Anticipating fascism, DuBois addressed the issue of mixed blood, with his head and his soul

CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN FEBRUARY

W.E.B. DuBois (February 23, 1869-August 27, 1963) Courtesy Poetry Foundation

Among the most vexing fears of some people on the right feeds into a visceral racism — their perception of miscegenation, the largely pejorative term for the mixing of racial bloods.

This fear stood on display perhaps no more nakedly than at the white supremacist march in Charlottesville in August 2017, where, among the chants was “blood and soil.” This is a Nazi slogan which asserted that ethnicity is based solely on blood descent and the territory one maintains.

The clash of two rally groups ended in a white supremacist killing an anti-Confederacy monument protester and seriously wounding 19 others, by driving a car into a crowd of protesters.

President Trump infamously declared that there were “good people on both sides,” clearly willing to cast his lot with the white supremacists who support him. White male working-class economic anxiety over potential competition from variously colored “others” seems to feed into this blood bias, which demagogue Trump regularly preys upon.

Today, February 23, the birthday of W.E.B. DuBois – the pioneering sociologist, civil rights leader, thinker and writer – offers time for historical reflection on this still-divisive issue of degrees of racial purity, because DuBois himself addressed it in an essay titled, with bold directness, “Miscegenation,” written in 1934.

At the time, the term was still the operative word for blood mixing through coupling of differing races. Du Bois wrote the essay for an Encyclopedia Sexualis, assembled by Victor Robinson, MD, of Atlanta University. Robinson requested the essay from DuBois, who sent it to him on January 10, 1934.

For reasons unknown, it went unpublished. It was finally published in 1985, in the collection of Du Bois work, Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 1887–1961.

DuBois’s “Against Racism” collection. Courtesy Amazon/ University of Massachusetts Press

DuBois’s “Miscegenation” is copiously researched, citing the work of many anthropologists and social scientists of the time. And urgency was rising to tackle the issue of mixed-blood society. In a few years, Hitler and the Nazis would begin their genocidal extermination of Jews, and their blitzkrieg of continental war. Many, except the most isolationist Americans, realized the Nazis posed a grave threat to freedom and democracy here and in Europe, but especially to any persons not deemed sufficiently pure-blooded Aryan by the Third Reich. This was a race war.

But what that purity instinct really meant vs. reality — its ignorance of a non-white’s humanity and radical rationalization against Jews — was little known to the general public, though DuBois was gathering fairly extensive ongoing research that would’ve reached a larger public in the encyclopedia.

Might the essay, if published, have spurred a spirited international debate and raised consciousness on the issue — affected public response to Fascism in Germany itself, and beyond?

Even now, the Against Racism collection isn’t very well known.

DuBois, a light-skinned black man clearly of mixed blood (his father was French-American and his mother Dutch, African and English), had natural interest in the subject. But he also earned two bachelor’s degrees, the second in history from Harvard and in 1895 became the first African-American to receive a PhD from Harvard. He became a controversial figure over his career for taking progressive political positions, including socialism, and especially in opposition to Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of black compliance to white privilege.

Courtesy Boston Review

Like many brilliant men, DuBois was just ahead of his time. His value system appraising African-American blood stood on the foundation previously laid in his 1924 book The Gift of Black Folk: The Negro in the Making of America, stating that the black folks’ gift to the world was “uniquely more moral and spiritual than that exemplified by any other of the groups. It was the gift of soul. Black folk had an unfailing faith in the world, ‘an unfaltering hope for betterment and a wide patience and tolerance for opposition and hatred.’ DuBois contended that it was black people who…made emancipation inevitable and made the modern world at least consider, if not only wholly accept, the idea of a democracy including men of all races and colors,” as David Levering Lewis explains in his biography W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality in the American Century, 1819-1963. 1.

Yet the black people’s “gift of soul” was somewhat known and felt, especially in their music by then, if too-infrequently articulated or acknowledged.

So, hard facts of life might be more to the point. In DuBois’ early masterpiece The Souls of Black Folk — which I taught to a fairly receptive cultural journalism class at Edgewood College in the late 2000s — he propounded his idea of black people’s every-waking-moment “double-consciousness” of their “otherness.”

In The Souls he also sums up from many specific examples, and understands how “people easily are misled from facts.” Note, in the extended quote here, DuBois’ striving for objectivity, despite his passion, even acknowledging the black folks “crimes,” while striving further to explain their meaning:

“We seldom study the condition of the Negro today honestly and carefully. It is so much easier to assume that we know it all. Or perhaps, having already reached conclusions in our own minds, we are loath to have them disturbed by facts. And yet how little we really know of these millions,— of their daily lives and longings, of their homely joys and sorrows, of their real shortcomings and the meaning of their crimes! All this we can only learn by intimate contact with the masses, and not by wholesale arguments covering millions separate in time and space, and differing widely in training and culture. Today, then, my reader, let us turn our faces to the Black Belt of Georgia and seek simply to know the condition of the black farm–laborers of one county there.” 2

Are their failings, and their triumphs, a matter of blood?

Now, think of our current environment of pervasive disinformation and “post-truth” conditions.

In DuBois’s 1934 essay “Miscegenation,” we learn of the latest research on the blood flowing to the brains and hearts of such descendants of slaves. He quotes from a book on mulattoes:

“…Ever since the existing human species diverged into its four or five existing varieties or sub-species, there has been been a constant opposite movement to unify the type. Whites have returned southward and mingled with Australoid, Australoid have united with, and produced Melanesians, and Papuans; and these, again, have mixed with proto-Caucasians, or with Mongols to form the Polynesian.The earliest types of white man have mingled with the primitive Mongol, or directly with the primitive Negro.”

