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English Bay Band
English Bay Band

Bobby Kvasnikoff, John Kvasnikoff, Mackie Aven Ukatish, Leo Ash, Eric Kvasnikoff, and Wally Kvasnikoff, members of the English Bay Band, are interviewed in November 1996 by Leo Ash in Nanwalek, Alaska. In this interview, the various band members talk about their personal backgrounds, the instruments they play, and how they got into playing music and what music and musicians inspired them. They also talk about learning songs for the New Year Masking celebration, and facing prejudice, and they provide advice to new musicians about playing and performing.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 97-235-08

Project: Nanwalek and Port Graham
Date of Interview: Nov 1, 1996
Narrator(s): English Bay Band, Robert "Bobby" Kvasnikoff, Eric Kvasnikoff, John Kvasnikoff, Wally Kvasnikoff, Mackie Aven Ukatish, Leo Ash
Interviewer(s): Leo Ash
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Subsistence Division, Minerals Management Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Robert Kvasnikoff gives some personal background

2) Starting to play the guitar

3) His early guitars, and learning guitar by listening to other music

4) His early musical influences, and learning Masking songs

5) His Les Paul and Strat guitars

6) Advice for new musicians

7) Fighting off frustration

8) John Kvasnikoff talks about how he got interested in music

9) Advice for new musicians

10) Mackie Ukatish talks about how he got interested in music

11) Traveling with the band, and early recording sessions

12) Leo Ash talks about how he got interested in music

13) Early influences in music

14) Eric Kvasnikoff talks about what it's like to be a band member

15) Important music teacher

16) Wally Kvasnikoff talks about how he got interested in music

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Leo Ash: Can you give me a biography, date of birth, where you were born and raised, how old you are? Robert Kvasnikoff: My name is Robert D. Kvasnikoff. Actually, the way it got mixed up in life was I'm supposed to be Daniel Robert Kvasnikoff. My nickname is Bobby which most people know me as. I was born on a hot summer day with the southwest winds blowing, and I'm 43 years old which makes it June 18, 1953. And when I was born I nearly took away my mother's life because of the blood situation which happened, she had a lot of loss of blood in giving me birth. I have always felt that most people are born of water or anything else, but I was born of blood. And then, I'm 43 years old and also I want to add that I am HIV infected which has been a long time and that's what I was born as so. And then I was probably a sickly kid most of the time, I nearly died of measles, I nearly died of bronchitis or pneumonia actually. There have been a few other diseases, I been almost like one of those band members from Queen who has always had bout ever since he was young with pneumonia and stuff like that, I guess he has weak lungs. It wasn't the lungs that got to me it was the conditions that I was in I guess.

Leo Ash: OK. What made you decide to play the guitar, and about when did you start? Robert Kvasnikoff: I started when I was, I'd have to say maybe about five or six maybe younger, I don't really remember. My sister Kathy she had a flat-top she ordered for herself and the other girls had one too. Let’s see Irene had one, three girls, Alice was one of them. Alice, Kathy, and Irene ordered flat-tops and Kathy always permitted me to play with hers. The first time when I was young the sound of the guitar just enticed me and it ran heavy in my blood, I just had to have that sound. The others would be mad at me. My brother Vincent had a Telecaster from Sears, it was wonderful, it had a fiberglass body, a wonderful neck and the strings were soft. When he had the feel that, I was ah, my mouth dropped open. He had an amplifier for that guitar, and somebody else had one and a lot of people in the village had guitars. Ours was, the one Vincent had was the Telecaster and it had an amplifier. It had lipstick pickup, and it was black and white and really pretty. I tried that a few times and watched my uncles and brothers play, and I was just amazed, and I said, "I have to learn that too!" So as I grew older, about 15, my stepdad Arnold bought me a, he took me up to Kenai or Soldotna when they had another music store there, and they had a copycat brand, and it was a Strat. It didn't ?? pickups and it was white.

