The BoDeans were formed in Waukesha by Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann, who have played together since high school. The roots rock band released its first album “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams” in 1986, which quickly propelled the group into the national spotlight. The BoDeans’ 1987 release, “Outside Looking In” broke into the Billboard Top 100. At that same time, the band was touring with US and was named “Best New Band” by Rolling Stone magazine.
In 1996, several Top 100 best-selling albums later, the band’s song “Closer to Free garnered national attention as the theme song to Fox’s “Party of Five.” “Closer to Free earned the BoDeans an ASCAP award for being one of the most played songs on radio that year.
In 2004, the band released “Resolution.” The album’s single, “If it Makes You,” quickly jumped into the Top 10 and stayed there for several weeks. A live album and DVD were released in 2005 called “Homebrewed: Live from the Pabst.” The BoDeans’ eighth studio album “Still” was released in March 2008.
Ellis is widely regarded as the cornerstone of Milwaukee jazz. He was born in 1933 and began playing piano in bands around the Milwaukee area at the age of nine under his musician father’s guidance.
After hearing noteworthy guitarist Oscar Morre on the Nat King Cole Trio; “Prelude in C-sharp minor,” Ellis quickly became focused on the guitar. It wasn’t until 1961, during an impromptu meeting with Wes Montgomery at the Sutherland Hotel in Chicago, that he was introduced to the jazz guitar.
Ellis has worked steadily to build appreciation for jazz in his hometown. He was the musical director for “The Black Scene,” a local NBC affiliate public affairs show, for three years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ellis also co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music along with Tony King and taught there for 12 years. During that time, he directed a government-funded Model Cities program that provided Conservatory scholarships for underprivileged students. Ellis also co-owned a music store, Ellis Music, and many famous jazz musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, George Benson and Frank Foster visited when they were in town.
He has taught master classes and held clinics in college campuses around the region since 1977 in collaboration with bassist Richard Davis. Ellis was a recipient of the 1997 Arts Midwest Jazz Masters award and in 1999, he recorded a CD, “In His Own Sweet Way.”