Ferko’s Finest

If you ever pass Joe Blass on the street, turn around and follow him.  You have to.   As he walks, notes and stories compiled from 7 decades of String Bands, fall from his pockets.  At least, that’s how I imagine it.  Few have witnessed so much and known so many people involved in the crazy hobby called Mummery.  Joe has lived it since he joined his first string band when FDR was President. “It’s a way for self-expression,” he says.

Ray Endriss  (Captain of Quaker City SB from 1931 to1971) was a good friend of mine, ” Joe says casually.   Joe Blass knew them all, the lions, the legends, the steady and the loyal.   Wearing his Ferko red and even a bolo from an earlier theme, he looks back, fondly remembering his friendships with Bill Ewing, Robert Shannon, Sr., and Jim McKnight.   He remembers how social  bands  were.   Maybe more than today.   Competition was fierce, too, says Joe, “If you didn’t have that feeling that you want to be a winner, you should stay home.”   Joe Blass joined his first band in 1939.  World War II was just beginning in Europe.   Pearl Harbor was a couple of years away. 

Joe would play center banjo for Woodland String Band. But, he quickly took up the saxophone, learning from a teacher who used to play with Tommy Dorsey.  Joe tells stories of playing on Sunday afternoons and of learning from Captain Sam Jefferies.   His first generation as a Mummer was fast and productive, including organizing Delaware County String Band in the late 1940’s.  “Freshmen” was their theme in ’48.

As much as he respected his early Mummer experiences, Joe was drawn to one of the greatest contributors to the String Band epic, Joseph Ferko. “I was always a great admirer of Mr. Ferko himself as a Captain and also the music (that) different musical directors presented to the club.” Joe says he called Mr. Ferko one day and said I’d like to join your band.  Says Joe, “The next Tuesday I was a member of Ferko String Band.”  Displaying his Ferko patch, Joe says proudly, “It was the best music on Broad Street, ever.  No one has ever created a sound like Ferko had.”  And Joe heard it from every angle, as a fan standing along Broad Street, as a playing member and from 1969 to 1979, as Captain of the great band.  From Woodstock through Disco, there was Joe leading Ferko.

Joe Blass worries that young people today are not having as much fun with Mummery and with the parade itself, not as much fun as folks used to have.  It’s worth thinking about. Because Joe said it.  It may even be on a note falling from his life-filled pockets.

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21 Responses

  1. thanks steve, you hit a home run on this story. no finer gentleman has ever lived. Joe still comes to the club every new years day and is an inspiration to us all. see you at the hall. fred lahm. Ferko String Band.

  2. Thank you Steve for shining the spotlight on one of Ferko’s Finest. Joe Blass is pure class, and there are few gentlemen who can equal his love of mummery, or match his dedication to the memory of Joe Ferko and the Ferko String Band.

  3. Steve
    Thank you for the article, and your continued publicity for mummers in general. You hit the nail on the head, Captain Joe Blass truly is Ferko’s FInest! He eptimozes what it is to be a gentleman, mummer, and “Ferko”! I know I don’t have to tell you, that all you need to do, is mention the word Ferko, and Joe lights up like a Christmas tree. The love, pride and enthusiasim for mummery and Ferko, is obvious, and infectious!
    Growing up, kids rely on mostly athletes for role models and idols. But not for a mummer. For me, it was Henry J. Kunzig, Sr., Joe Blass, and Joe Ferko! They were my personal Bernie Parent, Bill Bergey, and Michael Jack Schmidt!

  4. It was the summer of 1976 when I was introduced to the Mummers. I had just moved to Philly from Pittsburgh, and set up the TV in my new apartment, when I saw on the screen this band of wildly dressed men parading in headdress and feathers. Apparently, the Mummers were a big secret to Pittsburgh because I had never heard of them. I leaned in closer to watch this man with a shock of white hair, beaming with suca pride. It turned out to be Joe Blass, Captain of Ferko, strutting down Broad Street in honor of the Bicentennial. Who could’ve guessed that many years later I’d be married to the other Joe Blass, the son, who, though he didn’t get into Mummery, is the mirror image of his father’s gentlemanliness and thick white hair? His Dad now lives with us, is 89 years old, and still going strong, if not a bit slower. His apartment is in the downstairs of our home, and it’s filled with Ferko memorabilia all over the walls and tabletops – a little Hobo recognizing probably his favorite theme, and the plagues honoring his passion and commitment to the band. Often, you’ll hear Ferko’s music coming from his record player. But when he talks about Joe Ferko, you see an adoration in his face that is seconded only to that of his wife, Anne. She recently passed away, and it is Ferko – and the rest of his family – that gives him joy now. His life with Ferko has kept him young, and memories of his days strutting up Broad St. have helped keep that wonderful twinkle in his eye. Other than a wedding here and there, he struts only occasionally, but no matter: there is no one who holds the passion and love for Mummery as he does. He’s made me love something I thought was sacred only to native Philadelphians, and I consider myself very lucky to have had this most intimate view of something – and someone – so special.

