By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 02, 2006 at 9:03 AM
Most days, either going to work or heading back home, I pass a boarded up building on 24th and Walnut that looks pretty unassuming but still vibrates with life for me.

I'm talking about the days when that building was alive with a jukebox pumping what the faithful called "rockers" and everyone else called reggae and with the sound of the devoted gamers slamming dominoes on the table tops with a flourish and a cry of victory.

I'm talking about the days of the Caribbean Inn, a neighborhood place that welcomed everyone with a cold Strip (Red Stripe) or Dragon Stout (now sadly out of the U.S. market).

Writing about The Congos and Nigel Scott and Tropical Records recently reminded me of the Caribbean Inn, although my commute reminds me of it pretty often, too.

Usually, a night there consisted of plugging the jukebox, watching the dominoes games -- novices like us would never dream of asking for a chair to participate -- or playing pool with the regulars and drinking a couple beers.

Occasionally there was a band playing. The groups didn't seem to have names but they were skillful players performing a range of Caribbean music, from reggae to soca, ska to calypso. One of those nights we chatted with a band of musicians considerably older than us, and they invited us to their after-gig gig.

We followed them through the night down a maze of anonymous residential streets until we stopped in front of a house. Helping them load the gear into the basement, we realized we were crashing -- sort of -- a wedding reception.

But you'd never have known it. We were welcomed with food and drink, smiles and handshakes. The band played into the night and the basement got steamier and steamier as everyone danced and had a blast.

Sadly, I think a string of violence led to the shuttering of the Caribbean Inn and we never knew where to find those bands that played there. The rockers scene in Milwaukee -- which had never been much to talk about anyway -- really dried up by then.

The Sunday night gigs at the C-Club that ran in '84 and '85 under the Wisconsin Hotel and brought the likes of Michael Rose -- with a young, bright-eyed Squiddy Cole on drums before he became Jamaica's top session sticksman -- The Meditations, Burning Spear and The Mighty Diamonds to town, had long since dried up and we counted on the rare gig like Pablo Moses at a corner tap on Center Street or Wailing Souls at the Ramada Inn (no kidding), Freddie McGregor and Michigan & Smiley at Century Hall, or Daddy Blue at the Caribbean Inn, or a package gig like the Taxi Connection Tour in '86 at UWM with Yellowman, Half Pint, Ini Kamoze and others.

I heard there was a Caribbean Inn reunion last fall at a club on Fond du Lac Avenue and the fact that the place isn't forgotten makes me happy.
Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.