word & image: What I Do 

Erich Albus, 77 Accordion Repairman

I think it is 11 years ago, I am retired as a machinist, and then I take this retirement job here. In other words, a part-time job. I repair accordions, ya. They need somebody here [Hohner Inc.] to help — and I take easy jobs in the beginning and from time to time I learn something more, you know? Mr. Epping, that is the boss here, and he really teach me what I will have to know.

Each accordion that comes from overseas has to be checked. [He raises his voice to speak over the noise outside, where a co-worker is pressing a few chords out of an accordion that just arrived.] Sometimes there is a tiny little thing to do and sometimes a little bit more, but mostly they are very good. I play it a little bit — we have to check it and be sure everything is OK, ya. You can hear if something is off, you know, but that has happened very, very seldom. They make beautiful accordions. They come from Germany, and from Czechoslovakia — you call Czech today — and some come from China. They make it really nice now. They come here with the container, and then we check it and ship it again.

When I go to Germany I play a whole lot too, always. … If you want to see the pictures maybe I have a picture. [He gets up and returns with an envelope. The first snapshot shows him playing an accordion, surrounded by family.] This is Hohner here, you know, and my daddy bought that accordion 1934. New, it looks like that. It is still in good condition. … It's all pearl and has a keyboard like that.

Here I play in a retirement home in Richmond. [The photograph shows Albus between two smiling older women, one with long blonde braids pinned to her gray hair.] Making a little Oktoberfest. I go each Sunday morning, take a walk in Dorey Park, and then after that I play half an hour to an hour soccer with a few old mens. For the fun, you know.

[On Channel 23] Saturday evening from 7 to 8 is Lawrence Welk. You know that show? He play accordion, he got a big band. He play beautiful music. And he got a very good accordion player in his band. Lawrence, he too play from time to time. … He play always polka, Lawrence Welk.

The best accordion player here, he came from Czech. He play very good, very good. But he passed away already, a few years ago. He was older than me. Maybe 10 years older than me. But he played very good. I play with him, I play on the guitar. … I enjoyed that, to play with him. But he passed away, so you can't help it, you know.

As told to Melissa Scott Sinclair; Photographed by Scott


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