Interviews and text by Nancy Miller
Shari Davis is captivating. What other word can explain the sweet smile, vivaciousness, and enthusiasm of the talented lady who graces us with her music in Madison, Wisconsin. Shari has a long history with many forms of music, but I got to know her through her current band: Shari Davis and the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band.
- Shari Davis - Vocals
- William Beckman - Bass
- Brian "Looper" Lucas - Harmonica/Guitar/Vocals
- Bill Roberts - Guitar/Vocals
- Ken Keoppler - Drums/Vocals
Shari Davis and the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band play a musical range of jazz, swing, and blues. Shari's vocals and dancing encourage the audience to do the same; seldom have I witnessed a bare dance floor when the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band takes the stage. The tunes include originals by some of the band members as well as renditions of popular and vintage swing. The energy of the band is apparent along with the enormous talent of the musicians. Just where does this talent spring from? Here are a few notes on the background of the members of Shari Davis and the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band.
Shari, the band's highly personable vocalist, grew up in Rockford, Illinois where her singing career began with the "Cherub and Junior Choirs," followed by an Auburn High School a capella choir in Rockford, Illinois. Shari attended the well known former Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin following high school where she drew on her talents in visual art. A move to the small town of Portage, Wisconsin was responsible for launching her career as a vocalist.
Shari's first paid job was in Portage as a folksinger of traditional ballads, riding on the changing times of the late 1960‑70's. As locals, visitors, and musicians came to hear her ballads, musicians began asking to sit in. This led to Shari's first group being formed - a trio called "Yellow Dog." This band eventually turned into, according to Shari, a "bad rock 'n' roll band" which she called a "learning experience."
Shari then moved to Madison where she joined the Sliver Dollar Band that performed regularly in Madison, Wisconsin and Michigan. New changes led Shari to conceive Shari Davis and "The Alley Cats" followed by "Sosumi". "Sosumi" played original rock and had an "edginess" to it with three women fronting the band. Two more bands paved the way to the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band: "Kaboom!" and "Conniptions," both rock 'n' roll and R & B bands respectively. As you see for yourself, Shari doesn't sit still for long, and her lively vocals won't have you sitting long either!
Bill Beckman was born in Monroe and lived in Fort Atkinson where he claims he "didn't grow up but went through it." Bill first began his musical journey with the clarinet and a stand‑up string bass. He eventually substituted the stand‑up bass for a bass guitar. Bill has been in and out of Madison since 1974, attending local higher educational institutions and playing in bands. Bill's interest in jazz led to joining "So What", that became Madison's first punk band. Joining Shari Davis in "Sosumi" led Bill to a long term musical relationship and marriage to Shari. Now as the vital rhythm and driving bass player of the Hootchy‑Kootchy Band, Bill keeps our toes tapping and fingers snapping; his wide grin is truly contagious as well. Bill, when not playing in the band, is a master carpenter building furniture, houses, and just about anything else.
Brian is known for his capabilities in harmonica playing, otherwise known as the "Mississippi Saxophone." Looper claims to have "no good stories since 6th grade" and we won't share those with you here! Looper has been playing harmonica only about six years but you would think after watching and hearing him it has been at least 100. This fine harmonica player also teaches communication courses and video/audio production at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Looper has a deep affection for the blues and he has been sharing it by hosting a blues radio show for the past 10 years produced at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (91.7 FM, WSUW). You can tune into the show from 10 ‑ noon on Saturdays and if you miss it catch the web cast at WSUW.org.
Looper's live playing history included gigs with Phil Guy, John Brim, and Joanna Conner. He has also opened for many blues bands at the popular blues joint "Silver Moon" in SE Wisconsin where he joined Mel Ford, Westside Andy, and Howard Luedtke. Looper has performed at the House of Blues and currently does solo, vocal, and guitar gigs in Lake Geneva. His motto? "Do what I do and don't worry about it." I guarantee your worries will disappear after a night with Looper and his harmonica.
Bill Roberts is known for his extraordinary guitar work. I personally experienced it when I was a big fan of "Pat McDonald and the Essentials" in the late 1970's (Timbuck III grew out of the Essentials) that Bill Roberts was a member of for about a year and a half. Prior to "Pat McDonald and the Essentials," Bill performed at the legendary O'Kayz Corral in Madison every Wednesday night until an unfortunate fire ended the weekly jams. Bill was also a member of the first "Spooner," a very well-known Wisconsin band that Butch Vigg, now of Garbage, also played in. Bill continued his song writing and performing with "Spooner" for two years, then hooked up with So What with Steve Roberts as lead vocalist (now a ragtime jazz player). "So What" was Madison's first punk band and one of the first to play at Madison's premier music venue "Merlin's."
Following a few years in the punk band, Bill joined Pat McDonald. "The Essentials" made an EP (Extended Play recording). When "The Essentials" dissolved, Bill moved to Minneapolis with Sarah Hastings (the mind-blowing sax player who was also in "The Essentials") until 1998. In Minneapolis, Bill formed his own group "New Rules" as well as joining diverse venues such as reggae and Tibetan groups. Bill and Sarah returned to Madison in 1998 where they formed "Neckbone" with guitarist Robert Bryan. Bill and Sarah have continued a personal and musical partnership, most notably in the original jazz and blues band "Blue Beyond."
Bill's career also includes playing with the Clyde Stubblefield band. He currently teaches guitar (one of his student's, Steen Traxler, has joined "Blue Beyond") and continues original songwriting. "Black Widow," written by Bill Roberts, is one of my all time favorites and is performed by "Blue Beyond."
Ken's musical credentials are no less than down-right impressive. Ken's musical genres range from country, swing, jazz, blues, and reggae. Ken played a lot when he was growing up in Milwaukee; he "grew-up playing drums." This fine drummer did not stay put in the Midwest but toured mining towns in Alaska and British Columbia in addition to joining a reggae band in Mexico, The Wave, in the 1970's. Ken's background in music is so extensive that I had to find out just what his favorites are.
Some of Ken's favorites are country music at the Wisconsin Dells where he performs with the Wisconsin Oprey and as a former member of "Pat McDonald and the Essentials." Ken has performed with Paul Black, Jerry Alexander, Clyde Stubblefield and Charlie Brookes. Ken has played with John Davis in "Blues deVille," in a trio with John Chimes, "King Swing" (a Door county Blues Band) and the "Roadhouse Rockers."
Ken's other musical projects include a recording studio where he recorded demos and laid down drum tracks for the popular Madison band "The Moon Gypsies." Ken worked with Ken Lonquist for a Department of Natural Resources Project and produced a Christmas CD for the Wisconsin Oprey. Ken's creativity is truly evidenced in his drum work and sound production. Ken is in the process of building a new recording studio - watch for it.