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From America. More specifically, from Milwaukee.
From America. More specifically, from Milwaukee. (Photo: Flower Bomb Songs)

The Sidewalk Skipper Band's brush with fame was brief

Last week, a reader sent me a link to a video and asked if I could identify the Milwaukee locations where the 1968 music clip was filmed. 

The song is "Strawberry Tuesday," by Milwaukee’s The Sidewalk Skipper Band, which released three singles around that time. The discs, of which "Strawberry Tuesday," backed with "Cynthia at the Garden" -- released in March 1968 -- was apparently the first, are much-sought-after by collectors of American psychedelia.

What struck me most about the video, was how rooted in its moment it was -- and that gorgeous Rickenbacker played by frontman Dave McDowell -- and the fact that it doesn’t actually appear to be filmed in Milwaukee. You can, of course, correct me if I'm wrong by sending me an email or posting a Talkback below.

Early on, I tried to ID some of the buildings in the background and couldn’t. Then, at about 1:20, there’s a segment filmed right in front of a distinctive building that is most definitely at the Chicago lakefront, across from Navy Pier.

According to the Flower Bomb Songs blog, "They hailed from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and first attracted attention at Marquette University where they had regular gigs...They managed to secure a recording contract with Capitol Records, who as a major label, had the necessary clout to get the group to a higher level but despite some promotion including a full colour sleeve showing The Sidewalk Skipper Band in their finest psychedelic gear, the record appears to have sank."

Another single -- "Seventeenth Summer" backed with "(Would You Believe) It's Raining Flowers In My House" followed two months later and was recorded at the same February 1968 session at Chicago’s Universal Recording that spawned the debut.

In addition to McDowell, the band included guitarist Rick Novak -- these two wrote the songs on the first two 45s -- drummer Tom Jukem and the Balestreri brothers -- Brian on organ and Joe on bass.

MIlwaukee music fans know Joe Balistreri, of course, for his many years promoting concerts at venues like The Stone Toad, Alpine Valley and The Rave.

According to Flower Bomb Songs, an acetate of unreleased music by the Sidewalk Skipper Band was discovered and is circulating among psychedelic fans. But this music was made the following year and has a different vibe, in large part because McDowell, Novak and Jurek had, by then, been replaced by guitarist Bob West and drummer Marc Balzac.

A 45 by this lineup -- "Sidewalk Skipper" backed with "Jeannie At The Circus" -- appeared in 1969 on the Teen Town imprint.

Another blog -- On the Record -- notes that The Sidewalk Skipper Band arrived on the psychedelic scene too late to really click.

"Unfortunately, the group's timing was a bit off. As Beatles' publicist Derek Taylor famously said in late 1967, ‘the only people that will be using the word "psychedelic" in 1968 are TV comedians and brain-dead disk jockeys.’ The other problem was that Capitol tried to promote them as a singles band. Psych singles were a staple in the U.K., but in the U.S., record buyers wanted psych LPs, not singles.

"It also didn't help that Capitol made damn sure that you knew this was an American psychedelic group in their publicity -- full page-ads in the music trades introduced them as ‘The Sidewalk Skipper Band (of America)’ and contained phrases like ‘America is ready for the SSB’ and ‘they have made themselves ready for America.’ So their two Capitol singles failed miserably, though they are held in very high regard with psych collectors these days. After one final 45 for the Teen Town label in 1969, the group disbanded."

The four Capitol Records sides can be heard on Now Sounds' "Book A Trip: The Psych Pop Sounds of Capitol Records."

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