In 1971, following two decades on air, ABC cancelled the Lawrence Welk Show, a musical variety show led by the German-accented bandleader and accordionist, Lawrence Welk. Welk and his show were swept up in a series of mass cancellations that included shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. (“The Rural Purge”, as it was known, put all those shows out to pasture.) However, Welk would take his show into syndication and attract an even larger audience. When the series ended its run in 1982, it was television’s longest running musical variety show.
On this week’s episode, CBS Sunday Morning Correspondent Mo Rocca sits down with Saturday Night Live legend and star of HBO’s Los Espookys Fred Armisen to memorialize the accordionist, band leader, and television host who drew a weekly audience of as many as 30 million people.
“Could it be seen as something a little bit like … what the Grateful Dead did?” asked Armisen. “Just keep going, just keep going.”
Armisen famously parodied Welk during his tenure as a cast member on SNL, mastering his famous accent.
“I mean it really was just imitation from you know hearing him and watching him.” Said Armisen.
Welk, the child of German immigrants who made their way to the United States by way of the Ukraine, was raised on a farm in Strasburg, North Dakota. His father sold a cow to pay for Welk’s first accordion and, in exchange, Welk worked on the farm until he was 21 and turned over any monies earned from gigs.
“I think it's great of his father also to say, ‘OK you want to do this, but let's make it serious’”, said Armisen.
In his younger years, Welk fronted a ten piece band called the Hotsy-Totsy Boys as he made a name for himself across the upper midwest. Welk became famous for his so-called “Champagne Music," as fans likened it to drinking champagne: light and bubbly. The Lawrence Welk Show began as a local program in 1951 on KTLA in Los Angeles.
In this week’s podcast, host Mo Rocca and Fred Armisen will discuss Welk, their own personal memories of the show, and how the man who seemed like the ultimate square was anything but.