    • Dyan, I should have asked you to write the article! Beautifully said. Thank you.

      • How nice of you to say, Steve. I shared your article (but not mine) with my father-in-law. His eyes and the huge smile across his face glistened as they reflected all the love and the lifetime of memories as he went back in time, remembering it all through your words and videos. Your perspective gave my father-in-law such joy, you should know how happy you made him, and us. Many thanks from the entire Blass family! Dyan Nelson Blass

    • Please give Joe a big hug from us. Sure do miss him! We will neve forget his comraderie and caring. Hugs and love from Florida!

  5. Steve, thank you very much for writing so many nice things about Joe Blass. I too am a member of Ferko, and I wish I could tell you in words how much respect and how many smiles you see when Joe walks through the door. When you speak with Joe Blass, you can’t help feeling that he’s like an older brother you never had. The man is a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Once again, thank you for your kind words for such a great person.

  6. Hi Steve:

    Thank you for the wonderful article on Joe Blass.

    Having, in the past, had the honor of holding the positions of Drillmaster, Music Director, and Music Arranger in the Ferko Band, Joe Blass was always a pleasure to work with. He never questioned anything that you asked of him. He was a class act.

    We knew we made the correct choice in electing Joe as we won first prize in his first year as Captain.

    Parading behind gentlemen of fine character like Joe Ferko and Joe Blass certainly made one feel honored and proud.

  7. Thank You Steve for the beautiful article on Joe Blass, & your continued support of mummery. He is a class act & such a gentleman & is an inspiration to all mummers. It is a priviledge to know him.

    Claudia Blackford (member of Hegeman string band)

  8. I am sort of new but ….

    Steve you do a great job!

    I have met Captain Blass twice. It was at Stella Maris.

    I bow to a Captain of the Ferko String Band.

    With respect,

  9. Hi Steve…I just came across your blog and wonderful story of the gentlemanly former Ferko Captain, Joe Blass. My Father Ed and Uncle Tom marched proudly along side Joe Ferko and Joe Blass from 1952-1970. They both told me of the wonderful camaradrie that made up the Ferko fraternity-it was truly that-a brotherhood passed down by Mr. Ferko himself. Once a member of ferko-always a member!

    Thanks for the great story and for letting everyone know what a fine Ambassador of Mummery and wonderful human being Joe Blass is. I have been lucky enough to be included in Mr. Blass’ circle of friends. May God continue to bless him in his golden years! keep on struttin Capt. Joe!

    Sincerely,
    Mike Weck
    Joe Blass and Ferko Fan

  10. Hi Steve…I just came across your blog and wonderful story of the gentlemanly former Ferko Captain, Joe Blass. My Father Ed and Uncle Tom marched proudly along side Joe Ferko and Joe Blass from 1952-1970. They both told me of the wonderful camaraderie that made up the Ferko fraternity-it was truly that-a brotherhood passed down by Mr. Ferko himself. Once a member of Ferko-always a member!

    Thanks for the great story and for letting everyone know what a fine Ambassador of Mummery and wonderful human being Joe Blass is. I have been lucky enough to be included in Mr. Blass’ circle of friends. May God continue to bless him in his golden years! Keep on struttin’ Capt. Joe!

    Sincerely,
    Mike Weick
    Joe Blass and Ferko Fan

  11. Hi,
    Came across this page while looking up Ferko as they will play in our Memorial Parade in Malvern. I was especially interested in Joe Blass. I believe he was my mother’s cousin. I remember attending the New Years Parade when we were little. Mom always had a reserved seat. I’d love for him to comment. My mom was Myrtle Brendlinger. I kind of remember a Marion which could have been his mom? Most of my mom’s family have past and I have no confirmationof the relatives. Maybe he’ll remember that part of the family. We still root for Ferko and always remember that great captain–Joe Blass.

  12. Steve,

    You may have a career at Ancestry.com ahead of you, considering you just brought some of our family together, and we didn’t even know they existed! Your blog is totally responsible for putting my father-in-law’s niece, Marianne, in touch with us. Marianne emailed me shortly after posting her response on your blog, and we connected right after that. In fact, we all spent a terrific day together at the Malvern Memorial Day picnic, where we got to watch Ferko strutt their stuff … with a little front man strutting by Captain Joe himself! How thrilled he was to meet Marianne and her husband, and other “new” family members. And to watch him strutt for a minute or two with Ferko … well, you should’ve seen it! There wasn’t a dry eye among us! If I can figure out how to upload the video, I’ll share it, but in the meantime, I’m sure you can visualize the moment … it was really great! Thanks, Steve … thank you so very much!

    Dyan Nelson Blass

    • That’s beautiful, Dyan. Yes, please send some of the video to me…even if it’s just 30 seconds. I’ll post it.

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