Milwaukee rising: “Taking the City by Storm”

Kenny Baldwin at bar
Filmed before his death in September 2015, Kenny Baldwin was a musician in the Milwaukee punk scene and proprietor of the Starship, home of many formative gigs.

Milwaukee is among the smallest cities I’ve covered so far on FiveBands, but the passion and creativity of its rock-‘n’-roll scene has long rivaled the biggest towns on the musical map.

Sites like Milwaukee Rock Posters and social media groups like Lest We Forget: Deceased Milwaukee Scene are magnets for local lore, and scene veterans have been tireless in their efforts to make their history known.

Case in point: Taking the City By Storm, an epic documentary of the Milwaukee underground. Currently slated for release in 2018, the film is directed by Doug LaValliere (one of Milwaukee’s accomplished LaValliere brothers and a co-founder of the Prosecutors with Kevn Kinney, later of Atlanta underground sensations Drivin’ N Cryin’).

The producers are Judy Simonds and Clancy Carroll of the Dominoes and Clancy Carroll Band. (Carroll is also co-author of a new and improved book, Brick Through the Window: An Oral History of Punk Rock, New Wave, and Noise in Milwaukee, 1964-1984. Buy it via the Boswell Book Company site!)

According to Simonds and Carroll, the film project — and their focus on preserving the scene — gained urgency with the passing of key members, including Doug LaValliere’s brother Richard LaValliere, bassist and songwriter for In a Hot Coma, the Haskels and Oil Tasters, among others. (Another seminal influence, Jerome “Presley Haskel” Brish, had died violently in 1991.)

I felt that so many of our friends from the early punk era were dying way too soon,” Simonds said. “Milwaukee had such an amazing amount of talent, and I felt that we needed to represent them in a movie. … I believed that Doug was the perfect person to do this documentary because he has a deeply personal relationship with the Milwaukee music scene. I basically told him over a couple of cocktails that he was the guy who was meant to direct this movie.

“It just made great sense because the LaValliere brothers are well-known Milwaukee musicians from the era that we are focusing on,” Simonds continued. “Also, Doug has a degree in telecasting and production, and he’s worked at Austin City Limits for over 20 years as cameraman and crew.” (Simonds and Doug LaValliere moved to Austin in the early ’90s, although they maintain a close relationship with Milwaukee.)

Carroll said that enduring connection has been vital to the project. “I think that Milwaukee is somewhat unique in that many people are born, live and die here, so a large number of the interview subjects were already here. Social media and good old email/telephone/grapevine were invaluable in lining up interviewees. Some people who no longer reside in the area were caught while visiting ‘home,’ and others (set up and interviewed by Doug and Judy) were captured in their current locations. Some bands were caught while on tour in Doug and Judy’s home state of Texas.”

A few of the interview subjects already shot include the late Kenny Baldwin, proprietor of vital Milwaukee club the Starship; Jill Kossoris and Jim Richardson of the Shivvers; Kevn Kinney; Danny Kubinski and Keith Brammer of Die Kreuzen; Craig Crabbe of the Lubricants and Ace Tones; and Patrick Nedobeck of The American Bombs and Colour Radio.

What can you do to support the effort? The filmmakers are still on the hunt for ephemera of the era. (According to Doug LaValliere, the passion of collectors of vintage Milwaukee 45s was another major inspiration for the project.)

“I would tell your readers to check out and follow our Facebook page and our YouTube video and share them on social media,” Simonds said. “The more followers, the better!

“We would also greatly appreciate any audio, video footage or Super 8 film of Milwaukee’s punk scene from 1975 to 1985. Any contributors will get their (usable) video or film transferred onto a DVD and credited in our movie.”