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Remembering Peter Dula

Posted by: Petr Mecir

photo: & Peter´s archive
Journal 10/10/2019

Today marks 10 years since Peter Dula's passing. An aspiring young ice hockey player was diagnosed with cancer at 18, which ruined his sports career. Over the next few years he became one of the best country singers in Europe until cancer stopped his dreams again. On the 10th anniversary of his untimely death here's my personal memory of him along with a previously unreleased interview and never-seen-before video footage and photos.

Peter first contacted me in March 2005, because he liked my website. We became instant friends and soon we were in intense touch almost on a daily basis. We had a lot in common: Peter knew a great deal about country music, we both knew many people in Nashville and we even shared the same favorite artists including Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt and Joe Diffie. We almost became a kind of soulmates - two country music junkies far away in Europe having endless deep conversations about what was going on in Nashville.

For the first two years we we in touch remotedly over Skype. Peter was in Kosice, Slovakia and I was in Liberec, Czech Republic. Peter Dula & Mark ChesnuttThen the word got out that Mark Chesnutt would play an acoustic show in Hamburg, Germany and there was no way we could miss that. Peter and his bandmate Frank took an overnight train from Kosice to Prague, where we welcomed each other as old friends, even though it was the first time we met in person. Then we made a roadtrip across Germany to Hamburg. Naturally we enjoyed the journey as well and I remember the CD we were partying to most was the live album by Alabama. Mark Chesnutt's show was really superb and after the show we got to hang out a little bit.

In September 2007 Peter's band, Peter & The Rowers, performed at the Porta Festival in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic. At that time they were at the top of their game. They had just broken several airplay records on the European country music chart with their hit songs "I'm Leavin'" and "Blind Horses" and were headed for stardom.

Before the show I interviewed Peter and Frank in the dressing room and the interview was supposed to be used to promote their upcoming album they had been working on at that time. Unfortunately several months later Peter got sick, everything had to be put on hold and in his lifetime he never saw the release of the album. That's why the interview was never used.


How can a professional ice hockey player switch to country music?

"Well, not so sure about professional, but I did play in the Junior League in the USA. I was playing ice hockey ever since I was a little boy and when I was 17, I made it to the USA and played in the Junior League in Boston. Sadly, my hockey plans were disrupted by my health condition and I wasn't able to play anymore, so I went back to Slovakia and started strumming the guitar a little bit. My dad taught me a few chords and I got into country music. It came very easily to me and soon I started singing, too. I really admired the music of Johnny Cash, who is my greatest hero and influence to this day. Then I gradually transitioned to contemporary country music and I started listening to Alan Jackson and Randy Travis. So that's how I got started in country music."


How did you get in the band?

"That's another long story. I played with a local band named "Country Pohoda" in Kosice and one night Frank Jano, the bandleader of The Rowers, came to see us. After the show he approached me and said he had been looking for a lead singer for The Rowers. It was a great honor, because The Rowers was the oldest and most famous country band in Slovakia. That offer made me very happy and I said yes right on the spot. I started performing with them and soon things took off real fast. I got in the band in 2004 and the following year we played at a country music festival in Hostice, CZ, which was also a contest. The great thing was that it was the people in the audience who casted their votes. We were the only Slovak band over there and we were very surprised when they voted us the winner. The prize was a performance slot on the main stage and that's where we got started."

How did you manage to break through internationally?

"It all started with our song 'Blind Horses', which I wrote with my buddy Miso Truschan. We released the song and it found its way on the World Wide Country Chart Independent, where it placed #3 most played song on country radio internationally. It was played in Australia, Japan, all over Europe and even in the USA. It was a great success, which put a spotlight on us. Then 'Blind Horses' topped the ECMA Top 100 Chart in Europe. A few months later we released another single 'I'm Leavin'', which is from our upcoming all-English album. This song also topped the ECMA Chart and after spending 14 weeks at #1 the song broke all previous records. It was a great feeling to see us at #1 and to see names such as Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and George Strait behind us."

