Milwaukee’s Semi-Twang formed in the mid 1980s and quickly gained the music industry’s attention with a country-tinged, roots rock sound that would only later be described as Americana. The band, led by John Sieger, signed onto Warner Bros Records and released their debut album, “Salty Tears,” to critical acclaim in 1988. After a considerable break, Shank Hall owner Peter Jest asked the band to do a reunion show in 2009 for the venue’s 20th anniversary, and they discovered they still enjoyed playing together. Semi-Twang released their second album, “Wages of Sin,” in 2011. They’ve since released two more albums, with their latest, “Kenosha,” arriving in 2018.
At 107, drummer Viola Smith may have been the oldest, still playing professional musician.Though Smith entered the WAMI Hall of Fame for contributions to music that go far deeper than her incredible longevity.
Smith passed away in Oct. 2020.
Smith, who grew up in Mount Calvary, was among the country’s first professional female drummers and paved a path for women behind her. In the 1920s and 1930s, Smith played in the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra founded by her father. She gained notoriety as the “world’s fastest girl drummer.” Viola played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. She performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb. She also performed at President Harry Truman’s inauguration in 1949.
Viola played The Ed Sullivan Show five times and was the onstage drummer for the original 1960s Broadway production of Cabaret. Even at her advanced age, she continued to perform occasionally as part of the Forever Young Band: America’s Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers, based out of Costa Mesa, Calif.
Some might find it interesting that an accomplished and familiar voice from the world of southern rock hails from the Dairyland. Kevn Kinney, a native of Milwaukee, developed here as a performer before moving to Atlanta in 1985. He went on to become a founding member of Drivin N Cryin.
Drivin N Cryin is part of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Their front man is also in the WAMI Hall of Fame.
The band quickly became a favorite in Atlanta’s club scene and later drew faithful audiences as a touring act. Their first commercially successful album, 1991’s “Fly Me Courageous,” received gold certification.
The songwriter, vocalist and guitarist formed the Americana and roots rock project, Sun Tangled Angel Revival, in 2002. He released an album with the Golden Palominos in 2011.
Milwaukee’s Esquires represent an important chapter within the city’s strong R&B history.
The Esquires formed in 1957 and was originally made up of siblings Gilbert, Alvis and Betty Moorer. They went through some line-up changes by the time they broke out of Milwaukee and left their mark on a national audience. They signed with Bunky Records and their 1967 debut record, “Get on Up,” climbed the charts. The single reached number 3 on the R&B charts and number 11 on the pop chart. Upon its popularity, they played Chicago’s Regal Theater and the Apollo Theatre in New York City.
The Esquires released subsequent singles and one full-length album. Their 1971 single, “Girls in the City,” reached 18 on the U.S. R&B chart.
The Chordettes, founded in Sheboygan in 1946, made some unforgettable contributions to the American pop culture lexicon. The vocal quartet was one of the most popular harmony acts of its era and consistently reached the charts in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Their biggest hits remain recognizable across generations more than 50 years later.
The Chordettes hit their pinnacle with the 1954 hit, “Mr. Sandman.” The single rocketed to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Four years later, their hit single “Lollipop” peaked in Billboard’s number 2 slot.
The Chordettes formed among college friends and reached a national audience after becoming regulars on Arthur Godfrey’s television show.
The original Chordettes were Jinny Osborn, Janet Ertel, Alice Mae Buschmann, and Dorothy Schwartz. Carol Buschmann replaced Alice Mae in 1947. Lynn Evans, Margie Latzko and Nancy Overton were later part of the group. The women were far from two-hit wonders. The Chordettes, who often sang a cappella and were renowned for their barbershop harmonies, had sustaining power and reached the Top 100 with 13 songs from 1954 through 1961.
They’re a part of pop culture history, having appeared on the very first episode of American Bandstand that was broadcast to a nationwide audience.
The Chordettes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001. “Mr Sandman” was placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame the following year.
Paul Cebar might be one of the first names to come to mind at the mention of Milwaukee music.
From bars to festivals and stages in between, Cebar enters the WAMI Hall of Fame having been a staple of its music scene for decades. Moreover, the songwriter, guitarist and bandleader has been an ambassador for his hometown.
He’s brought his own unique recipe for the rhythm and blues — one flavored by New Orleans, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America — well beyond the Dairyland’s borders. His band, The Milwaukeeans, had its name on marquees across the country.
Cebar spent his college years in Florida and took a shot in New York, though came to find there’s no place like home. He emerged from the coffeehouse folk scene of the 1970s to find success with the R&B Cadets. He went on to front Paul Cebar and The Milwaukeeans. His musical exploration presses on with Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound.
Though Cebar has kept beneath the radar on the national scene, he’s a musician’s musician who’s built a fan base that includes the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Nick Lowe, Chris Smither, John Hiatt and Cesar Rosas.
Crowds today, as they could for decades, can expect to find a sound that’s funky, soul-filled and get-out-of-your-chairs danceable.
Realm’s pioneering, progressive thrash — aggressive, technical, precise, yet ever melodic — broke free from Milwaukee’s metal underground and garnered national attention in the late 1980s.
Formed in 1985, Realm found fast success in the thrash metal subgenre.
They put out a five-song original demo in their first year and found themselves opening for Megadeth. In 1988, they signed with Roadrunner Records, the era’s preeminent label in the death and thrash metal genres.
Realm — made up of Mark Antoni, Paul Laganowski, Takis Kinis, Steve Post and Mike Olson — recorded their debut album, “Endless War” in August and September of 1988. In spring 1989, they embarked on their first US tour and gained airplay with their speed metal cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”
Realm’s second album, “Suiciety,” was released in 1992 — and just as grunge swept over the musical landscape. Realm disbanded in the following year.
The band set forth with a goal to create music that was heavy, futuristic and complicated in simple sort of way. Metal fans haven’t forgotten their contributions.
Sadly, guitarist Paul Laganowski passed away in 2017 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Realm reunited on the occasion of their WAMI Hall of Fame induction.
Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan was born just beyond the Fox Cities and just after the turn of the 20th Century before becoming a major player in a major American musical movement.
He’s still regarded among the finest jazz trumpeters of all time.
Berigan was born in Hilbert in 1908. He was raised in Fox Lake and attended the University of Wisconsin before hitting the big time with his trumpet and unique jazz sound as the big band, swing era took America by storm.
Before his passing at 33 years old, Berigan’s trumpet was featured on hundreds of records alongside artists including Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Berigan’s solo on Dorsey’s recording of “Marie” is considered one of his signature performances.
He played as part of Broadway pit orchestras. He was a member of the CBS Radio Network’s house band. He was regularly featured on CBS Radio’s “Saturday Night Swing Club” broadcasts.In 1937, he became the leader of a band under his own name.