Robert Kvasnikoff: And it had a Fender amplifier which was about 25 or 30 watts system and it worked out pretty good. But sometimes it would shock me because of the grounding at the school. The school was the only place where you could have electricity so when I played it there I guess it wasn't very well grounded so I got shocked once in a while. The old Fender amps didn't have the ground circuit, they just had the two-prong, thing on them and you had to plug it in a certain way in order to keep from getting shocked. When I got older I got another copycat, it was a Strat body with just two pickups. It was a Jazzmaster type of copy. I wasn't really happy with it because it just had two pickups and I couldn't get the sound I wanted from it. The twang of the Strat you know, I couldn't get it out of there. So from there on I just played for masking and I just watched others and taught myself. By the time I was 15, I had a dream. I used to listen to the likes on radio, Elvis when his guitar Scotty Moore played for him I was amazed. Rich Nelson, the Beatles, and all those other musicians that came through. I always listened to the guitar part, what did the guitar part do. That was where I targeted most of my songs, and tried copying to the best of my ability. Just keep copying them until it sounded close. And then later on my uncles were always too busy, the village had only about 70 people at one time and we couldn't find enough characters to play for New Years, Masking and stuff like that, so I had to pick that up when I was 15. Start learning the traditional songs that I used for masking.

Robert Kvasnikoff: I had a lot of influence by my uncle Sergius, my uncle John, and Mack and even Sperry Moonin. I watched how they did it and sometimes, a lot of times, it was grandfather Moonin. I just watched and sort of absorbed all of it on different techniques that they used. On the masking part I always had a dream that I would take my brother Wally, Arthur, Johnny, and Charlie and have a band like maybe the Beach Boys or something. But two of them joined me and we called it Cloud Nine. The first time we did anything publicly was my brother Wally was a student of acoustic guitars and then I was doing the lead parts with that old Strat, white Strat of mine. But it worked out ok, and then as we got older, when I was 18 or 19 then we started having enough money to, that's when Homer Electric came in and started putting electricity to the houses. We weren't at the mercy of the school, to play the guitars because we had our own power at home then. And then we could afford amps and such. We started getting into bass and more, and then the drums, Charlie got a set of drums. And then Wally got himself a bass guitar and Arthur had himself a guitar which we bought, it was real cheap brands. Sometimes the tonation would be just horrible. We had SG copies and we had Les Paul copies.

Robert Kvasnikoff: Les Paul I used for a long time, the Les Paul copy, it was ok but it had too much of a bite which I could not stand. Just to do a pickup bite on it was a little harsh. I used it at the high impact of pickup closer to the bridge. That's how Wally and them liked it. Except for me it didn't have, how would you say, the versatility where you could only stick to certain songs when it came to soft songs, you had to flip the switch up and turn it down and try to smooth it out. It worked sometimes, but the sound, after all these years I finally dumped the Les Paul and went the Strat because of the versatility of the instrument. And the first real guitar, the first real one that I bought was one of those copycats and then I picked, I have deep regrets that I tore it down, the Gretch, a hollow-body gretch has a small body to it and it was a sunburst color, and it had two pickups on it. That was a very good semi-hollow body guitar when I took it apart the neck was so warm that you could bend it and everything else. But I lost it in the fire I think (house fire). Then what else did get after that. For a few years I stuck with a cassette with a Les Paul copy. Then as I grew older I wanted to move back to the Strat, because the Strat has the versatility and the sounds you can choose on there. It worked out pretty good, and now I use ESP.

Robert Kvasnikoff: ESP used to be, when the CBS bought it out that they moved it to Japan and where most of the, how would you say, factory made ones came out. When they came over to this side (the USA) they had the name Fender after CBS had bought them out. Right now the ESP is made by the company that used to make Fender parts. Now it is just another guitar which is made in Japan and I have too many problems with it. Even it has three ?? and pickups and everything. It just doesn't have what it takes for the warm Strat sound. Anything else? Leo Ash: Is there any message you want to pass on? Robert Kvasnikoff: I think for all the learners of the guitar to have a fun time in their life, they will have to make a choice of what kind of guitar they want and what kind of music they will be playing. My only advice is don't give up. It took me this long to perfect what I have learned. A lot of times people get frustrated because they cannot learn the guitar. The guitar is a finesse instrument. It requires the coordination of your fingers, and the way you pick. It has that, and if you have a deep running desire to play guitar, don't give up because sometimes it is so hard to learn. Just keep pumping along and pick it up when you have a chance, and try to learn more of traditional Masking songs first, they seem to be the easiest. You have to tune your guitar down to "G."

