Writing Green Bay's Rock and Roll History

Denis Gullickson

denis gullickson | talking titletown | march 2019

Green Bay's very own ‘Invaders.’ It was an era of state-wide ‘Battle of the Bands,’ inventive names and eye-grabbing group photos of every kind imaginable, often in exotic costumes. Photo from ‘Wisconsin Garage Bands of the 1960s.’The summer of 1967, two friends and I were eyeballing the start of our 8th grade year at St. John the Baptist grade school. We'd snuck into the Duck Creek's “pay quarry” on the south side of Velp Avenue and we were bounding with glee on the trampolines there.

The place was mostly abandoned and pretty run-down – now the subject of speculation and rumor – but two of the three trampolines still served their purpose.

Bill had brought a handful of his mother's cigarettes. A serious chain smoker, she'd never miss them, he said. And that was true, mostly. A bit later that day, we'd find out that she actually kept pretty good track of her cigs.

We talked about girls, sure. Heck, we were about to strut into the 8th grade. What didn't we know about women?

But what really had us excited was our plan to start our own rock and roll band.

Terry and I were going to be the guitar players and singers. Bill was just oddball enough to be the drummer. We were going to find some other kid with far-lower expectations to play bass – probably Danny.

Picking up on the popularity of Paul Revere and the Raiders, we were going to be the “Colonialists” or some equally-awkward moniker.

But that was it. That was as much as we had put together that day.

How we were going to get from Point A (that day's big talk) to Point G or N or Q (actually being a band) … well, that part was a little-less clear. Nah, a lot-less clear.

Still, we seemed to bounce a lot higher off those trampolines than most of the kids our age; we had the dream.

It would be another four years before I even owned a guitar. Self-taught on an Ensenada guitar that looked a lot cooler than it played or sounded, I was now a guitar player and singer for “Syndrome” – the garage band that addled our Catholic neighborhood near Pamperin Park for a month or more as the Summer of 1972 got rolling.

Catholic mothers prayed (and blasphemed) and fourteen-year-old Catholic girls gathered. Other guys our age mostly said that we were “spazzes” who should get a life and take up stamp collecting.

Our first practices consisted of playing “A Horse with No Name” ten or more times in a row – trying to nail down the words and arguing over which two chords were going to get us through the entire song. (No one was going to be mastering that great lead sequence before the third verse any time soon.)

I soon left Syndrome for my less-than-illustrious solo career and a fall-back college degree. The rest of the band soldiered on as a power trio – playing two school dances and an impromptu gig at Kutska's Hall before going the way of so many other bands.

At some point later that year, Syndrome got so big that they couldn't agree on what music they wanted to cover or who was supposed to borrow the family station wagon to haul their meager equipment around.

I stayed solo until hooking up with a couple of fellow high school teachers who taught music and a couple of their students in “Bent Cleft” where we actually made some music and had some fun.

A Story Replicated Across Town

Today, the legend that is the Colonialists or Syndrome is little more than the lingering whiff of a fart on an old elevator.

In fact, it occurs to me that, somehow, I'm the only guy still around from either alleged group. Ah, the grueling tribulations of a rock and roll life and the toll they take on those who lead it. Those guys should have tried that college thing – maybe they'd still be alive.

But this is more than a little musing about the halcyon days of youth and the promising rock and roll careers that never took off. It's a celebration of the many bands that made it … right here in Titletown, USA. Many with the same humble roots, but a whole lot more determination, musical ability and … success.

In that regard, I recall distinctly being impressed by watching other garage bands practicing during those same years. For instance, I can still conjure up a decent rendition of “Stepping Stone” by one of the Steeno brothers and bandmates on Memorial Drive.

I was also privileged to have grandparents who lived down the street from Green Bay's Pat MacDonald and recall several jam sessions on his parent's driveway.

A trio of Facebook pages have prompted this writer to consider these many bands and a recurring thought that it's time for someone (maybe, even, this writer) to begin putting that story together ... before it's too late. The passing of the Monkees Peter Tork on the day this is being written is a stark reminder – but, so too, are the barrage of recent passings of so many rock icons of the 60s and 70s.

Extant Resources

One of those Facebook pages – a general-interest, local-history concern – “Photos and Memories of Old Green Bay,” has been lauded here before. Though, I also lament the many discussions eventually grind into wistful longing for the good old days while ignoring the good new days.

From time to time, “Photos and Memories” will touch on the music scene of that era and discussions will mention some of the early Green Bay folks engaged in the same.

Another, “Green Bay Rock n Roll News” stirs local content with items from other music sites and pages.

Finally, “Wisconsin Garage Bands of 1960s,” is especially focused and fascinating – though its scope takes it all across the state with an understandable pull toward Milwaukee and Madison.

These sources can be starting points, but it's the human sources that someone has to tap – and soon. Aging rockers and those in their current orbits take note and start gathering your stories.

Local Rock and Roll

Of course, local bands didn't magically appear as the calendar flipped to the 1960s. There have been performing musical groups of every stripe since Fort Howard loomed large on the Fox River's west bank in the early 19th century.

Still, it's where early rock and roll evolved out of the Big Band Era and cemented the place of popular music in the social milieu that the spark of this story is found.

Rock and roll bands and crooning singers entertained throngs of Green Bay teens throughout the fifties and documenting that piece of the tale represents an essential part of the research. The Bay Beach Pavilion, for instance, hosted tons of sock hops.

Most of the extant online resources don't reach back that far. After that, documentation is a bit more available. Certainly, the pages of the Press-Gazette will warrant a more than a few eye-straining whacks at the microfilm machines.

After that, things get much easier and some of those performers are still around and doing well.

The “Garage Bands” page, for instance, gives a nod to Green Bay's Invaders once made up of Mark Paulick, John Sawyer, Jim Sawyer, Pete Polzak and Dave Dobry; the Ants comprised of Craig Pribyl, Steven Lawrence and Lou Seiler; and the Generation consisting of Brian Powers, Mary Jo Tipler, Mark Paulick, Susan Lade and Rick Schilke.

One post on that page is a copy of a newspaper article advertising “One of the BIGGEST rock shows to hit the state, 'Make the Scene for '67.” The rock show in question was a three-night extravaganza at the Brown County Arena, featuring “nine big name groups and artists, and seven northern Wisconsin bands."

Local bands included Titletown's People and Invaders, Manitowoc's Couriers, Sturgeon Bay's Morticians, Appleton's She Five and Private Property, and Oshkosh's Paul Bearers. The headliners were impressive, including the New Colony Six, Left Bank, Cyrkle, Cryin' Shames, Brian Hyland, Bobby Goldsboro and the McCoys,

Calling All Aging Rock and Rollers and Historians

So, there the project is.

Some of the written resources are there and some digging beyond them is requisite.

As for human sources, it's a matter of contacting and culling the stories from the participants of Green Bay's Rock and Roll legacy. That's where the major undertaking lies – as does the most fun.

Stories need to be told whether a band became a staple of the local performance scene or existed for two practices before guys headed off in separate directions.

If you are reading this and you are or know of a person who played a role in Titletown's Rock Evolution – especially someone who can provide information on the 1950s, contact this author at talkingtitletownbands@aol.com.

Follow the adventures of Denis Gullickson and his merry band of Green Bay Theatre Company board members as they battle certain elements at city hall in their effort to convert the former Schauer and Schumacher furniture store buildings into a working downtown arts and performance center. Better yet, get involved at gbtheatrecompany@aol.com.

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