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The city of Milwaukee is known, among other things, for being the hometown of Les Paul and the birthplace of Harley Davidson Motorcycles, but in addition, in the late 1950s and early 1960s it had a magnificent music scene. There were born groups like The Swags, The Embers, The Triumphs, The Squire, The Skunks or Sam McCue and his group The Legends, which is the group that I’m going to tell you about.
Sam McCue has been compared on more than one occasion to James Burton, and it is not for less. In his native Milwaukee he is considered a true Rock & Roll legend. What caught my attention the most when I discovered Sam McCue’s albums with The Legends, was, in addition to Sam’s great work as a guitarist, that his sound seemed typically Texan, close to artists like The Fireballs, The Crickets or a first-time Bobby Fuller, it was a big surprise to find out he was from Milwaukee.
Sam was born into a humble family with a great love for music. His father played the trumpet semi-professionally, and his mother sang and played the violin. Young Sam was already fiddling with a ukulele at age 6. Sam and his family lived in the southern part of the city, in a working-class neighbourhood, there he had neighbours from different backgrounds, one of them, Ignacio Seragosa, played the electric guitar in a Latin-style Big Band, the sound and the way of playing fascinated young Sam. This made him choose the guitar as an instrument. In the mid-1950s, Sam listened to Western Swing, R&B artists like Louis Jordan, Rockabilly, Blues, and Rock & Roll. In 1958 they formed The Nomads, a Rock & Roll band that would soon become The Legends, and which would become very popular on the local teen dance circuit and bars. The Legends consisted of Sam McCue, Larry Foster, Larry Schils, and Jim Sesody. They released a few singles before The Beatles and the British Invasion arrived in the United States, the tracks “Lariat” recorded on Key Records, a magnificent self-made instrumental, and their versions of “Bop-A-Lena” and “Say Mama Recorded for Ermine Records were a complete success locally. Although they were only local hits, the group was very popular throughout the state, regularly playing at MusKego Beach, a place where they ended up being the house band, where they had the opportunity to accompany some great Rock & Roll stars, who came to act in his city, like The Everly Brothers, Peggy March or Brook Benton among many others. This made the name of the band reach the ears of the almighty Capitol Records, a label with which they recorded two Lp’s and a couple of singles, between 1963 and 1964. The Legends were the first local rock band to achieve a national record contract.
Every weekend they gathered on the wide dance floor of Muskego Beach; thousands of young people came to see them. The Legends helped inspire a generation of local musicians to earn a living from music. In 1964, Sam received an offer from the Everly Brothers to join his band, as lead guitarist and leader of the backing group. Sam accepted the offer, and from 1964 until the early 1970s, when The Everly Brothers temporarily separated, he served as guitarist for his backing band, also during the 1970s he accompanied Phil Everly on some of his solo recordings, in 1971. he joined the group Crowfoot, with whom he recorded a Lp as a singer and guitarist. Being part of the band of The Everly Brothers, was a unique opportunity for Sam, he could dedicate himself to be a professional musician throughout his life. In addition to traveling around the world, he worked on national television, in musical programs and met and played with all the rock greats such as Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, etc …
Sam McCue recorded a solo single in 1964 for the Fligh label, with one of the best songs of his entire career, titled “What To Do”, a marvel, where he reveals all his admiration for Buddy Holly that could perfectly be in the Bobby Fuller’s repertoire. Side B of this single was a cover of “Valley Of Tears” by Fats Domino. The Legends recorded four more singles between 1965 and 1966, one for Warner Brothers, two for the Parrot label and one for Date, but without the success of their first works. Sam still performed live from time to time, playing songs from his stage in The Legends, current videos of his performances can be found on YouTube. The magnificent Spanic Brothers recorded a fantastic version of “Lairat” in 1990.
Between 1961 and 1966 The Legends recorded two LPs and twelve singles, to this day there is only one CD that compiles the two LPs that the group recorded for Capitol Records, plus an extra song. The CD contains little information. I think that this group deserves a more careful edition with their complete discography, let’s hope that some specialized label, one day, decides to edit it.
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)