Walter has been a fixture at local sporting events and concerts for decades. Known to most Rochesterians as “The Accordion Man,” Walter plays his squeezebox (and sings) outside most hockey, basketball and lacrosse games… at music events all around the city… and of course, a Redwings game would not be the same without Walter’s rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame playing in the background as fans line up at the turnstiles.
In a recent phone conversation with him, Walter told me he’s been playing around Rochester for three decades. He’s missed only one game in the past 15 years. And he’s gone through 83 accordions. His latest one is currently out of commission with broken keys and a worn strap…
After seeing Walter’s ad on Craigslist , Kelly Keyes-Darcangelo (a long time fan) decided to start an online fundraiser to help him pay for a new accordion – or at least get his repaired. The campaign raised $297.
Out of curiosity I sent him an email to find out what was up, and if the $297 would be enough to make the repairs. He called me up late Monday night to say the accordion is now at a repair shop in Batavia. The work will cost over $300, but he says, thanks to Kelly’s campaign he’ll be playing it again soon.
These are complex instruments – like miniature pianos really. Walter explains, “Good ones are VERY expensive. As much as $1,500. The cheap ones don’t last very long.” And with lots of use, they deteriorate and can be expensive to fix.”
He’s had ten accordions stolen. Most out of his car… but some have been swiped from him after being followed late at night. But he loves to play and he loves people. Oh, and he REALLY loves to talk.
For over an hour he told me every little detail about his life. One story immediately followed by another and another – with little room for me to get a word in edge-wise. I found myself being wildly entertained, not by accordion music, but by Walter the man.
He told me about his childhood growing up near Scranton, PA. His parents had a little bit of land with 12 apple trees and some blueberry bushes. His father would send him into town with two bushels of apples and blueberries in a wagon and told him, “don’t come back until every last one is sold.” So that’s what he did.
As a child Walter learned to play the trumpet. His sister took accordion lessons. One day his father brought a used accordion home to give to her as a gift. But to his surprise she refused it, deciding on the spot she no longer liked playing. Walter gladly picked up, and he taught himself. He also had prior experience playing on his Grandmother’s piano. So, Walter says, “it just came naturally.”
He also told me he’s written hundreds of letters to the past five U.S. presidents… and how he was invited to the White House to play for Ronald Reagan once. He played The Battle Hymn of the Republic he proudly recalled.
For 25 years Walter was a pastor at a Tabernacle church outside Scranton. How he ended up in Rochester is “a looong story” he says. For some time he traveled around with the Billy Graham Crusades… Pittsburg, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toronto… playing at various other events along the way. One thing led to another and somehow he ends up in Rochester. I didn’t quite follow the entire story. But it sounded like a good time.
His favorite song… You Are My Sunshine which he says he likes to play for young couples in love.
Walter uses the tips he collects from sidewalk performances to print photos of himself and his accordion which he then autographs and gives to anyone who throws him a dollar. I asked him about rumors I’ve heard, that he is very well off financially and doesn’t need the charity. He contests right away, loudly going into detail about his Social Security check and how most of that goes to keeping his car on the road so he can get to all of his games; his gigs.
At 76, Walter says he now thinks about retiring. “But people want me to keep playing. And as long as I’m in good health,” he takes a rare pause, “I think I will.”
He then proceeds to explain (at length) how a steady diet of Schweppes ginger ale and bananas keeps him going.
Help Walter keep his music going
If you’d like to send Walter a few bucks to keep his accordian in working order, you can send a check to:
P.O. Box 39591
Rochester, NY 14604
Thanks to Rebecca for bringing me this story. And thanks to Jeff Gerew at C7Photo for the great shot of Walter.
Tags: accordion, Amerks, Billy Graham, busker, Kelly Keyes-Darcangelo, musician, Redwings, Rochester, Rochester Americans, Rochester Amerks, Rochester NY, Rochester Red Wings, Walter the accordion man
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 at 7:51 am and is filed under Art + Culture, Interviews, Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.