Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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20190306 SplitRailJam IMG 2795Every Jammer has a story to tell

Ike stood out immediately from the crowd. It was the weekly country jam at Split Rail RV Park in Mission and about 40-50 musicians were tuning and testing and fiddling with their instruments as they waited for Sara Weihmiller to explain the house rules and order of performers for the musical show.

Seated front and center, wearing a white button-up cowboy shirt emblazoned with roses along his collar, a belt spelling “IKE” in rhinestones and holding his rare C melody saxophone that he’s been playing since 1943 is Ike. Ike commands attention without asking for it – or expecting it.

His full name is Ike Thurn. “T-H-U-R-N,” he spells it out and then gives the German pronunciation of it.
Ike performed “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” both with his sax but also singing the song made famous time and again by the likes of Della Reese, Bobby Darin, Danny Kaye, Ann Miller, Patsy Cline and others. Ike’s performance included an amazingly accurate impersonation of another world class performer, Jimmy Durante.

Ike first came to the Valley in 1984, 35 years ago. He converted to a full-time Texan 15 years ago. He’s 93 years old and he plays in eight – yes, eight – jams per week. When asked if he exercises to keep that energy going, he’s quick to respond.

“I’d like to, but I don’t have any time,” he said. “After I’m done watching TV and reading my newspaper and my magazines and then go play, there’s no time.”

Ike’s first professional musical gig came in 1945, “with a little ole country band,” that he performed with for eight years before joining another brand new band in the Northeast Iowa area.

“We got hooked up then with Pee Wee King and we played with him off and on for seven years,” Ike said.

Pee Wee King is best known for writing “The Tennessee Waltz,” but also had hits “Slow Poke,” “Silver and Gold,” and “Tennessee Polka,” among others. King’s band also introduced “rhinestone cowboy” outfits to the Grand Ole Opry. These outfits became popular with Nashville and country musicians such as Elvis Presley, and Ike.

Following his time with King, Ike attended beauty school to become a beauty operator – more commonly known today as a cosmetologist. He worked at a beauty shop in Florida and then opened a drive-in restaurant on Coco Beach in Florida.

“I made enough money in four years to retire,” he said. “So that’s what I did. I bought some land in central Florida, made some money off that and then my first wife died so I honkey-tonked around and worked in different places – not because I had to.”

Ike, who was 42 when he retired – which means he has been retired for almost 54 years, - also would play gigs in different bands to earn a little extra retirement money and stretch his saved dollars. And while he’s amazing on that C melody sax, a rare instrument that almost saw its extinction when makers halted production in the 1930s but is making a quiet comeback, he’s even more of a show-stopper on his first musical love, the trumpet.

“I had some back problems and stomach problems so I don’t play the trumpet for now,” he said. “But that’s my first and main instrument.”

“But the C melody was made in the right key to play for country bands,” he added. “Those jams play in a lot of sharps and that’s one of the things this was made for.”

In the meantime, you can find Ike at different jams from Split Rail to Green Gate Grove, Enchanted Valley, Paradise Park (“both Paradise Parks,” he said) and Pharr South, among others.

Looking around the room once again, dozens of musicians’ stories are out there waiting to be told.
Another is of Fred Dorisse.

Dorisse is an Indiana native who spent 40 years as a settled pastor in three different states – Montana, New Mexico and Indiana before retiring (even though he still oversees about six congregations for the Christian Church of the Disciples).

Dorisse is just sitting on the floor section with other musicians waiting their turn to perform. He strums his guitar quietly as to harmonize with the musicians on stage. He’s always smiling – always – a joyful smile that says to the world “I’m very much at peace,” and it’s contagious.

Dorisse, who worked at his dad’s meat market, cutting up meat for ranches, sang “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande,” and played his guitar. But guitar wasn’t the first instrument he learned to play – and it’s not going to be his last.

“My mother taught me piano when I was in first grade and then in high school I was involved with all sorts of music,” Dorisse said. “I was in band and chorus and a quartet and octet and mixed octet and anything I could with music.”

Now, Dorisse is learning to play the ukulele and banjo ukulele. “I’m self-teaching myself,” he said. “It’s coming along slowly, but it’s coming.”

Dorisse has been coming to the Valley for five of the past six years. He said the stayed home one winter to support their children and prematurely born grandson. He added that while Florida is closer to them, he and his wife made a great decision to come to the Valley.

“We had friends who were coming to the Valley and we looked up Split Rail and loved the name, the amenities and the price,” he said. “We’ve never regretted it since.”

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