Jim Boggio

Honorary Director of the 1997 Cotati Accordion Festival


Jim Boggio: Keys to a Musical Genius

By Steven Rubenstein
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle November 21, 1996

A MEMORIAL gathering will be held in Petaluma on Sunday for Jim Boggio, master accordionist, the self-proclaimed
“King of the Stomach Steinway” and the founder of the beloved Cotati Accordion Festival. Mr. Boggio, 56, died November 6 of heart failure in his Rohnert Park home.

Mr. Boggio, a remarkable musician who could play three instruments at once and play while asleep, was funny, loud and as large as the beer barrel in the polka he was too often called on to perform.

He loved the accordion, and he loved battling the nerdy reputation that the accordion acquired – courtesy of TV bandleader Lawrence Welk. “I do not want to throw rocks at Lawrence”, Mr. Boggio said in a 1992 interview. “I’m truly sorry Lawrence died. But he placed a stigma on this instrument that has taken us 20 years to overcome.”

Mr. Boggio overcame it with energy, style and virtuosity, performing zydeco, jazz, Cajun and even the occasional polka with a flair that also earned him the title of “Ruler of the Waistline Wurlitzer”.”

A native of illinois, Mr. Boggio attended San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Boggio played in the house bands in the showrooms of large Las Vegas and
Reno hotels.

In the 1970s, as those bands became fewer and smaller, Mr. Boggio was often called upon to play more than one instrument at the same time. Colleagues recall wiith amazement his ability to play the trumpet with his right hand while playing the organ keyboard with his left hand and the bass pedals of an organ with his feet. “He was an absolutely phenomenal musician and just beginning to get the reputation he deserved,” said Ernie Rideout, an editor of Keyboard magazine.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Boggio was a co-founder of the Cotati Accordion Festival, the premiere gathering of accordionists in the nation. The affair, which was held in the main plaza of the small Sonoma County town and which never took itself very seriously, was responsible for altering the wording on a popular bumper sticker from “Use an Accordion – Go to Jail” to “Use an Accordion – Go to Cotati.”

A highlight of the festival was Mr. Boggio presiding over the “Lady of Spain-a-ring”, in which anyone with an accordion was invited on stage to play in unison the accordionist’s anthem, “Lady of Spain.” Hundreds would play together and laugh at themselves.

Mr. Boggio also performed at the annual San Francisco Accordion Festival at Fisherman’s Wharf. He was known for his radio voice-over parts and for acting in commercials. He played and sang with such groups as the Swamp Dogs, Alto Madness, David Grisman, and Dan Hicks and his Acoustic Warriors.

With the Swamp Dogs, he was known for belting out an original tune called “Mojo Mama”: “Mojo Mama! Tell me what you gonna do! Mojo Mama! I wanna make love to you!”

In recent years, he played old standards in the piano bar of the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, where he would occasionally fall asleep during a number. While snoring, and with his eyes closed, he would continue to play. “Jim was just as good asleep as he was awake,said Blair Hardman, his friend and Swamp Dog.

He is survived by his son, James Wood, of Placentia, Orange County; daughter, Jill Johnson, of Colorado; and his mother, Millie

Jim Boggio: Keys to a Musical Genius

Jim Boggio:
Keys to a Musical Genius
by Sheri Mignano Crawford