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Record Player: Musical Memories of the 1950s

Decades pass, but some of the musical venues are still the same today: the Rathskeller, Camp Randall, and even the Stock Pavilion.

July 22, 2015

What do JJ Watt, the UW Marching Band, and Pink Floyd have in common? They’ve all been met with resounding applause on the field at Camp Randall Stadium. That’s right: Camp Randall used to play host to rock concerts. Bands such as The Grateful Dead, U2, and Public Enemy tore up the field (figuratively and, perhaps, literally) from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. We believe that Madison has one of the greatest music scenes in the country, and your responses to our call for musical memories affirmed that belief loudly and clearly.

In this update, Badger grads of the ’50s share their musical memories of campus.

Joy Picus ‘51

Reseda, CA

This goes back a really long way, but it is my absolutely unforgettable Badger musical experience. As a first year student at the University of Wisconsin, I lived in a Women’s Residence House, Lincoln Lodge, located at the corner of Lake and Langdon. We were served 3 meals a day, except on Sunday, when we had a big meal at noon, and were on our own for the evening meal. After that meal was finished, and the dishes done, the students would gather in the large living room, and a particularly talented member of the wait staff would sit down at the piano and play for us for an hour or more. We would sing along, or listen. That person was the incomparable, but not yet famous Jerry Boch. Jerry went on to write many celebrated musicals, from Fiorello, to Fiddler on the Roof, along with several other joyous, tuneful, and delightful Broadway hits. In my sophomore year, the University’s Centennial Year (1848), Jerry, as a member of Haresfoot, (an all-male performing group) wrote an original musical celebrating the Centennial, which was duly performed at the Union Theatre, with great success and many cheers. I do recall a few lines from one song: “Logger Beer, Logger Beer, that’s what we’re here for. Logger Beer, Logger Beer, that’s what we cheer for. We live on Logger Beer on the frontier.” Jerry showed his remarkable talent as a UW student, before he became a huge Broadway success. I consider myself so lucky to have lived at Lincoln Lodge that year and enjoyed his great gift at that time. I continue to enjoy his music to this day, and think back fondly on those long ago, but very special Sundays.

Richard Boniface ‘53

Cedar, MN

I was a member of the marching band and the concert band in the mid 40’s. One of my favorite memories was one of our trips east for a football game. We were in the train and getting settled for a trip east with the Badger fans in some of the cars up front. One of our group had managed to get a six- pack of brew on board undetected. As the car jerked ahead “one of us” standing in the aisle happened to spill about a quarter of a can on the rubber padding on the aisle. We were scrambling to find something to soak up some of the juice as it rolled back and forth on the rubber mat that had small strips of rubber in the length of the row. Suddenly we saw a figure entering the car from the front and we had to sit down and pretend there wasn’t any foam drifting back and forth down the aisle. Who was it?? The band director!! We all froze and tried to be nonchalant. He stopped in the middle of the back and forth flow, looked down at it several times — then he said, “Which one of you guys hasn’t been house broken?” and walked slowly away.

George Kroncke ’51, MD’54

Asheville, NC

I was a student and played in the marching band. But the most memorable experiences was as a member of the Medichoir from 1950 to 1954. We won the campus choir one year singing "Hospodipomilowi."

Jean Kapelke Bills ‘51

Wauwatosa, WI

One afternoon, probably in 1949, we were playing cards in the Union Rathskellar. All afternoon continuously, the jukebox played "Music, Music, Music" with Teresa Brewer singing. It went on for hours with no interruptions from other songs. It made an indelible memory for me and I have loved that song ever since then.

Gertrude Zauner ‘52

Wauwatosa, WI

At the East Michigan game on Sept. 7, 1996, my husband Richard Zauner ’52 and I were sitting in our usual seats when my daughter, Kathy Wells ‘81 came over from her seat and said "Dad, how are you feeling? Because you are directing the band at halftime!" Kathy had bid at a fire-up before the game on the opportunity to lead the band, and won. Richard played in the Milwaukee West Division high school band and was a huge fan of the Badgers marching band. We have great pictures of Mike Leckrone, Barry Alverez and Bucky Badger with Richard and great memories of a super surprise.

