Radoslav Lorkovic has recorded eight albums, but he is best known for the virtuoso musicianship and beauty he has put into many other artists’ music – both live and in the studio.
Born in Croatia before moving to America at age six, the classically trained pianist and accordionist played three shows with Ellis Paul this past weekend (June 5-6) and will be playing at least nine concerts this year with Jimmy LaFave. Throw in a few gigs with Susan Werner, various shows backing a host of musicians at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and his own shows, and it’s a typically busy year for Lorkovic.
Lorkovic performed with LaFave last month at the Cherokee Creek Music Festival in Cherokee, Texas, prior to Don Henley’s headlining set. The festival is held annually in a bucolic setting in Texas Hill Country, and the performance of Henley and his band, and a show the next night by Flaco Jimenez in San Antonio, were the best concerts Lorkovic says he witnessed this year or in 2014.
Henley’s band featured several Eagles sidemen, including guitarist Steuart Smith, drummer Scott Crago, and keyboardists Will Hollis and Michael Thompson. Crago played with Lorkovic on “For Everyman,” sung by LaFave on last year’s solid tribute album, Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne.
Henley was very talkative at the Cherokee Creek show and mixed in “Dirty Laundry,” “The Last Worthless Evening,” and other popular songs from his solo albums with big Eagles hits, including “Witchy Woman,” “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Desperado.”
Lorkovic says he was so impressed by Henley’s performance “because I was prepared to be unimpressed."
“Each song marched me through the landmarks of my life: junior high, high school, the bizarre ‘80s, on and on. The band sounded so good that it reminded me how good bands used to sound in my formative years.”
The show, Lorkovic says, was “a tie” with the one he saw the next night, performed by accordion maestro Jimenez, the closing act of the Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio. Jimenez is a Texas legend who helped pioneer the Tex-Mex sound and popularized conjunto and Tejano music, which he mixed with country and blues. He broke his hip in two places in March, and some wondered whether he would ever play on stage again. After surgery, he fell at his home and broke two ribs, but it didn’t stop him from electrifying the crowd at the festival in San Antonio’s Rosedale Park.
“I felt as if I were hearing the Horowitz of conjunto accordion,” Lorkovic says, “a master truly unmatched.”
He says the best rock concert he ever saw was by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, in 1979.
“My friend dragged me to the show, and I expected to hate them,” he recalls. “They had me on the downbeat – the very first chord literally blew me away! The command of that band was unequaled. I’ve never heard anything so convincing since.”
University of Iowa alumnus Bill Bulzoni also recalled that show in Spectator, a website for alumni and friends of the college.
Bulzoni told Spectator that Petty & the Heartbreakers “came rolling into town in support of their new album, Damn the Torpedoes, and nailed all the songs that became the soundtrack” for his freshman year: “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.”
The University of Iowa alumnus said it was “a crazy, good show” unlike any other he saw at Hancher Auditorium. The popular arts venue was deluged by a 2008 flood, and a new building is scheduled to open in fall 2016.
The auditorium and Iowa hold a lot of memories for Lorkovic, whose family moved to London when he was five, to Minnesota a year later, and then to Iowa.
Another venue hosted the most influential rock concert Lorkovic has ever seen. The Grateful Dead took the stage at the university’s old Field House, which originally opened in 1927, and played a 24-song set. They covered “Me and Bobbie McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, and plowed through many of their classics, including “Brown-Eyed Woman,” “China Cat Sunflower, “Tennessee Jed,” and “Sugar Magnolia.”
“Being 14, I didn’t really get it,” Lorkovic admits. “But my friend Phil who took me to the show and I bought instruments – a Gibson SG guitar and a Gibson amp – and learned all of Europe ’72. The guitar was for Phil, and I just used the little upright piano in my living room. We dropped a mic in it and jammed at my house, usually when my mom was out. This led to me being a musician.”
Hancher Auditorium was also the site of the best and most influential “folk” concert Lorkovic has seen.
“He’s not really folk, but I have to say Randy Newman’s solo concert in 1974 was the best,” he recalls. “I had never heard of him, didn't expect much, and was truly blown away. It was the first time I heard one person mesmerize a full theater audience. Randy got me with his incredible humor, which really set up the insight in his songwriting. I realized the power of one guy, one piano, and a full theater.”
Lorkovic’s professional touring career began at age 20 in “a rockin’ blues band,” Bo Ramsey & the Sliders. Now 56, his credits are numerous, having played on records or live with scores of musicians, including Greg Brown, Mary Gauthier, Jonathan Edwards, Levon Helm, and Slaid Cleaves. For many years, though, he has played with LaFave, a Texas singer-songwriter whose music has been called Red Dirt music. LaFave has written many outstanding songs and does great cover versions of Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne songs.
“Jimmy is a true rocker, and he brings that out in me,” Lorkovic says.
He adds that his most memorable moments onstage have been with LaFave and legendary folk singer Odetta, a key voice in the civil rights movement who died in 2008. But then he remembers a radio show host, storyteller, and humorist named Garrison Keillor two years ago.
“My solo appearance on A Prairie Home Companion in 2013 may top all,” he says.