In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit notable Milwaukee music that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
Typically, each of our MKE Music Rewind articles focus on one special release from one specific band of yesteryear. Sure, we’ve been known to sprinkle in some biographical details about the project’s origin, notable accomplishments from the group’s tenure, updates on what individual members are up to in the modern day, and maybe even some first person anecdotes about what said band still means to us. However, the crux of the series is simple: one article about one release from one band that predates this website.
We say all of that because, as we dust off this sporadic written journey down memory lane, we’re going to consciously make an exception to that self-assigned theme today. This time around, we’re going to focus on three Milwaukee outfits of yore that all have something in common. They’re all featured in Jen B. Larson’s new book, Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983.
Released back in January via Feral House, Hit Girls documents the vital role women played in the still-young punk rock genre between the mid-1970s and early-’80s. Larson—who listeners might know from her work in such bands as Swimsuit Addition, beastii, and Jen And The Dots—documents the important, impressive, and oft-overlooked body of work put forth by female musicians during punk’s infancy. She does so in 306 pages worth of bite-sized biographies about nearly 100 stereotype-shattering American bands, interviews with formidable female musicians who were in some of those outfits, and seldom-seen photographs of those groups doing their thing during a decidedly not-so-well-documented time in independent music.
While Larson covers acts from all corners of the country, a trio of the bands touched upon in Hit Girls have direct ties to Milwaukee. In fact, the book even gets its name from a song by one of those bands. A member of another local band that’s featured in the book appears prominently on the back cover of Hit Girls. Embarrassingly, even though Milwaukee Record has actually written about one of the three area projects that appears in this book, we—”we” meaning this writer, not the publication as a whole—didn’t really know much of anything about The Shivvers, Ama-Dots, and Dummy Club prior to reading Hit Girls.
Upon learning more about them and their role in Milwaukee music during that era, it’s clear all three deserve their own MKE Music Rewind column (and one already got theirs!), but with Larson coming to Cactus Club for a Hit Girls presentation and panel discussion on Sunday, June 25, we figured it was a good time to run abbreviated Rewinds about the book’s holy trinity of Milwaukee-based bands. Those bands are:
The first Milwaukee band named in Hit Girls is none other than The Shivvers. Formed in 1978, the power pop project was a local favorite from the late ’70s through the early 1980s. The group, which was led by piano/keyboard player, singer, and songwriter Jill Kossoris is an act that’s still referenced and celebrated today. The six pages Larson devotes to The Shivvers note the band’s unmatched work ethic among Milwaukee groups in the era, how The Beatles were incredibly influential to Kossoris when she was a child, criticism—most often directed at Kossoris, the only woman member—and big breaks the band experienced during its tenure, and her post-Shivvers career as a professional songwriter in Nashville.
In an interview with Kossoris, she also opens up about her family background, why she feels the band wasn’t able to cross the threshold to earn mainstream notoriety, and how one of her Shivvers band members scared away Iggy Pop when he asked Kossoris “to coffee” during a show the two played together. Oh, and unbeknownst to us before we saw it in print last week, Milwaukee Record is even mentioned a couple times in The Shivvers’ portion of the book!
While Ama-Dots only got a two-page spread in the book, Hit Girls was named after one of the band’s songs. Recordings of the goth-tinged punk project were few and far between until they released a long-overdue LP in 2014, but that didn’t stop the Milwaukee band featuring the guttural vocals of Mary “Boolah” Hayes and the bass work of Lisa Wicklund from touring North America avidly and performing with legendary bands like Talking Heads, Hüsker Dü, Captain Beefheart, Gang Of Four, and more during its largely overlooked run.
There’s also a great anecdote from Boolah about an especially memorable, scary, and terrible show experience Ama-Dots had in Windsor, Canada. An old lady with a shotgun plays a prominent part in the tale. We’ll let you read that story yourself.
Last but certainly not least among the Milwaukee projects named in Hit Girls is Dummy Club. Formed in 1982, the punk outfit with a rockabilly twist pushed boundaries with its music with bold commentaries on American society, but also through having women (including women of color) in the band. Vocalist Stonie Rivera—who appears prominently on the book’s back cover—offers no shortage of excellent quotes that appear in Dummy Club’s four-page section in Hit Girls.
She tells Larson about her idyllic upbringing in a working class Milwaukee neighborhood, learning about the city’s issues with segregation as she got older, troubling gender roles she witnessed firsthand in the 1960s and ’70s that “radicalized [her] as a feminist,” and how women of color were actually at the forefront of the punk movement and the various other movements. “Music was the landscape for the Civil Rights movement; music has always been intertwined in any movement,” Rivera says.
Those are just three of the bands covered in Hit Girls. Larson catalogs, documents, honors, and preserves the stories of nearly 100 other American punk projects with a female presence from 40-50 years ago. Each story is significant and special in its own way, including the sections about Milwaukee’s own The Shivvers, Ama-Dots, and Dummy Club.
The Hit Girls Feral House Book Event will take place at Cactus Club on Sunday, June 25. The all-ages event begins at 2 p.m. and is free to attend. Copies of Hit Girls will be available to purchase at the event via Lion’s Tooth. If you’re unable to attend the event, the book can also be purchased in-store at Lion’s Tooth.