Robert Kvasnikoff: You will learn, but frustration will take over a lot of times, but it should not be transferred to the stage because if you are up there when frustration takes over, you seem to get out of beat or everything else. And always remember, just like the tape we made, "Some Nights It Works." It won't work all the time, and when it works it is fun to play guitar.'

Leo Ash: Could you give us a where and when you were born story? John Kvasnikoff: I was born on September 27, 1962, here in English Bay (Nanwalek) and I am 33, 34 years old. Leo Ash: Ok, what got you interested in music? John Kvasnikoff: I was about 12 and watching Bobby and Wally play with Charlie and Arthur in the band and it was interesting to me. I thought it would be fun. I went to dances a lot just to dance and have fun, but they needed a guitar player. I hung around when they practiced and stuff, so I sort of fell into, got recruited into how to play, drums or something. They needed a drummer, so I played drums for a while, then needed a guitar player so I had to learn how to play a guitar, and that was when I was 13 years old. That's when I started. Leo Ash: Who were your influences? John Kvasnikoff: My influences? Well, it was just Bobby and Wally. Growing up all my older sisters listened to that 50s and 60s rock, like you heard it on the radio and phonograph all the time. I just went along with whatever Bobby and them wanted to play, it sounded good to me, so I'd probably have to say Bobby was an influence and the sisters who always listened to classic rock all the time on the radio or phonograph.

Leo Ash: Is there any message you would like to pass on? John Kvasnikoff: Messages to whoever? If somebody decides to take, it is hard but like us it was more like a hobby, we didn't take it seriously and if, you know, it could be done if you took it seriously. If you are going to get into music as far as playing for people, make sure they have a good time. Play what they want to hear. What they would like to hear. Hopefully, if you write your own stuff the people will like it. If you are taking it seriously, you have to decide if you are going all the way or... Up here you are far away, it's far away from a lot of places so it's harder to get started around here being a little village. So that's all I got to say. Leo Ash: What do you see in your future? John Kvasnikoff: Me? I really don't know, it would be fun to continue playing whenever I can, it's a lot of fun. Hopefully I will continue to play for a while, but we will just have to see, I'm not sure.

Leo Ash: When did you get started? Mackie Ukatish: When they used to have dances. It used to be Roy (Evans) that used to play the drums. I used to go down to the dances when I was about 11 or 12, I used to stand right behind him when he was playing. I enjoyed watching him and that's how I started. I wanted to know how to play them, so I just stood behind him and watched. That's what got me interested in playing drums. Leo Ash: Ok, you were how old when you actually started? Mackie Ukatish: Actually, when I started the basic stuff on the drums I started playing when I was 13 or 14 years old. Leo Ash: Do you have a newer set or model of drums that are electronic. You also use acoustical sets. Which one would you say is better? Mackie Ukatish: I kind of like to go back to acoustics, but seems like the electronic drums are clearer when we do recordings for our little tapes when we do them for home use. Through the acoustics you have to mike all the drums and some of them don't come in so clear, but these new electronic drums you can plug in the whole set into a recorder and everything will come out real clear. Leo Ash: How long have you been in the band, actually? Mackie Ukatish: I think it's been 7 to 9 years I been with the band.

Leo Ash: Ok, and you've done a lot of traveling with the band. Have you experienced a prejudice toward you? Mackie Ukatish: There was a point at one time I did, but I thought this person was being prejudice of me. It took me at least a couple of months for me to learn a (the) different style that I had because this other drummer was pretty good himself, but he kind of liked my style too. Leo Ash: Ok is there anything else you would like to add here? Any advice for anybody who wants to learn? Mackie Ukatish: What's it like recording? At first, I didn't know. I thought we were just practicing, until I think we four or five songs I didn't even know Bobby was recording until after playing five or six songs took the tape out and it surprised me, it came out real clear.

