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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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In Music

Milwaukee music veteran Johnnie Gee seeks respect


He's one of Milwaukee's true musical legends, and now Johnnie Gee is out for respect.

Gee, who has been playing and performing music since the age of 9 and has been recording since the '70s, has been imparting what he's learned on aspiring musicians.

"The industry is lost. People don't understand that great music is something that can be enjoyed by everyone," he says.

He uses his own music as an example.

"I make music that you can get married to. You can have babies to it, have parties to it and play it for church-going folks. It's music about love, life and experience. My music has no borders."

Gee has recorded with a wide range of artists through the years. From soul groups to pop acts to modern R&B singers to rappers, he's seen them all. And though he admires the drive of current musicians, he's not always thrilled with what he sees.

"There are no more original artists in Milwaukee. Kids aren't learning to play music anymore, they just recreate it."

As a solution, he supports initiatives like VH1's "Save The Music," which provides funding for music programs in public schools, and urges kids to take music classes while in school. He would also like to see more outreach by his alma mater, The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

While he doesn't live a lavish life, Gee says he lives comfortably, with homes in Milwaukee and Cudahy.

"I live very good. Everything's paid for, I don't have any debt and I still get copyright checks from Brunswick Records."

Brunswick Records was a haven for soul artists like The Chi-Lites, Jackie Wilson and Barbara Acklin in the '60s and '70s. It was also the first label to give a teenaged Johnnie Gee a chance when it inked The Step By Step Band, a group consisting of Gee and some neighborhood friends and relatives. The band released its first album "We Always Wanted To Be In The Band" in 1976. After finding out that Brunswick was still putting Step By Step songs on compilations, he reached a settlement with the label and was offered a distribution contract.

Now Gee runs his own Sidetraxx Records imprint. He says he controls every aspect of the music he puts out on Sidetraxx, from the playing and producing to the marketing and packaging of albums. This dedication is something Gee thinks is missing from younger artists, who he says just want to get paid as quickly as possible.

"You have to put something in to get something out. This industry isn't free."

The main thing Gee always emphasizes is the need to control publishing. He says that mix tapes, which hip-hop artists have been making and distributing for a long time, are a false path to success in the music business.

"Those mix tapes are a waste of time because you don't own anything. You don't have to get any label clearances (from samples or other artists making guest appearances) but there's no publishing. Owning your publishing is the only way to truly own your music."

For now, he's got a recently released EP titled "It's A Thinline," which features new material as well as older songs and was just released as a follow up to last year's "One More Time." What he's most proud of after 37 years of playing music is the ability to touch fans young and old.

"Older people remember us, and they're telling their kids, 'This is real music.'"


Talkbacks

OMCreader | Oct. 8, 2006 at 1:13 a.m. (report)

Johnnie Gee said: Hello readers, I'd like to say that i spent the last 17 years working with Coo Coo Cal, Ice Mone, Bizzy Bone, just to name a few. I have had my ears to the rail for many years now, and I think there is a lot of good music and artist in Milwaukee, but no output as far as getting artists music to worldwide charts & radio, so please don't mis-quote me or get confused about my feelings for Milwaukee artist, i still record, Master, Duplicate, Shop and groom artist from Milwaukee and supply a lot of production for them, put your ear close to the rail and you will find out.... Johnnie Gee

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OMCreader | Sept. 16, 2006 at 7:00 p.m. (report)

Richard said: If Johnnie Gee is a music legend; where can I find the articles on him from the early days of his career? I'd like some real history on him to put in my music business essay for class. remoten@sbcglobal.net is my email address

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OMCreader | Aug. 22, 2006 at 11:53 a.m. (report)

Flint said: He raises some really good points. Too many younger people making music today don't ever stop, and just put in the work to figure out how and why the best music made works. With that being said, I also think Johnnie is being a little unfair by saying stuff like 'there's no orginal music in Milwaukee right now' etc... Well, Milwaukee doesn't have alot of great music talent...it really doesn't, but there are a few really incredible, orginal gems of songwriters & artists. He makes a few sweeping statements perhaps based on his experience here, but he hardly has his ear really close to the rail. No question Johnnie Gee is a talent though.

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