Though Kenny Baldwin was a drummer with local bands like Colour Radio and Locate Your Lips, he was most influential behind the scenes at his family's club, The Starship, and for his many years of production work at Summerfest. Beloved by everyone who knew him, Baldwin lost a long battle with cancer on Friday.
On Thursday, his long-time friend and former bandmate Wiley Nash reported to a large group of friends that Baldwin's lung cancer, which was in remission, had returned and Baldwin, 62, was in the hospital. Doctors, he wrote, gave Kenny a year to live. Dozens of well-wishers sent messages and made plans to visit Baldwin in the hospital.
But a day later, the same message thread carried this message from Nash (aka Patrick Nedobeck):
"Kenny left us around 10 p.m. this evening. His dear friend Kendra and his cousin Clarence were at his side. Love to all."
By the following day, groups of Baldwin's friends were meeting up to celebrate the life of one of the most influential members of the local music scene.
At the urging of the late Presley Haskel (aka Jerome Brish), Baldwin, who studied jazz drumming, convinced his dad to let him book rock and roll bands into the family's Downtown disco, Starship Encounters, on 5th Street, near Wisconsin Avenue.
The result was a short-lived venue – re-christened The Starship – that breathed life into Milwaukee's punk and new wave scene and, in effect, started a musical chain reaction that survives today.
Though the club lasted but two years, Baldwin's influence endures decades later thanks, surely, to the effect of The Starship but also for Baldwin's years as a soundman, working in local clubs like Tony Selig's Omnibus at the Eagles Club, and working in production at Summerfest, where he encountered a couple generations of Milwaukee bands as a stage manager.
He also served as drummer of Brew City technopop outfit Colour Radio (pictured above), which inked a deal and released an album on A&M Records subsidiary Gold Mountain in 1983. He was also a member of Locate Your Lips and The Prosecutors.
When I wrote the above-linked post about The Starship last spring, Rich Mars invited me to talk about it on his WMSE show. Stepping out of line, I took the liberty of inviting Kenny as a surprise guest. The result was a great on-air chat about The Starship that you can hear here.
Alas, we should've had tape rolling in the studio while the music played because Kenny shared so much more about those days with Rich and I. Afterward, walking outside, Kenny and I spent another half-hour on the Milwaukee Street sidewalk talking.
He told me he was feeling good. He told me he was happy that his dad had understood, before his passing not long ago, what an influential club The Starship was. He was eager to see the results of a documentary film and a book about the Milwaukee scene during those years. He smiled a lot, as always.
Though he didn't live in the past, and was as modest a guy as you'd ever meet – and would never take credit – he understood, I think, what he had helped spark here and how long the reach of The Starship has been.
I'd say I'll miss him, but that's insufficient. More appropriately, Milwaukee will miss Kenny Baldwin.
Services are scheduled for 11 a.m., Monday, Sept. 28 at Northwest Funeral Home, 6630 W. Hampton Ave. A gathering will follow at 6 p.m. at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave.
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.