Leo Ash: My name is Leo Gregory Ash, I'm 18 years old, I was born September 18, 1978. I was born in an ambulance over in Homer. I've been playing the guitar on and off since I was about 6 years old. I got serious about when I was about 14. I've been sort of the lead man in the Creeps aside from playing lead guitar for them. I've been to the State Fair a couple of times. That's been a really big thing and they want us back this year I think. I think the thing that really got me into wanting to play the guitar is seeing my Mom when she was in California. She had this acoustic, and she used to play all sorts of music, it was, you know a lot of rhythm and still I was only six years, and I thought she was Eric Clapton. Also, my uncles when they played. My uncle Bobby still amazes me. It's fun to jam with them. I've had a quite a few guitars since I've started playing. I used to have this Strat of some sort. I think it was a Fender, but I traded it for a old Tally. I also had Washburn. None of those guitars were really wired very well. The wiring was always sort of cheap. The really high-class ones with ESP are the best.

Leo Ash: My influences as far as music goes, were mostly my family, because they are the ones that decided what music I listened to. They didn't force it on me, it's just that I remember hearing this music when I was younger. Mom would always be playing on the radio, you know records or what not, tapes. And then Mom still buys me CDs upon CDs upon CDs. So, you know, although my favorite of music to me is mostly blues, it's fun, it's the type of music I play. I do like Beatles, Dwight Yokum, Jimmy Hendrix, mostly bands with really good guitars, Led Zepplin. Although I'd like to think of myself as a really good guitarist, the tempo, and timing, and rhythm has been the hardest thing for me to grasp, I still struggle with it. I do get over excited sometimes when I play. It just turns out to be more of an embarrassment than a show, but what the heck, music to me is having fun. I seem to be having fun, so I think I have accomplished that goal or two.

Leo Ash: Tell us about yourself. Eric Kvasnikoff: Ok, my name is Eric Kvasnikoff. I was born March 13, 1976. I was born in Seldovia, and I play the bass. Leo Ash: As a band member, what is it like for you? Is it a lot of work, is it fun? Eric Kvasnikoff: Yes, it is a lot of work when it comes to new songs. It takes a little bit of time to figure out the chords and the coordination of everybody to see if we can keep together as one instead of going off on our own. Yes, it is pretty fun. We have our disagreements with certain songs and it all takes the band to decide on what type of song we want to do. Mainly it’s just deciding if we want to do it or not. If one disagrees they usually give us their reasons and what not.

Leo Ash: What would you like to see done with the Creeps? Eric Kvasnikoff: What I'd like to see is for us to play gigs all over southcentral Alaska. It would be nice to be playing over in Homer and take part of the lung concert. And then play maybe a few dances here and in Port Graham or Seldovia. Just kind of play around the low unit here of Alaska. It's going to take some work and some time. Leo Ash: Would you like to say anything aside from this about other people? Eric Kvasnikoff: Yes, I had one of my most important teachers of music who fell asleep in the Lord. I'm going to really miss him, he has taught me a lot about what I play (?) toward bass. I started off with different instruments. First I started with keyboard, and it didn't hit me that well and I moved on with drums. I got interested in drums. I still like the drums, but it doesn't hit me as much as the bass. So far I get along with most of the band players, we have our conflicts and our disagreements but most of all we have a good time and it turns out pretty good. Leo Ash: Thanks, anything else you want to say? Eric Kvasnikoff: Guess not.

Leo Ash: Could you give us your date of birth and a little bit about yourself? Wally Kvasnikoff: My name is Wally Kvasnikoff, I am 40 years old, born and raised here in Nanwalek. I went to school a couple of years at Seldovia and then at Ninilchik. I was taught music into me, and I kind of had no choice because Bobby (brother) wanted music and then it was kinda like do or die, I mean I had no choice not to. I didn't have the choice of not doing it. Actually, I didn't want to do it, but anyways I had to because it was pounded into me. And then later on I got to like music, and pretty soon I was breathing music and having a blast.