Pee Wee King
Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski was born in Milwaukee in 1914. Soon after, the family moved to Abrams, Wisconsin, where he learned to play fiddle from his father, a polka musician. Giving himself the same last name as bandleader Wayne King, “Frankie King” formed a band and appeared on radio in Racine. After high school, his“King’s Jesters” performed all over the Midwest, blending country and polka music. In 1933, when he was 19, his band played on the Milwaukee radio show “Badger State Barn Dance”, where they were discovered by rising star Gene Autry. Autry hired them as his backup band, and gave King the nickname “Pee Wee” for his five-foot, six-inch height. In 1936, King left Autry, and formed The Golden West Cowboys. In 1937, King married Lydia Frank, whose father became band manager and got the band an invite to join the Grand Ole Opry. They were controversial for their flashy wardrobes, and showmanship that included the use of accordion, horns, drums and electric guitars. In 1946, King, with Redd Stewart, composed his best-known tune “The Tennessee Waltz”. King’s other hits included “Slow Poke” and “You Belong to Me”. King’s band earned recognition as best country band from Billboard and Cashbox magazines. In 1955, “The Pee Wee King Show” made it to prime time TV, on ABC. His band toured until he retired from performing in 1969, having written or co-written more than 400 songs. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970) and the Country Music Hall of Fame (1974). By bringing electric guitars and drums to Nashville, wearing flashy cowboy suits, crafting pop hits from country sounds, and having country music success on television, King blazed a trail for other country performers to follow. He died in Louisville, Ky., in 2000, at age 86.
Born in 1953, to a musical family in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, Lyle Mays was always encouraged to explore new forms of expression. His first piano teacher, Lula Otto, was also his first grade teacher. As a teen, Lyle attended the Shell Lake Stage Band Jazz Camps and studied with such talents as Marian McPartland. After a brief stint at UW-Eau Claire, Lyle transferred and studied composition and arrangement at North Texas State University. Next, he toured with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd for 8 months. While appearing at the 1975 Wichita Jazz Festival, Lyle met 20-year-old guitarist, Pat Metheny. Lyle moved to the east coast in 1977, and the two formed an artistically successful musical alliance. He co-wrote most of the music for the group's 11 Grammy-winning albums, using crystal clear virtuosity, unconventional melodies and cinematic scope of orchestration. Lyle was nominated four times for his own work. He wrote acclaimed projects for stage and screen, including off-Broadway and film scores. The list of musicians he has recorded with includes Joni Mitchell, Bobby McFerrin, Toots Thielemans, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Paul McCandless. He’s also composed and recorded music for children’s records, including the Tale of Peter Rabbit, with text by Meryl Streep.
Dave Steffen hails from Plymouth, Wis., where he began playing guitar as a young boy. During high school, he played in his first band, The Wanderers. By the time he left high school, in 1969, his band Love Society signed to Scepter Records. Within 5 years, he had also released recordings with RCA and Mercury Records. His talent as a songwriter and singer, in addition to his prowess as a guitar player, earned Steffen and his band special recognition in Billboard and Cashbox magazines. After teen band successes, Sunblind Lion formed in 1974 in Plymouth. They released three albums between 1976 and 1980 which were characterized by intelligent lyrics, impressive guitar playing, and grandiose keyboard work. After Sunblind Lion’s regional success, Dave inaugurated The Dave Steffen Band, playing venues in Wisconsin, opening for such national acts as Rush, Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon, as well as headlining his own shows. In 1986, The Dave Steffen Band headed west to the San Francisco Bay area music scene. During his 9-year stay, Dave was fortunate to open for groups like Huey Lewis and the News, Santana, Robin Trower, and Journey. Guitar virtuosos like Carlos Santana and Neil Schon noticed Dave’s guitar prowess, and would seek out his performances to jam with him in a club setting. During this time, Dave continued to write and record his own music, releasing three more albums. Dave returned to Wisconsin in 1995 and has continued to delight audiences with the Dave Steffen Band and a variation, The String Benders.