Residents at McAllen Mobile Park, a senior community, honored one of its residents, Birger Olson, on February 2nd, by paying tribute to his lifelong passion and dedication of entertaining others with his bass guitar music. The tribute was presented in the form of a book of resident signatures and memories from those who attended a dance featuring the Blue Wolf Band. That evening, Birger played bass alongside Steven Kelley (drums), Shirley Mauch-Spanhanks (guitar/vocals) and Jerry Spanhanks (guitar/pedal steel guitar/fiddle/mandolin/banjo/vocals).
Birger Olson was born in 1942 and started playing accordion music at age eight. His uncle David inspired him to learn the bass guitar. His formal music education was with fellow musicians Danny Mattchi and Bob Kofshi who taught him music theory. His primary source of influence for playing and performing music was his church.
From the ages of about 20 to 50, he and his band of 23 years, ”Good Company,” played country music at special events, night clubs and bluegrass festivals.
He also played for non-profit organizations. One fundraiser was to raise money for a children’s hospital that needed beds. If the band was too busy helping the church and volunteer organizations in fund raising, they did not accept other gigs at that time. Birger also successfully operated his own recording studio in St. Paul Minnesota.
Birger has taught informal music classes to others over the years. He strongly believes that there is a responsibility as a musician to pass on one’s talent by teaching others.
Quoting Birger, “Yes, I played as a backup musician with John Denver and jammed with other musicians. It was no big deal. They were just young men and women who loved music like I did.”
“I got really nervous when I played my bass on the Lawrence Welk Show. I was too excited to even enjoy the experience.”
Birger was a friend of Mr. Welk’s niece at the time.
Besides music, Birger became a Ham Radio operator at age 10 and still has an active license today. He was an auto upholster by trade with his own business, “Action Sew-Mobile.”
Birger moved from Minnesota to McAllen in 2001 following the passing of his first wife, Mary. At McAllen Mobile Park, he met Zelpha Carpenter. They were married in October 2011.
In Texas, he has continuously played at both Gospel and Country jams all over the Rio Grande Valley for over 20 years. When asked what drives him to continue to play and perform music, his response is, “Being able to look at the audience and recognize other musicians and observe the crowd enjoying the music as much as I do.”
Birger’s bass guitar is an extension of his wonderful personality. His enthusiastic emotions are translated into his style of performance which everyone must observe for themself. Come and visit Birger and the Blue Wolf Band each Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. at McAllen Mobile Park.