His 1937 recording, “I Can’t Get Started,” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2008, Berigan was inducted into the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame.
His legacy had been honored annually in Fox Lake with the “Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee.”
Stevie Rachelle’s career took him from Oshkosh to Hollywood — then across the nation — and once again back to his Wisconsin roots.
He became a favorite of the Packer nation. Before that, he played on the big stages under the bright lights and gave the Dairyland some representation amid the Aqua Net, eyeliner and power ballads of the glam metal era.
Rachelle joined Tuff as vocalist in 1987 through circumstances that might well be described as fate. A flyer handed out on the Sunset Strip somehow made its way to the Midwest and Stevie answered the call. Tuff sought the right man for the mic. Stevie took a gamble, buying a one-way flight to L.A.
After paying their dues on the club scene, the band signed with Atlantic Records in 1990 and found success with their debut album, “What Comes Around … Goes Around.” Their power ballad, “I Hate Kissing You Goodbye,” peaked at the three spot on the Dial MTV countdown. Tuff toured alongside artists including Lita Ford, Dokken and Badlands.
Glam lost its hold, though Rachelle kept busy. Another project demonstrated his home state, home team love. His Packer-centric parody act, Cheeseheads With Attitude, was a major part of the soundtrack during the Green and Gold’s mid 90s return to glory.
Rachelle founded the web magazine, “Metal Sludge” which continues to provide an outlet and community for glam fans.
Billy Flynn is a Wisconsin guitarist with Wisconsin roots, though built his resume and legacy within one of the great American blues scenes — and one just a short drive south of our border.
The Green Bay native, a member of the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, is also a member of the WAMI Hall of Fame.
He’s known and appreciated as a musician’s musician; a multi-instrumentalist who shines on lead and rhythm guitar, mandolin and harmonica. He’s renowned for his innovative and unexpected solos steeped in history while still expressing the blues of today.
At the young age of 14, Flynn met Jimmy Dawkins while sitting outside and listening at the back door of a Green Bay blues club — and as they say, the rest was history. Dawkins invited Billy to hit the road in 1975 with The Chicago Blues All-Stars and its ensemble cast including Dawkins, Eddie Shaw, Hubert Sumlin and Junior Wells.
Billy was the backing guitarist during the “Howling For Hubert (Sumlin) Tribute” at the Apollo Theater and supported artists including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Kim Wilson and Billy Gibbons.
Billy released 11 titles under his own name and has performed on or written songs for more than 50 recordings and artists.
Flynn’s work was featured in the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of the movie “Cadillac Records” in the role of the guitar work of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. He performed on Beyonce’s version of “At Last” from the soundtrack, which earned her the 2010 Grammy for best female R&B performance.
Milwaukee native and four-time Grammy Award nominee Eric Benét began his early days singing lead for the pop group Gerard in the late 80s and later with the band Benét. Signed to Warner Bros as a solo artist in 1994, Benét released his debut album in 1994, but it was his sophomore release in 1999 that garnered him his first No. 1 R&B single, “Spend My Life With You,” featuring Tamia. Benét continues to record and tour, and to date, has released nine studio albums. He has also garnered recognition as an actor in television and film.
Founded in 1969 by blues harmonica player Jim Liban, Short Stuff was a mainstay on the Milwaukee blues scene until 1984.
Junior Brantley joined the line-up shortly after the inception of the band, adding his unique keyboard stylings and vocals. The band released two albums and several 45’s on the Third Coast Records label.
Born in 1943 in Two Rivers, Grammy nominee Bryan Lee, also known as “Braille Blues Daddy,” lost his eyesight as a young boy and was legally blind at the age of eight. By the age of 15, Bryan was playing guitar and singing for audiences across the Midwest.
In the late 1950s, he opened for Bill Haley & The Comets. From the 1960s thru the 1970s, Lee’s music interest became heavily influenced by the sound of the Chicago Blues. He was based out of New Orleans since 1982. Lee was a fixture in the French Quarter and also toured around the country regularly. He had 15 albums to his credit.
Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski was born in Milwaukee in 1914. Soon after, the family moved to Abrams, Wisconsin, where he learned to play fiddle from his father, a polka musician. Giving himself the same last name as bandleader Wayne King, “Frankie King” formed a band and appeared on radio in Racine.
After high school, his“King’s Jesters” performed all over the Midwest, blending country and polka music. In 1933, when he was 19, his band played on the Milwaukee radio show “Badger State Barn Dance”, where they were discovered by rising star Gene Autry.
Autry hired them as his backup band, and gave King the nickname “Pee Wee” for his five-foot, six-inch height. In 1936, King left Autry, and formed The Golden West Cowboys. In 1937, King married Lydia Frank, whose father became band manager and got the band an invite to join the Grand Ole Opry. They were controversial for their flashy wardrobes, and showmanship that included the use of accordion, horns, drums and electric guitars.
In 1946, King, with Redd Stewart, composed his best-known tune “The Tennessee Waltz”. King’s other hits included “Slow Poke” and “You Belong to Me”. King’s band earned recognition as best country band from Billboard and Cashbox magazines. In 1955, “The Pee Wee King Show” made it to prime time TV, on ABC. His band toured until he retired from performing in 1969, having written or co-written more than 400 songs.
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970) and the Country Music Hall of Fame (1974). By bringing electric guitars and drums to Nashville, wearing flashy cowboy suits, crafting pop hits from country sounds, and having country music success on television, King blazed a trail for other country performers to follow. He died in Louisville, Ky., in 2000, at age 86.
Born in 1953, to a musical family in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, Lyle Mays was always encouraged to explore new forms of expression.
His first piano teacher, Lula Otto, was also his first grade teacher. As a teen, Lyle attended the Shell Lake Stage Band Jazz Camps and studied with such talents as Marian McPartland.
After a brief stint at UW-Eau Claire, Lyle transferred and studied composition and arrangement at North Texas State University. Next, he toured with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd for 8 months. While appearing at the 1975 Wichita Jazz Festival, Lyle met 20-year-old guitarist, Pat Metheny.
Lyle moved to the east coast in 1977, and the two formed an artistically successful musical alliance. He co-wrote most of the music for the group’s 11 Grammy-winning albums, using crystal clear virtuosity, unconventional melodies and cinematic scope of orchestration.
Lyle was nominated four times for his own work. He wrote acclaimed projects for stage and screen, including off-Broadway and film scores. The list of musicians he has recorded with includes Joni Mitchell, Bobby McFerrin, Toots Thielemans, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Paul McCandless. He’s also composed and recorded music for children’s records, including the Tale of Peter Rabbit, with text by Meryl Streep.
Dave Steffen hails from Plymouth, Wis., where he began playing guitar as a young boy. During high school, he played in his first band, The Wanderers.
