Rocker: A Wisconsin Band Celebrates Four Decades and Counting
by Teri Barr
What does it take to stay together for more than 40 years?
And we’re not talking about a typical type of relationship here. This is about the longevity, and enduring friendship between the founders of a band. This is about the band, Rocker.
The Rolling Stones and KISS. Two major groups that quickly come to mind when I think about bands still hitting the stage into a fourth decade. But, the regional group Rocker, based in Green Bay, should be on some kind of “long time” list, too. Doug Cayer (vocals, keyboards) and Rick Schilke(vocals, guitar) created Rocker in the spring of 1974; even the band’s current drummer Kim Slye – who is also their 11th drummer – has been with them for more than 5 years.
Rocker played a lot of shows through the 1980’s and into the 90’s, and many were in northeast Wisconsin, where I grew up. The band was even hired for a snowball dance at my high school which, ironically, was snowed out. But Rocker stayed true to its contract, and pre-drinking age fans, by making the band available for the rescheduled dance. Doug could easily mimic any of our favorite singers, and with his long dark hair, slightly resembled Journey’s Steve Perry. Rick was the yin to Doug’s yang. If Doug didn’t sing it Rick did, and between the two, there were few songs not being covered. There were even a few originals, along with some comedic bits. Every Rocker show was a unique experience.
Rocker also created a huge following throughout the region, and like many bands today, did it all on their own. This also turned into their full-time jobs – marketing, booking, scheduling, promoting and more. It was almost unheard of for members of a “local” band to be able to concentrate on a music project. Rocker did, and continues to do it, now.
And recently Doug took time to answer some of my long-time burning questions. He did this just as Rocker kicks off the celebration of its 41st year in action. The party started in late May with a fan-organized chicken dinner, give-aways, and special show in Green Bay. Once again, it’s the type of night that’s rare, but not if you know Rocker.
Check out their summer schedule: www.rockermusic.com
Teri: Doug, how did this all get started for you?
Doug: I took a year and a half of piano lessons when I was about 11 years old, and took a little bit of guitar after that. But, I played cello in the school orchestra at Washington Junior High and East High School in Green Bay! Then, I went to U.W. Green Bay, where I was a music major, and got back to playing piano while also studying composition and music theory with a professor who had studied at Eastman School of Music, and another who had studied at Juliard. Pretty cool! I did play guitar in a couple of bands in high school, but later switched to organ, and played bass keyboard. Our bass player at the time (I was in the Journeymen) gave notice he was going on the road, and we had a dance at East High coming up within the week, so I just played bass on the bottom octave of a Farfisa Combo Compact organ…that was all I needed to start playing bass keyboard on a regular basis!
Teri: What did you plan to do after college?
Doug: Well, I always wanted to play music for a living, but was always told I should “have something to fall back on!” I think they meant a job!?
So, I was all set to go to Brown Institute in Minneapolis for broadcasting, when Bob Borley asked me if I wanted to be in a house band at Speeds Lounge in Green Bay. Of course I said, “Sure! When do we start?” My broadcasting plan was canceled, and I stayed in Green Bay where we did 100 weeks at Speeds with 4 different guitar players, and Bob Borley and myself playing Hammond organ and bass keyboard.
After 100 weeks of 5 nights a week, sometimes 6; we were told our services were no longer needed because the owner was selling the place. I was out of a job, and quickly needed to connect with another group. I found a band called Freedom Express, and loved the style of the drummer. I was always in bands with drummers who used a heavy kick drum style, and liked it. I asked that drummer, Jim Last, if he’d be interested in playing in a trio with me playing keyboard bass instead, then asked if he knew a good guitar player. He said his cousin, Rick Schilke, was playing guitar in Freedom Express, but he didn’t sing. We both agreed to tell him he had to sing! And that was the start of Rocker.
Oh, and Jim Last thought of the name. I came up with “Revolver”and Rick came up with “Roy and the Windup Toys.” We all liked “ROCKER” the best. And so it was….
Teri: What a story! Tell me more about the guys in Rocker.
Doug: My hometown is Green Bay, and I’ve ended up living there all my life. I grew up just two blocks from East High and the old City Stadium. (Packers-Jim Taylor, Bart Star, Paul Hornung, etc.)
Rick is from Ashwaubenon, and Jim Last was from the West side of Green Bay. Our latest drummer, Kim, is from Ashwaubenon and now resides in Green Bay. Rick and I have actually been together as a band for 41 years. Our official anniversary is May 10th.
Teri: How have you kept this going all these years?
Doug: I have no idea. Time goes by way too quickly…
Teri: And as time passes, music and song styles change, too. How do you decide what to play?
Doug: We now just pick out songs we think will work “on the job” so, no set list! I used to do that with Bob Borley at Speeds. I still think it keeps everyone on their toes, and rarely gives the opportunity to go into “auto pilot.”
Teri: You must have so many accomplishments? What makes you proud of Rocker? Doug: When we get compliments, and we know it’s sincere,That makes me most proud of what I do for a living. This is a very difficult profession, and there can be a lot of emotion, and rejection involved. But, there’s also a lot of satisfaction playing music, and making other people feel a certain way because of your performance.
Teri: What should other musicians, especially those just getting started, realize about the business?
Doug: I would tell them not to count on making oodles of money being a professional musician, but if you love it enough, it’s worth every minute.
Teri: So, has it been worth every minute? Are you happy after 41 years of music?
Doug: I’m ok with it. I make a living doing this. It’s not a huge financial living, but I get by, and am happy playing. I don’t even call it a job. I always say “I’m playing,” so that may tell you alot.
Teri: And I have to ask you, what’s next for you, and the band?
Doug: I have no idea. I want to keep going as long as my mind is willing, and my body is partially willing..!
Teri: There has to be some stories from 41 years worth of shows. Is there one you can share?
Doug: Oh, I have many stories! OK, here’s one I can tell you. We played a wedding long, long ago in Clintonville. The bride and groom knew us very well. But, about a half-an-hour into the reception and dance – all of a sudden EVERYBODY LEFT, except (us) and the wedding couple! We asked the bride and groom what we should do. They said, “It’s our wedding. They wanted you to play all POLKAS. We said NO. So, keep playing! We’re paying you, and it’s OUR WEDDING!”
So we did! All 4 hours!! Unbelieveable, but it’s TRUE.