Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Professional Deformation from the Czech Republic
Based in the Czech Republic, Professional Deformation is a relatively new band, but one borne from plenty of professional experience. Each of the musicians involved — Jakub Racek (guitar, vocal), Radek Vaňkát (reso-guitar, vocal), Petr Vošta (banjo, vocal) and Karel Waska (bass, vocal) — have earned continuing kudos due to their own individual musical merits.
Racek is an award winning guitarist and five time winner of the Guitar Player of The Year distinction given him by the Czech Bluegrass Association. In 1998, he was named Best European Bluegrass Guitarist by SPGMA. Having initially studied jazz at the Prague Conservatory, he went on to teach at a guitar workshop alongside Bryan Sutton and Tim Stafford. “I’ve been performing for 30 years,” he says. “I’ve toured Europe and played in the US four times, including three times at the IBMA, both the showcase and at Fan Fest.”
Vaňkát can claim to have worked with several top Czech artists, and has recorded in both the Czech Republic and the US. He was voted Dobro player of the year twice by the Czech Bluegrass Association.
Vošta is known for his distinctive style, one that utilizes a decidedly funky groove. Prior to joining Professional Deformation, he played in a variety of bands spanning bluegrass to rock and roll, including his own trio, Cimpr Campr.
Waska prides himself on being a multi-genre musician whose expertise runs the gamut from folk and Appalachian traditional sounds to classical, rock and roll, bebop, and alternative jazz. He studied bass at Jaroslav Jeћek Conservatory in Prague and at Northern Illinois University, and went on to perform with a numbers of bands that surveyed a variety of sounds and style.
The origins of Professional Deformation can be traced back to a duo consisting of Racek and Vaňkát. “I had a full band in mind, and the first guy I called was Radek,” Racek recalls. “We jammed a bit and liked the sound, so we decided we would perform as a duo for awhile. We kept going for about four or five years, and then the other two players came along. Now it’s a bluegrass line up as far the instrumentation is concerned. We’ve all played bluegrass with various bands before Professional Deformation, but we’ve also played other styles of music as well, so our sound is influenced by that diversity.”
Even so, Racek insists that their primary influences lie in the bluegrass/grassicana realm. “I was definitely influenced by Tony Rice,” he explains. “I played the banjo before I heard Tony Rice, but that’s when I decided to play the guitar.”
Although the band been active a relatively short time, they still managed to get plenty of gigging in prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve been together for four years, including the crazy year and a half of COVID, and we’ve still managed to play plenty of shows in the Czech Republic and in Europe,” Racek notes. “Outside Czechia, we’ve performed in Sweden, Slovakia, and France. In 2019, we won the European contest in La Roche, France and as the winner, we were going to play at the Rapid Grass Festival in Colorado. We also had an invitation to perform in Canada, but unfortunately both were cancelled due to COVID.”
They’ve also shared stages with some other exceptional artists. “As a band, we hosted several Czech singers including a Czech’s Got Talent finalist,” he continues. “We featured Casey Driessen in Prague, and he played a show with our band. Next year, Casey will be performing with Professional Deformation here in the Czech Republic at the Banjo Jamboree festival, the oldest bluegrass festival in Europe.”
Happily then, the band has been well received back home. “People like the energy we put into the performance,” Racek points out. “They enjoy the four-part harmonies and they seem to like the variety of the repertoire. Surprisingly, we have played many shows for audiences who had never heard bluegrass or anything similar before. After the show, some folks came over and said ‘Gosh, we’ve never heard this style of music. We didn’t have any idea that it actually existed, but it’s just great!’”
Professional Deformation has one release so far, a five song EP titled One Way Rider.
Racek notes that their repertoire is split evenly between covers and originals. “We play both,” he says. “When it comes to covers, I’m usually the one to pick the songs. Genre does not matter much. We may play an old ballad followed by a mainstream number like The Boys of Summer by Don Henley, or something bluesy and funky like Killing Floor by Howlin’ Wolf.”
However when asked why bluegrass seems to have such universal appeal, Racek says he isn’t all that certain. “I don’t know really,” he responds. “There may be more reasons than one, and all those reasons put together add up. Some people like the three or four part harmony singing. Some like the high-pitched vocals. Other people like the fast virtuoso-like picking. There are those that like the fact that the music is unplugged; you just grab your instruments and you can literally play anywhere. Some people like the festival atmosphere, and some like the banjo. Then again, I may be all wrong. Here in the Czech Republic, it got popular during the communist era because this music, as well as country music in general, came from the US. As a result, it was some sort of a forbidden candy that defied the regime.”
Learn more about Professional Deformation online.