When I moved back to Milwaukee briefly in 1989-90, I had the privilege to get into a band with a couple guys who were waaaaaaay better musicians than I was. The bass player was Miko Montgomery (jazz icon Wes Montgomery’s nephew), and our drummer Steve was certainly no slouch. The only reason I passed the audition was that I knew how to play all the grooves (funk, reggae and ska) Miko was looking for, and apparently no other guitarist in Cheeseland had that figured out at the time!
We played a bunch of gigs at local bars (of which there are many in Milwaukee!) and even got to play at the famous Summerfest music festival once. For me, the real achievement was getting to record a couple of tracks with these guys and our guest keyboardist Jeff Stehr. I was also lucky enough to know a guy named Jeff Solper from work who had a full-blown recording studio in his basement! Jeff dialed in a guitar sound that made me sound waaaaay better than I was, and for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve attached our songs here in case you are curious, and if you like them you can download them in the links just below.
“Activator” is actually an instrumental ska/rock piece written by renowned Phoenix guitarist Donnie Dean of “The Effects” fame. I was a huge Effects fan, and Donnie taught me how to play “Activator” one day so I had to record it for posterity. I don’t think even Donnie has recorded it, but I’m sure his version would be better than mine. Thanks, Donnie!
The second song is a medley of Funkadelic’s “Standing on the Verge” and James Brown’s “Get Up/Sex Machine” and was Miko’s doing. Again, playing with people much better than I was made me sound much better than I was. Thanks, guys!!!
Try not to laugh too hard at the pics, and remember that I was never a real rock star–I just liked “playing one on TV”–Hahahaha!!!
“Back of the Bus, White Boys”
Most of our gigs were playing at local bars as you can see from the photos, but Miko got us a gig playing at the Wisconsin chapter of the NAACP annual awards banquet. As you can also see from the photos, we set up like a typical rock trio–The drummer in the center rear and the two guitar players/singers/front men out front on either side. Pretty typical. However, this was not to be allowed at the NAACP gig because a condition of Miko getting the gig for his band with two white dudes was that he had to be the sole front man and lead singer! Even songs I normally sang lead on and that I had brought into the band I would not be allowed to sing, so we reconfigured our stage lineup (and song list!) so that “Steve the Ghost” and “Cracker Eric” were on the rear of the stage left and right, and our “Bro Miko” was front and center all by himself.
When I first heard about these conditions, I must admit I laughed my ass off at the irony of it. Miko was cool and said that if we crackers didn’t want to do the gig, he would totally understand, but to be honest I was rather intrigued by the concept of being on the other side of “racism” or whatever the hell you want to call it, and I was also quite curious about what the vibe would be towards me on gig night. Steve pretty much shared my attitude, and we figured that it would be interesting to see what it really felt like to “ride in the back of the bus” so to speak, and whether the NAACP people would be cool to us (other than the initial conditions!) in general. Besides, the gig paid about $500 for the band, which was about double the going rate at a club in those days. I’m certainly no whiny snowflake (Ha!), and the most important color of the evening was definitely green for me!
The gig was in a mid-size hotel ballroom, and I think there were about 200 NAACP attendees. Of course, Steve and I were the only white dudes in the room, and I have to say that everyone was really very cool and friendly to us the entire evening. Like any event of this type, they of course had a catered buffet which was actually quite good! A really nice lady coordinating the event invited all of us to help ourselves to the fried chicken entree, a variety of tasty side dishes, and of course watermelon for dessert. The food was all quite good, and I honestly didn’t think there was anything unusual about the menu, but Miko sure did! He pointed out the irony of an organization like the NAACP promoting black stereotypes by serving fried chicken and watermelon, and he steadfastly refused to be seen eating either of those items! Of course Steve and I had no qualms about chowing down on the tasty fried chicken and watermelon, and we taunted Miko mercilessly by holding our plates out to him offering up the food while munching on it and saying, “Mmmmmm…Tasty!” and shit like that–Hahaha!!! We experienced a lot of irony that night, and besides the decent money, we (well, we white boys at least!) got all the fried chicken and watermelon we could scarf down. We made sure to eat Miko’s share as well!!