Do you write songs in English on your own?

"Yes, this upcoming CD is intended for the international market and we wrote or co-wrote all the songs but one. We collaborated with great Nashville-based songwriter Roger Springer, who has written hits for many stars including Mark Chesnutt - for example 'It's A Little Too Late', which was one of the hottest cajuns - and he has also written stuff for George Strait and Kenny Rogers. I can also reveal that this album would be titled 'Honky Tonk Dream'. The work on the album is in its final stages and we hope to release it very soon."

What other recognitions can you brag about so far?

"For the previous album 'Ja pôjdem sám', which we released in 2006, we were given the Aurel Award in the country/folk/bluegrass category. The Aurel Award is the most prestigious award presented by the Slovak Music Academy. Then we got the Emerald Award for the #3 spot on the World Wide Independent Country Chart and now we expect that those 14 weeks at #1 on the ECMA Chart won't go unnoticed as well."

You're headed for the USA very soon. What are your plans over there?

"Yes, we are really looking forward to this trip. It will be the first time we make it to Nashville. It will be just me and Frank, so we will be performing as an acoustic duo, just guitar and fiddle. I'm sure we'll get to see some amazing shows while in there as well. I'm supposed to meet with my buddies Roger Springer and also Billy Yates, who wrote 'I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair' for George Jones among other hits. Maybe I'll get to write something with them, we will see. We can't wait to get there."

Peter Dula & Rowers - Chlapec a Diabol
(Usti nad Labem, CZ - Sep 15, 2007)


Peter and Frank made it to Nashville in October 2007, where they saw Diamond Rio in concert, and they also got to meet with Marty Stuart, Brent Mason and Paul Franklin. Peter wrote a few tunes with his famous songwriting buddies as he had planned, and he also made his dream come true when he performed at the Legends Corner bar on Broadway.

A few months later Peter was diagnosed with cancer for the third time in his life, this time an aggressive post-radiation sarcoma, which stopped all his plans. Three surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy in Slovakia didn't help very much and his only hope was a major surgery at the Dana Farber's Cancer Institute in Boston, MA. Peter travelled there in May 2008 and underwent the operation.

Several days after the surgery, while he was still in Boston, the winners of the European Country Music Association Awards were announced. Peter & The Rowers broke many records when they got 8 awards including the top trophy for the Artist of the year. Since the winners were revealed in Spain, because of the time zones shift I learned about it a few hours before Peter did. I still remember that mutual euforia and happiness when Peter called me being full of joy and I surprised him with a press release I had already prepared. We did an improvised interview and spread the happy news with the world.

The surgery in Boston was successful and a few days later he was allowed to leave the hospital. At the time it was just a couple of days before the kick-off of the CMA Music Festival in Nashville and Peter had a great dilemma whether to go or not. His health condition was OK, but the thing was there had been a fundraiser collecting money for his surgery and Peter wasn't sure what kind of image it would send out if he had appeared in Nashville so shortly after the surgical intervention. After realizing that his next visit to Nashville was up in the sky due to his uncertain health contidion in the future, he decided to go. Because of a strict quarantine to prevent him from getting infection he had to avoid public events, though. On one hand, his dream came true - he was in Nashville during the CMA Music Fest, but due to his situation he had to stay indoors most of the time. I talked to him every day that week and remember how devastated he was for having to cancel almost everything including Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Byrd's fanclub party. Eventually he made it to two events where he was a backstage guest. Billy Yates invited him to his Countriest of the Country showcase, where Peter got to perform a song and also met with Michael Peterson. The highlight, however, was visiting the Ryman during an Opry show thanks to his hero Joe Diffie. To make things even better, Joe called him out on stage and they played Folsom Prison Blues together. Playing on the Opry was one of Peter's happiest moments of his life, as he pointed out later.

