[Dixielandjazz] Memories of Great Musicians

Mike Woitowicz banjomusic at charter.net
Fri Jun 1 07:25:33 PDT 2007

Ed Coltrin's interesting historical recollections of his experiences listening to some of the great past players in California brings back similar memories of experiences I've had in Wisconsin.

In the 60's we had a pub in downtown Milwaukee called The Tunnel Inn featuring OKOM. The house band was the Underprivileged Five, led by trumpeter extraordinaire Dick Ruedebusch. Some of the personnel in the group over the years included trombonists Ralph Hutchinson, Bob Knutzen and Bill Johnson; drummers Al Praefke, Clyde Hornburg; bassists Lee Burrows, Bill Ermi; and clarinetist Sam Armato. I believe Chuck Hedges also played with this band over the years. There were many others but I've lost track over time.

I was just old enough to legally get into pubs, and being in college at the time, didn't have much money. So, I used to go in and sit at the bar and nurse 1 or 2 brews all night (for the extraordinary price of $1.50 each at the time). But I heard some of the finest OKOM in the area and some legendary musicians. 

Recently, while reminiscing with some of the guys in my band, I was describing this experience. Turns out that several of the guys who work with me today did the same thing at about the same period of time! Who knows, we might have been sitting at the bar at the same time, not knowing that 40+ years later we would be carrying on the OKOM tradition.

Ruedebusch died in 1968 at the age of 44. Sam Armato is in his 80's and is still honking his clarinet in this area. Ralph Hutchinson is lives in a local retirement facility and to my knowledge doesn't perform any more. Lee Burrows, a great jazz bassist, died about 3 or 4 years ago. Chuck Hedges has some recent health problems, but is recovering and is back performing superbly again. I don't know about any of the others since I was not as familiar with them.

Great memories good times and of some great musicians.

Mike Woitowicz
The Banjo Barons Ragtime Band
The Dixie Barons Dixieland Band

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