With packed shows and a loyal local crowd, Perry Weber and the Devilles are re-establishing the blues in Milwaukee. In a city that once boasted "blues nights" six days a week, Weber and his group cultivate a thriving scene and regular locations for Milwaukee's blues crowd.
"There was a huge blues scene in Milwaukee, but it has somewhat died down," says guitarist / harmonica player Ben Rickun. "But, when we play at the Up and Under, there are a lot of young people who come to see us and we're just trying to spread that around. I think right now, we're on the rebuilding stages."
Joining Rickun are Weber (guitar), Tony Menzer (bass) and Victor Span (drums). Each chose to make Perry Weber and the Devilles his musical career despite years of playing in other bands alongside other musicians.
Weber has been a fixture on the Milwaukee blues scene for more than a decade, Span has toured alongside national acts, Rickun has played blues his entire life and Menzer, the band's most recent addition, played with blues bands throughout the state.
"Our sound is definitely blues, but also roots music. We incorporate a lot of rock, too; not classic rock, but early 1950s-style rock that you can dance to and has a lot of feeling," Rickun explains. We're certainly a blues band but we have different feels and quite a bit of range. We even do some old country."
"We do a couple rockabilly or honky-tonk numbers. It's blues but it's more of an Americana thing," Span adds.
With varying degrees of experience and influence, band members illuminate their individual talents as the sound melds into a melodic synthesis
"We play maybe 30 or 40 songs in every show. We have a lot of new stuff, but we play our first album, obviously, too. We do some covers but they are mostly old, obscure blues tunes that we really make our own," Rickun explains.
Perry Weber and tTout in May 2007 and within the year had peaked at No.14 on the Living Blues music chart.
"When we released our album, we had a lot of airplay across the country and in Europe," says Rickun. "But, at the time we weren't ready to tour to those places and so we are now just getting geared up to travel."
"We are planning to release a new album this winter," adds Span. "Individually, we've worked on a national level and we've started to get a few sniffs around for shows."
Their album's success can perhaps be attributed to the creation of their own label, Stumpy Dog Records, under which they maintained all creative control. Their success provoked a Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) nomination for the best blues band in 2007.
Individually, they have played with the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy and Clyde Stubblefield.
"The others ... have played with some big, heavy hitters. Every time you play with someone different, it's a good learning experience," Rickun explains. "And especially if you play with some of the big shots and they give you the nod of appreciation, it helps you become a better performer. It tells you that you're doing something right."
Weber, who previously played with such legends as Jim Liban, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmy Dawkins, decided to go out on his own in 2007 and gathered the musicians who would ultimately become the Devilles.
"The four of us have been working as professional musicians for awhile now and that's the biggest difference between us and most local blues bands," Span explains.
Unknowingly, the band seems to have been in the making for the last 10 years. Rickun, who credits Jim Liban as his mentor, originally took lessons from the musician nearly 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Weber was Liban's guitarist for years and it became only fitting that Rickun and Weber would one day play together as well. Likewise, Span collaborated with Weber in the mid-'90s only to return for Perry Weber and the Devilles two years ago.
Thanks to a consistent tour schedule, the band is well known throughout the Midwest, playing local bars and clubs everywhere from Indianapolis to Iowa City to Wisconsin Rapids. In town, they're regularly playing at the Milwaukee Ale House or the Up and Under Pub.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.