After returning to Slovakia, Peter continued with his treatment. A month later I went to Nashville and this time it was me informing Peter about what was going on in Music City every day. Peter was kind enough to arrange interviews with Joe Diffie and Buddy Jewell for me. In September 2008 I travelled to Kosice and spent a weekend with Peter, where we talked and listened to music, and I also played him the interviews I had just taped.

Since Peter's health didn't allow him to tour and perform anymore, he was working on his dreams from home. He cut a duet with Joe Diffie over the Internet and the song - Long Gone Loner - got great attention on country radio and eventually topped the ECMA Chart. Peter was then crying happy tears, when Joe decided to feature their song on the European release of his The Ultimate Hits album.

One night in August that year, just before Joe was headed for the Opry, I dropped him a message saying we would be listening to the live broadcast (which meant like 3 AM in Europe). During an interview on the Opry Warm Up Show on WSM650, Joe sent a shoutout to Slovakia and had some nice things to say of Peter, which made him very happy.


In the meantime, Peter's band hired a new lead singer, Tommy, and Peter started booking shows for them. And besides that, he continued making new contacts over the Internet. He managed to reach out to Randy Travis, who sent him an autographed DVD of his new movie at that time, The Wager. Peter was also trying to book an American artist to tour with The Rowers in Europe. Eventually he made a deal with Billy Ryan (today performing under his real name Billy Droze). Peter and Billy cut a duet called 'Succeed' and then in August 2009 Billy came to Europe to play with The Rowers. On their tour they experienced quite a paradox: one night they played at Visagino in Lithuania for 20,000 people and three days later they played for 60 people at a club in Prague, where they had to pay for their own meals and drinks and the tiny fee they got didn't even cover their hotel expenses. Peter was very excited about this tour and he was watching their every step from his home in Slovakia. I kept sending him SMS messages during the show in Prague, because he wanted to know what song was just being played. That was very sweet.

Peter knew he wasn't going to play with the band anymore. Since he was spending most of his days at his home or in hospitals, he developed a shift in his musical taste. He wasn't that crazy about rocking to Alan Jackson's uptempo stuff anymore. He found himself appreciating ballads by the likes of John Denver, Randy Travis and Don Williams. He contacted legendary Czech musician and producer Lubos Malina and they started working on Peter's solo album which he intended to sing solely in the Slovak language. They picked the songs, wrote the Slovak lyrics and Peter was practising these songs on guitar very diligently. During this time Peter found a great support in Allan Mikusek, who visited him in hospital very often and their time together was bringing Peter a lot of joy. Practising these new songs was great motivating for Peter to keep fighting his disease. However, he never made it to the recording studio and the couple of tunes from this time exist only as demo versions which Peter recorded on his phone while practising them. Unfortunately his health was getting worse and worse and he eventually passed away on October 10, 2009 at the age of 28.


In his funeral in Kosice a week later, it turned out how many people Peter was able to touch deep inside during his lifetime. In the crowd there were Peter's friends from a number of countries other than Slovakia, including the Czech Republic, Poland and the USA. Later that year, Peter's mentor and guitar teacher, Laco Sasak, held a tribute concert in Peter's memory, which evolved into an annual event. Laco established a special award, "the Wayfaring Guitar", which is Peter's guitar and it's being given to selected artists for their accomplishment. The following year, in 2010, Peter's dear friend Mark Trail flew in Slovakia to attend the tribute concert and accepted the guitar. Then he took it to Nashville, where he later passed it on to Joe Diffie.

Peter Dula Tribute Concert 2010
A tribute concert to Peter Dula, 2010: Allan Mikusek, Peter's mum Anastazia Dulova, Laco Sasak, Mark Trail, Magdalena Luszczynska, Petr Mecir (and Michael Lonstar behind the camera).


In 2013 Frank Jano and Laco Sasak put together an album titled "Odesiel Kovboj (Cowboy's Gone)" consisting of Peter's songs with The Rowers. The title track was a tribute song written by Polish country music legend Michael Lonstar, which he cut as a duet with Allan Mikusek.

Peter Dula touched many hearts and through his songs we can cherish his memory to this day.