By Todd Houston
Following is an interview with longtime Rockford-area crooner Mike Williamson.
Rockford Rocked Interviews (RRI): You are originally from Minnesota. When did you make your way to Rockford?
Mike Williamson (MW): My Dad was transferred here in the early ’70s. We are originally from Albert Lea, Minnesota, but we moved to Rockford from Franklin, Indiana.
RRI: At what age did you realize you had a passion for music?
MW: I always loved music. Both of my parents appreciated music. My Dad played a little guitar and tried to sing (laughs). My Mom loved country music.
RRI: You have an amazing voice. Do you play any instruments?
MW: Thank you! I play some piano and used that to do my arrangements and to record. I also play a bit of acoustic guitar.
RRI: Tell us about the music scene here in Rockford in the 1970s. Where were the hot spots in town, and who were the “popular” bands and/or performers?
MW: In the ’70s, there were many places that featured live music. Some names were the Plantation (on Kilburn), Snoopy’s, Erwin’s (my first club gig), Saddle and Cycle, the Coachman Inn (which became the Red Door Inn), Cypress Lounge, Larry Higg’s Horseshoe, Henrici’s, Top of the Rock, Piccadilly Pub and even Shakey’s Pizza!
Some hard-working bands I remember and were involved with during that time include The Proud Americans, The Brent Valentine Trio, The New Environment and The Royal Orchestral (with Bob DeVita and Fred Shatswell). Julian DeLuna was playing a lot, Mike Pizzuto was appearing at places like Jacks Or Better. Alpha & Omega were at Snoopy’s and The Plantation.
Bruce Warden and Frank Guzzardo held the musical fort down at Shakey’s Pizza. Loads of great talent!
RRI: In the 1980s, you put together a benefit called “Magic Monday” — a benefit for the American Cancer Society that ran throughout the decade. You must have met some amazing talent! How did “Magic Monday” get its start?
MW: “Magic Monday” was started by myself and friends Bob and Joy Dummer, who were the chairmen of the event. I called many friends in, including Moonlight Jazz Orchestra, and most of the talented folks listed above to be in the show. The list of performers in “Magic Monday” is a long one and includes most of the names listed above, along with many more!
RRI: What do you think are some of the big differences in today’s music as opposed to the music and recording processes that you grew up with? It seems like anybody with a computer can record an album and “auto-tune” their voice to make it perfect. Thoughts?
MW: It’s a shame that folks are not required to sing “in tune” to record; that should be an essential of good talent — singing in tune.
Computers now are a major part of the recording process everywhere, and I can’t complain about that. It’s been a way for me to compose and to arrange music using my ear, and that’s been a lot of fun. I have been writing many tunes with keyboardist Bruce Warden lately, and we’ve gotten some excellent response to some of them!
RRI: You’re still performing at the Butterfly Club (5246 E. County Road X, Beloit, Wisconsin)! Are there any venues or clubs that are not around anymore that you miss performing at?
MW: Well, I certainly miss venues in Rockford that book the sort of thing that I do, whatever that is (laughs). Michael’s at 5 Points, Top of the Rock and Bellamy’s (Clock Tower) come to mind as some spots I really miss.
My “home away from home” is The Butterfly Club in Beloit, Wisconsin. I perform there at least five times a month with talented folks like Rick Burns, Bob Rub and Bob DeVita. The atmosphere reminds me of the many spots we used to have in Rockford. Hey, if anyone wants to book us, give me a call! (laughs)
RRI: Your favorite new artist is?
MW: Probably Mr. [Michael] Bublé. He sings just great, and he is keeping the good old tunes alive. Probably, of the singers left, my favorite “older” singers are Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond (is he old!?) and a few others. Steve Lawrence recently released a new album and he is singing better than ever!
RRI: Your favorite Sunday morning album is?
MW: If I am listening to anything, it’s my friend Bill Korst’s Big Band Show out of Monroe, Wisconsin. He has a wonderful program.
RRI: What’s next for Mike Williamson?
MW: We are putting a new show together for 2015, and we’ll be taking that, on occasion, out of town as well as doing some performances here. I’m booked through 2015 at The Butterfly, and I’ll be doing my radio show on WTPB 99.3 FM. It’s called Mike Williamson & Friends.
I also will be continuing to write some new tunes with collaborator Bruce Warden. Sometimes his wife Judy contributes to the writing process. It’s been a pleasure working with them.
From the Dec. 10-16, 2014, issue