Reprinted from the "Oshkosh Northwestern", 02-24-2005, p. 2, in the "Now" Section (insert).
As much as I enjoy a good band, sometimes the music can get trumped by
a really good storyeven if there is no way to tell of the story is true.
Take the case of Milwaukee native Harvey Scales.
In the early 1960s Twistin' Harvey took the Midwest by storm with his super-charged R&B and soul group the Seven Sounds.
While his musical accomplishments are easy to find -- Scales resume includes songs written and recorded by big names such as J. Geils, MC Hammer, the O'Jays and a collaboration with Milwaukee's Al Vance on the 1970s chart topping hit "Disco Lady" recorded by Johnny Taylor -- a bit of urban legend suggests his impact may have stretched beyond becoming the Midwest's original soul man.
Ask anyone who has seen Scales perform and you'll get a full description of a concert filled with music, moves, and the occasional theatrical antics. A decade or two ago this was cutting edge music, especially in central Wisconsin where wide-eyed farm boys got their first taste of inner city music.
A combination of emotion and energy, it would have been tough to walk away from a Seven Sounds show without a greater appreciation for funk, blues, and the men who could at one moment make you soar high above the dance floor and the next almost bring you to tears. As much about getting down as feeling blue, Scales may have been the inspiration for one of the 20th centuries most loved and most tragic performers -- John Belushi.
But what does a comedian and part-time blues man have to do with central Wisconsin's music scene?
Historians will remember Belushi was a student at UW-Whitewater, one of Scales regular stomping grounds.
The story goes that Belushi was so impressed with Scales act that he modeled Otis Day from the "Blues Brothers" after it.
Day -- really DeWayne Jessie -- was a part of Universal Studio's stable of character actors when he got the role of the roadhouse R&B singer in 1978's "Animal House." As most know the occasionally raunchy, but funny tribute to college fraternity life went on to become one of the top 50 grossing movies of all time -- although most of it was due to its post box-office cult following. Though it only lasted two scenes Day's appearances were among the films most memorable. First was the Knight's toga-party rendition of "Shout!" and then their appearance at the Dexter Lake Club where an alert fisherman pledge noticed that, "We're the only white people here."
While there's no way to prove the genesis of the Day character indeed came from a chance encounter between Belushi and Scales, the tale is almost too good not to believe.
On Friday he returns to his central Wisconsin roots with a performance at The Rail in Oshkosh. Hes still the showman he was decades ago and remains as busy as ever in the recording studio. And while I may enjoy the fact that this little story -- true or not -- helped bring blues music to the forefront of American culture, everyone will enjoy a night of great live music courtesy of a true living legend.
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