2016 WAMI HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES

PEE WEE KING

Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski was born in Milwaukee in 1914. Soon after, the family moved to Abrams, Wisconsin, where Julius Frank learned to play fiddle from his father, a polka musician. He performed with his father’s band, playing fiddle and accordion. Giving himself the same last name as bandleader Wayne King, “Frankie King” formed a band and appeared on radio in Racine. After high school, his“King’s Jesters” performed all over the Midwest, blending country and polka music. In 1933, when he was 19, his band played on the Milwaukee radio show “Badger State Barn Dance”, where they were discovered by rising star Gene Autry. Autry hired them as his backup band, and gave King the nickname “Pee Wee” for his fivefoot six-inch height. In 1936, King left Autry, and formed The Golden West Cowboys, out of Louisville, KY. In 1937, Redd Stewart joined the lineup; he became King’s songwriting partner. Also in 1937, King married Lydia Frank, whose father became band manager and who got the band the invite to join the Grand Ole Opry. The band joined the Opry amidst controversy, for their flashy wardrobe, their showmanship including the use of accordion, horns, drums and electric guitars, and for including polka and waltz rhythms within their songs. In 1946, King, with Stewart, composed his best-known tune “The Tennessee Waltz”. King’s other hits included “Slow Poke” and “You Belong to Me”. King’s band earned recognition as best country band from Billboard and Cashbox magazines. In 1955, “The Pee Wee King Show” made it to prime time TV, on ABC. His band toured until he retired from performing in 1969, having written/cowritten more than 400 songs. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970) and the Country Music Hall of Fame (1974). By bringing electric guitars and drums to Nashville, wearing flashy cowboy suits, crafting pop hits from country sounds, and having country music success on television, King blazed a trail for other country performers to follow. He died of a heart attack in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2000, at age 86.

 

LYLE MAYS

Music has been a large part of Lyle Mays life for as long as he can remember. Born in 1953, to a musical family in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, he was always encouraged to explore new forms of expression. His first piano teacher, Lula Otto, was also his first grade teacher. As a teen, Lyle attended the Shell Lake Stage Band Jazz Camps and studied with such talents as Marian McPartland. After a brief stint at UW-Eau Claire, Lyle transferred and studied composition and arrangement at North Texas State University. Next, he toured with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd for 8 months. While appearing at the 1975 Wichita Jazz Festival, Lyle met twenty year old guitarist, Pat Metheny. Lyle moved to the east coast in 1977, and the two formed a musical alliance that has proven to be among the most artistically successful of the past three plus decades. He co-wrote most of the music for the 11 Grammy-winning group’s albums, using crystal clear virtuosity, unconventional melodies, and cinematic scope of orchestration. In addition, Lyle has been nominated four times for his own work. He has written acclaimed projects for stage and screen, including off-Broadway and film scores. The list of musicians he has recorded with includes Joni Mitchell, Bobby McFerrin, Toots Thielemans, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Paul McCandless. He’s also composed and recorded music for children’s records, including the Tale of Peter Rabbit, with text by Meryl Streep. To date, he’s released 6 solo albums. His most recent recording, The Ludwigsburg Concert, with the Lyle Mays Quartet was released in 2015, and stands up against previous works.

 

DAVE STEFFEN

Dave Steffen hails from Plymouth, Wisconsin, where he began playing guitar as a young boy. During high school, he played in his first band, The Wanderers. By the time he left high school, in 1969, his band Love Society signed to Scepter Records, the same label Dionne Warwick was on. Within 5 years, he had also released recordings with RCA and Mercury Records. His talent as a songwriter and singer, in addition to his prowess as a guitar player, earned Steffen and his band special recognition in Billboard and Cashbox magazines. After teen band successes, Sunblind Lion formed in 1974 in Plymouth. Several of its members, including Dave, graduated from early ‘70s bands Love Society and Phase III. Sunblind Lion released three albums between 1976 and 1980 which were characterized by intelligent lyrics, impressive guitar playing, and grandiose keyboard work. After Sunblind Lion’s regional success, Dave inaugurated The Dave Steffen Band, playing venues in Wisconsin, opening for such national acts as Rush, Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon, as well as headlining his own shows. In 1986, The Dave Steffen Band headed west to the San Francisco Bay area music scene. During his 9 year stay, Dave was fortunate to open for groups like Huey Lewis and the News, Santana, Robin Trower, and Journey. Guitar virtuosos like Carlos Santana and Neil Schon noticed Dave’s guitar prowess, and would seek out his performances to jam with him in a club setting. During this time, Dave continued to write and record his own music, releasing three more albums. Dave returned to Wisconsin in 1995. Since then, he’s performed solo and with his bands, adding to his resume a quartet including acoustic guitars, drums and bass, a variation of the Dave Steffen Band, The String Benders. Dave continues to gig regularly, his blues guitar sound unmistakeable to fans and admirers. After releasing 10 albums, his 11th CD “Fishing Town” was released in 2015; one reviewer described the music: “…it opens with straight ahead rock’ n roll leading into more traditional blues then rolling you into a little feel good reggae.” For more information, check out davesteffenband.com