Usually when I talk music with other people from all across the country and I mention that I’m from Wisconsin, they sometimes ask me about my home state. And in doing so I get the feeling that when they think of Wisconsin they immediately think of cheese and cows. Well, we’re more than that. We have a pretty good musical history of our own. All the big stars didn’t just come from L.A. or New York.
For instance, did you know that jazz singer Al Jarreau is from Milwaukee? “We’re In This Love Together” climbed to the #6 spot on the R&B charts. He did the theme music to the Bruce Willis/Cybill Shepherd TV show, “Moonlighting.” Milwaukee also gave us the soul quartet The Esquires, who took the #11 spot on the charts with “Get On Up” back in 1967. Back when my own teen band was touring the state, we had another teen band climbing the charts with the Beatle tune, “Birthday.” They were called The Underground Sunshine. They took that song up to the #26 spot in August of 1969.
I remember going to see this next band when they came to Sheboygan (my home town). Their name was The Messengers and they had a local hit with a remake of Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour.” That wasn’t the amazing thing about them. They changed their name to The Movies and did the soundtrack for the Jane Fonda/George Segal motion picture, “Fun With Dick and Jane.”
My best memories of playing in Sheboygan included opening for a Milwaukee group called The Robbs. They were regulars on Dick Clark’s TV show, “Where The Action Is.” They released an album and several singles before switching horses and opening Cherokee Studios in L.A. and recording even bigger stars. The other big Milwaukee group of that era was called The Corporation and they had one Capitol album and single, “I Want To Get Out Of My Grave” before hanging it up.
Going back a little farther to the 1950s Wisconsin proudly boasted of its girl group, The Chordettes, who were from my hometown of Sheboygan. They had such hits as the #1 song “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop,” which you may have heard in the movie soundtrack of the Rob Reiner film, “Stand By Me.” The Chordettes were featured regularly on the Arthur Godfrey television show.
With nine charted songs, including three #1 hits, Steve Miller can also call Wisconsin his home. One of his former band mates, Boz Scaggs, is also a Wisconsinite. Famed guitarist Lester William Polfuss (you’ve seen his name on thousands of guitar headstocks) is also from my home state. He shortened his name to Les Paul, and now you know the rest of the story. And though I was never a fan, I have to admit that Liberace is also a native son.
Half of The Righteous Brothers duo was also from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Bobby Hatfield moved from Wisconsin to California before teaming up with Bill Medley and busting onto the charts 10 times, including two #1 hits. Sixties icon Thomas Jackson hails from Monroe, Wisconsin but moved to Ohio before changing his name to Tommy James forming his first band, The Shondells and recording “Hank Panky.”
There was one band that I distinctly remember from my band days in the 60s. They were called The Destinations and hadn’t gone beyond the fame of a local single that charted in the Milwaukee area. The memorable thing about this entry was its guitarist, Reed Kailing. Reed moved from The Destinations to another group called Reed In His Own Right, but was still just a local attraction.
Reed then moved to Chicago and landed the role of Frank Hardy on The Hardy Boys television show and played all the music for the show for two years. The hit that came out of this era was called “Love And Let Love.” In 1971 Reed joined The Grass Roots and recorded two albums with them. When he left The Grass Roots in 1974 he made a living as a studio musician, working with Mick Jagger, Harry Nilsson, Jack Bruce and John Lennon.
Reed joined yet another group, Player, and scored a #1 hit with “Baby Come Back.” Then in 1976 Reed joined the cast of Beatlemania, playing the role of Paul McCartney. From there he joined the group Badfinger. When that fizzled out Reed returned to writing music, collaborating with Kiki Dee and Don Johnson. He still plays occasional jobs throughout Wisconsin and you can bet no one associates him with either cheese or cows, so let’s hear no more of that, eh?
To hear many of the bands mentioned listen to the radio link at Milwaukeerockposters.com
We’re also interested in obtaining rock music from Wisconsin from the 60’s and 70’s.
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