By the time he left high school, in 1969, his band Love Society signed to Scepter Records. Within 5 years, he had also released recordings with RCA and Mercury Records. His talent as a songwriter and singer, in addition to his prowess as a guitar player, earned Steffen and his band special recognition in Billboard and Cashbox magazines.
After teen band successes, Sunblind Lion formed in 1974 in Plymouth. They released three albums between 1976 and 1980 which were characterized by intelligent lyrics, impressive guitar playing, and grandiose keyboard work. After Sunblind Lion’s regional success, Dave inaugurated The Dave Steffen Band, playing venues in Wisconsin, opening for such national acts as Rush, Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon, as well as headlining his own shows.
In 1986, The Dave Steffen Band headed west to the San Francisco Bay area music scene. During his 9-year stay, Dave was fortunate to open for groups like Huey Lewis and the News, Santana, Robin Trower, and Journey. Guitar virtuosos like Carlos Santana and Neil Schon noticed Dave’s guitar prowess, and would seek out his performances to jam with him in a club setting. During this time, Dave continued to write and record his own music, releasing three more albums.
Dave returned to Wisconsin in 1995 and has continued to delight audiences with the Dave Steffen Band and a variation, The String Benders.
Plasticland emerged onto the Milwaukee music scene in 1980, and quickly gained recognition nationally, as one of the uniquely successful psychedelic garage rock bands.
Several guitarists and drummers would rotate in and out of the band over time, but Glenn Rehse and John Frankovic remained the core of the band. Dan Mullen was the second guitarist for most of the 1980s recordings and live appearances.
The band signed to Enigma Records, as well as several European labels. They released six albums and three EPs.
Sigmund Snopek III has been a staple within the Wisconsin music scene and points beyond. He’s done a little bit of everything — and has drawn acclaim across a variety of musical pursuits.
Snopek has been active since the late 1960s as a performer, composer, recording artist, bandleader and orchestrator. The genres for which he has received acclaim range from progressive rock to classical symphonies. Snopek began his career in the late 1960s with a progressive rock band called The Bloomsbury People. He’s done pop songs and classical compositions. He’s performed and recorded with the Violent Femmes.
Snopek composed a jazz symphony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Waukesha, which was performed at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha in 1984. His classical works have been performed by groups including the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra.
Hailing from Oconomowoc, The Robbs are perhaps best known as the 1966-67 “house band” on Dick Clark’s 1960’s weekly television show, “Where the Action Is.” They replaced Paul Revere and the Raiders on the program.
The pop band, noted for their vocal harmonies, signed to Mercury Records in 1966. All of their single releases charted on Wisconsin radio stations. Their 1966 single, “Race With The Wind” was a l hit in Chicago.
Though nationally, The Robbs always remained on the cusp. They’re known for placing the most singles on Billboard magazine’s “Bubbling Under” chart without ever once crossing into the Billboard Hot 100.
Warren Wiegratz received the WAMI Award for Reeds/Brass Player of the Year an unprecedented 12 times prior to his Hall of Fame induction.
Early in his career, he joined Milwaukee-based Sweetbottom (1973-1980), a highly acclaimed jazz/fusion group which recorded five successful albums including two on the Elektra/Asylum label.
He later formed Oceans (1981-1990), a contemporary jazz group that recorded two nationally released albums. They led to appearances on NBC’s Today show, ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS Sports.
Warren has performed and recorded with countless renowned artists including Phil Collins, George Duke, Al Dimeola, Daryl Stuermer, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Supremes, Steve Smith, Jaco Pastorius, Wayman Tisdale, Chris Spheeris, Bobby Caldwell, Eric Benet and many more.
Scoring credits include two motion pictures (Dreamweaver, Lady MAry) and his tune Felicia is featured on the soundtrack of the film, “I Love You to Death.” He’s won several Addys for scoring commercials. Mr. Wiegratz’s original orchestral concerto “Three Scenes for Contemporary Jazz Saxophone and Orchestra” has been performed throughout the state.
Warren’s solo version of The Star Spangled Banner has received national acclaim providing countless opportunities for him to perform it at sporting events across the country.
Herman, one of the greatest big band leaders of all time, was born Woodrow Charles Thomas Herrman in Milwaukee on May 16, 1913. He began performing at age 6. As a student at Marquette University, he began playing with several regional big bands.
In 1934, he joined the Isham Jones (“It had to be You”) Orchestra. When Jones left, Herman wisely took over and in 1936 reformed the “Woody Herman Orchestra,” known as “the Band that Plays the Blues.” This first band recorded on the Decca label.
By 1943, the Woody Herman Orchestra was evolving into the first “Herd.” It was a wild, good-time band with screaming ensembles, propelled by first trumpeter Pete Candoli. By 1945, the (first) Herd was considered to be the most exciting big band in jazz, progressive in style. Popular hits included “Caldonia,” “Your Father’s Mustache” and the classically-based “Ebony Concerto.” Woody established himself as the bandleader with the modern repertoire, always cutting edge with creative music.
In mid 1947. Woody formed a new orchestra called the Second Herd aka The Four Brothers Band.
Herman’s other bands include the Third Herd (1950-1956) and various editions of the New Thundering Herd (1959-1987).
In the early 1970s, he toured frequently and began to work more in jazz education. Herman, who might have taken it easy, kept on touring and working into his 70s. Failing health led to his death on October 29, 1987,
His music lives on through more than 80 recordings. Herman also received four Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Originally from Oshkosh, Janet’s decades-long career as an accomplished jazz vocalist launched following her success at a high school talent show.
Since those early years, Janet’s busy concert schedule has taken her to performing arts centers, universities, jazz festivals and jazz clubs across the USA and internationally.
Jazziz Magazine hailed her as a “Voice of the New Jazz Culture … amazingly powerful with seemingly limitless expression.” To date, Ms. Planet has performed alongside such legends as Jackie and Roy, George Benson, Nancy King, Ellis Marsalis, Gene Bertoncini, Marian McPartland and WAMI Hall of Fame member John Harmon.
Known for her unique vocal stylings, Planet employs a faultless technique to the service of phrase and text. Her clear but easy diction explores surfaces and recesses alike. In ballads, even sambas, the beauty of her tone takes her performance to a level of its own. Cadence Magazine says of Janet: “She displays uncanny vocal virtuosity … voice and lyric can be heard as one.”
In addition to performing and recording, she co-founded Stellar Sound Productions, a record label that has consistently earned praise from reviewers. She also owns Steel Moon Recording Studio in Oshkosh with her husband, musician Tom Washatka.
It was an old, gold Plymouth that carried around the band back in the late 70s from clubs in Milwaukee and Madison to college towns in northern Wisconsin before they signed to a major label.
Yipes! Was the brainchild of friends Pat McCurdy (songwriter/vocals) and Mike Hoffman (rhythm guitar) who formed the band in 1977. They soon added Andy Bartel (lead guitar), Peter Strand (bass) and Teddy Freese (drums.)
