Meet the Music Man
Wayne Uberto of Hewitt answers with equal aplomb to either of two handles. He's a retired dairy farmer now living on a hobby farm west of town, or Mister Music Man, the trombone player, as at home on stage in Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall as he is in his own cow barn.
Wayne was born in New Jersey to a German mother and Italian father. He was a quiet child, while in school always drawn to anything that included music. He started playing the coronet but soon fell hook, line and sinker for the trombone, a passion that prevails to this day.
Early musical experiences started out with five other young musicians. They drove an old Ford, plenty crowded with six boys, four trombones and two horns inside. In fact, it was so crowded Wayne and one other fellow, both too young to drive, rode on the front fenders, back when cars had front fenders. There were many nights with fog too thick to see the road. Then the boys on fenders guided the driver with flash lights.
After high school Wayne joined the Army Air Force. When his way with a trombone was discovered he was put in the service band. For Wayne, this was a good deal. He got to play with big name bands -- bands like Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Glen Miller and others. Those were real learning years from the best of mentors.
It was during those years that Wayne met Bonnie Pleschour, a cute WAF (Women in the Air Force). They were married in 1965, three months after their first date.
Wayne and his trombone played gigs all over the globe. They traveled some by bus, but mostly they flew. It meant landing in a place, playing the daylights out of the popular songs of the day, and crowding back on the plane/bus again headed for the next stop. It was like, "What was the name of that town? Darned if I know. Go ask the driver." They played in most of the countries. Wayne wants never to get on another plane.
During these years of learning from the best, Wayne absorbed their crowd pleasing tricks and fancy musical nuances. That's when he found out what to do with a toilet plunger other than the job for which it was designed; stick it, with a cork, in the middle of Wayne's trombone and he can make it growl, laugh like a hyena, or cry like a baby.
Jack Teagarden, the Father of Jazz, was full of it. Listening to him do "Blue River" or "Basin Street Blues" makes you forget what you're doin' or why you're doin' it. He's that good, and Wayne didn't miss a note.
Wayne revels in remembering those years, the great camaraderie, the itch to get to the next place. He smiles thinking of the way new musicians packed, took along everything but the family silver. By stuffing a couple of pairs of shorts, clean sox, and maybe a shirt in the horn of his trombone he was packed and ready to go.
In Wayne's world, those days there was no greater joy than the moment the fellow next to him, who hopefully knew what to do with a sax or tenor trombone, turned the melody over to him. In the way of all musicians, Wayne grabbed it. Up, up and away he soared, just him and his trombone in a world all their own. When it seemed right, he brought the tune back down, gave it back to the sax and relaxed. For a musician, that's bliss.
Wayne likes Dixieland jazz. He said beside the trombone he could also play enough trumpet, piano, bass and drums to fool an audience. He liked being a part of a popular band, when unprogrammed things can happen.
They were playing at the Holiday Inn in New York when a pretty girl asked if she might sing a song or two. They said sure she could. If she was no good the band would play louder. She was listenable, knew most of the songs, and sang all evening, even caught up with the band several times after that. She became popular. You know her as Connie Stevens.
Another time, when the band played at a class reunion at Stewart Air Force Base, a little lady came off the dance floor asking for the "Texas Two Step." Nobody knew it off hand. They were a Dixieland Swing Band, right?
The lady really wanted that song, even sang a few lines:
Put your little foot down
Put your little foot down
Put your little foot down right there. ...
Well, after a few seconds the band swung into a popular blues number. The lady danced to it, coming up afterward to compliment them on their fine music. She was Mamie Eisenhower.
When Bonnie had had enough of the East Coast, she started dreaming about a farm in the Midwest. It sounded good to Wayne, too. Burn out had moved in. New younger players were taking over and his kind of music was on a back burner.
Those Beatles and their anemic music, played mostly in a minor key, should have stayed in England because that kind of music was taking over. Most of his old buddies were no longer playing for one reason or another.
It was high time to put that beloved trombone away. Life does that to a guy. The devil has to be in the mix somewhere, 'cause the more fun you had or are having the sneakier he slips up. Haven't you noticed that? Wayne didn't touch a horn again for the next 15 years, not even to dust it.
The Ubertos farmed at Dennison, Minn., for 10 years. In 1976, they bought the Jim Mosher farm east of Hewitt. They have a son, a daughter, and a grandson.
The bucolic life fit fine for the Ubertos. They were early supporters of the Hewitt Historical Museum, part founders of the popular England Prairie Pioneer Club. It was during those years that Wayne trained Amos and Andy, two Hereford steers, calves born in his herd, to pull a cart like a team of horses. They were a popular part of many parades.
Then came that fateful evening 20 years ago when Wayne and Bonnie had dinner at the Pine Cove Inn. The Dick Thomas Band was featured. Wayne sat there, enjoying his barbecued ribs, the music sounding real good.
Then, during the break, Wayne decided to tell Thomas how much he enjoyed the evening, how the 50s stuff they played was his kind of music, how he knew a bit about the trombone.
Before he came back to finish his ribs, Thomas somehow had Wayne's phone number tucked away in his pocket, wouldn't you know it?
A week or so later Thomas needed a trombone to fill in. Could Wayne do that? Sure, he could. Just this one time, of course. Might be rusty as all get-out, but he'd do what he could. Had to help a fellow musician out of a spot, didn't he? Anybody would. Somehow, Bonnie didn't look surprised.
Wayne dusted off the old black case he used that first time over half a century ago, said he hoped his wind held out for a tune or two, and trying not to smile took off double-time to meet the rest of the band.
Wayne has played everywhere from standing on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington where the Air Force Band played "Hail To The Chief," "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "America The Beautiful" for President Kennedy's funeral, to Miss Nimrod's coronation in Nimrod, population 75, and everything in between.
Bonnie attended Wadena Technical School where she graduated in nursing, president of her class. After that it was working at Fair Oaks Nursing Home for 10 years as a medical aide, with the last two years in the pharmacy department at Wal-Mart in Wadena, until she retired this summer.
Both being veterans, Wayne and Bonnie are active in the American Legion in Bertha, William Larson Post 366, where Bonnie was voted commander for the third term.
All in all, Wayne has been satisfied to play out the deck of cards life dealt him. It has been an interesting trip. He has totally enjoyed both roles, musician and farmer. The Ubertos keep their lawn and gardens like a park. Refinishing antique furniture is a mutual hobby.
Wayne is done with music gigs for sure. Bonnie has retired so they may travel a bit. He put that trombone way in the back of the closet. He said it isn't likely he has the wind anymore to play a horn.
Wayne also said, "Not even a bunch like the Beatles has damaged music to the point of no return. I've listened to the young musicians coming up and they are great. They are fast, know what they are doing, and are as dedicated in their way as we were. They'll do fine."
Sad? Well, sure he is. He has enjoyed every minute. But, like he tells folks, all things come to an end sometime. This is it.
Bonnie listens quietly, then leveling a long look at her husband, she said "Wayne Uberto, if that phone rang this very minute, with a date and place, you'd be out that door like a shot!"
"No, no honey, really I wouldn't, unless maybe just a tune or two for some good cause."
A few quiet minutes drifted by.
Then Wayne observed: "Girls never threw their underwear up on stage for our band like they did Elvis Presley, but you remember that hefty old girl at the VFW in Fergus Falls? She was so moved by the way I played trombone she gave me a bear hug that broke three ribs."