Vern “Mojave” Schueller might lack the star power of Bob Dylan or other inductees to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, but then as a drummer he was accustomed to being the man in the back — keeping the time whether playing polka, swing, jazz, Latin or Dixieland.
Schueller, who died April 18 at age 95, will be remembered as a versatile, charismatic, stick-flipping drummer whose 72-year career made him well known throughout the state, and whose sense of rhythm made thousands of toes tap and dancers dance.
His 2003 induction into the state Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm was humbling, said Barbara Snyder, the oldest of his four children. “He didn’t understand why people loved him so much, because he was just a drummer. But he was a major part of any band that he played with. He was a drummer [who] stood out without him wanting to stand out. He just had a smile that people loved.”
Schueller grew up on a Minnesota farm, drawn to drumming by age 10 through music on the radio. His first drum was a hollow tree trunk over which he stretched a piece of leather.
Fellow musicians eventually dubbed him “Mojave,” because of his many stories about Army basic training in the California desert.
A formative moment came around the time of his World War II service, when he took a bus to New York to see Count Basie play. He was turned away — told that no white people could purchase tickets — and stood by the door to listen until he was told to leave.
That moment of racial division was potent for a Minnesota farmboy, who developed a sense of love and understanding for other people without judgment — unless of course they didn’t appreciate the importance of a drummer in a band.
“It only encouraged him more to become a musician,” his oldest daughter recalled. “He said, ‘That’s how we communicate. That’s how we can tell the world who we are.’ ”
Schueller suffered depression following his service in the Army’s 3rd Armored Division and a tour that included the Battle of the Bulge. He credited drumming, and marrying his late wife, Rosemary, for helping him move forward.
He designed and built the couple’s first house in Redwood Falls, Minn., then would often clean up by swimming in a nearby lake before changing into his band outfit and playing drums at night.
Schueller played for more than 35 years with the Elmer Scheid Band but drummed for numerous others as well.
With the birth of his third child, and a decline in big band and polka gigs, Schueller bought a dry-cleaning business in Franklin, Minn., to supplement his income.
His children recalled him always tapping away with spoons at the dinner table and taking them on spur-of-the-moment picnics along the Minnesota River and to lakes where he would teach them to swim in the summer and skate in the winter.
Schueller’s last gig came at age 89 — with his brother’s band, called Ancient Age. Soon after that he moved with his wife, whose health was failing, to a daughter’s home in Burnsville.
Schueller is survived by daughters Barbara, Diane Schueller and LeeAnn Olson; son John Schueller; three siblings, and numerous grandchildren.
A memorial for Schueller will take place at 2 p.m. June 26 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Franklin, and will be followed by a celebration of his life, 4-8 p.m. at the VFW in Redwood Falls, where musicians will gather to play.