Following a mere two years of successful gigging around Wisconsin, Yipes! caught the attention of execs at Millenium/RCA and once signed, the result was two albums — the first of which charted at 172 on the Billboard charts. Soon, Yipes! was opening for bands such as Foreigner and Jefferson Starship. Their album cuts received airplay on radio stations across the country.
Since his 1987 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (Timbuk3), pat mAcdonald has continued to write, perform and reinvent himself.
Recognized for his singular sound and skewed worldview, mAcdonald is a highly sought-after songwriting collaborator having worked with Stewart Copeland (The Police), Oysterhead, Imogen Heap, Keith Urban, producer John Parish, Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Jackson Browne. Artists ranging from Aerosmith to Pavoratti have performed and recorded his songs.
Aside from his career as a songwriter, mAcdonald has ventured into historic preservation, saving an old steel bridge from demolition in his current home of Sturgeon Bay, WI. This effort led to the birth of Steel Bridge Songfest, an annual songwriting event bringing artists together from around the world.
In addition to being in the Austin Music Hall of Fame, his famed boombox from his days with Timbuk3 is on permanent display at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
In the mid 1970s, while playing with Milwaukee band Sweetbottom, Daryl Stuermer auditioned to play lead guitar with jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Thus began a decades-long career on the international music scene.
After making a name for himself performing with Ponty, Stuermer was tapped to replace Steve Hackett of Genesis, beginning his “permanent part-time stint” as lead guitarist with Genesis, as well as becoming an original member of Phil Collins’ solo project band. Fans will appreciate the fact that Stuermer created the signature lead guitar sound of many hits, including “In the Air Tonight” and “Easy Lover.”
Stuermer has performed on more than seven albums with Genesis and 10 with the Phil Collins Band. In addition, he’s performed on albums by Jean Luc Ponty, Peter Frampton, Frida Lyngstad (ABBA) and many others.
Daryl continues to perform with his Daryl Stuermer Band, which showcases his acclaimed blend of rock and jazz guitar. Eight solo albums have resulted featuring his originals, as well as Genesis covers on his 2002 release, “Another Side of Genesis.”
The Gufs came together in 1988 and quickly made a mark in the alternative pop/rock genre. UW-Milwaukee college roommates Goran Kralj and Scott Schwebel formed the band. They invited Goran’s brother, Dejan to join along with bassist Tony Luna. Initially, the band received notoriety as a Milwaukee bar band. Luna left in 1990 and was succeeded by Morgan Dawley.
During the 1990s, the band toured the Midwest and developed a solid fan base. Early albums were recorded on the indie label, Red Submarine Records. Their album “Collide” (1995) featured two singles that garnered strong radio airplay: “Smile”, and “Crash (Into Me).”
Atlantic Records signed The Gufs in 1995, and under Atlantic, they released “The Gufs” (1996) and “Holiday from Me” (1999).
Returning to Red Submarine Records, The Gufs released “A Different Sea” in 2006. “To celebrate their 20th Anniversary in 2008, the band performed a series of summer concerts with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
The Chicago Sun Times referred to him as a “Renaissance man cast adrift in a modern world,” while the London Times has called him “The first existential jazz rapper.”
Long-time Wisconsin resident Ben Sidran has earned international recognition as a Grammy nominated pianist, singer, composer, organist, producer and author.
He was born in Chicago in 1943, but raised in Racine. Sidran attended UW-Madison where he formed The Ardells with fellow students, Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs.. Sidran earned his degree in English Lit, then went to England for his PhD. While there, he was a session musician for The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and Charlie Watts.
Returning to the US in 1967, he rejoined forces with Miller in Los Angeles, and after re-establishing himself as a recording artist, moved back to Madison.
As both a jazz and rock musician, Sidran’s recording credits include albums with Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Diana Ross, and Rickie Lee Jones, as well as more than 20 discs of his own on the Arista, Go Jazz and Nardis record labels. He’s also known as an accomplished producer, college lecturer, and author. Books include: “Black Talk”, (black music in America), his memoir “A Life in Music”, “Talking Jazz” (historic interviews with jazz musicians) and his most recent “Jews, Music and the American Dream.”
Sidran also produced “Sidran on Record” an award-winning NPR program spanning 5 years of interviews with jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Art Blakey and more.
Milwaukee-born Leland Sklar entered the WAMI Hall of Fame with more than 2,500 album credits on his music résumé,
Born in 1947, Sklar moved to southern California as a young child. Piano lessons began at age 4, but by the time he was 12, he was studying bass — the instrument on which he built his legendary career. After graduating from California State, he met James Taylor, began playing gigs with him, and the rest is music history.
Sklar’s distinctive playing style has been heard on a long list of recordings by a diverse list of artists including Air Supply, Clint Black, Donovan, Bernadette Peters, Michael W. Smith, Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Roger McGuinn, Ray Charles, Ricky Martin, Cliff Richard, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, Willie Nelson, and many more. Sklar appears on 12 of James Taylor’s albums.
Credits are not limited to recordings; Leland is heard on many film and television soundtracks, including Hill Street Blues, Simon and Simon, Forrest Gump, Ghost, and My Best Friend’s Wedding.
The bass icon is as famous for his rich, deep, grooves as he is for his foot-long beard.
Formed in Milwaukee, Die Kreuzen bursted onto the scene as a hardcore punk band in 1981. As the years pressed on, their sound evolved into alternative rock.
In 1982, they released their first EP, “Cows and Beer. ”Their 21-song, self-titled debut album was released in 1984 The 1986 follow-up, October File, saw the band move away from hardcore into slower, more conceptual work.Their third album, Century Days (1988), saw the band incorporate piano and horns.
The majority of their albums were produced by Butch Vig, who’s best known for producing bands including Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins.
While beneath the mainstream, Die Kreuzen enjoyed a strong fan base and left a significant mark on musicians to follow in their wake.
Die Kruezen’s influence might best be recognized in a 2015 tribute album produced in their honor. Lean Into It – A Tribute to Die Kreuzen, featured Die Kreuzen covers by artists including Napalm Death, Mike Watt, Voivod, Season to Risk, and Vic Bondi.
The Milwaukee-born bassist isn’t only a member of the WAMI Hall of Fame. He’s inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Howie played rhythm guitar, mandolin and sang in a number of Milwaukee rock and country bands.
Epstein eventually took a gig backing Del Shannon. It was in that role that Tom Petty took notice and recruited him to become part of the legendary band.
Epstein’s work ran far deeper.
He played bass on recordings by Eric Andersen, Bob Dylan, Carlene Carter, Johnny Cash, John Hiatt, Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt, Del Shannon, The Textones, The Village People and Warren Zevon.
He also earned recognition as a songwriter and producer. Epstein produced two albums for John Prine including 1991’s The Missing Years, which won a Grammy.
