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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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In Music

The Stooges Brass Band is coming to Milwaukee on Tuesday, Aug. 5 for the Marcus Center's Live at Peck series.

The Stooges Brass Band bring their bright beat to the Marcus Center


The Stooges Brass Band have a fun, light-hearted name that fits their reputation for fun, energetic and entertaining live shows. Don't be completely fooled by the name, though; when it comes to being the best, the New Orleans-based brass band means business, so much so that they've built up a little bit of a history of controversy over the years.

In 2010, some of their fellow competitors were miffed about The Stooges' victory at Red Bull Street Kings brass band competition, considering the band came out with the Red Bull logo on their shirts and with more musicians on stage than the rules allowed. Then there was the brief tussle with Rebirth Brass Band.

Yes, band leader Walter Ramsey and The Stooges have a reputation as one of New Orleans' most controversial brass bands. More importantly, though, is that they have the music to back it up. The Stooges' reputation as one of the city's finest and most entertaining acts outshines any minor controversy, and its musical prowess has been used for production work with MTV, ESPN and BET.

The band's brought their music across the nation and the whole globe – including recent trips to Pakistan as cultural ambassadors – and now it's coming to the Marcus Center on Tuesday, Aug. 5 as a part of its Live at Peck series. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Ramsey about the band's origins, its music and its assorted controversies.

OnMilwaukee.com: When did you first start getting into music?

Walter Ramsey: Oh man, when did I first start getting into music? I guess I gotta say as a baby. I was born into music. My mom listened to a lot of music, and my grandfather was a percussionist, so I guess from day one. (laughs)

OMC: What wound up drawing you to this particular genre of music?

WR: Like I was saying, my grandfather was a percussionist, and he was a part of this brass band culture in New Orleans. So when I was younger, he would take me to the parade, and I used to watch the band. I just thought, "Man, I want to do that."

OMC: How did The Stooges Brass Band come together then?

WR: I put the band together back in high school back in '96. We came from two rival schools in New Orleans; we took like four members from each school, and we formed The Stooges from that.

OMC: Was there any rivalry between you guys considering you came from different schools?

WR: (laughs) Only when we represented our schools. The only problem we had back then was that the other students in our schools were kind of upset that we were fraternizing with the enemy. (laughs) That was one of our biggest challenges back then. How do you be friends with a rival school, because you're friends – you all grew up together, so you know each other – but in marching band in New Orleans, you're considered the enemy. So that was one of our biggest challenges.

OMC: So even from the beginning of the band, you guys were kind of a magnet for controversy.

WR: (laughs) Yeah, definitely.

OMC: Speaking of controversies, you guys got in a bit of a scuffle with the Rebirth Brass Band a couple years ago. What happened there?

WR: Well, it was like a big brother/little brother thing. The big brother was always better at sports and always winning and picking on the little brother. You know, just always been better. So the little brother always wanted to grow up and wanted to outdo his big brother one day. So when the little brother get all strong and get to the same height as the big brother, and now they can beat them in the sports.

We were like their little brothers and then we grew up and got big and got on the same level with them on the streets of New Orleans. And they couldn't handle that. They were used to us being under them, and now we see each other eye-to-eye.

So one of their band members at a parade came over and tried to hit me. It was nothing that we started, but it was something that happened. You get punched; you want to throw a punch back, you know.

OMC: Did you guys settle that afterward?

WR: Oh yeah, yeah yeah. Not even 10 minutes after it happened. Because we're family, so it wasn't like a mean thing. It just happened. We were in the middle of a parade, and after that happened, we stopped, got ourselves together, got our instruments, assessed the damage and looked to see how we could make it work. And then we continued to play the parade. It was just something that happened, and we look back and laugh at it now. We look at as a big brother type thing; we're still family.

OMC: Why have you guys been such a magnet for controversy over the years?

WR: Because of me, I'm not going to lie to you. I'm different. I always go against the grain. When I got into brass band, I remember my mom was saying that it was time to go to college, and I said, "No mom, I'm going to keep my band going, and we're going to make a living off of this." And she was like, "No, son. A brass band is just a hobby. They have real jobs. It's not a career, son." And I said it could be.

So I took heed to what she was saying – not about me going to college, but about how can I change this into a business. I studied the music business a lot, and I was the first person to start running it like a business. So when the older guys saw me doing that, they were like, "You're doing too much. I don't like him."

I just did everything different, and I try to do everything, honestly, to put them out of business. I'm going to do this, and I'm going to be the best at this. And that's what I pride myself on. It's not that I may be better than them; it's just that I'll work harder than them. And I do. And I have. And some of those bands that were around back in those days, they're not around today.

So I'm that guy that was different. Even now. If you see The Stooges, we're not just some snare drum and bass outfit. We're drum set, keyboard, guitar and some people are, like, "That's not a part of a brass band!" I don't have a problem with controversy. I'm not trying to be a bad guy; I just want our band to be different.

OMC: After the Red Bull event controversy, you talked about the ability to connect with an audience and how important that is. While some bands may sound better than you guys, you guys connect better with audiences. How do you do that?

WR: At the end of the day, we're musicians. We're skilled and we went to school for music, but a lot of other bands have great musicians too. But what I want is my band to be the best entertainers because that's how you really catch people and get into the music.

The way we pride ourselves in doing that is talking with the audience. We get everybody comfortable and break the ice, enough that you can be in our presence and us in your presence. We can talk, laugh, joke, dance and make it one big party experience, for not just us but for the people who come see us.

People who come see us after the show, they're like, "Man, you guys have a lot of fun up there." And we do! Sometimes, we might be having more fun than the audience. But I'm proud of making this band a super-energetic band that just entertains. We won't let you down; there's so much that you get from us.


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