Hoppy and Friends build following at Roseville Dunn Bros

Hoppy and Friends played at Dunn Bros. Coffee in Roseville on Sept. 30. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

The group is hoping to attract more seniors to their late morning weekly gig

Joshua Nielsen
Review staff

Hoppy and Friends, a group of three seasoned musicians (four if you count the stuffed frog drummer) have been steadily building a following at Dunn Bros Coffee Shop in Roseville on Monday mornings.

The band is made up of Owen Rasmussen, a New Brighton resident originally from Roseville, Wally Walstad of St. Paul and Merlin "Brunkow" Bronco of Minneapolis.  The three men range in age from their mid-sixties to early seventies and have been playing music since they were teenagers, although not together.

Rasmussen, the group's founder and promoter, started playing his electric accordion at Dunn Bros in December 2012 with Hoppy, the group's mechanical frog drummer, who Rasmussen pieced together a year and a half ago.

"Hoppy came out of my frustration with not being able to find a drummer who could play what we play," he says.

Rasmussen, a former millwright and engineer, took a stuffed frog he had at home and sewed hands on it with dental floss, which grasp a pair of brush sticks. He then rigged the toy amphibian to a bass drum kick pedal, which he taps with his foot to keep time on a snare drum, all while playing accordion.

He says he started playing the accordion when he was a kid and played in several bands, gigging several nights a week until around 1980, when he got a divorce and quit playing so he could raise his daughter Laura as a single dad.

Then in 2000 he had an aortic aneurysm. While recovering, he dusted off the old squeezebox and began practicing the instrument he had not played in 20 years. Within weeks he began playing at area nursing homes with his friend and fellow accordion player Bob Hanson, who not long after suffered a stroke that left him without the use of his left hand. Hanson is unable to play at the level he used to, Rasmussen says, but he still comes down to Dunn Bros on a regular basis to watch the band perform.

Hoping to attract more fans

Rasmussen says he wants to get Roseville area seniors out of their homes to hear the songs they enjoyed listening to in their younger years, and now he has the backing of two talented musicians and a place to call home on Mondays to help make that happen.

"Wally and Bronco are such excellent musicians. They have people calling them to play all of the time," Rasmussen says. "I really feel privileged to play with somebody of the caliber as Wally and Bronco."

Both Walstad and Bronco are working musicians and have been playing since they were in high school.

"What really started it for me was Dixieland music and my brother who was a trumpet player," Bronco recalls.

Bronco, who plays saxophone in the band, also runs a horn repair shop out of his north Minneapolis basement, and in warmer months plays music on the Andiamo paddleboat on the St. Croix River in Stillwater, among other paying gigs.

Walstad, the group's guitarist, is also a working musician who plays out whenever he can. He says he got into rock and roll bands like the Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and the Beatles as a teenager, which inspired him to play the guitar. He also grew up listening to rhythm and blues and jazz music, which he says influenced his style.   

Over the years Rasmussen, Bronco and Walstad have accumulated a lot of talent and have played with several iconic musicians like Mojo Buford, Muddy Waters, John Stafford and Tom Jones.

These days, Rasmussen says he is looking to entertain people in a more relaxed setting. He no longer plays the accordion wearing boxing gloves and blindfolded like he would occasionally do at sold out shows at the former Snail Lake Supper Club in Shoreview in the early 60's.

"What I've been trying to do since I restarted playing is to bring some good music to the areas senior citizens," he says. "You don't have to go to Minneapolis and spend $20 on parking. If everyone got a cup of coffee and put a dollar in our [tip] jar we would be happy."

Starting to catch on

Since all three members of Hoppy and Friends started playing together a few months ago, they have slowly seen a following materialize on Monday mornings at Dunn Bros. There are casual listeners at tables sipping hot coffee drinks, busy on their laptops or tablets who tap their feet to the rhythm and some more active listeners, young and old, who sit in cozy chairs near the stage and occasionally put in song requests.

"It's been slow progress, but we are seeing more and more people every week," Dunn Bros owner Larry Fonnest says. "The last couple of Monday's we've been just about full."

Fonnest says he likes to support local artists, several paintings adorn the coffee shop's walls, and he has live acts, mostly acoustic, play at least three nights a week. Hoppy and Friends, who play from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday, are unique in that they will play almost anything, from old Waltz and Polka songs to classic rock, jazz, big band and R&B numbers.

"We like to play some songs that haven't been played in while, we kind of drag them out of the mothballs," Owen explains. "But we'll pretty much play anything."

The group has gotten into the habit of playing songs in categories, which according to the band mates, allows them to play songs from different musical genres. They may, for example, play a set of songs centered around the color blue, and play songs like "Blue Moon," “When Sunny Gets Blue," “Blue by You," “Blueberry Hill," and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

When Bronco had issues with leaky water pipes last spring, the group played a set of songs about water, Rasmussen says, including songs like: "Bridge Over Troubled Water," “Cool Clear Water" and "September in the Rain."

Rasmussen says he is pleased that more people are coming to Dunn Bros, but he would like to see older folks in their 70's, 80's and beyond at their Monday morning performances. He passes out business cards for a collaborative he started called M&E North Metro Musicians and Entertainers. On the back of the card is M&E's mission statement: "An organization of fans, musicians and entertainers dedicated to fending off obsolescence and finding new opportunities for socialization, performance and education in a changing society."

The group is currently exploring ways of getting more seniors down to listen to their music, such as organizing a free shuttle.  

Hoppy and friends play at Dunn Bros in Roseville every Monday from 10 a.m. until noon. Dunn Bros is located at 2471 Fairview Ave. N. next to Half Price Books.


Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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