A nationally renowned jazz pianist, John Harmon was born in Oshkosh in 1935 and began playing piano at a young age He graduated from Appleton’s Lawrence University in 1957 with a degree in music composition. That summer, Harmon attended the first session of the Lenox School of Jazz – the legendary summer program recognized as one of the first educational programs with a jazz curriculum. Harmon was a private student of world-renowned jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson.
As a composer, he has received more than 100 commissions for a variety of ensembles ranging from solo instrument to full orchestra with concert choir. Harmon has written music for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, “The Orchestra” of Los Angeles, the Fox Valley Symphony and the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra.
Harmon is also founder of the Fox Jazz Festival, which brings acclaimed artists to the Fox Cities each summer.
A native of Milwaukee, singer/songwriter and guitarist Jon Paris began his career on drums playing with fellow inductee Jerry Harrison and longtime Leonard Cohen guitarist Bob Metzger in Milwaukee-based band, The Walkers. Paris was also a member of the critically acclaimed power trio, OX in the late 1960s.
Based in New York City since moving there in 1974, Paris is the consummate rock n roll blues side man. He has played with everybody from Bo Diddley to Les Paul and has toured nationally and internationally with an impressive list of artists that includes Johnny Winter and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Jon has also maintained his own New York City-based rock n blues band. They perform regularly at the B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square and at clubs, casinos and concerts on the East Coast, in the Midwest and in Canada. Jon has headlined in Norway, Sweden, Israel and South Africa. He’s opened concerts for many performers including Little Richard, Buddy Guy, Brian Setzer, Jonny Lang and Cheap Trick. He performed at Harley-Davidson’s 90th, 95th and 100th Anniversary celebrations. He was the special guest band leader for the grand finale at Les Paul’s 90th birthday tribute at Carnegie Hall.
Jon Paris’ recording credits include sessions with Bob Dylan, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Ron Wood and John Hiatt. He launched his career as a solo artist with Rock the Universe in 1996 and Blue Planet in 2004.
The multi-talented instrumentalist, songwriter and producer was born in Milwaukee in 1949. After a stint in a high school band, The Walkers, he left Milwaukee to attend college at Harvard. By 1970, Jerry had met Ernie Brooks and Jonathan Richman and together they formed a band called The Modern Lovers, which had some influence on the New York underground music scene.
In April 1976, Jerry saw the Talking Heads as a trio in Boston and knew instinctively that he could add something. He joined the Talking Heads in September of that year as their keyboard player and guitarist. As a four-piece band, Talking Heads’ popularity expanded to an international scale, particularly with the release of their debut album: Talking Heads: 77 and the single, Psycho Killer.
Jerry broke from the band in 1981 and recorded his first solo album, which was followed by several others. During the 80s, Harrison launched his career as a record producer, which has since earned him much recognition.
Production credits for Harrison can be found on recordings for The BoDeans, Violent Femmes, Verve Pipe, Foo Fighters, No Doubt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Fine Young Cannibals.
A brief reunion of the full Talking Heads took place during their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Harrison has since continued to focus on his career as a producer in addition to maintaining his role as chairman of the board for garageband.com, the internet music resource he co-founded in 1999.
Scales is an American R&B singer, songwriter and producer. Scales has been active in the music industry since the 1960s and has composed songs for groups with a long standing history in the industry such as The Dells, The Dramatics and the O’Jays. Once called Milwaukee’s “Godfather of Soul” by a local reporter, Scales credits James Brown and the sound of funk for influencing his music career.
Scales received national recognition for co-writing a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping single for Johnnie Taylor titled “Disco Lady.” It was the very first platinum single in the history of the Recording Industry Association of America, selling over two million copies. It was certified platinum on April 22, 1976. Scales is the first African American songwriter to receive this status. Scales also co-wrote the song “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” — recorded by Jesse James — with Johnny Mills of Milwaukee. He has written most of the songs on his albums — from the 1978 release of Confidential Affairs to to the 1997 Somebody Else’s Somebody.
Harvey was well known in Milwaukee before his big break as a national songwriter. Known as “Twistin’ Harvey” in the early 1960s by local fans, Scales, an Arkansas native, grew up in Milwaukee and attended Roosevelt Middle and North Division High School. Together he and his long-time friend Al Vance (1943-2003), formed the group Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds.
He performs at venues throughout the United States including New York, Atlanta and Chicago and in his hometown of Milwaukee at events including Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the African World Festival.
Vig is both a record producer and the drummer for the rock band, Garbage. Vig became interested in music and production work when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Vig was studying film and subsequently became involved in the Madison music scene. While enrolled, Vig met Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. With Erikson, Vig began the band that became Spooner in 1979.
Vig and Marker spent hours recording on Marker’s four-track tape recorder in his basement. That was the nascent beginning of Smart Studios. When no offers came to Spooner, the side project Fire Town was signed to Atlantic Records in 1988. They gained critical acclaim and small financial success with their releases “I’ll Carry the Torch for You,” “Rain on You” and “The Good Life.”
Vig’s first high-profile production work was in 1991 when he produced The Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Nirvana’s Nevermind. His production work on Nevermind is widely credited as the reason that Nirvana broke through to the mainstream, going #1 on the U.S. chart.
The BoDeans were formed in Waukesha by Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann, who have played together since high school. The roots rock band released its first album “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams” in 1986, which quickly propelled the group into the national spotlight. The BoDeans’ 1987 release, “Outside Looking In” broke into the Billboard Top 100. At that same time, the band was touring with US and was named “Best New Band” by Rolling Stone magazine.
In 1996, several Top 100 best-selling albums later, the band’s song “Closer to Free garnered national attention as the theme song to Fox’s “Party of Five.” “Closer to Free earned the BoDeans an ASCAP award for being one of the most played songs on radio that year.
In 2004, the band released “Resolution.” The album’s single, “If it Makes You,” quickly jumped into the Top 10 and stayed there for several weeks. A live album and DVD were released in 2005 called “Homebrewed: Live from the Pabst.” The BoDeans’ eighth studio album “Still” was released in March 2008.
Ellis is widely regarded as the cornerstone of Milwaukee jazz. He was born in 1933 and began playing piano in bands around the Milwaukee area at the age of nine under his musician father’s guidance.
After hearing noteworthy guitarist Oscar Morre on the Nat King Cole Trio; “Prelude in C-sharp minor,” Ellis quickly became focused on the guitar. It wasn’t until 1961, during an impromptu meeting with Wes Montgomery at the Sutherland Hotel in Chicago, that he was introduced to the jazz guitar.
Ellis has worked steadily to build appreciation for jazz in his hometown. He was the musical director for “The Black Scene,” a local NBC affiliate public affairs show, for three years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Ellis also co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music along with Tony King and taught there for 12 years. During that time, he directed a government-funded Model Cities program that provided Conservatory scholarships for underprivileged students. Ellis also co-owned a music store, Ellis Music, and many famous jazz musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, George Benson and Frank Foster visited when they were in town.