There’s evidence of ancient Negroid strains, “in the features of mixed descendants at the present day, the fact is attested by skulls, skeletons and works of art of more or less great antiquity in France, Italy, etc…’ 3

DuBois’s essay is full of such citations with a modicum of his own comment or rhetoric. But he does anticipate the Nazi counter-narrative, which drew from E. H. Hankins, who “almost alone among current anthropologists tries to prove that physical differences mean mental differences.” That counter-intuitive theory never stood up under critical scrutiny.

“…race mixture among the Romans was more frequent in earlier history than later…The decline of Rome was certainly social and economic, rather than racial. Indeed, it is a tenable thesis to declare with Schneider, that at least some race mixture is a prerequisite to the German cultural development. Egypt, Babylon, and Western Asia show great race mixture.”

(Felix) Von Luscan says: “We all know that a certain mixture of blood has always been of great advantage to  a nation. England France and Germany are equally distinguished for the variety of their racial elements.” 4

DuBois eventually gets to the deeply unsettled nation of Germany of 1934:

“If the great gift made by Jews to German culture (including Einstein, Mahler, and Kafka — whose novel The Trial presaged Fascism coming in the 1920s — though the latter two were born in Austria, like Hitler)  there is absolutely no dispute. 5 On the other hand, it was also indisputable that present economic rivalry and racial jealousy give Hitler and his followers a whip today to drive the German people in clannish and cruel opposition to their Jewish fellow citizens.” 6

Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” as audiobook. Courtesy https://audiobookstore.com/

DuBois soon brings the argument around to the United States:

“The greater our ignorance of the facts, the more intense has been the dogmatism of the discussion. . indeed, the question of the extent to which whites and blacks in the United States have mingled their blood, and the results of this intermingling, past, present and future, is in many respects the crux of the so-called Negro problem in the United States. …most thinking Americans do not hate Negroes, or wish to retards their advance. They are glad slavery has disappeared; but their hesitation now is to how far complete social freedom and fill economic opportunity for the Negro is going to result in such racial amalgamation as to make America octoroon in blood. It is the real fear of this result and inherited resentment at its very possibility that keeps the race problem in America so terribly alive.” 7

Note my italics above, and then reflect. DuBois wrote in 1934.

Twenty years later, the seemingly irrational anxiety over American identity was analyzed by Richard Hofstadter in his influential essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt — 1954”:

“What other country finds it so necessary to to create institutional rituals for the sole purpose of guaranteeing our nationality? Does the Frenchman or the Englishman or the Italian find it necessary to speak of himself as “one-hundred-percent” English, French or Italian?…When they disagree with one another over national policies, do they find it necessary to call one another un-English, un-French, un-Italian?” 8

Today, America’s always evolving and commingling nation of immigrants is inevitably much the closer to a predominantly octoroon society. And yet we still deal with the last stand of the angry, fearful white man, as embodied by the pseudo-Conservative white man in the White House.

______________

  1. David Levering Lewis, E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality in the American Century, 1819-1963. Henry Holt, 96
  2. E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Dover Thrift Editions, Ch. 8, 84
  3. DuBois, Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 1887–1961, ed. Herbert Aptheker, University of Massachusetts Press, 91
  4. DuBois, ibid, 93
  5. The kangaroo court trial of Josef K. in The Trial brings to mind the willfully dysfunctional, undemocratic Senate impeachment “trial” of Donald Trump (sans evidence or witnesses) but with reverse outcome. Trump is “acquitted.” Josef K. is killed “like a dog.” The “justice” of the powerful vs. the powerless. Franz Kafka earned a law degree, but worked most of his life for an insurance company. In The Trial, there are “unaccountable functionaries, no juries, no hints of democratic government, not even a trial as the common law world thinks of it.”as Darryl Brown notes in “What Can The Trial Tell Us about the American Criminal System?” http://texaslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Brown-93-2.pdf
  6. DuBois, Against Racism, 95
  7. DuBois, ibid, 96
  8. Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Vintage, 59

“Milwaukee Rock and Roll” is a time machine, Part 2

A poster and an advertisement for the Midwest Rock Festival at Wisconsin State Fair Park, which preceded Woodstock by three weeks.in 1969. Courtesy onmilwaukee.com

Part 2

Everything was changing, once again. San Francisco’s Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, and Quicksilver Messenger Service intoxicated the new audiences, as did the British Second Invasion bands, like the Eric Clapton spear-headed British power blues-rock trio Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Traffic, with Stevie Winwood, and progressive-rock groups like Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes. Meanwhile, Milwaukee DJ Bob Reitman, on his free-form programs, “also educated, with his ‘Dear Doctor’ segment with a local physician addressing the drug scene in Milwaukee (and its risks).”

The West Coast musical tsunami rose, and hit Milwaukee with uncommon force, following the wildly successful 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, with its breakout performances by Hendrix, Joplin, Otis Redding and Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

Perhaps the most accomplished Milwaukee band to embrace the psychedelic style and modern jazz was The Corporation, which recorded a self-titled 1969 debut album for Capitol, with a 19-minute take on Coltrane’s “India,” riding an “East-West”-like bass vamp, trippy Blues Project-like flute, and Larry Young-influenced organ. The Milwaukee power trio Ox (see photo below) took off on Cream’s blues-jamming style, with singer-bassist Jon Paris, who followed with a national solo career, which included recording with Johnny Winter and Bob Dylan. Another early local psychedelic band was Bloomsbury People, formed by multi-instrumentalist Sigmund Snopek III, which incorporated classical music and literary influences.