Walter Schar ‘52

Madison

My wife, Mary Mortimer Schar ‘50, and I both remember singing the Bach B-Minor Mass with the University Chorus in a concert in the Stock Pavilion. We did not know each other at that time, even though we'd both taken piano lessons from the same teacher in grade school and graduated from Madison West High a year apart.

Robert Espeseth '52, MS'56

Savoy, IL

The most memorable performance I can recall at the Union was by Andres Segovia, the noted Spanish classical guitar virtuoso. The stage was set with one lone stool in front of a white background. I don't recall that he was even introduced, he just walked out on stage sat on the stool and began to play. His mastery of the guitar was breathtaking, at times it sounded like he had someone accompanying him. He played for about 45 minutes and walked off the stage. The audience was momentarily very quiet and then exploded into a standing ovation. Segovia returned in about 10 minutes and finished out the performance. It was just spectacular. My wife and I were awe-struck.

Fred Hecker '53, MBA'55

Indianapolis, IN

Dateline: Trip to January 1, 1953 Rose Bowl

In those days, the most practical way (at least for students) was to go by train. I was on board with my accordion, playing "On Wisconsin" and "California, Here I Come" through the passenger cars to the club car. There, polkas and other favorites enlivened the party. Good memories.

P.S. I still play at UW Alumni Club of Indianapolis events, including tailgating at Indiana and Purdue football games.

William Schultz ‘52, MS’53, PhD’58

Orange, CA

  1. Playing Varsity on the field of Camp Randall at half-time in the UW Marching Band.
  2. Singing in the marching band while marching to/from games along University Avenue: Songs to Thee Wisconsin, in 4-part harmony, Cheer Boys Cheer. We even sang these songs in Ann Arbor, marching back to the train, after losing the game to Michigan — people remarked they never saw a Band with that much pep after losing a game.

Nancy Harold ‘57

Weaverville, NC

I remember as a freshman (1953) going to many parties where Josh Salter played and sang folk songs. He was before the Kingston trio and Peter, Paul and Mary made folk so popular. I went most times just to hear him. I was a political science major and I guess he was an embarrassment to his dad, (poli-sci) professor Salter, but I loved him.

Wandering through a now defunct bookstore a few years ago, I came across a coffee table book on the history of guitars. Leafing through the book, I saw a picture of a guitar that looked like the one I had stored in a closet since my graduate school days in Madison. The caption stated that Herbert Hoover had given the instrument as a gift to a White House guest in the early 1930s. I had played the guitar at Wisconsin, mostly with Earl ‘Jake’ Jacobs who played the banjo. The picture stirred memories of people and places I had not seen for a half-century.

Bernard Shull PhD’57

Lawrenceville, NJ

Finger-numbing cold comes early in the Fall to Madison. In the evenings, after a day of classes and study, we would huddle in the dim-lit, basement warmth of the Rathskeller in the Student Union. One evening, I found Jake sitting with some classmates at one of the heavy wooden tables that served as a gathering point for food, beer and talk. Thin, slumped-shouldered and losing his hair, Jake was a little older than most of us. He said he was a bio-physicist and worked in a lab. He drove an ancient black limousine that had once been a hearse. He told us that he liked folk music, played the 5-string banjo and was looking for someone who could play the guitar. I owned one with f-slots that had cost me $5 and I knew “Sweet Betsy from Pike.” I told him I’d play with him.

A few days later, we got together at his place. I met his wife Lyla. She was a few years younger than Jake, slim with long black hair and a vibrant smile. Jake, it turned out, was a good musician and Lyla had a beautiful singing voice. My playing left a lot to be desired, but Jake was accepting and a natural teacher. We began playing together. Jake organized a Friday evening folk-music group. People came with guitars, harmonicas, mandolins, fiddles, flutes and one with a musical saw that made the saddest sound I had ever heard.