He has taught master classes and held clinics in college campuses around the region since 1977 in collaboration with bassist Richard Davis. Ellis was a recipient of the 1997 Arts Midwest Jazz Masters award and in 1999, he recorded a CD, “In His Own Sweet Way.”
Kames is best known for introducing the song “The Chicken Dance” (formerly “Dance Little Bird”) to the United States in 1982. The song was first recorded in Milwaukee by Kames and his son and daughter (“Dad and the Kids”), and by the end of 1982, more than a million copies were sold worldwide.
Additionally, he performed other songs, including “Mr. Sandman” and “The Clap Clap Song.” Kames, a member of the Polka duo Happy Organ, has recorded more than 72 albums during his music career.
A foundation bearing his name was formed in 2005 with a mission of encouraging youth, especially high school music groups, and parents to get their children involved in music at an early age.
Krueger was a gifted guitarist and native of Manitowoc, whose posthumous induction came in recognition of his guitar skills and being an occasional co-songwriter with Dave Mason from the mid-70s throughout the early 80s. Krueger wrote Mason’s biggest hit “We Just Disagree.”
He released a solo album in 1978 called “Sweet Salvation,” and in the early 1990s, he was a key member (“Otto”) of the Manitowoc-based novelty/bar band the Happy Schnapps Combo.
Cheese isn’t the only thing that shreds in America’s Dairyland.
WAMI Hall of Famer Michael Angelo Batio, a resident of southeastern Wisconsin, was voted the “No. 1 Fastest Guitar Shredder of All Time” by Guitar One Magazine in 2003.
Batio, a heavy metal guitarist, brings a deep understanding of music to his art, though couldn’t make it happen without combining it with speed and dexterity.
He employs an advanced knowledge of music theory that includes complex scale combinations and time signatures. He’s widely known for his technical mastery of the fretboard and his extremely fast picking and sweep picked arpeggios.
He is also known for his showmanship during performances, particularly his use of the “Over-Under” technique, and for his ability to play a double and quad guitar, using both hands to play.
Batio was the lead guitarist for the Los Angeles-based glam metal band Nitro in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He’s also well known for his “Speed Kills” guitar instruction DVD series. He’s founder of the record label, M.A.C.E. Music, Inc.
There’s only one Hall of Fame inductee within this esteemed institution that isn’t a person.
But as a venue, Kenosha’s Brat Stop has a Hall-worthy history in terms of its contributions to Wisconsin music.
It’s a bar, it’s a restaurant and it’s part of the WAMI Hall of Fame as a concert venue. Opened in 1961, the Brat Stop has provided a stage for up-and-coming local acts while also bringing big-name national entertainment.
Plenty of major acts had the Brat Stop on their itineraries through the years.
It was a regular stop for Cheap Trick as they began to build into a national powerhouse.
It’s hosted Charlie Daniels, Puddle of Mudd, Eddie Money, Warrant, BTO, Jackyl, Trace Adkins, Jo Dee Messina, Foghat, Guess Who and Shinedown among others.
There’s little that can build community like the power of music.
In Milwaukee, the drive of musicians to give back developed into a warm and important holiday tradition.
The Sleighriders, an annual collaboration of 40 of the finest, most experienced Milwaukee musicians, put forth holiday shows to raise money for worthy community causes.
Cast members change. But the collaboration has been a constant since the early 1980s.
The event began as an R&B review, but has expanded to include many different kinds of music. The group on any given year includes musicians from a wide variety of genres. It’s been a who’s who of the Milwaukee music scene.
Each year, music fans see all their favorites all in one place. And in the process, they’ve thousands upon thousands in benefit to others.
Some call him the Space Cowboy. Some call him the Gangster of Love.
He’s a Milwaukee native, a chart topping performer and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee in 1943 and his godfather is none other than Les Paul. The family moved to Texas when Steve was a child, though he returned to Wisconsin in 1962 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, he formed The Ardells, which included Boz Scaggs and Ben Sidran.
In 1966, and now part of the San Francisco scene, he formed the Steve Miller Band.
The Steve Miller Band, carrying a psychedelic blues sound, released seven albums before a dramatic change in 1973 with the release of The Joker. The title track from the album became a number one single and sparked a series of radio hits that anyone can sing along with now generations later.
Fly Like An Eagle, released in 1976, charted at No. 3. Three singles were released from the album: “Take the Money and Run” reached the 11-spot on the charts and “Fly Like an Eagle” peaked at no. 2. “Rock’n Me” became their second number one hit.
Miller’s 1978 greatest hits album sold more than 13 million copies.
In 1982, Abracadabra brought him back to the top of the charts for a third time.
Altogether, the band has sold more than 60 million copies.
Joe Aaron was a Milwaukee music icon with a career that spanned across eight decades.
A saxophone and clarinet player, Aaron was influential as a player and strengthened music in Milwaukee as a teacher. He was tireless, playing gigs of all sorts and in all sizes from parties to clubs to orchestra pits.
Aaron remained active in music well into his 80s. He made his name with old standards, playing jazz, big band and classical.
In the early 1940s, Aaron played with Clyde McCoy and His Orchestra. He played with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its early days, and was part of the music staff of WTMJ when television took hold as a medium.
His influence will long live on through his students. He was a sax instructor at UW-Milwaukee. Also a teacher at Juneau High School, he taught music for five of his 30 years.
Ron Cuzner wasn’t a performer, yet was still among the most important ambassadors for jazz music in Wisconsin.
Cuzner was a legendary voice on Milwaukee radio and was considered by many fans to be among the best jazz DJs of all time.
Cuzner was a regular on the airwaves since 1968. He is best known as the host of “The Dark Side,” which ran on Saturday nights on WMFR between 1975 and 2002. The overnight time slot of midnight to 5 a.m. didn’t stop Cuzner from developing a strong following. His unique style, deep knowledge and straight ahead jazz picks made him a must-listen among aficionados of the genre. His slow, steady meticulous delivery and expert music selections also earned new fans to jazz.
Beyond his show, he served as an emcee at high-profile jazz concerts and ran a small jazz record store downtown.
Cuzner passed away in 2003. Though many years have passed since his voice has come across the airwaves, his legacy continues on. Episodes of “The Dark Side” have gained new life as a popular jazz podcast.
Claude Dorsey, a Milwaukee jazz legend, gave a lifetime of music to the city.
His longevity was notable, though less so than his contributions to Milwaukee’s music scene.
Dorsey, a pianist and vocalist, moved to Milwaukee as a teenager. He developed his style from the influence of the great pianists and bandleaders of the 1930s and 40s. He worked Milwaukee’s clubs tirelessly and performed across the Midwest with his band at the height of his career. He backed Billie Holiday for several dates.
