BOB EICK: HE HAD THE MUSIC IN HIM
Bob Eick: “He had the Music in Him”
By Marge Coonen
It was New Year’s Eve, 1948. The place was the “Tip-Top” Bar, located on the south side of town where Dave’s Auto Plaza stands today. A band had been hired, hats and horns were ready for the party, and lunch was prepared for after midnight.
A Family Band
At 9:00 PM the party started and a 13-year-old boy began his career as a drummer with party bands that would span over 60 years. That first job went all night. At 4:45 AM, some of the Catholics slipped out to attend the 5:00 AM Mass at St. John’s, only to return and stay until the party ended at 7:20 AM. The boy earned $6.00 for his night’s work. That boy was Bob Eick, and the band was his father’s, Orville Eick, and his cousin’s, Philip Eick. Orville played the accordion; Philip, the violin; and Bob the drums.
Back in the 20s and 30s, after a very long week of work, people really looked forward to Saturday night dances. Many were held in homes, where the living room rug was rolled up, put to one side of the room and neighbors and their families danced the night away. Music and dancing were a big part of the entertainment. Many small towns and villages had their own dance hall where everyone was invited to attend wedding dances and celebrations.
During this time, square dancing was quite popular. Three-piece bands were in big demand, especially if one member could play the fiddle. Bob, his dad, Orville, and Philip Eick did a lot of jobs for Lucille Schuster, who would call for square dances all over the Fox River Valley. He could earn $3.00 a night paying jobs for her.
Bob’s parents were Orville and Nora (Gregorius) Eick. He was born on the family farm, which was located 2 miles south of Seymour on County Hwy. C. He had one sister, Fern (Eick) Thomas. His dad made music all his life, yet he never had a lesson. “Music was just in him”. Orville read a book on the violin and taught himself how to play it, along with the accordion. Bob was in 7th grade when he had the privilege of taking piano lessons from Bertha Wolk. She lived in the house on North Main Street where Letty Kailhofer lives today. At that time, Bob was attending the North Osborn School on French Road. After school, he would bike the 3 miles to town for his lessons. He just loved it and he learned to read notes, which was to his advantage in his musical career.
In high school, Bob took band lessons from Leon Flanagan. He played trombone. At the end of the first semester he was put in the Senior Band and played at all the games and parades for the next four years. Bob played 1st chair trombone, which was quite an honor for an underclassman. Bob recalls one noon hour, during his junior year in high school, of playing for an Equity Co-op Annual Meeting at the Odd Fellows Building then running back to the high school (located on Robbins Street) for his afternoon classes.
One of the most popular area dance bands from the 1940s to the 70s was the Ray Reis Orchestra. In 1939, Cerylla Styczynski and Ray Reis were asked to join the band that a mutual friend was organizing. Cerylla played the piano and organ, while Ray played the trumpet, the clarinet, and the saxophone. They met, fell in love and were married in November, 1939. Ray would always introduce Cerylla as “My Lovely Lady”. They toured Northeast Wisconsin for nearly three decades as the Ray Reis Orchestra or Combo playing for weddings, dance clubs, and other social engagements.
In 1959 Bob began to play with the Ray Reis Orchestra. He started by mistake when Ray was playing a job at the Pine Castle. It was a Benefit for Alfred Wolf, and Ray was donating the music. His drummer lived in Little Chute and since he would not be paid, Ray didn’t feel right about having him come to Seymour for the job. He wondered, when talking with Francis Coonen, if he knew a local drummer who might do the job for free. Bob’s name was mentioned, a phone call was made, and he played drums for the Wolf Benefit.
He must have done a great job because he was hired as a regular and played with Ray on a regular basis until 1976. After that, he would help when needed; until Mothers Day, 1978, when Ray died suddenly while playing a dance in Green Valley. The band was so popular, that at the time of his death, he was booked ahead with jobs for an entire year.
For many years, until 2006, Bob played with the Geriatrics Jazz Band from the Fox Valley. The band had a pool of 20 musicians from which to choose. One member was a 91-year-old piano player who never had a lesson, and would just play everything by ear. They played all over the Valley, from Good Shepherd in Seymour, to art shows at Riverside Park in Neenah, and Sunday Afternoon dances at Michael’s Supper Club in Neenah.
Since retiring from the music business, at times Bob still is drawn to it and he will sit down and play his keyboard. As for the next generation of Eicks, he thinks his 6 year old granddaughter, Sydney, may be the one,”With music just in her.” When she sings, she carries a perfect tune. Through his love of music, Bob has entertained many and filled their lives with joy. He certainly, “Has the music in him!”