Rod Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis : Song Stylists – What Made Milwaukee Famous

Hey Buddy!

Hey Hank!

The Usual?

Pint of Guinness?

No, today, I’m in need of a Bim, Bam, Boom!

A Bim, Bam, Boom?

Yeah, you know:

One Scotch – Bim!

One Bourbon – Bam!

One Tequila – Boom!

Ha! Coming up.

That ought to do it all right.

Sometimes you just need that Bim, Bam, Boom – or think you do.

You like to be in a place where everyone knows your name but nothing really important about you.

You like a place where the Jukebox is stuffed with drinking, fighting and cry, cry, crying songs.

The ones you sing along to under your breath without even realising that’s what you’re doing.

The ones that bring those stinging tears to your eyes.

The ones that remind you of all the things you had.

The ones that remind you of all the things you lost.

No, the things you threw away.

Threw away.

Threw away in a joint just like this.

Threw away because you thought you needed a head full of Red, a bellyful of Beer or the wild song of Whiskey in your blood before you could face another Night or find the courage to face another Day.

In the end the nights and the days bled into each other and love and happiness drifted away with the alcoholic tide.

Too late you finally see.

Too late.

Time now to call on The Killer.

He knows a thing or two about throwing things away.

Hey Hank – right now I cant read too good – what number is, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’?

‘A1’ ‘A1’

Aint that just right.

Funny, every time this song comes on the place goes quiet and the murmur of the Loser Choir drowns out the Air Con.

Take it away Jerry Lee.

Sing this one for me.

Jerry Lee Lewis! Jerry Lee Lewis!

Now, it would take the combined genius of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews to invent a character half as extraordinary as Jerry Lee.

For my part let’s just say that with Ray Charles I consider him the greatest song stylist of the modern era.

I’m not one for joining Fan Clubs.

But, at 17, I did join the Jerry Lee Lewis Fan Club and much as I looked forward to my subscription copies of The New Yorker, Southern Review and The London Review of Books coming through the letter box none of them quickened my pulse like seeing the bulky envelope with, ‘Fireball Mail’ stamped brightly in red hitting my mat!

What Made Milwaukee is from 1968 when Jerry Lee was rebranding himself as a Country Singer( having had more than a few run ins with the press, the radio, local sheriffs and the whole damn, petty, you can’t do that here!, official world which just couldn’t cope with a bona fide Wild man).

A Wild Man who also happened to be by an act of will and character a conduit for the great streams of American Music.

Jerry Lee, is of course, a Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as a Country Singer to top all except George Jones.

Goodness gracious Jerry Lee can sing the Hell out of any song that’s ever been written and make it 100% Jerry Lee.

100% Jerry Lee.

And, Glen Sutton, when he wrote, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’ sure gifted Jerry Lee one fireball of a song.

Now, as is so often the way, the song was not the product of careful deliberation and prolonged polishing.


Glen was reminded by a music publisher that he was supposed to have songs for The Killer who was due to be in town tomorrow.

What had he got?

With a professional’s presence of mind (Glen also wrote ‘Almost Persuaded’ and, ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ among many other classics) he looked down at the beer mat next to the phone and said, ‘Its a drinking song – should be perfect for The Killer!’

Nw, it was simply a matter of working through the night to turn the slogan on that Schlitz beer mat, ‘The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous’ into a song that would appeal to Jerry Lee and the record buying public.

I think we can agree he succeeded!

Jerry Lee recorded the song the next day and gave it a regretful stately majesty powered by his rolling piano, glistening fiddle, and a vocal that proceeds with the awesome certainty of a Paddle Steamer navigating The Mississippi.

Follow that!

Very few could (you’ll find numerous versions of the song if you search) but there is only one other version which can stand comparison with The Killer’s.

One by another great song stylist who, when he was on his game, treated songs with a profound respect and care.

A singer who had an instantly recognisable voice – a voice which could express deep emotions with elegance and elan.

Let’s call Rod Stewart to the microphone!

On the evidence of this magnificent performance it seems to me that Rod missed a trick in his career by not recording an album of Country Songs.