As my playing improved, I found that my $5 guitar wouldn’t do. Jake offered to help me find a better one. We drove 80 miles to Milwaukee, and began touring pawn shops. Jake identified a promising old Martin for about $30. The finish was marred, particularly around the pick guard. The steel strings were too high off the neck, making them tough to hold down. But it had a deep bass, a bright treble and its sound resonated. At the time, I found $30 dollars a steep price. Jake loaned me the money with a promise to repay in monthly instalments.

That year I volunteered to provide the entertainment for the annual Christmas celebration in the Department of Economics. Jake and I played, and sang with Lyla–songs about the Civil War, the hardships of the Great Depression and building the Grand Coulee Dam. We were greeted with cheers and wild applause. The only critic was my theory professor, a brilliantly perverse man who accused me of bringing in ringers from the Music Department. I told him they were from the Physics Department.

Jake was plugged in to what passed for the folk music scene in those years, after the Weavers with Pete Seeger had faded and before Bob Dylan and the folk music revival of the ‘60s. But there were signs of what was coming. We drove to Chicago one night to hear Odetta at the Gate of Horn. She performed to a sold-out audience that was more enthusiastic than any I had seen since my high-school basketball team won a championship. A year later, Jake and Lyla moved to California. I got my degree and took a job in Philadelphia.

Thoughts and images of cold winter nights and joyous music in Madison faded slowly. After Philadelphia, I moved to Washington D.C. and then to a job in New York: marriage and two children, a career in research, teaching and consulting, a dog, three cats, a rabbit, a bird and assorted fishes. Fifty years passed, it seemed over one weekend. The guitar sat in a closet, in a torn cloth gig bag. I hadn’t played it for so long I’d forgotten how to tune it. I had long since lost track of Jake and Lyla. I decided to find out if the guitar had any value and to look for my old friends. But these are stories for another time and place.

Burleigh Randolph ‘57

La Crosse, WI

If you want to be a Badger then come along with me… All together now…

Marilyn Bogen ‘58

Lakeville, MN

I received a 4 year UW Summer Music Clinic Scholarship in 1954 (eons ago!). I am the oldest of 11 children, 10 of whom have graduated from the UW Madison. It was very important to my parents that I attend the U because I needed to set the example for my younger siblings, two of whom had not yet been born. I agreed to do so IF I got a scholarship (I wanted to be a WAC or WAVE at the time). Long story, short I was awarded the scholarship and found myself entering an academic and music world I could not have imagined. I sang with Professor Russell Paxton's a capella choir, Professor Warren Wooldrige's Womens Chorus, and played French horn with the UW Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Prof Richard Church. What a marvelous experience for a young woman who graduated from a high school class of thirty-some students! It opened a whole new world for me! I am forever grateful for the education I received at the UW Madison. It provided me with the knowledge and confidence I needed to become a successful teacher and musician.

Mary Butts ‘58

Sheboygan, WI

My husband (Thomas Butts ’61) and I sponsored a trombone. At Homecoming, we got to go on the field and sing Varisity. My son-in-law discovered our picture on the band's web site! This made it an even more special time. We have attended band concerts in the Field House (have shirts to prove it) as well as the Kohl Center all of which were memorial especially Tom Wopat's performances.

David Strang ‘59, MD’62

Drums, PA

Though it's hard to beat the Badger Band belting out "On Wisconsin," the most memorable musical moments for me while at UW-Madison were at the joint UW choirs Christmas concerts, which in the 1950's were held at cavernous Luther Memorial Church on University Avenue. I was privileged to sing in the University Chorus for three years, and the sound of the University Chorus, the A Cappella Choir, the Women's Chorus and Men's Chorus singing together in that grand space gave me Christmas memories that last to this day.

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