Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Heikki Lunta 45 launched legend

The record label for "Heikki Lunta's
Snow Dance Song" revealed few facts,perhaps
adding to the snow god legend which began in
the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country.


In the Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw Peninsula some residents believe playing a 45 rpm record can bring snow, or stop it.

The belief sprung from a jingle called "Heikki Lunta's Snow Dance Song" written and recorded by radio station employee Dave Riutta in 1970. (For those not familiar with Finnish, the name is pronounced HAY-key LOON-ta.)

"Now I'll sing my song to make the snow come down," Riutta vocalized with a familiar Finnish accent, urging the snow to fall from the sky.

Riutta accompanies himself on guitar on the austere number.

Complete with introduction, the recording lasts a brief 75 seconds.

Riutta's song was played on Hancock-based radio station WMPL-AM 920, then owned by Bob Olsen.

Known locally as Wimple, the station was promoting a snowmobile race threatened by an uncharacteristic lack of snow.

Listeners responded positively to the song and so did the weather. It snowed. A lot. Perhaps too much, some say.

The snowmobile race went on as planned and a legend was born.

Located at 326 Quincy St. in downtown Hancock, WMPL soon discovered the song was immensely popular among its large Finnish-American audience.

Responding to demand, the station pressed up 45 rpm copies of the song for sale to the public.

The 7-inch single features a blue label with silver printing and carries the catalog number 326, the same numerical configuration found in the station's street address.

Riutta's name does not appear on the record, however, which is copyrighted by WMPL.

The label is listed as Heikki Records and Heikki Lunta is credited as both composer and artist.

Perhaps the label's mysterious lack of details helped shape the Heikki Lunta legend.

The Heikki Lunta character was conceived by Riutta. From Finnish, the name translates into "Henry Snow," or informally, "Hank Snow."

You may remember Hank Snow as a popular Canadian country and western performer who scored his first chart-topper in 1950 with "I'm Moving On."

Although many Copper Country residents credited the Heikki Lunta record with bringing the needed snow, not everyone was happy with the increased precipitation.

When Riutta was blamed for the seemingly endless snow apparently brought on by his original song, he wrote "Heikki Lunta, Go Away," utilizing new lyrics but the same instrumental background.

"I'd do a little bragging, if the roof on my shack weren't sagging," he sang about the excessive snow in the follow-up recording.

"Heikki Lunta, Go Away" was paired with "Heikki Lunta's Snow Dance Song" on a second pressing of the 45 rpm record.

I listened to my vinyl copy of the two tunes the other day, imagining the mythical power contained in those grooves.

The single had a dual purpose: it could make snow come, or make it go away.

Both songs were embraced by a Finnish-American community raised on polkas, waltzes and schottisches.

Heikki Lunta had entered local lore as a fresh "snow god," perhaps descended from Choine, the ancient Greek goddess of snow, the daughter of Boreas, also known as the North Wind.

From a humble start, Heikki Lunta has spread to Finnish-American enclaves in the western Upper Peninsula, northern Wisconsin, northeastern Minnesota and beyond.

According to Copper Country resident Jim Kurtti, Heikki Lunta was mentioned on the Today Show and the Tonight Show, two very popular television programs.

Folks in the central U. P. celebrate the legend at an annual Heikki Lunta Winterfest, next slated to be held on Jan. 15 and 16, 2011 at Teal Lake in Negaunee.

In fact, the Heikki Lunta phenomenon is taken seriously enough that Indiana University-Bloomington graduate student and Copper Country native Hilary Virtanen chose to write her master's degree thesis on the topic a few years ago.

In the four decades since Riutta's songs were first aired, other acts have added their own ditties to the Heikki Lunta canon.

Ishpeming's Da Yoopers and the Marquette-Negaunee area's Conga Se Menne have both taped salutes to Heikki Lunta.

Known as a Finnish reggae band, Conga Se Menne recorded "Guess Who's Coming to Sauna? (Heikki Lunta!)." (The sauna, of course, is a Finnish bath house, pronounced SOW-na).

James A. DeCaire and Rodney E. Potila composed "Heikki Lunta" as recorded by Da Yoopers, a comedy troupe famous for "Second Week of Deer Camp."

Published by Yah Hey Music, Da Yoopers' tribute song debuted on their 1991 album "Yoopy Do Wah."

The disc's liner notes contain a "Yooper dictionary" which defines Heikki Lunta as "the god of snow in Yooperland mythology."

Clocking in at 3:08, the song includes a catchy "Dance, dance, dance, Heikki Lunta, dance" chorus.

The Conga Se Menne song, meanwhile, is said to be inspired by "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (Natty Dreadlocks)," a reggae number by the Jamaican group Black Uhuru.

Conga Se Menne's number received some national attention and is found on their "Finnish Reggae and Other Sauna Beats" compact disc from 1995.

Dave Riutta, the man who conceived Heikki Lunta, still lives in the Copper Country and performs in a band called Wing Nuts.

Radio station WMPL still sells "Heikki Lunta's Snow Dance Song" and "Heikki Lunta, Go Away" on a compact disc for $13.

Whether the CD versions of "Heikki Lunta" retain the power of the original 45 rpm records is an open question. The answer probably doesn't matter.

The "snow god" Heikki Lunta proved his virility in the Keweenaw Peninsula decades ago when a song changed the weather.

No comments: