This morning I spent some time with Bruce Cole, who created and maintains and grows the Jean Cuje Milwaukee Music Collection at Marquette University. Bruce has been in loads of bands over a number of decades and his passion for local music seems to grow as time goes on.
He told me about his experiences meeting Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton when one of his bands opened for Cream at The Scene Downtown in the late ‘60s and then he briefly met Jimmy Page in 1969 in West Allis.
What? Jimmy Page in West Allis? Yes, Led Zeppelin was one of the top-billed acts at the three-day Midwest Rock Festival at State Fair Park on July 25-27, 1969 (Buffy Sainte-Marie was at the top of the bill).
A slew of local bands warmed things up on the flatbed trailer that served as the stage in the infield of the racetrack. Cole even sat in briefly with Shag at one of its three appearances. The day two line-up featured Mc5, Blind Faith (with Clapton, Baker and Steve Winwood), Delaney & Bonnie and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, along with Shag and SRC.
The closing night boasted Jeff Beck Group, Johnny Winter, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Jethro Tull, Bob Seger, Jim Schwall, MC-5, Zephyr, Litter, Shag and SRC.
Opening night was the hot one with Sainte-Marie and Led Zeppelin, joined by 1st Edition, Pacific Gas & Electric, SRC, Shag and Sweetwater.
Led Zeppelin's appearance was part of an American tour that also included dates at New York's Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, the Atlanta International Pop Festival, the Seattle Pop Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival and other big events. In October, the band went on to release the follow-up to its self-titled debut, "Led Zeppelin II."
That night, the band played "Train Kept a-Rollin'," "I Can't Quit You," "Dazed and Confused," "White Summer," "How Many More Times" and "Communication Breakdown," which was the group's standard set list for the summer jaunt.
A bootleg of the gig was released as "Stroll On." There are also bootlegs of Blind Faith's performance, too.
Twenty-one-year-old Anthony Shelton was there, fresh from a stint with the Army in Vietnam. He was preparing to start studying to become a teacher at Illinois State University. His cousin, who he says was like a brother to him, lived in Milwaukee.
"I went up on Thursday and stayed until midweek," Shelton remembers. "He took me to the festival and I got to see all the fun my generation was having while I had been gone for, what at the time seemed to be, a very long time.
"All I can really say about seeing Zeppelin was that, I was and still am a big fan, was that their live performance in 1969 was much better than when I saw them in Indy in '77. Plant's voice was gone by '77, in '69 he was still great.
"I've always thought Zep was better on record than in concert. I saw them three times: Midwest Rock Fest, Chicago '72 and Indy '77 and I never walked away thinking that I had seen 'God' or something. I did see the Stones in '69 at the U of I and '72 -- also, 75, 78 81 so on and so forth -- in Chicago and thought they were better than Zeppelin in concert.
"I didn't think they walked on water, let's put it that way. I thought Blind Faith sounded better at the Midwest Rock Fest than Zep did."
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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.