The Baroques ... I admit I’ve been remiss.
While I’ve written about the Avant Garde a few times and about The Velvet Whip, a band that played there in the 1960s, I’ve never really said much about another Avant Garde-era band, The Baroques, other than to note when guitarist Jacques Atman Hutchinson passed away in 2013.
The Baroques were one of the bands in Milwaukee’s edgy, psychedelic rock and roll scene that made waves outside the city (another was the The Sidewalk Skipper Band), via its sole album – a self-titled gem on Chicago’s Chess Records that remains a cult classic to this day.
Important not only for the band’s impact on the local scene – and its longstanding status among fans of garage and psychedelic rock – "The Baroques" also marked the first on the iconic Chess label by a non-blues or R&B artist, as the label attempted to break out to a wider audience.
The fact that the first single was called "Mary Jane" didn’t help much in reaching that goal, however, as it was quickly banned – "Mary Jane," of course, being a common name for marijuana.
The Sundazed press release for the record really captures its sound and spirit:
It’s a beautifully-grungy affair; somewhat lo-fi, featuring many incredible originals, such as "Mary Jane," issued as the lead-off single – and promptly banned by radio for it’s supposed drug references … Filled with moody vocals atop clattering and chiming guitar work.
"The Milwaukee based Baroques mixed garage intensity with sonic experimentation that would come to define the later part of the decade. Though widely overlooked, their debut album was rumored to outsell Sgt. Pepper’s on a local level.
"Fronted by the dark baritone vocals of Jay Borkenhagen, The Baroques weave through the structures of early '60s rock, adding a subtly gloomy touch and at times departing into chaotic bursts of noise. Almost as quickly as they appeared, The Baroques quickly dissolved, but not before making their unique statement with an eclectic array of eccentric tracks."
"They were the only local band of the so-called psychedelia era to put out a complete album, which says a lot, I think," says Mark Goff, who was there, writing about and photographing the local scene for Kaleidoscope and the Bugle-American.
"While it didn't sell very well here, it did have some success in Minneapolis, which has always been ahead of the curve in embracing new music."
Look for "The Baroques" locally at indie emporia such as Acme, Bull’s Eye, Exclusive Company, Off the Beaten Path, RushMor, etc.
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.