The real explosion occurred at the Midwest Rock Festival at State Fair Park on July 25, 26 and 27, 1969. The ambitious event preceded Woodstock by about one month. I attended all three days and recall birdlike fliers floating around, airily trumpeting something called “Three Days of Peace, Love & Music” in Woodstock, New York. Such glowing idealism filled the air those days. The Milwaukee festival had no sprawling countryside to luxuriate in funky au naturale digs. No “breakfast in bed for 300,000.”

But the lineup of talent on a flatbed truck on the State Fair racetrack proved extraordinary, and perhaps unprecedented in this city. The biggest name acts didn’t disappoint, including the sexy, blues-drenched Led Zeppelin (with brilliantly imaginative, and resourceful raga-like explorations by guitarist Jimmy Page), and the more exalted supergroup experiment Blind Faith, with former Cream members Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker, and singer-keyboardist Stevie Winwood from Traffic, striving for some spiritual uplift “In the Presence of the Lord.”

Here’s a partial recording of Led Zeppelin’s set at the Midwest Rock Fest in 1969. Courtesy Misty Mountain Bootlegs

Yet Johnny Winter stuck to hard-driving blues as a new six-string gunslinger trying to cut the British guitar titans present, Clapton, Page and Jeff Beck, as did upstart Irish guitarist-singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher, of Taste, who hardly anyone had heard of. Was Gallagher’s star born in Milwaukee? He swiftly became a mighty Gaelic wind, and was soon universally respected by peers. Clapton credited Gallagher with “getting me back into the blues,” The Rolling Stones tried to get him to replace Mick Taylor.

Amid several more famous guitarists, Irish guitarist-singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher (pictured in a 1971 concert) was a surprise hit with his band Taste, at the Milwaukee Rock Fest in 1969. Photo courtesy Rory Gallagher website.

Then, The First Edition with future superstar Kenny Rogers, “Just Dropped In” the fest with their hit song. Some of the most bracing music arrived from Detroit: the still-young and rocking Bob Seger System and the deliciously outrageous proto-punk band MC5.

The Milwaukee rock fest also had breathing space for soulful, folk-oriented music, like Buffy Sainte-Marie and the gospel-inflected Delaney and Bonnie, who so impressed Clapton that he hired them in his historic next venture, with guitarist Duane Allman, the album Layla, arguably Clapton’s career pinnacle. Alas, “blind faith” didn’t prevent Mother Nature from carping on Sunday, about what? All the unholy noise? Rain hit this festival hard, presaging water-logged Woodstock, and forcing cancellation of guitar-whiz Beck and Jethro Tull, with flute-toodling showman Ian Anderson.

“They tried to cover the stage with clear plastic sheeting to protect the performers,” recalled Mark Mueller of Sunday in the new book. “It did to a point, Joe Cocker came on and was outstanding, but the water build-up burst right over his head.” And in a one-fell splat! began the not so “dry run” for Cocker’s shaggy-dog, singin’ in the rain style, which he’d make truly famous the next month, amid Woodstock’s downpours.

Naylor recounts how the idea of a communal outdoor experience continued with the “Alternate Site,” first at Water Tower Park, on Lake and North Avenue. But clashes with police in 1970 led Ald. Vel Phillips and Mayor Henry Maier to find an alternative location, west of Lincoln Memorial Drive across from McKinley Beach. “It’s a gas to play for these people,” said Sam Friedman of the Hound Dog Band, at the time. “And it’s good exposure. We got nothing else to do on Sunday and we get a wider group of people here, not like playing in a club.” Sunday concerts averaged about 5,000 people during the early 1970s. But the volatile relationship between crowds and police forced another site relocation and eventually crowds dwindled, but the alt-concerts did continue into the 1990s.

Milwaukee power rock trio Ox (Jon Paris, vocals & bass; Brad Seip, drums; and Bob Metzger, guitar) put plenty of Cream in their coffee at the Alternate Site, across from McKinley Beach on Lincoln Memorial Drive in 1972. Photo by Rich Zimmerman www.richzimmermann.com

Night clubs remained a place to always hear live music, and the city that made beer famous had a strong tradition for this, especially local crime boss Frank Balistrieri, who “had a passion for managing bar-side entertainment in many of his theater district establishments,” writes Rob Lewis. “Frank used out-of-town connection, and his experience in booking” to turn the first floor of now-razed Hotel Antlers into the city’s first world-class showcase nightclub for rock-oriented music, called The Scene, in 1965.

With an encircling balcony, it offered an intimate concert experience. Along with top local bands, it hosted Chuck Berry and Ray Charles (each for five nights), Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Paul Butterfield, Miles Davis, and the original Allman Brothers, in September 1970, shortly before Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley died. I witnessed that soulfully-virtuosic show, marking the rise of Southern rock.

The folksy-cozy east-side Avant Garde offered local and touring folk-rock, blues and experimental music, and poetry readings, a legacy perhaps best documented by great Chicago blues man Magic Sam’s sweaty, searing album Live at the Avant Garde, a 1968 performance released by Delmark Record in 2013. (See review in Shepherd Express.) The club helped cultivate the emergence of mighty Milwaukee harmonica player Jim Liban, who teamed up with another bandleader, Junior Brantley and guitarist-singer Sam McCue for a powerhouse band called Knu Bluze. After McCue left, they went to San Francisco, with ace Milwaukee organist Howard Wales. Renamed as A.B. Skhy, they recorded two fiery, swinging albums for MGM. Jimi Hendrix facilitated that record contract after hearing and jamming with them. This band evolved into Short Stuff, a name ironically carrying long staying power.

