Lanham man nominated for 6 Wammies, 4 alone and 2 with his bands

Mike Surratt, once a sheet metal worker, injured a finger on the job and decided to devote all his time to music. Twenty-five years later, he plays alone and with two bands at restaurants and other locations.
Mike Surratt, once a sheet metal worker, injured a finger on the job and decided to devote all his time to music. Twenty-five years later, he plays alone and with two bands at restaurants and other locations. "When people can do what they love," he says, "they're lucky." (Raphael Talisman/the Gazette)
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By Liz Skalski
The Gazette
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Even 25 years ago, when he was a full-time sheet metal worker, Mike Surratt dreamed of a career in music.

"I'm a musician; I have no choice," Surratt, 54, said. "You're just drawn to it. I guess I have a choice, but why? When people can do what they love, they're lucky."

The Washington Area Music Association in the District recognizes musicians who help the region gain national recognition for live and recorded music. The 24th annual Wammies, the association's regional version of the Grammys, are scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday at the State Theatre in Falls Church.

Surratt, of Lanham, is nominated for six Wammies, as a soloist and with two of his bands. He is nominated in the categories of World Music Instrumentalist; Big Band/Swing Group, with the ECB; Electronica Vocalist; Electronica Recording; World Music Vocalist; and World Music Group, with the Continentals Polka Band.

When Surratt injured a finger on the job 25 years ago, he decided to devote all his time to playing music.

Today, he performs independently and with his two bands several times a week, playing polka, ballroom swing and variety music at restaurants and retirement homes, among other venues.

Since 2006, Surratt has had 15 Wammie nominations and two wins.

"Getting six nominations, I was like, 'Wow times two,' " he said. "Just to have won two Wammies out of all the nominations I've gotten, I'm just thrilled with nominations. I don't expect to win at all. It's always a surprise."

For Surratt, a Wammie nomination is so thrilling it might as well be for a Grammy.

"I have been kinda lucky since 2005; I've been nominated at least once every year," he said. "I'm really thrilled about that."

Surratt began playing music as a boy. At the insistence of his German mother, he began playing the accordion at 11. He learned to sing in Polish, Czech and German.

As a child, he learned piano and accordion at the Columbia School of Music in College Park, which has since closed. At 15, he joined the Happy Rheinlanders, a six-piece polka band composed of German teenagers.

When the band dissolved in less than two years, Surratt and a couple of the Happy Rheinlanders formed the Continentals, a band that still performs.

In 2007, Surratt formed the Eclectic Coalition Band, or the ECB. The band, with the same members as the Continentals, assumes this name when it isn't playing polka music.

In addition to performing in the Washington area, Surratt, drummer Joe Stec and saxophonist Al Jones perform regularly as far away as Lancaster, Pa., and Richmond. And Surratt has performed as far west as South Dakota and as far south as Florida.


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