For 40 years, he entertained diners as the house pianist at the Clock Steak House.
Claude’s musical training started in church. He began playing the piano at the age 3 and by age 12, he was playing professionally.
Claude met or performed with an impressive list of legendary artists through the years, which included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, Louie Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Liberace and Tony Bennett.
Claude recorded his first CD, “Claude Dorsey: What a Wonderful World,” at age 89.
He passed away in 2010 at age 96.
Stubblefield became a celebrated member of Madison’s music scene, though only after creating the rhythms that elevated him to funk pioneer and hip-hop legend.
Stubblefield, “the funky drummer,” was native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Stubblefield settled in Madison in 1971 and became a regular at its downtown clubs. His “Funky Monday” gigs were a weekly fixture for decades.
Stubblefield, a self-taught session drummer, began to play professionally as a teenager and toured with Otis Redding in the early 1960s. He joined James Brown’s band in 1965, and for the next five years, laid funk’s rhythmic foundations in tandem with fellow drummer John “Jabo” Starks.
In 1969, he recorded just 20 seconds that would change music.
Stubblefield’s breakbeat in Brown’s “Funky Drummer” was sampled in nearly 1,400 songs and became a signature sound during the golden era of hip hop. It’s heard in tracks by artists including Public Enemy, NWA, Run-DMC and Beastie Boys.
“Funky Drummer” made Stubblefield most sampled musician in history, and though the recording brought fame, it didn’t bring fortune.
Stubblefield wasn’t credited and the royalties never came.
He shared his experiences as part of the PBS documentary, “Copyright Criminals,” which examined sampling and raised debate on copyrights and compensation.
Stubblefield earned high accolades. In 2016, the Stubblefield/Starks tandem earned the number six slot in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”
Born November 16, 1931 in Greenwood, Mississippi. Sumlin was born in Mississippi but raised in Arkansas, just outside West Memphis. He learned to play the drums before he picked up a guitar. In 1954, after a brief stint with James Cotton, Sumlin joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band and moved to Chicago. He played guitar in Howlin’ Wolf’s band for twenty-five years.
His guitar playing was a integral part of Wolf’s sound, and was as much a trademark as Wolf’s growling vocals. Sumlin played on all of Wolf’s classic Chess recordings, including “Spoonfull”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “Smokestack Lightnin'”, “Back Door Man”, and “The Red Rooster”. Sumlin has played and recorded with James Cotton, Eric Clapton, Eddie Taylor, Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters.
Sumlin is an acknowledged hero to many famous guitarists including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin said “Sumlin is one important person…I love Hubert Sumlin.” In 1989, Sumlin moved from Chicago to the northwest side of Milwaukee.
In Wisconsin rock history, Sam McCue is the legend to beat. As any aging greaser can tell you, In the pre-Beatles ’60’s, rock ‘n’ roll in Milwaukee was spelled “L-E-G-E-N-D-S”. The Legends, with front man McCue, were the first band to truly rock Beertown.
Their singles “Say Mama”, “Bop-A-Lena” and “Lariat” went to the top of the charts in Milwaukee. They were the first local rock band to nail a national record contract, getting signed by Capitol. Every weekend they held court over the spacious dance floor at Muskego Beach. And they helped inspire a generation of local musicians to make music their living. By any reasonable standard, Sam McCue is the godfather of Milwaukee rock. The son of a “semi-pro” trumpet-playing dad and a singing, fiddling mom, McCue started out with ukulele at age 6 and graduated to guitar.
In 1964, McCue left to take an opportunity as lead guitarist and band leader for the Everly Brothers. The Everlys turned out to be a memorable experience. McCue traveled all over the world, worked on a national musical variety TV series, and met and played with such rock royalty as Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Vinton.
Rick Jaeger spent the 70’s basking in the glow of success with the Dave Mason Group. As the original bandleader for the group, Rick auditioned and helped make the final selection for the pop band that gave us such greats as “We Just Disagree”.
As one of L.A’s top session drummers, he recorded with such notables as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Harvey Mandel. As a percussionist, his style is also heard on Norman Greenbaum’s “A Spirit In The Sky”.
For eight years he toured with Crosby, Still and Nash. He also played on the Pointer Sister’s hit version of Springsteen’s “Fire.”
EW Porter Jr was a legend among Wisconsin country music performers.
Porter earned a strong fan base through years of performances across the state, whether at clubs, fairs, festivals and beyond. Porter led the bands Texas Crude and Rockin’ Horse, the latter of which had opened for major country acts including Sawyer Brown, Alabama and Brooks & Dunn.
Jerome Brish is a punk legend in Milwaukee and the band he fronted were pioneers of the genre, establishing the city’s scene and making waves throughout the Midwest.
Brish, also known as Presley Haskel, piled on the personality as leader of The Haskels, which emerged at the front end of the punk and new wave scene in 1977.
The Haskels were synonymous with punk in late 70s Milwaukee. The scene was centered at Zak’s North Avenue nightclub and they shared the stage with bands like the Lubricants, Blackholes, Orbits and Plasticland.
Brish, guitarist and vocalist, was joined in the original lineup by Richard LaValliere (bass-vocal) Guy Hoffman (drums) and Gerard LaValliere (guitar). They were fast, melodic and irreverent.
Their legacy lived far beyond their brief time on the Milwaukee scene.
The Haskels would influence a generation of Milwaukee music. Haskels alumni made waves after leaving the band. Richard would form the Oil Tasters and Hoffman would play with the BoDeans and the Violent Femmes.
Kevn Kinnney, a one-time roadie for The Haskels who would go on to become a WAMI hall of famer in his own right, once described the band as “probably the best live band I’ve ever seen that was a local band. To this day, they practiced more than any band I’ve ever seen.”
Ruby Starr had already developed star power before making a home in Wisconsin and taking the next steps in her musical journey here.
Starr moved to Milwaukee in the late 1970s and became a popular act in the region. She formed a band, Grey Star, in the early 1980s having joined a band based in the Mayville area.
Starr joined Ruby Jones in 1969, and the band was signed to Curtom Records. Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, lead singer of Black Oak Arkansas, saw the band perform and immediately offered her a spot in the well established group. Starr toured with Black Oak Arkansas for several years and was featured in their 1973 Top 30 single “Jim Dandy.”
In 1974, she began touring on her own as Ruby Starr & Grey Ghost and released three albums on Capitol Records. She opened for acts including Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Edgar Winter and Blackfoot.
Grey Star released several recordings including 1981’s Grey Star and 1983’s Telephone Sex.
A Wisconsin native changed the guitar, changed the technology of recording and through it all, changed the course of music.Les Paul — the Wizard of Waukesha — had among the most influential roles in the 20th Century music.
