual interest in playing the “bones”. Here’s some history:


My dad, Clarence Zech, showed me how to play when I was about 10. That’s about the same age he was when he decided to learn (about 1922). His dad was a carpenter and they built a lot of barns in the area, and then they would have barn dances to celebrate and that’s when he saw Alfred Wagoner playing the bones to a Polka beat. He said he got such a kick out of the sound he went to the butcher shop the next day and asked for some cow rib bones and practiced and practiced and that’s how he got his start. We still have those thick old bones around, but he likes his ebony bones as they are much easier on the hands. He says that after he learned how to play with both hands at the same time the audiences got really excited about his playing.


He became quite well known in our area of Wisconsin as the “Bones Man” and would occasionally put on “one-man shows” back then with a little record player. The loud two-fisted clacking at conventions and meetings was the entertainment that was wanted.


After he retired from 25 years at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant in 1975 and Mom died a few years later. He says, and I know, that “Bones Playing” saved his life, as the music pulled him from a dark hole of depression, when Marsha, the accordion player of the Senior Seranaders Band, asked him to join them. They toured all over Wisconsin and I think they must have played at just about every nursing home – and when Clarence wasn’t there they would always ask, “Where’s the Bones Man?” He gets such a kick out of that.


Well now, about me the beat goes on: When I was a kid and I had to do something for a required Talent Show in our Fifth Grade.  I played Camptown Races on my harmonica with the left hand and rattled those old cow rib bones with my right. This shy guy (still am) was so nervous it was hard to stop rattling. Anyway, I guess, as they say, I awed the audience that glorious day and they dragged me all over the school to show off.