Milwaukee’s Short Stuff — a blues/R&B/rock band led by Junior Brantley (left), and Jim Liban (right) — stole the show opening for Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1972. 

It’s a measure of this ensemble’s potency to consider a concert the book only acknowledges with a photo and caption (above). At the Whitefish Bay High School auditorium in 1972, Short Stuff opened for Big Brother and the Holding Company, admittedly weakened by the loss of grit-to-the-core singer Janis Joplin. Short Stuff’s wiry Jim Liban channeled his inner Mick Jagger, prowling up and down a stage runway, blowing rhythmic, wailing harp sorties, whipping the crowd into a lather. By the time he and the funky band ceased, the ensuing Big Brother stood reduced to little brother. It was close to the best opening act I’ve ever seen, certainly by a local band. 4

Local fan Jim Pendergast claims he overheard, at Humpin’ Hanna’s nightclub,  harmonica titan Paul Butterfield tell Liban: “James, you are the second best blues harmonica player in the world.”

Speaking of legendary performances, Milwaukee preempted rock history again by a few weeks in October 1975, an extraordinary event surprisingly overlooked in this book. Bruce Springsteen changed everything in rock again, almost by himself. And he stood on the cusp of superstardom on an electrifying night in Milwaukee rock history. A phoned-in bomb scare forced emcee Bob Reitman to ask the packed house to leave the Uptown Theater, shortly into Springsteen’s set, at least until midnight. Bruce vowed to finish when the coast was clear. At midnight, it appeared almost all 1,800 of us concertgoers had returned, with Springsteen and the E-Street Band, and with a vengeance.

Time had stood still, for fate. Springsteen and his band had hung out at the Pfister Hotel bar, “drinking our skulls out,” he told the crowd. His sweat and soul flew across the jubilant crowd until 2 a.m., one of the earliest of The Boss’s legend-making performances. 5  Later that month, TIME and Newsweek plastered him simultaneously on their covers. Here’s a link to a recording of the Springsteen Uptown concert with Piet Levy’s 2015 Journal-Sentinel article about it.

I’ve focused largely on the late ‘60s and early ‘70s because they were crucial years for rock’s transformative cultural and political roles and, regarding live music, perhaps no more significantly than the popularization of large outdoor festivals. 6 But the book impressively forges on to 2000. An in-depth chapter on Milwaukee blues is authored by Sonia Khatchadourian (also a popular “Blues Drive” DJ on WMSE radio). She covers, among others, the careers of Liban, Brantley, Jeff Dagenhardt, Steve Cohen, Jon Paris, Kenny Arnold and James Solberg, of Dynamite Duck fame recordings on  Motown and Alligator records), and whose James Solberg Band won two W.C. Handy Awards for best blues band in 1996 and 1997.

The Dynamite Duck blues band at Ma Fischer’s on Milwaukee’s east side. (l-r) Jon Paris, James Solberg, Mark Lillis, Danny Shmitt. Photo by Tom Hayes

Rose Trupiano relates the emergence of Milwaukee rock women, starting with the groundbreaking GTOs (or “Girls Take Over”) formed in 1960.

One artist’s account is quite notable, the extraordinary and tragic story of Milwaukee’s first hard-rock female sex symbol. 1969 marked the local arrival of Constance Mierzwiak, an Ohio-born, high-school drop-out. She dubbed herself Ruby Jones and the Ruby Jones Band’s 1971 debut album included an attention-grabbing single covering The Young Rascals’ “You Better Run,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Stone Junkie.” In 1972, Jim “Dandy” Magrum, lead singer of Black Oak Arkansas, heard Ruby sing and convinced her to join his band as a back-up singer. Her breakout as a lead singer came on an acclaimed West Coast stint with the Florida band Blackfoot.

Singer Ruby Starr at Humpin’ Hannah’s nightclub in 1975. Photo by Rich Zimmermann

Now dubbed Ruby Starr, and sporting a flaming mountain of red hair, she began touring with the Wisconsin band Grey Ghost. By 1976, her second solo LP covered Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which the band performed on the national TV show Midnight Special. Her next band incarnation, Grey-Star, delivered the 1983 album Telephone Sex, pulsing with savvy covers and originals. The act began winning Wisconsin Area Music Industry awards and toured, opening for Van Halen, The Allman Brothers and Cheap Trick, which led to opening for The Who in the celebrated British quartet’s local debut at the Milwaukee Arena, which included Starr’s power-packed cover of Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart.”

That palpable heartbreak song, performed on December 7, 1982, the “day of infamy,” was perhaps a harbinger of doom. Ruby pushed her hard-driving career until severe headaches struck her down. Her old friend Mudslide took her to a doctor who diagnosed her with lung cancer and a brain tumor – and six months to live. Ruby died a year later, at 45. In 1995, she became the first woman inducted into the WAMI Hall of Fame.

Lead singer Jill Kossoris (center) and the Shivvers perform their power pop/punk music in the 1970s. Courtesy Jill Kossoris. 

Another notable woman-fronted Milwaukee band, the Shivvers with Jill Kossoris, was characterized by local critic Bobby Tanzilo as “part Blondie, part Raspberries,” power-pop plus. They missed out on a national record contract despite considerable support from Raspberries front man Eric Carmen. Trupiano sums them up: “Although it took decades for the Shivvers’ songs to be released, their music and lyrics are timeless and just as original and captivating today…”

Also highlighted among women rockers are Julie Brandenburg, Ronnie Nyles, Michelle Anthony, and the powerhouse blues-rocking singer-songwriter and guitarist, Sue DeBaco.

