Polka Lawsuit: Wis. Man Sues Ex-Wife Over Tune

June 30, 2011

A Wisconsin polka musician is accusing his ex-wife and her new husband of stealing one of his most popular tunes.

Ray Rubenzer of Chippewa Falls filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit this week, alleging that his former wife and her new band copied the melody of his “Yodelin’ Boy Polka” and simply substituted new words.

Rubenzer, 66, wrote and copyrighted the song in 1978. He and his wife, Lois, performed it in their band, Guys and Gals, until the couple divorced in 1984.

His ex-wife later married David Melgaard, also of Chippewa Falls. The pair formed the Top Notchmen Band, which recorded a song called “C’mon and Sing.” Rubenzer claims the tune is really “Yodelin’ Boy Polka” with different lyrics.

Melgaard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the melodies were similar, but said the words were different and that neither he nor his wife had any idea if they were copying Rubenzer’s song.

“She was humming something and I said, `What’s that?’ and she didn’t really know,” Melgaard said. The couple adopted the tune and wrote some lyrics to go with it, he added.

“I can name you four country songs that sound the same but have different lyrics,” he said.

Melgaard said he and his wife haven’t played “C’mon and Sing” since they got a letter from Rubenzer’s attorney in March. They pulled the few remaining CDs that contain the song off the market.

That’s not good enough, Rubenzer said.

“I want them to put apologies in the paper, saying it wasn’t really their song,” said Rubenzer, whose lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

He said fans often requested “Yodelin’ Boy Polka,” sometimes two or three times a night. Back when his ex-wife was in the band, she’d sing the song while he yodeled the echo parts, he recalled.

“Funny she says she didn’t remember where the song came from,” he said. “We performed that a thousand times.”

Over the years he began to hear that the Top Notchmen were doing a similar song, but he said he didn’t care to follow his ex-wife’s gigs.

Then, after playing “Yodelin’ Boy Polka” about 18 months ago, he said a woman came up to him and said, “That was great. You must have learned it from the Top Notchmen.”

“There was fire in my eyes, believe me,” he said. “I of course explained to her I had written the song, and then I decided I had to do something about this.”

Melgaard said he and his wife don’t know what to make of Rubenzer’s lawsuit.

“It’s probably about more than the song,” he said.

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