In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit notable Milwaukee music that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
The Haskels were way before my time. The legendary Milwaukee punk-rock group formed the year I was born (1977), went through various lineup changes, and then disbanded a few years later. And yet from the moment I stepped foot in Milwaukee as an adult in the mid-’90s, I couldn’t stop hearing about The Haskels. Remember The Haskels? Have you heard The Haskels? The Haskels were amazing, man. Strange for a band whose entire discography apparently consisted of a sole 7-inch recorded by its second lineup.
So it’s only in the last few years that I’ve actually, you know, listened to The Haskels. That’s in large part thanks to Clancy Carroll, who has reissued two Haskels albums via his Splunge Communications imprint. (Longtime Milwaukeeans will remember Carroll from his “Clancy’s Kookie Corner” column in Milk magazine.) A “lost” self-titled full-length from the original lineup was released in 2019; Carroll followed it up in late 2020 with Taking The City By Storm, a Haskels 2.0 collection featuring the 1981 EP of the same name along with demos, live tracks, and other never-before-released material.
“Now the full story of the band can be heard, seen, and told,” read the linear notes for Taking The City By Storm. They continue:
As the decade turned from the rust belt ’70s to the Reagan-era ’80s, the original Haskels (see their self-titled LP released last year on Splunge) split into two factions, with the local punk/new wave/post-punk scene moving to the gritty Starship club in downtown Milwaukee. The Haskels were instrumental in getting bands to play the venue, including the Oil Tasters, Plasticland, Ama-Dots, Shivvers, Die Kreuzen and a burgeoning Violent Femmes.
The version of the Haskels represented here initially included Presley Haskel and Gerard LaValliere, fresh from the first line up of the band; joined by the crack rhythm section of Bobby Mitchell and Vodie Rhinehardt. Later tracks, including the EP were recorded by the Presley/Bobby/Vodie trio. In either case, the material is a match made in punk pop heaven; coupling Presley’s knife-sharp songwriting sensibilities with a tight unit of A-Team musicians driving the music forward.
And those linear notes aren’t kidding. The opening title track is the kind of snotty, rollicking punk anthem that other bands have been nicking for 40 years. “Body Language” is even better, a bouncy garage stomper that gets the job done in two minutes or less. “Daddy’s Girl” and “Baby Let’s French” round out the EP section in a flash of head-bopping noise and attitude. Newly remastered, this four-song opening shot sounds incredible.
Among the tracks that follow, the live material hits the hardest—not because of the songs themselves (though they are good), but because of everything that surrounds them. It’s all here: the sound of playing to dingy rooms stuffed with devoted fans (“Strictly For The Uncommercial,” recorded at Century Hall), the filling-time randomness of between-song banter (dig the nod to Ernie von Schledorn in “U.S. Trust”), and the sly digs buried in song intros (“This one’s for all you people up north,” Presley Haskel says at the top of “Living With A Sense Of Purpose”). Swap out a reference or two and these 1981 live tracks could have been recorded in 1991. Or 2001. Or 2011. Or 2021.
The Haskels were way before my time, but listening to them now is a nice reminder that A.) they deserve any and all praise they get, even all these years later, and B.) some things never change. Here’s a group that, once upon a time, took the city by storm. Others have done it since. Others will do it again.