The History of Syl Liebl and his Orchestra
(as told to and recorded by Carol (Liebl) Seebauer, Syl's daughter)
    Sylvester E. Liebl, the youngest of twelve children, was born on Jan 18th,
1917 in Willow Lake Township near Wanda Minnesota, to Joseph and Mary (Helget)
Liebl.  His musical ancestry goes back to Bohemia in Austria.  Grandpa Helget
was a band leader and music teacher.  His mother played the cornet.
    His first instrument, a Sears button accordion, belonged to his brother.
Syl was just six years old at the time.  His older brother, Louie played banjo
with the old Brookbauer's Band (Elsie, and her brother, Frank).  Elsie played
the concertina very well.  The band often practiced at Syl's house.  That's
when he fell in love with that concertina sound.
    By the time Syl was ten years old, the button accordion was pretty well
done in, as he called it.  His parents talked about getting him a concertina,
but money was hard to come by.  Without him knowing about it, his father went
to Springfield (our mailing address) and talked to the owners of Vogel and
Mueller Music Store.  One evening Mr. Vogel brought over Art Renner, with his
concertina.  He played Lindenau Polka and the Jolly Lumberjack, and Syl never
forgot that sound.
    Syl knew the titles of a lot of old time selections because he liked to
listen to the Bohemian Band that played on radio station WNAX, out of Yankton,
South Dakota.  Syl was disappointed that the demonstration did not produce a
price agreement.  Syl says he pressured his Dad to buy it.  It was Feb 1929
and Syl was 12 years old when he and his Dad went to Springfield to purchase
    Syl practiced a couple weeks on his new concertina and then lost interest
in it.  His parents threatened to return the concertina if he didn't get down
to business.  So, he made up his mind to stay at it.  Creating his own style,
he progressed quite fast, and it was and still is the Syl Liebl style.  That
same year he played the 4th of July celebration, on stage in Lamberton, MN. He
was paid $5.00 for this engagement.  From that time on he played many house
parties.  It was then that he picked up a player or two and played some barn
    Also, that year he played on a float sponsored by Orange Crush with a four
piece band at the Box Car Days in Tracy, MN.  The band played that night in
Tracy.  "Lullaby of Broadway" and "Two Loves Have I" were the hit songs, then.
Later, he drove home with the old Model T Ford.  Several days later they were
hired by a dog circus and played at the Jackson County Fair in Windom, MN.  We
were each paid $2.00 a day and food from their concession stand.
    Now, he had to return to School District 32, 3-1/2 miles east of Wanda.
He played the concertina for the Christmas programs. He also played house
parties during the week.  One January he played 16 house parties.  Their were
no weekend dances.  In the spring, barn dances began.  He played quite a few
dances in the neighboring towns.
    Sauerkraut Days in Springfield was a big day.  Syl was booked for a solo
shot on the main street stage.  That was his first chance to see the Whoopee
John Band - how well he remembers.  He came late for his appearance.  Their was
a storm and his Model T got wet and stalled.  The Whoopee John Band was
already set up, but the M.C. held up their music when he saw him come.  The
M.C. set Syl in front of the band to play his program.  He played several
selections and was proud to have gotten nice compliments from Whoopee John. He
played on the same stage, but not with the band.
    After meeting Whoopee John he had a chance to stop in New Ulm for a short
visit at his home.  In those days Whoopee's band played every night.  He had
several concertinas.  He let Syl play several of them and they were all far
better units than Syl's box.  Syl's first concertina was a Henry Silberhorn
model.  He played amateur contests where he would swing the concertina over his
head, behind his back, and step over it while he was playing the St. Paul
Waltz.  This act stayed with him over 50 years, and he won 1st Prize three
times while doing it.
    As time went on Syl picked up musicians wherever he could and played for
weddings and regular dances. After playing for the weddings, many of the
couples asked him to come back and play for their 25th anniversaries and 40th
    Syl's sister married a man from Wisconsin.  He would go there to visit
them and always ended up playing a house party.  Thus, he got the attention of
Wisconsin musicians.  In 1934 he moved to La Crosse.  He got on the WKBH
Monday Night Barn Dance show in La Crosse.  He, then increased his band from a
three piece outfit to a seven piece band.  The band played the Monday night
show, which also had different kinds of talent on it.  From then on, we booked
bigger jobs.
    Throughout the years, Syl had many different sidemen.  He met his wife Ann
(Hohefeld) in 1938.  He had a daytime job in downtown La Crosse, filleting
fish for La Crosse hotels.  He got a 1/2 hour solo, morning show on WKBH in
1938. His band was always called "Jolly Germans".  He got married on June 14,
1939. The band played the annual Mardi Gras two-day dance at Yuba, WI (for
over 40 years).  It was a Czech celebration, a dress up, masked ball dance.
The War broke out and he got a lot of static about the Jolly German name.  He
then changed it to the Jolly Swiss Boys (1939).