As an inventor, Paul was a pioneer of the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording. As an artist, the jazz, blues and country guitarist was a chart topper, Grammy Award winner and bona fide superstar.
Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Paul was performing semi-professionally as a country-music singer, guitarist, and harmonica player by age 13. At age 17, he dropped out of high school to play with Sunny Joe Wolverton’s Radio Band in St. Louis. Les Paul’s trio appeared on Bing Crosby’s radio show. Crosby sponsored Paul’s recordings and they recorded together several times, including “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”, which was a No. 1 hit in 1945.
Paul’s recordings with wife Mary Ford were among his most celebrated. Their hits included “How High the Moon”, “Bye Bye Blues”, “Song in Blue”, “Don’cha Hear Them Bells”, “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”, and “Vaya con Dios.”
Paul’s greatest legacy comes as an innovator. He built one of the first solid-body electric guitars and his name remains on the headstock of Gibson’s most enduring model. His early experiments with overdubbing,delay effects and multitrack recording changed the music industry.
Paul received countless honors of the course of his long and illustrious career.
In 1960, Paul and Ford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “How High is the Moon” and “Via con Dios” are part of the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1983, he received a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement. In 2001, he was honored with the Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award, which recognizes “individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of audio technology,” joining the likes of Thomas Edison and Leo Fender.
He’s part of several halls of fame. Beyond WAMI, those include halls for songwriters, inventors, big band and jazz and rock & roll.
At a mention of Milwaukee and blues keyboard, only one name would come to mind.
Junior Brantley, singer and keyboardist, started his career in Milwaukee in the early 1960s, performing with Sonny Boy Williamson and others at local venues. In the mid-1960s, his group, Junior and The Classics, had a breakout hit on a national record label. They opened for the Rolling Stones during their first Milwaukee concert.
By 1970, Brantley provided the keys for Milwaukee preeminent blues group, Short Stuff. After Short Stuff’s breakup, Brantley spent three years performing with Milwaukee blues group, Leroy Airmaster. In the late 1980s, Brantley toured with Jimmy Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He later toured with Roomful Of Blues.
In 1992, Junior moved to Las Vegas, where he plays with his own groups including the Del Vikings and the Shuffle Aires. Brantley regularly returns to play shows in his native Milwaukee.
They’ve been described as alternative. They’ve been described as folk punk.
Whatever you call their distinctive sound, it’s full-on American music and they’re a point of Milwaukee pride.
Violent Femmes, known for their stripped down sound and bass driven melodies, were famously discovered by James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders as they busked outside the Oriental Theater in 1981. They would open for The Pretenders inside the Oriental later that night.
Their self-titled 1983 debut album, a classic and considered among the best albums of the 1980s, would go on to become a platinum seller without reaching the Billboard 200. It eventually did reach the charts, though nearly a decade after its release. It peaked at 171.
They’re an anomaly, delivering a fullness in their music as a trio — and with beats resonating off of a bare minimalist drum kit. Never afraid to experiment, the Violent Femmes would incorporate an array of instruments and varying genres into their albums whether electronic, country or gospel. In concert, their Horns of Dilemma are known for their extensive, free-form jams.
The band originally consisted of Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo. Drummer DeLorenzo would depart, rejoin and depart again. Guy Hoffman, Brian Viglione and John Sparrow would also take the percussion role in the band.
By 2005, Violent Femmes sold more than 9 million albums.
A singer and multi-instrumentalist, Jim Liban is a giant of Milwaukee’s blues scene and earned fame as one of America’s greatest blues harmonica players.
Liban founded and led Short Stuff, which is separately inducted in the WAMI Hall of Fame, and was a mainstay of the Milwaukee blues scene. The band was a pioneering act of the blues/rock sound.
He’s earned respect from some of the blues greats and developed an international reputation for his skill on the harp. He’s played with legendary acts including Jimi Hendrix. Journey. Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters and Canned Heat.
In addition to being a world-class player, Liban is also known for his prolific songwriting. He’s penned songs that were recorded by artists including John Mayall, Johnny Winter, Lonnie Brooks, The Legendary Blues Band and Little Charlie and The Nightcats.
Hard rock was well represented on the late 1970s air waves, and Bad Boy represented Milwaukee well within the genre.
Led by Steve Grimm, Bad Boy built a solid reputation in the Midwest before landing a national record deal. Randall “Xeno” Hogan, guitarist and vocalist, was the original singer for Cheap Trick before joining the Milwaukee act.
The band was originally formed under the name Crossfire, and they released one single under that name in 1975. They changed their name to Bad Boy after signing to United Artists in 1977.
Bad Boy had two albums on United Artists in the late 70s. “The Band that Made Milwaukee Famous” reached the Billboard charts and led to their followup, “Back to Back.”
He defined flamboyance, luxury and showmanship and was recognizable worldwide by only his last name.
Władziu Valentino Liberace, known to the world simply as Liberace, was born in West Allis in 1919. A piano prodigy, Liberace earned positive reviews at age 20 following a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 15, 1940, at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. They performed Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. His recording career included pop standards and classical interpretations.
Liberace went on to become the highest paid entertainer in the world with a career that spanned music, television and motion pictures. At his peak of fame, Liberace maintained concert residencies in Las Vegas and toured the world.
He understood the value of standing out from the pack. The candelabra became his signature set piece and he performed upon custom-decorated pianos encrusted with rhinestones.
Liberace also understood the power of the television medium and used it as a staircase to fame. The Liberace Show debuted in 1952. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person, and on the shows of Jack Benny and Red Skelton. He had a role in the 1966 Batman television series.
Liberace was recognized during his career with two Emmy Awards, six gold albums, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Al Jarreau earned a global audience and seven Grammy Awards through a versatile and soulful voice that no single genre could contain.
The Milwaukee native’s legacy unfolded across more than five decades and often beyond the jazz that burnished his reputation.
His father was a minister and his mother; the church pianist. He developed a passion for music through church performance, though it’s not to say his career was pre-destined. Jarreau earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and worked as a counselor before turning his full attention to music.
Jarreau regularly reached the jazz and R&B charts, and crossed into the mainstream with two top 40 hits. “We’re in This Love Together” hit number 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1981. It was part of his platinum-selling “Breakin’ Away” album.
His theme to the television show, Moonlighting, reached 23 on Hot 100 in 1987.
He was part of the 1985 “USA For Africa” ensemble and its history-making single, “We Are the World.”
Dubbed the “Acrobat of Scat,” Jarreau’s legacy is one of vocal dexterity and blurring lines. Jarreau took home Grammys in three different vocal categories: jazz, pop and R&B.
He never lost sight of home. Jarreau earned a bachelor’s degree from Ripon College in 1962 and maintained close relations with his alma mater. Family asked mourners to pay their respects through donations to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music.
Jarreau earned a star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001.