Dave Luhrssen and Evan Rytlewski cover Milwaukee punk and post-punk era with masterful authority, which I can’t do justice to here without this review running on. However, Mark “Black Dog” Shurilla’s The Black Holes was perhaps the quintessential Milwaukee punk/new wave band, especially with “Warren Spahn,” their 1979 local chart best-seller. “The band lip-synched their record before 20,000 baseball fans in County Stadium as Spahn (arguably baseball’s greatest left-handed pitcher) circled the field, waving to the stands.” Shurilla was another young-at-heart Milwaukee rocker who died before his time. But he’s not forgotten. Here’s a video of

The Black Holes singing “Warren Spahn” at Milwaukee County Stadium, in 1979, with Spahn throwing pitches to catcher Bob Uecker.

In this chapter we also learn the fabled story of the folk-punk Violent Femmes’ improbable rise from street-corner busking to becoming the city’s most famous rock band, and Jerry Harrison’s with the Talking Heads, of The BoDeans, Die Kreuzen, The Haskels, Oil Tasters and many more.

Because there are multiple authors, there’s no attempt to build an overarching Milwaukee rock culture theme, which may be yet to be told. But the book does invite us to connect some of its many resonant dots. Sam “The Fountainhead” McCue might provide a mythic story arc for “the gathering place by the waters,” as the Native American word “Milwaukee” translates. Perhaps, were this a warm weather city, the outdoor events might’ve mushroomed further, year-round. The big music fest idealism suffered a blow with the tragic killing of an audience member right beneath the stage at the Altamont Free Concert during a Rolling Stones performance, in December 1969.

Nevertheless, important large and smaller outdoor concerts do continue here (eg. “the world’s largest” music event, Summerfest, the 25th Farm Aid at Miller Park in 2010, among many neighborhood events, Bay View’s exemplary “Chill on the Hill,” and numerous ethnic fests). So the communal value lives on variously. Local bands and artists really struggled through the disco era, and now compete with many home and personal entertainment alternatives.

Before such abstracting devices fully transform us into walking cocoons, the many values of live music – from the powerful to the nuanced, and to the stimulus of regional economy – ought to be discussed, argued and advanced through private and municipal resources, proportionate to scale, as much as Chicago does with its music festivals. The nightclub experience remains a lifeline to rock vernaculars, to human vitality, fellowship and creative wellsprings.

Further still, the large outdoor gatherings, amid the elements, may be the only cultural activity that rivals big sports events for fortifying community spirit and helping to counter the tribalism plaguing us today. 

“Milwaukee Rock and Roll” co-editor Phillip Naylor interviews Paul Cebar, a remarkably voracious absorber and synthesizer of musical styles, from American to world musics, “a sonic explorer.” Photo by Dan Johnson. Courtesy MU Press.

Milwaukee Rock and Roll ends with an ingenious twist, a chapter on three “Milwaukee Sonic Explorers,” who often strayed far beyond rock conventions. Gary Huckleberry, Sigmund Snopek III, and Paul Cebar sound nothing at all like each other. All are ingenious and intelligent receptacles of many influences – comparable to the first local-scene “fountainhead” Sam McCue – who give so much back, in their own hybrid vernacular voices. They reveal how a Midwest city can become its own sort of crossroads for music. Too often, among cultural arbiters, everybody pass us by, to paraphrase blues legend Robert Johnson. With this book, that may begin to change.

___________

The photo of Rory Gallagher and the links to the Led Zeppelin live recording and The Black Holes video are not from Milwaukee Rock and Roll. All other photos in this part of the review are from the book.

NOTES

1 Les Paul is put in his historical context in the impressive recent book by Ian S. Port, The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll

 2 I detail the extraordinary on-air radio station experience of announcing Marvin Gaye’s death to a “contemporary urban music” audience in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. I also co-hosted (rotating weeks with Paul Cebar and Steve Cohen) an eclectic music program on WMSE in the late-1980s. 

3 In a comment not in the book, Clapton critiqued the Led Zeppelin set, led by his fellow former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page. “They were very loud,” Clapton later remembers. “I thought it was unnecessarily loud. I liked some of it; I really did like some of it. But a lot of it was just too much. They overemphasized whatever point they were making, I thought.” Reliquary http://yup-yup-mark.blogspot.com/

4 Steve Cohen is perhaps the only other Milwaukee harmonica player comparable to Liban. A deeply knowledgeable past-master also of chromatic harmonica, a singer and guitarist, Cohen is best known as co-leader of Leroy Airmaster, with guitarist Bill Stone, with whom he’s played with since high school. Cohen has also recorded and worked with the city’s greatest rock guitar virtuoso, Greg Koch. Cohen also maintains a excellent country-blues duo with Peter Roller.

5 The police “tore the theater apart,” security chief Terry Cullen  told the Journal-Sentinel 40 years later. No bomb was found.

