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Scott Street Steak and Pub Memories Volume 1

Scott Street Steak and Pub, at one time, was arguably the mecca of the Wausau music scene. Sure, there were hard rock clubs and country music bars, but to my knowledge, only Scott Street supported three (yes, three) house bands. It was not uncommon to have regional and national acts stop by to perform or to catch a drink while passing through.

The Pub was the place to be. Suit and tie folks (I bet they hate those four words put together like that...) rubbed elbows with the hippies, while the factory workers mingled with the artists. Dollar burgers, an amazing selection of beer and live music brought people from all walks of life together as equals. Equals.

Petrified Alien Brain dominated Thursday nights. Les Nillissen started playing on Tuesday nights and before long, Mary and the Mercenaries migrated from the Hiawatha to fill Wednesday nights.

When I heard that Les had secured the Tuesday night slot, I went up to him, introduced myself and asked if he would let me play a few tunes as his 'opening act'. Les promptly dismissed the idea. He did, however, let me know if I hung out at his show, he'd let me play during his set breaks.

So, I was there, at Les' first solo acoustic show at Scott Street. True to his word, I was given the opportunity to play. I was simply awful. No stage presence, I could not 'work' the mic, I was completely unfamiliar with the rawness of an acoustic guitar and voice through a PA.

[Side bar: I was a heavy metal refugee. I could play loud, obnoxious guitar, but stripping down a song to the basic guitar/voice arrangement was clearly not my forte.]

Les had more patience for me than I deserved. Every week he tolerated my 'guest' appearances, and over time, one could say I started improving. (Insert heckles here...) Les eventually asked me to join him on a few songs. Before long I had been introduced to songs and musical styles I had never imagined existed.

Les invited me to join Impromptu Zen, which included Pete Shank on the Hammond, Dave Keefe on percussion and the amazing Paul Caillouette on bass. This band was odd...Les was, well Les [who is still considered one of the best front men of local music lore]. I was encouraged to play 'ugly, dirty guitar'. Pete laid down bluesy atmospheric tones while Dave played percussion. Percussion. A rock band without a traditional drum kit. Paul's thundering, melodic bass compensated for the fact that neither Les or I were traditional 'lead' players.

We were a collection of musicians from extremely different backgrounds who came together as a side project from our main 'bands'. I was the youngest and least experienced player in a band of musicians I truly admired.

After Zen dissolved, I became a regular guitarist in Les' band. Through out my entire tenure playing with Les, he always encouraged me to keep writing and allowed me time to play my songs.

I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. The Pub was about music...from the established performers to the beginners. Everyone was welcome. To this day, I credit the venue and the musicians who shared their stage with me for allowing me time to develop as a performer.

The ethos I learned from this era guide continue me. It is about the music community, a community I am proud to be part of.

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