Bios

Michael Drapkin

Michael Drapkin, Clarinet (leader)

is former leader of the New York klezmer band Mishulem’s Klezmer Band, and was a member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, as Associate Principal and Bass Clarinet and the New York City Opera Touring Company and Lake George Opera Festival, as Principal Clarinet. As a graduate from the prestigious Eastman School of Music, he spent summers playing at Aspen and at Tanglewood as a Berkshire Music Center fellow, and continues to perform regularly with fine chamber music groups. Mr. Drapkin has performed with the New Jersey Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Portland Symphony, the Long Island Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and with conductors Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Neville Marriner, Leonard Slatkin, Lucas Foss, Christopher Keene, Klaus Tennstedt, Frederick Fennell, and many more celebrated orchestras and maestros. Mr. Drapkin is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the bass clarinet primarily through his series of orchestral excerpt books, Symphonic Repertoire for the Bass Clarinet, Volumes One, Two, Three, and the upcoming Volume Four which is currently in production. His books have been the gold standard for bass clarinet orchestral study worldwide for the last 25 years, and are now referenced as a source for most bass clarinet orchestra auditions.

Shirley Johnson

Shirley Johnson, Accordion

Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, Shirley Johnson did what many Croatian-American kids do- she sang, danced, and played Tamburitza music, often under the guidance of graduates or staff of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans. She also took accordion lessons, since it was the custom in her family to play two instruments. College took her to Duke University, where she graduated with degrees in Botany and Chemistry. While there, she sang with the Duke University Chorale, performing at Carnegie Hall in NYC and at Disney World.

In the summer of 1979, Shirley’s cousin asked her to dance with his Slovak troupe, as they were invited to Czechoslovakia. Three days before leaving, the accordionist for the group decided not to go, so Shirley traded in her red dance boots for her red accordion and provided the musical accompaniment for the group as they performed on Czechoslovakian radio, TV, as well as at the festivals at Detva and Senec.

After college, Shirley remained in North Carolina, performing with International Folk Music groups, an Oktoberfest band, and began her solo strolling career. In 1995 she was awarded an Emerging Artist grant from the Durham Arts Council and also recorded her first solo CD.

From 1992 to 1994, living in Rome, Italy, Shirley sang with the “Coro Misto” of “L’Accademia della Filarmonica, ” performing throughout Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica, Italian radio and TV, and at the Vatican for a Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust which was conducted by Gilbert Levine and hosted by Richard Dreyfus. In attendance of this concert were the Rabbi of Rome, the Pope, and the Prime Minister of Italy.

Shirley returned for several years to North Carolina and recorded her second CD and gave birth to her second child. Then she found herself living in Austin, Texas. She took time off from her career while being a PTA mom, but music called her back. She briefly played in an Indie Rock Band, playing clubs like Emo’s, as well as at SXSW. Shirley maintains an active music schedule playing in area restaurants, at festivals, etc. as well as teaches the accordion.

Ray Fisher

Ray Fisher, Bass

Ray Fisher attended the University of Houston on music scholarship while studying mathematics. After his freshman year he set aside the bass while completing studies in mathematics and law. After law school he took up the bass again in 1978 and by 1980 was playing professionally again. During his hiatus from playing the bass he studied the classical guitar for 7 years.

He studied bass with Keith Robinson of the Houston Symphony, Stuary Sankey, Steve Zlomke of the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, David Neubert, and David Dawson.

As a double bassist, his professional music experience career spans the last 35 years. During that time he has regularly played symphonic, opera, ballet, chamber music, musical theatre, jazz, country, big band jazz, and latin music.

He has regularly contracted with orchestras throughout central Texas. For approximately 2 years he was an active free lance bassist in the Boston area. He is frequently contracted to play as principal. He is currently the principal bass in the Mid Texas Symphony; he has been with that orchestra since 1990, and he has been the principal bass there since 1991. He also currently plays regularly with the Brazos Valley, Corpus Christi, and Victoria Symphonies as well as the Symphony of the Hills in Kerrville.

Ray was the bassist for the Fond Kiser Band for several years. This band specialized in Americana and outlaw country. That band had the rather dubious distinction of having a regular gig on 6th Street in Austin long enough to be able to say it played there but not so long as to be sorry for spending too many nights in that crucible of Austin culture.

Ray is currently a member of Four Fights Per Pint, a traditional bluegrass band.

He also plays with a jazz combo named Play It Again.

Ray is a lawyer in Austin specializing in bankruptcy. He has been practicing law since 1977.

Wayne Duncan

Wayne Duncan, Drums

Wayne Duncan is the original drummer for Yiddish Cowboys.

Wayne began playing drums at the age of four, beginning with a “toy” Sears/Roebuck drum kit. His family – trained musicians as well, soon recognized his proclivity and passion for the instrument. They bought him a small Ludwig jazz kit and began formal lessons around age 7. In fact, his first public show was with members of his family before the age of 8.

​Wayne studied with several instructors throughout his early years and dove deeply into learning all genres. The peak of his learning came from the years spent studying with Joe Morello. “The time I spent studying with Joe had a profound impact – not only on my approach to the drums and percussion, but in understanding space and how to more fully appreciate the melodic components of percussion…”

He has recorded with a number of groups and artists, amongst them: Yiddish Cowboys (of course), The Copa Kings, Jade Day, Ten Ton Swing, Texas Gold, Spit & Tears, Jonathan Terrell, Ricky Stein, Willie Nelson, Matt Hubbard, Lucky Bones, Chase Frank, Blackbird 3, The Beauty Above, Dark Town Rounders, Larry Wilson, Lost Pine Ramblers, Pubcrawler, Kris Barnes, Mario Matteoli (the Weary Boys), Merchants of Venus, Ikey Owens (the Mars Volta), and many others.

Wayne has also performed with many great singers and players like Cindy Cashdollar, Red Volkaert, Glover Gill, Robert Kraft, Scotty Bucklin, Kevin Lovejoy, Paula Nelson, Willie Nelson, Arthur Brown, Joel Guzman, Paul Klemperer, Santiago Jimenez, Glenn Fukunaga, Zhenya Rock, and many others.

If you’re enthralled with Wayne, as many are, consider getting a piece of Wayne by buying the Wayne Duncan/Yiddish Cowboys tee shirt at the Yiddish Cowboys Outfitter Store.

If you’d like to learn more about us, please contact us at 512-590-2544 or info@yiddishcowboys.com.

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