6. After having attend two concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, I would concur with much popular opinion that it’s the best outdoor venue for a large rock or pop concert in America. Even going to the physical site, high in the mountains, is a bit of a pilgrimage, suggesting the sharing of something significant with a huge “faithful,” lovers of rock and other vernacular musics, not to mention classical. Note in the Rolling Stone survey here, historic Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI — a mecca for jam band fans (of The Grateful Dead, Phish etc.) — is ranked the 6th best venue: 

The Best Amphitheaters in America

 

 

“Milwaukee Rock and Roll” is a time machine, as a reflective gem, not a contraption – Part 1

Image result for milwaukee rock and roll a reflective history

Photo courtesy urbanmilwaukee.com /Marquette University Press

Review: Milwaukee Rock and Roll 1950-2000: A Reflective History Edited by Bruce Cole, David Luhrssen, and Phillip Naylor. Marquette University Press. $29.95 hardcover

(Full disclosure: Kevernacular [Kevin Lynch] contributed a short chapter on Milwaukee jazz-rock fusion to this book, but was unpaid and will receive no profit from book sales)

Part 1

Imagine you have a time machine for Milwaukee rock ‘n’ roll – you can travel back to 1950, then forward to the turn of the 21st century. Imagine all the people telling this story, musicians who rocked your life, crazy and sage-like dee-jays, angel-devil club-owners, critics on the scene, and other experts. You can’t literally hear all the music, but the more you imagine you begin to hear it, certainly that which you experienced, and that music best described and evoked. The Time Machine is no big contraption, but a sleek, handsome book, a multi-colored gem.

Milwaukee Rock and Roll 1950-2000: A Reflective History is, as the subtitle suggests, not intended as a comprehensive, scholarly treatise on the subject. However, it brims with primary sources, and works well to rev imaginations and long-term memories, even of aging boomers. And it does tell a resonant, chronological story. Marquette University Press produced and organized it with rigorous care. I first wrote my short chapter on the city’s jazz-rock fusion scene three or four years ago. My text was revised with editorial oversight by MU history professor and musician Philip Naylor, who teaches a class on rock ‘n’ roll.

Naylor conceived of the idea many years ago, while visiting the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “I saw an exhibit about rock in Ohio/Cleveland and thought that a similar exposition could be made regarding Milwaukee rock,” he recalls. Add in vernacular musics beyond this book’s considerable scope, and the truth emerges that this archetypal heartland city has its own distinctive musical identity. The other two book editors are Shepherd Express editor David Luhrssen, who covered the local music scene for decades, and Bruce Cole, a musician who played with many bands throughout those fifty years.

Cole, like Jimi Hendrix, might ask: Have you ever been experienced? Yes, Milwaukee, I have. So I’ll incorporate my own Cream City experience in contextualizing my review.

This one of the most enjoyably informative, evocative and just-plain-fun books I’ve ever read from a university press, and I have read plenty of those. A large part of the vibrancy derives from Marquette University’s treasure trove of historic visuals and documents on the subject, The Jean Cuje Milwaukee Music Collection, which Cole curates, with his “elephantine memory.”

So the book bubbles with images: a photo shot from behind the Beatles performing in Milwaukee in 1964, with female fans, crying and swooning, deep into the background; the rather gymnastic Mojo Men forming a human pyramid onstage; a photo of R&B radio station WAWA staff, with star DJ “Doctor Bop” in full medical regalia; radio station Top 40 lists; The GTOs, an all-female rock band sporting hot pants; a funny album cover for the Jim Liban Blues Combo’s Blues for Shut-ins; a comically bizarre poster for The Violent Femmes playing at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, and much more.

Milwaukee rock ’n’ roll is virtually as old as the art form itself, as this book makes abundantly clear, fertilizing the rootsy story with insightful chapters and brief essays.

Elm Grove rockabilly singer Bob Berendt began trying to break into the music business as a singer and songwriter shortly after the release of Elvis Presley’s first 45 rpm single on July 20, 1954. In 1961 he cut a record at the celebrated Cuca Studios (which produced The Fendermen’s “Muleskinner Blues” in 1960) in Sauk City, but he failed to chart. Berendt traveled to Nashville, but to no real breakthrough. Back home, he joined and contributed songs to The Royal Lancers, who the year before scored a regional hit with a cover of “I Fought the Law” (penned by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets) and later a national hit for Bobby Fuller in 1966.

The song’s success reveals that the subculture’s anti-establishment spirit clearly rose in Milwaukee by the early 1960s. City bands began incorporating R&R into their polka and C&W repertoires. The Noblemen likely made the city’s first recorded rock song “Thunder Wagon.” But Larry Lynne asserts that his band, the Bonnevilles, was probably Milwaukee’s first purely rock ’n’ roll band in 1958.

And talk about rock roots: “Wizard of Waukesha” Les Paul – a book unto himself – “invented” the solid-body electric guitar in 1934, a prototype for his iconic Gibson Les Paul guitar, arguably the most beautifully-designed electric guitar ever. 1

Milwaukee’s premiere rock-blues guitar virtuoso, Greg Koch, plays the famous Gibson guitar designed by Waukesha’s Les Paul at the Les Paul 100th Commemorative Anniversary concert in Waukesha.  Photo by Jeff Dobbs, courtesy MU Press.

“Because of its aesthetics, guitarists can feel the resonance through the contoured top hugging the instrument to the body,” writes Luhrssen and the late Martin Jack Rosenblum. “The humbucking pickups give the Les Paul Gibson a deeper, wider, warmer sound than the trebly, piercing Fender Stratocaster…” For Les Paul, a guitar wasn’t a phallic symbol. It should be “your psychiatrist, mistress, housewife, and bartender.”

By the late ‘60s, the Les Paul was THE new guitar-of-choice for most guitar gods: Clapton, Page, Bloomfield, Beck, Allman, etc. However, Hendrix didn’t use it, being a lefty who held the lighter Stratocaster upside down, and flung it around like a matador’s banderilla.