    Ann and Syl had nine children.  His son, Doug (8th) took up button
accordion and concertina.  He was unique because he was a left-handed
concertina player.  He is deceased now, but he was a very remarkable musician.
    As time passed, more radio stations came to La Crosse.  Syl had a Sunday
evening solo show on the new WLCX, and a midday noon program with the entire
band.  He also had a solo show on WCOW out of Sparta, WI.  He then contracted
radio time on WKTY, selling his ads and MCeeing his own show.  He loved the
radio business.  He also featured other bands on his Dawn Patrol Show on
Saturday mornings on WKTY.  We also broadcast live music programs from the
Concordia Ballroom, twice a month on WLCX.  He also MCeed for other bands. His
band was featured on WKBT television for one season and his band also played
shows on KTTC in Rochester, MN.
    Syl's first original composition was the Alpine Leandler (1947) and it was
also his first 78 RPM recording.  Shortly thereafter, Whoopee John recorded
the tune.  Through the years Syl has written 33 original compositions, some of
which were composed right on stage during a dance job.  Syl considers his
"Echoes In The Hills" and "Syl's Polka" as his most popular tunes.  Thirty one
of his compositions may be found on his "Music From God's Country" cassette.
    Recording sessions with the band were exciting and outstanding - with Cuca
Records in Sauk City.  The band would play number after number and seldom
would have to repeat a tune.  Syl started with 45 RPM recordings, Syl's Polka
and Baby Waltz being first recorded.  LP's, 8-tracks and cassettes soon
followed. Many television stations advertized "Music From God's Country" from
the double-pack album - which incidentally was Syl's best seller.  Mail orders
and correspondence came from all parts of the USA.
    One of Syl's albums was named after La Crosse's annual Oktoberfest
celebration.  The band was featured No.1 at the fest grounds since the
beginning - also the parade and the La Crosse ballrooms during the fest.  On
his 50th anniversary date in the music business, La Crosse set aside one day
of the Oktoberfest as Syl Liebl day (Oct 1962).  The band played the fest that
night to a crowd of two to three thousand (estimated by the La Crosse
Tribune).  At that special night he was made honorary Festmaster and received
a plaque from the Mayor of La Crosse.  Syl's band played mainly the tri-state
ballrooms the following years.
    The BIG year was 1972, according to Syl.  The band was called to play in
the mid winter fest in Menominee Falls, WI (suburb of Milwaukee).  It was a
three day event and thirteen bands took part.  On the third night, the band
played next to the nationally known TV band, "The Bel-Airs" from Chicago.  At
midnight the top three bands were selected from the thirteen, and from the
three leaders, the Swiss Boys were selected as the No.1 band.  This was in
February of 1972.  A beautiful, very large trophy was presented to the band
that same night.  The label for it coming later, by UPS.  This was the label:
1972 Mid-Winter Polka Festival Polka King - Syl Liebl and His Jolly Swiss Boys West Salem, Wis
The list of band members at the time were; 1st trumpet - Rudy Langen; 2nd trumpet/trombone - Syl Liebl, Jr.; sax/clarinet - Joe Formanek; bass - Tom Langen; drums - Wilhelm Oelke; piano - Carol (Liebl) Seebauer; concertina - Syl Liebl, Sr. The following years the band played many ballrooms and polka fests. "How about that!" was Syl's trademark at the end of a music set. After his retirement from the music business in 1984, his son, Syl Liebl Jr. took over the band and changed the name to the New Jolly Swiss Boys. Kevin Liss (Syl Sr.'s grandson via marriage) took the concertina role in the band. Thus, Syl's old Hengel concertina is still with the band! (Editor's Note.. Not to be outdone by her brother Syl, Carol and her husband, Frank, started their own oldtime band called, "Daddy's Girls". It consisted of Carol, on piano; Frank, on drums; and daughters, Amy, on concertina, guitar and vocals; Linda, on bass and vocals; and Lisa Meyer, on fiddle, banjo, keyboard and vocals. See the photo section for photos of both bands.) Over the years some of Syl's happiest moments were to see the young concertina players watch all night and try to play like "Old Syl". Many of these young artists are grateful and still come to visit all the time. Nor did Syl want to forget his hometown hamlet, Barre Mills, WI. He was selected as the Citizen of the Year (1991), to honor him and his musical career. He also received a plaque for his achievements from the State of Wisconsin, and was selected an honorary citizen of West Salem, WI. His favorite passtime as a retired musician is visiting his six married children and numerous grandchildren and, of course, peddling his cassettes. He still enjoys a good beer with some of his friends. He has many visitors (mostly musicians) and he is kept busy with mail from just about everywhere in the country. He enjoys getting phone calls from other band leaders. Syl says he hopes this Internet web site will produce mail from old friends and musicians who have lost track of him. Syls address and phone number may be found on his Recordings link. Finally, Syl says the following, "I count all my many blessings, as my talent was God-given - Sylvester Liebl."