The 254

Jerry Haisler

By Kevin Tankersley

The Ups and Downs of Polka

The first entry on Jerry Haisler’s LinkedIn page simply states:
Band Manager. Jerry Haisler and the Melody 5. October 1966-present, 54 years, 10 months. October 1966-present, 54 years, 10 months

That’s not entirely accurate, he said, because he’s only been the manager of the band since 1971. But he has been in the Melody 5 since 1966.

His dad, Bob Haisler, started the band in ’66, and the group played polka and waltzes, country and some rock ‘n’ roll. The band even backed up the legendary Bob Wills at the Bluebonnet Club in Temple in 1969.

The band became Jerry Haisler and the Melody 5 in 1971, and four original members — Jerry, Bob, Alice Sulak and H.D. (Dewey) Wofford Jr. — were in the group from 1967 until 2003. Bob was in the band until he was 92.

Jerry grew up just outside Temple and graduated from Rogers High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree and eventually a master’s, both from the University of Texas, and had a 43-year career in social work. He and his wife, Helen, have been married for 51 years.

As a kid, Haisler didn’t have much of an interest in sports but showed an inclination toward music and eventually learned to play the accordion, saxophone, guitar and bass. His dad had been in bands in the 1930s and ’40s, took a break for a while, and then started the Melody 5 when Jerry was 15.

“My dad was obviously a large influence on getting me interested in and learning music and learning the business,” Haisler said. “He said, ‘If we can’t get there in an hour, we’re not going.’”

And for years, that wasn’t an issue. In and around Temple — where Haisler lives — and Waco, there were at least 20 venues where the Melody 5 played consistently, places like West Fraternal Auditorium, Geneva Hall and Elk Hall. “We played Geneva Hall every month from 1966 to probably 2010,” he said, and they would play in front of a packed house of 600 or 700 people.

Haisler and his dad always insisted on playing family-friendly venues. “We’re not playing the honky-tonks,” Bob Haisler once said.

“My mom and dad went everywhere” the band played, Haisler said. “So did my wife, Helen. And when the kids came along, they were laying on quilts and pallets on the stage.”

Eventually, “the crowds fell off and the halls were losing money, and they couldn’t have something every weekend.”

Today, the band plays polka festivals and town picnics, as well as wedding and anniversary celebrations. Recently, the Melody 5 played at an anniversary party for a couple after playing at their wedding 50 years ago.

“We’re at a good place now,” Haisler said of his band. “We get along well, and younger crowds are coming back to the dances. The people my age — I just turned 70 — have grandkids, and now the grandkids are getting older and some of them are coming back. So we’re regenerating the crowds.”

Jerry Haisler and the Melody 5 are once again playing at Westfest this year. They’ll be on the west pavilion stage from 7:45-9:15 p.m. Saturday, September 4.

“They’re wild, and they’re fun, and they’re good,” Haisler said of the typical Westfest crowd.

In the band’s current lineup, Haisler plays lead guitar, accordion, tenor sax and fiddle. Billy Pitts plays guitar. Haisler’s nephew, Bobby Haisler, plays bass and tuba. Charles Mikeska plays accordion, steel guitar and guitar. Joe Morris is the drummer, and Brandi Clarke plays fiddle. Everyone sings.

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