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Dance Hall Darlings

After decades of rocking the countryside, the beloved Triumphs take a final bow

It all began in the summer of 1959 in Rosenberg, southwest of Houston. Tim Griffith’s dad was a traveling salesman and came home one day with a used electric guitar and amp.

Obviously, the younger Griffith needed a band.

“I played saxophone in the nearby Needville High School band,” Don Drachenberg says. “We got a few other friends together, and next thing you know, we’re playing our first gig in January of 1960. A sock hop in Richmond.”

Band member Denny Zatyka’s dad was a distributor for Lone Star beer and allowed the teens—the Triumphs—to practice in a beer warehouse, Drachenberg says. “Through the years we all had regular jobs,” he says. “I became an American history high school teacher; Denny inherited the Lone Star beer distributorship; Tim Griffith was a civil engineer; Teddy Mensik worked in a machine shop; and Gary Koeppen was an insurance salesman.”

In 1966 the band recorded the Hank Williams tune I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, sung by another founding member, B.J. Thomas. It became a national hit. The song launched a solo career for Thomas, a Grammy winner whose hit songs included Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head and Hooked on a Feeling.

From there the Triumphs started playing the Central Texas dance hall circuit, through the ’60s and into the ’70s, bringing their rock tunes to dance halls in towns including Brenham, East Bernard, El Campo, Hillje, La Grange, Schulenburg, Shiner, Tate and Weimar.

Dance hall historian Gary E. McKee, editor of Texas Polka News, says Saturday nights were for rock ’n’ roll dances; Sunday afternoons were for polka bands and an older crowd. On Friday nights, of course, folks were busy with high school sports.

Through the 1960s, the Triumphs were among the best-known circuit bands in Central Texas, along with the Barons and Roy Head and the Traits. By 1980, as the world embraced disco and the Triumphs missed spending time with their families after more than a decade of working weekends and holidays, the band took a break. They regrouped in 1992.

But on a chilly Saturday night this past February, the Triumphs took their final bow in appropriate surrounds: at Swiss Alp Hall near Schulenburg in Fayette County. Sixty-three years after that first sock hop in Richmond, they played their last show.

The Triumphs’ roots go back to the summer of 1959 in Rosenberg.

Erich Schlegel

Butch Bosak was there—along with about 450 loyal fans. Bosak played guitar with the Barons way back when. “When we were playing, we owned the place,” he says. “We competed with [the Triumphs], but they were always family to us. We’d go to their New Year’s Eve dances. Now that they are gone, there is a void.”

“These old dance halls have wooden floors on pier-and-beam foundations,” Drachenberg explains. “The floor would bounce like crazy when our fans danced and stomped to our music. The floors were going ‘whoomph! whoomph!’ We had big speakers stacked on top of each other in front of the stage, and we figured we better tie them down so they don’t fall down on our fans.”

Jonathan Socha, owner of Lee County Peanut Co., followed the Triumphs through the ages. “If you weren’t soaking wet with sweat from dancing, you weren’t having a good time,” he says. “Swiss Alp was basically a hay barn with windows. We sweated our tails off.”

Sandy Randolph grew up in Smithville. She would catch a ride with friends to any performance nearby. “I started sneaking into the dances when I was 13,” she says. “The shows were the big social gathering of our area.”

The Triumphs played at lifelong fan Catherine Poppe’s 50th wedding anniversary.

“They play all kinds of music, they attract all kinds of people,” says Poppe, who retired from Fayette Electric Cooperative in 2021. “It’s just truly amazing the draw that this band has, and now they’re going to be part of history.”

Over the past few years, as the band’s members aged, “the band lost its family feeling,” Drachenberg says. “We discussed that it might be time to stop.”

Co-founder and lead guitarist Tim Griffith died in December 2022. “Tim’s death was the exclamation point on our decision to hang it up,” says Drachenberg, 81, a member of Fayette EC. “Our band had a magical something. From that magic, our fan base grew and grew. It was great to see fans that have been following us for 60 freaking years.

“We had a hell of a run.”

During intermission of the final performance, McKee presented the Triumphs with an honor from Texas Dance Hall Preservation.

“It was bittersweet,” McKee says. “They played the soundtrack of my life.”