Locate Your Lips’ drummer was the late Kenny Baldwin, founder of the Milwaukee alternative club The Starship, who passed away in September 2015. (Before his death, Baldwin was interviewed for the forthcoming epic Milwaukee music documentary Taking the City by Storm.)
Nearly 40 years after The Frogs decided to take their wild musical collaboration out of the garage and onto Milwaukee stages, the team of Dennis and Jimmy Flemion has been largely forgotten by all but the most dedicated fans. But 2019 might be the year that the Flemions get the kind of attention that they (and superfans like Billy Corgan and Eddie Vedder) always knew they deserved.
We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of their landmark album It’s Only Right And Natural. There’s one final, transcendent Frogs album being prepared for release. And a documentary crew has been painstakingly putting together a history of the band, capturing interviews with the folks who were there as well as fans and friends like Andy Richter, Sebastian Bach, Kelley Deal, Steve Albini, Butch Vig and many more. That doc, also titled It’s Only Right And Natural, will supposedly see the light of day in 2019 as well.
The Frogs were always prolific, completist and controversial. From their earliest days at the fringes of the Milwaukee scene, The Frogs meticulously documented their own history — from studio recordings to performance videos to comical films featuring pervy puppets of their own devising. They were satirists of the highest degree who rarely broke that facade, but also unrepentant goofballs and musical geniuses who could move you with a from-the-heart love song. It couldn’t make sense to most people, but for those it touched, the music — and everything else — made a lifelong impression.
But very little of the band’s vast catalog made sense for the mainstream. They created some lovely pop songs, but also produced provocative, sideways takes on homosexuality and race. Their work was never destined for the charts, though many Frogs songs were actually more thoughtful and forward-thinking than they were given credit for.
Above all, The Frogs refused to be edited or packaged. With older brother Dennis as spokesman, the Flemions consistently pushed back against the shorthand of marketing: denying genre, decrying articles edited for length and legibility, disavowing any move to cut their aesthetic down to size.
Mass appeal may have eluded The Frogs, but they had outsize influence on other musicians. The middle period of their epic journey intersects some of the most renowned musicians of the ’90s, who willingly contributed their cachet to the Frogs’ career. Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins are the biggest acts that befriended the Flemion brothers, but the list stretches much further.
With Dennis’ shocking death in 2012, the saga of The Frogs may have come to an end, but 2019 feels like the year it will be told. Here are 5 bands that played roles in that story.
Footnotes of fandom: I was the Violent Femmes’ first California follower. My family lived in Milwaukee for a couple years before we moved to San Diego in time for junior high. I kept friends there, though, and that’s how I ended up seeing the Femmes at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery in June 1981, just a few months after the band formed. On August 23, 1981, the Pretenders spotted the Femmes busking in front of the Oriental Theatre and invited them to open that night; the rest is college-radio history.