A great Milwaukee star emerged very early, guitarist Sam McCue, or “The Fountainhead,” as Naylor grandly dubs him, founder of the first great Milwaukee rock band, The Legends. This brilliantly eclectic stylist incorporated Latin, Western swing, R&B, and rockabilly, not to mention Slovenian polka. McCue was later hired by The Everly Brothers and toured worldwide with them from 1964 to 1970, He also played with Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash and important local bands, New Blues and A.B. Skhy.

A culturally crucial early band was Little Artie and the Pharaohs, who first brought rhythm and blues style to crossover audiences, including working-class and suburban whites, blacks and Latinos.

Little Artie (on vocals, here) and the Pharaohs performing in the 1960s. Photo by Jim Lombard, courtesy MU Press

We also learn that Milwaukee played a role in the mid-’60s folk revival, with big thanks to the promoter Nick Topping, who first brought Bob Dylan to town, even if technical difficulties truncated the concert. Topping also developed a close relationship with Folkways Records founder Mo Asch.

Milwaukee had its own Dylan in Larry Penn, who musician Lil’ Rev recalled as a “labor activist” and folk musician “who is the voice of a hard day’s work…” Like Dylan, Penn’s primary influence was Woody Guthrie, along with country blues giants Leadbelly and Mississippi John Hurt. Pete Seeger once declared: “Larry’s songs are as good as Woody’s.”

Pete Seeger called Milwaukeean Larry Penn’s songs “as good as Woody’s.” Courtesy Sharon Penn and the Larry Penn Archive/MU Press

Accordingly, Milwaukee developed other distinctive folk-rock talents like Jim Spencer, Barry Ollman, Bill Camplin and Willie Porter, the latter three still performing as “consummate artists,” as Johnny Carson used to say (Ollman still records, mainly online).

In Milwaukee and elsewhere in America, everything changed with the British Invasion. The Paul Revere of Milwaukee music was disc jockey Bob Barry, who first played the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark Five on WOKY 920 AM radio. He also hosted the 30-minute Beatles concert at the Arena in 1964, the stuff of legend. Milwaukee Journal prose stylist Gerald Kloss reported that “George would swing a lissome hip, or Paul would flash a sudden smile, and the roar from the crowd fractured the mortar between the bricks.” “BEATLES CONQUER THE CITY!” the morning Sentinel banner headline screamed. With all the photos and memorabilia reproduced here, including a ticket to the concert, you can pretend you were one of the thousands in the arena of insanity.

Of course, the British bands gradually helped young Americans to value their nation’s own indigenous rock sources: the blues, doo-wop, rockabilly, and country-western.

And local disc jockeys played a vital role, as pied pipers for anyone with a car radio or the new, affordable, fits-in-your-fist transistor radio (the precursor of Walkman and iPod). Beyond Barry, Milwaukee got hip to rhythm and blues when WAWA radio hit the air in the spring of 1960. The enlightened station played a variety of ethnic musics, connecting Milwaukeeans to their immigrant roots. WAWA’s smart, charismatic disk jockeys included program director O.C. White, and the irrepressible “famous Dr. Bop.” He would bellow into the mic, “I’m the cat with the fine-brown frame! I’m 42 across the chest, a stone-cold lover and an ex-Gold Glover. Bop be my name and music is my game! Doctor Bop powers on from the Soul Empire!”, as Jamie Lee Rake recounts.

(Top) The staff of Milwaukee R&B radio station pioneer WAWA, in early 1966, including, front left, Dr. Bop (Hoyt Locke), and program director O.C. White, front right. Courtesy Mike Muskovitz of Mean Mountain Music. (Above) A Top 50 R&B chart for 45 rpm singles, from WAWA in 1967. Courtesy Stephen K. Hauser.

Dr. Bop captured the “say it loud” spirit of the new “black power,” but with the disarming comical flair of a Cassius Clay. And WAWA laid out the R&B like bloody ribs on a grill – hot, steaming and crackling with fire. WAWA, like the AM rock stations, also published their top singles lists, giving fans a reference for the happening jams to hear, and buy.

The inner city even got its own major record store, Radio Doctors “Soul Shop” on 3rd and North Avenue, where I worked after college, and where Dr. Bop would often promenade in, to pick up the latest hot 45s, and meet adoring fans. Radio Doctors owner Stu Glassman helped WAWA accurately compile their top sales charts as his two stores (the other at 3rd and State St.) sold by far the most R&B records in the state, as a “one stop” wholesaler and retailer. Green Bay Packer legend Willie Davis realized WAWA needed greater audience penetration, so his All-Pro Broadcasting eventually bought rights to the weak-signal station and turned it into a much more powerful FM station, WLUM.

I felt city folk’s growing connection to radio as a cultural lifeline, especially being a WLUM disk-jockey on the air the night news broke of Marvin Gaye’s death in 1977. I was the station’s second Sunday night jazz programmer, after jazz radio legend Ron Cuzner established an audience there for black and white listeners. “Contemporary urban music” had arrived in Milwaukee.  2

Such radio support helped buoy the city’s rhythm and blues soul, which began evolving into what would soon become the exponentially popular rap lyric-and-rhythm art of hip-hop by the mid-late ‘70s. The city’s first really notable rhythm and blues/soul group was the Esquires, which arose from harmonizing high school siblings, a la Chicago’s famous Impressions. The Esquires took a decade to seize on a song that blitzkrieged national charts, the exhilarating “Get On Up” in 1967, followed by a worthy sequel “And Get Away.” The first local talent to stand time’s test was Harvey Scales, who found a stylistic balance between Sam Cooke and James Brown, and cemented his legacy by penning “Disco Lady,” Johnny Taylor’s double platinum-selling hit and popular on the black TV show Soultrain. A deeply influential producer/musical polymath, Scales the performer never quite made it nationally, a distinction among local-born African-Americans that waited for Al Jarreau, who grew up on Reservoir St. overlooking the city he’d always love. When Radio Doctors “Soul Shop” got the first shipment of his autobiographical Warner Bros. debut album We Got By, we all knew this dude would do much more than get by. He deftly juggled jazz, pop and R&B styles to six Grammy awards. 

