For Denton musician/artist Carl Finch, 1979 was a breaking point.
For him, radio-raised on the British Invasion, 1979’s rock radio was intolerable.
Little River Band, Styx, Toto, Kenny Rogers, and Dr. Hook ruled the airwaves, even as nascent new wave artists began to nip at their heels and the charts.
So, armed with his background of playing in garage bands in his native Texarkana, two art degrees from North Texas State University (now University of North Texas),
an incipient passion for polkas, and a restless imagination of “what-ifs,” Finch pondered musical retaliation.
Having created art installations involving hours of genrejumping taped music and headphoned listeners, it dawned on him:
“What if I had a band that jumped from thing to thing using polka as the catalyst?” he recalls. The seeds of Brave Combo were sown.
Finch (guitar, electric piano, vocals) enlisted a ragged band of questing collaborators, none of whom fit the NTSU jazz department stereotype:
Tim Walsh on reeds, bassist Lyle Atkinson, and thenDave “Tito” Cameron, now Lisa Cameron, on drums. By late April of ’79,
Brave Combo was gigging away—befuddling, amusing, and converting listeners
and dancers to their punked-up “nuclear polka,” a Finch-christened branding that follows the band to this day.
“Tim, Lyle, Tito and I were pretty devoted to the cause, and I think F BY STEVE CARTER Over 40 years,
Denton’s Grammy-winning Brave Combo has evolved from “nuclear polka” to a world of music. FORTY YEARS BRAVE we saw it as a cause,” Finch says.
Ever the iconoclast, he continues, “But that wasn’t as interesting to me as how would
the audience respond if they could shed their clothing of ‘it has to be this or I’m not going to listen to it.’”
To test the waters, that earliest iteration of the band toured Texas mental institutions,
seeking honest responses from unjaundiced listeners. The verdict? Brave Combo worked. And so they did. Constantly.
By 1983 the band personnel began to evolve; another sax player was needed, and bassist Lyle Atkinson drove to Austin on a headhunting mission.
He’d heard tell of multi-instrumentalist (saxes, clarinet, flute, pennywhistle, harmonica, etc.) Jeffrey Barnes and decided to make a house call.
“When Lyle came to Austin to visit me, he asked what I’d been listening to,”
Barnes remembers, “and I pointed to the records on top of my piano—turn-of-the-century cornet favorites, lots of salsa,
For more information: ฮานอยสามัคคี