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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Music

In Music

In Music

In Music

Pritchett's fretwork made lasting mark in Milwaukee


(page 2)


In 1970, legendary drummer Buddy Rich walked into a Milwaukee club and, stunned by Pritchett's playing, offered him a job on the spot. Consequently, Pritchett got on a bus with Rich's big band and toured the country.

"Many people who knew music were shocked to see him playing in little bars, and clubs around town. 'You should get out of Milwaukee, and go to New York, or Los Angeles,' was a comment he often heard," writes Neal Pritchett. "All though the '60s, people were telling him that he was too good to stay in Milwaukee ... this was a mantra that he had heard all of his life. Still, for whatever reason, he stayed."

After a year with Buddy Rich, it was to Milwaukee that Pritchett decided to return. Around the same time, his brothers bought the building that houses the Oriental Theater and also housed Oriental Drugs, Landmark Lanes and the apartments above, where Pritchett lived.

Removing the old bowling lanes behind the bar, Pritchett's brothers built him a club, called Pritchett's, where he would play gigs, host visiting musicians and lead jam sessions. For a time, it was one of Milwaukee's most happening scenes, according to his son.

"Pritchett's actually had a very special place in Milwaukee's cultural and nightlife, for a time. Everyone showed up: local politicians, celebrities, entertainers and money people all made this their spot. This was the premier place to go and hear music played by Milwaukee's own star, to meet friends, to hang out, or to be seen. If you wanted to impress someone from out of town, you took them to George's place. If you were visiting, and wanted to know where the hot spot was, you were told to go to George's. If anyone famous was in town, from baseball players, to actors, to musicians, they would inevitably show up at Pritchett's. While it lasted, it was a great time and place to be George. This little piece of paradise actually lasted for several years."

But times changed and the scene moved on, due, in part, it seems to quarrels with his brothers and Pritchett's drinking.

"He could be very funny, and had a sharp, sometimes cutting sense of humor, but he also rubbed many people the wrong way," Neal writes. "I remember one particular incident where a family had brought their son out on his birthday, to see George. The boy looked to be 12 or so, and he had a song request. I don't recall the song, but it wasn't one that George liked, and he asked the boy if he was sure he wanted to hear that song. When the boy nodded his head, George said "OK little bonehead, in the next set." The family got up and left. He may not have meant anything by it, but he alienated a large number of people by such unthinking antics."

During this time Pritchett recorded two LPs for a local label run by Pete Stocke, whose connections created the opportunity for Pritchett to record a session in Chicago for RCA Records. But after twice oversleeping and missing scheduled sessions, the project was scrapped.

When his club closed, Pritchett found it difficult to get work in a town where jazz was passť and rock was the game and he took a factory job and continued teaching. But his mood swings became legendary.

"GP was a drill sergeant," remembers Grassel. "He would eat a hot dog and read Downbeat magazine during the lesson. If I made a mistake he would yell at me very loud with vulgar language. Sometimes he would have two lessons going on at the same time to make double money."

"I studied with George for a few years and can still feel the sting of his drum stick on my thigh every time I hit a note he didn't' like ... ouch!," says guitarist and former student Johnny Mayer. "George was unpredictable, you never knew when his mood would change, but when he got mad, it only lasted for a few minutes and it was over. He had a sense of humor and told funny stories about being a jazz musician."

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Talkbacks

norm1054 | May 4, 2009 at 10:24 a.m. (report)

My father grew up with Bob and George and being an avid bowler I got to hear George play. have his 2 records turn into CD,s and everybody who hears it enjoys it !!! his music has reached all the way to Arizona!!! norm thompson

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