Had he teamed up with a producer like Cowboy Jack Clement and launched into, ‘There Stands The Glass’, ‘Cold, Cold, Heart’ and, ‘Heartaches By The Number’ I think we would have had a record for the ages.

Still, lets look at the glass as half full given his bravura take on ‘Milwaukee’.

Of course, Rod, knew a fair bit about drinking as a member of The Faces who were Olympic Champions of partying.

At his best Rod’s let’s live it large! relish for life combined with an acute emotional intelligence when reading a lyric made him a truly great singer.

One entirely ready to share a microphone with The Killer.

I’ll leave with Jerry Lee, live at the piano, performing with his trademark insouciant charm.

‘Well it’s late and she’s waiting
And I know I should go Home.’

60 thoughts on “Rod Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis : Song Stylists – What Made Milwaukee Famous

  1. Great of you Thom to try to give good old Rod the Mod a leg up with his starry career, but as usual you’re right about he could have smashed it in Nashville! A classic song superbly sung on both versions & the winner is…….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah Thom, memories again. You have a wonderful knack of bringing them all flooding into the mind. The Rod Stewart version was the first I heard of this marvellous song. To teenagers of that time Jerry Lee Lewis was regarded (if thought of at all) as a voice from the pre-Beatles past and the pre-Beatles past was the pre-music past as far as many were concerned (Elvis? How could that ridiculously spangled overweight Vegas crooner ever have been thought of as the voice of rebellious youth?).

    But around the same time there was a bit of a JLL revival in the UK with his version of ‘Chantilly Lace’ getting airtime on Radio One, becoming a minor hit and that leading in turn to plays for the Big Bopper ‘s original (was it the original?).

    The same year JLL recorded his London Session album backed up by a host of great musicians. With names like Rory Gallagher, Peter Frampton, Tony Ashton, Alvin Lee, Klaus Voormann and a host of others appearing, JLL moved from beyond the pale to supercool overnight – without having to stop at acceptable in between. If these great musicians were prepared to lend their names to a JLL album then maybe the man wasn’t a washed-up old fifties has-been after all.

    Rod Stewart in those days was not only a ‘must-buy’ but an ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it’ so the world could see how hip you were walking down the street with your copy of ‘Never A Dull Moment’ under your arm. ‘The Session’ elevated JLL to the same status. I recall pre-ordering it with John Menzies in Kilmarnock and checking every day for a fortnight to see if it had arrived. Then when it did, buying it and walking out of the shop without even listening to a sample track in the booth, indicating (i hoped – but in vain) to the girl behind the counter that I was the kind of guy who knew his music.

    I didn’t have one of those Dansettes which were so popular at the time. The record player was located on the left hand side of the radiogram and was in the living room (this led to friends being chosen on the basis of access to a portable player in their bedroom) so time available for playing music was at a premium with parents wanting to watch TV and a younger brother anxious to inflict his own execrable musical tastes on the household.

    Nevertheless this album was played incessantly – “Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee O’Dee,” “Sea Cruise,” “Memphis,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “What’d I Say, ” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” (of course) and a great rock and roll medley at the end. It even included ‘contemporary’ songs like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Early Morning Rain”

    It quickly became a ‘why don’t you bring’ when visiting friends with those much sought-after Dansettes and possession of it was a guaranteed invitation to parties, especially those ‘parents away, don’t get int trouble and don’t make a mess’ parties.

    Rod was always at those parties too and his version was given a local twist as we sang ‘What made Dundonald famous made a boozer out of me’ as crumpled cans of illicit McEwan’s Export fought for floorspace with empty bottles of El Dorado. Excruciatingly unoriginal lyrics but at least it scanned unlike another favourite ‘Take Me Home Symington Roads’

    It was a long time later till I heard the JLL version and it’s a pleasure to hear them both side-by-side, plus the live track. For me though the best version of this song was the bluegrass one I heard a few years back from Del McCoury which is over three minutes and includes an additional verse.

    Thanks again Thom for the marvellous music and those lyrically visual commentaries. I’ll single out “the awesome certainty of a Paddle Steamer navigating The Mississippi” on this occasion.

    Liked by 2 people

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