The Alpineers were an interesting polka band that incorporated both jazz improvisation and the sounds of the pedal steel guitar, and featured among its members both recording pioneers and instrumental virtuosos. The group recorded in the late '40s for the Davis label, one of many imprints created and managed by record producer and songwriter Joe Davis. How Davis, who was better-known for pushing swing jazz, jive, rhythm & blues, and doo wop records, got hooked up with a polka combo is something of an epistle in itself, with Davis biographer Bruce Bastin suggesting the following scenario: Davis purchased a bit more than
6,000 dollars worth of master recordings, in bulk, from an outfit called the Producers Recording Company in the spring of 1946. Included in this pile of releases were some 17 sides by polka maestro Frankie Trumbauer, including the immortal "Irish Washerwoman."
Thus stimulated by the potential of the oompah beat, Davis was some six weeks later overseeing the first of several sessions by the Alpineers, a group featuring both accordion and clarinet prominently in the front line. The latter instrument was handled gracefully by Andy Sannella, a veteran multi-instrumentalist who had been recording since the in late '20s in society bands such as Ray Miller & His Orchestra and in the company of great musicians such as guitarist Eddie Lang and clarinetist Benny Goodman. Sannella is a musician who literally plays on hundreds of records, but the accordion player Joe Biviano was apparently the leader of the Alpineers, although he seems to have opted out of the group's second session. Pianist Frank Banta was on board instead, changing the group's sound to a slightly jazzier feel. Banta is hardly what one might call a slouch at a recording session, his credits including, among any other great feats, playing on the first blues record ever released and playing on the first recording of the standard "Ain't She Sweet." For these later Davis sessions, Sannella went to town with additional sax blowing and the wigged-out sounds of his really unusual double, the steel guitar. Perhaps Biviano felt the whole thing was below his class, as he was one of the first accordion players to perform on-stage at Carnegie Hall; an accordion player of such incredibly virtuosity that he was practically the only person in the world who could manage parts written for his instrument, such as the accordion part to Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck." Admittedly, it is hard to reconcile this image with the fact that Biviano on his own cut the low-brow ditties "More Beer" for RCA and "Pizza Party" for Davis, who was hoping to find a novelty record to cash in on the craze for the cheese and tomato-topped pies.
The Alpineers remained a popular band name in both polka and Euro-schmaltz long after Davis lost interest in polka, with the audience for this music apparently totally uninterested in keeping track of any one particular group of Alpineers. Robbies' Alpineers, no relation to the original group, admitted its great Longing for Switzerland on a recording for Cuca, but this leader's commitment to this group seems slight, or at least torn by his allegiance to Robbie's Yodel Club, which has also recorded for the same label. "Alpiners" seems a more popular spelling for the group name: there are more polka and dance bands named "the Alpiners" than American Legion halls for them to play in.