Al Jarreau. Courtesy Al Jarreau Facebook Page.

Rake insightfully surveys local R&B development, from Black Earth Plus to the improbable undercurrents of white singer-songwriter Jim Spencer’s “Wrap Myself Up in Your Love,” a 12-inch single and a seductive production synthesis of disco, R&B and Tin Pan Alley, which “marked the shifts to urban music that reverberate to the present day,” Rake writes. Spencer’s recording employed white harp player Jim Liban and black drummer Kenny Baldwin, of already national-labeled Colour Radio, and owner of an important nightclub, The Starship, which facilitated the live-music transition to punk and early hip-hop.

Despite the city’s sadly still-deserved reputation for segregation, music has always provided cultural and social bridges among the races here, which politicians and other powers-that-be too-rarely heed or exploit. I delve into this in my own chapter, on the social and cultural impact of jazz-rock fusion. Like Jarreau’s long success, fusion’s peculiar synthesis of multi-racial genres had a more sophisticated yet high-energy style that you could groove to mentally, or often dance to. La Chazz brilliantly fused rock, jazz and salsa Afro-Cuban style, to connect Latinos to the scene. “As reed wizard Warren Wiegratz – who led Street Life, the long-time house band for the Milwaukee Bucks – explains of fusion, “The power of rock, with the freedom and the intelligence of jazz. What’s not like?”

Meanwhile, FM radio’s growing potential for wider, clearer and more creative communicative potential had evolved into the development of so-called free-form or “underground” FM programming. In Milwaukee, free-form’s avatar was Bob Reitman, which he remains today, on public radio WUWM, the same college station he first began expanding minds with, in long segments of uninterrupted music. Reitman first turned me and countless other listeners onto whole, literary programs of pure Bob Dylan; Reitman himself is an accomplished poet. Through Reitman we first heard long jam pieces, first from Chicago’s Butterfield Blues Band, the 1966 masterpiece “East-West,” a dynamically unfolding amalgam of blues, rock, Indian raga and John Coltrane jazz. Audiences were stunned by that band’s heightened creativity and musicianship, as were new San Francisco bands especially, which began experimenting with longer forms and sensibility, both introspective and expansive, influenced by mind-altering marijuana and LSD, a long, strange confluence across the youth culture landscape, especially in San Francisco’s 1967 “Summer of Love.”

Milwaukee rock radio avatar Bob Reitman. Courtesy onmilwaukee.com

End of Part 1 of a two-part review (The second part is the next posted article on this blog site.)

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The photos of the book cover, Al Jarreau and Bob Reitman are not from Milwaukee Rock and Roll. All other photos in this part of the review are from the book.

 

 

 

 

Toni Morrison, on her birthday, shows that she saw how insidious forces work, and into the future

CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN FEBRUARY 

Courtesy Penguin Random House

Toni Morrison was born today, February 18, in 1931 Lorain, Ohio. This morning I was reading from her most recent book, published posthumously, and now out in paperback: The Source Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations. 

I read the short essay below, and was so stunned by it prescience and relevance to our moment, that I looked to see when it was written. It turns out the essay was published in The Nation on May 29, 1995. It was an excerpt from a Charter Day Speech, “The First Solution,” delivered at Howard University, in Washington DC on March 3, 1995.

I offer it here as a reminder of her voice’s power, of her mind’s incisive insight and ability to articulate courageous truths that dangerously fester today.

I do not intend to suggest that she is speaking about any specific person or people in our current times. I will let you readers decide that for yourself, as citizens, kind of like being a voter alone in a voting booth.

Rather, notice that Morrison, as an an African-American, includes in her referencing, it seems to me, people of her own racial background, with this chilling sentence: “And in infecting these changes (fascism) produces the perfect capitalist, one who is willing to kill a human being for a product (a pair of sneakers, jacket, car) or kill generations for control of product (oil, drugs, fruit, gold.)”

To underscore the point that people of any color or persuasion could be duped into a perfect capitalist mindset, yesterday several TV pundits were warning of some of the behaviors Morrison describes as clear and present dangers to our democracy right now. A black woman, a conservative radio host, responded lamely, “But this isn’t a democracy, its a representative republic.”

Well, speaking of those representatives, especially in or Senate…

Yes, too many years we have been advancing and acquiescing to an economic and political system to cultivate some close to “the perfect capitalist” in each of us, at the very least almost reflexive consumers. That is a big reason why we are in the situation are in today. It’s also why I support Elizabeth Warren who admits to being a capitalist, and yet she knows how much we have perverted the system of American capitalism. Her agenda is about making that system work more fairly for everyone. And she makes perfect common sense each time she opens her mouth.

So please, read Toni Morrison on her birthday, remember, think and then act. Do something, for the sake of our increasingly ravaged democracy, for the sake of ourselves and our children. At the very least, read up on candidates and the issues, and vote.

(This essay is copyrighted by Toni Morrison 2019, through Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.)