Les Fields, band leader of Turkey River All-Stars shares his mus - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Les Fields, local music legend shares how music changed his life

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -

The story of Les Fields and the Turkey River All-Stars begins when Les was in the fourth grade and fell in love with the commanding sound of the cornet.

The Minnesota Dixieland jazz band leader was born and raised in Cresco, Iowa. A small town of 3,000 people.
In 1950 Les put together a band to play at the Cresco Country Club golf course on the Turkey River, the first and only time the original band ever played. 

Much like a river, life takes many twists and turns. When a life insurance company in Rochester offered him a job, he packed his bags and moved in 1958.  
Ten years later, he learned a Rochester bank upstairs from his work forgot to hire a band for its annual Christmas party.

"They wanted to know if I can put together a band," said Fields. "So I did, but they said you gotta have a name. They didn't want anyone to know they forgot a band, so I said, 'how about the Turkey River All-Stars?' They laughed and said it sounds like a softball team."
Little did Les know, the band would play for decades to come.  "I never intended to start a band, I was in the insurance business."

And, it was this turn of events that would lead him to a gig on the river for more than 25 years.

The band performed on the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Paddle Wheeler steamboats.

"My insurance activity was like this, the band, was like this, and year by year by year, the band kinda took over, and I decided that I'd go that way."

He retired from his life insurance career at age 55.

 "We've been playing for 57 years, over 100 jobs a year, and I never called anybody, it just happened out of the blue, which is pretty lucky you know?"

He tells KTTC that the highlight of his music career was performing at the 1984 Louisiana World's Fair as the official band to represent the state of Minnesota.

"We got invited but they said good luck on raising the money, you probably want to think it over. But, it's such an honor, I'll cash in some war bonds or something."

Les joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from the University of Iowa.

Gov. Mark Dayton agreed to do a matching grant to help the band fundraiser $10,000 needed to get the band to New Orleans. As long as they raise $5,000.

"We put on a concert. We had three other bands, a Wisconsin band, Debbie Schreyer got together a band, and we charged 5 bucks a piece, and a thousand people showed up, pretty lucky," he said.

Among thousands of performances, the group performed as the welcoming band for four presidents: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush. 

In 2005, Les was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. He still thinks the whole band should've received the honor, but the board said only the leader can be inducted.

Bandmates came with national recognition and impressive resumes. Bob Stroetz who played the trombone, previously played alongside Les Brown and His Band of Renown, the NBC Studio Orchestra, Columbia Motion Pictures Studio, and the Rochester Symphony.

Debbie Schreyer from Makato plays the banjo and was inducted into the American Banjo Hall of Fame. 

Les turns 90 next in March and is still getting booked for his band's unrehearsed high-energy comedic performances. Throughout the years, the Turkey River All-Stars have been a popular group at the Eagles Cancer Telethon, always performing in the spirit of the band's slogan..."We want to play for you in the worst way, gobble gobble gobble."

The Turkey River All-Stars continue to charm audiences near and far. You can listen to their Dixieland jazz tunes at Canadian Honker Restaurant across from St. Mary's Hospital on St. Patricks Day. 
 

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