for five Port guys whose love of music keeps them jamming as the Vinyl Groove
They’re five Port Washington-area musicians, ages 54 to 60, who started performing in bands in their early teens. They played popular rock and delved into alternative, country, jazz and blues, often writing their own music.
They all performed professionally and some toured four states with the band Rusty Tumblin.’ But then reality set in. It was necessary to get jobs that paid the bills.
Some continued to perform on their own or with other bands. Drummer Mark Wildhagen moved to the Florida Keys. He returned to Port to work for his father’s scrap business in Milwaukee. That led to starting his own recycling business.
A year ago, Wildhagen and several former band members went to a pre-Fish Day jam session at Willie’s Wish in Port Washington.
“We had so much fun, we decided to get into it more,” said Wildhagen, also known as Mopie, who invited musicians to jam sessions in his basement.
In addition to Wildhagen, the group includes Frank Tarantino on bass guitar and bass violin, Gary Haseley on piano and guitarists Bob Norman and Bob Mittnacht. All, but Wildhagen, sing lead or background vocals.
After almost a year of playing together for fun, they accepted a gig to play at a private party in February.
“The response was good,” Norman said. “We went from a social group to being a band, and we needed a name.”
Wildhagen suggested Vinyl Groove, which identifies the music they perform — songs recorded on vinyl records. No CDs, DVDs or cassette tapes allowed.
“The songs we sing bring back memories of Weiler’s, Cedar Beach and other beer bars,” Wildhagen said. “All the songs are so much fun to play. The more the audience gets into it, the more we get into it. It’s really great when they dance.”
“This is music that you want to dance to,” Tarantino said.
The band performs publicly about once a month, usually at NewPort Shores or The Patio, both in Port Washington, and play private events two to three times a month. They rehearse several times a month.
Mittnacht, Haseley, Tarantino and Norman also perform with other bands or on their own.
When someone suggests a new song, they try performing it by heart before searching through song books for music and lyrics.
“I was surprised at how many albums I thought were on CDs were actually vinyl,” said Tarantino, who at age 30 discovered his favorite instrument, the bass violin, and studied at the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. He also plays electronic bass guitar and the accordion.
He now performs solo classical and improvisational jazz and freelances with bands. He recorded his first CD album, “Let Me Be Frank,” in 2005. He quit his factory job after 32 years to focus on his music career.
Several years ago, Mittnacht formed Bob Mittnacht and the Crowning Glories, which performs his original music.
Mittnacht is the lead vocalist and guitarist. He also is a music promoter who books acts for area festivals and concerts, including Fish Day, Lions Fest and the Freeport Music series in Port Washington and Saukville’s Live at the Triangle.
Haseley is known for his piano expertise and is a popular performer for weddings, dinners and other social events.
Norman went into the insurance business with his father, but also taught music at Milwaukee Area Technical College and gives private guitar lessons. He also performed Irish music with Finbar McCarthy, the former owner of McCarthy’s Pub in the Town of Saukville, and performs with Hecker-Kelly Band.
Playing the old songs is fun and a challenge, the musicians said during a break from a recent rehearsal for an upcoming wedding.
“Straight jazz is all improvised. You don’t rehearse,” Tarantino said. “For this, we can’t rehearse enough. I think it’s the dedication to make the music sound right, like the original. It takes so much more rehearsing because it’s so much vocals.”
Tarantino is the lead singer for many songs, but each performer has a favorite song he wants to sing.
“I sing every song with my own band. I enjoy singing harmonies and background and not having to do the lead,” Mittnacht said. “I also enjoy playing with mature, professional musicians.”
Their children and even a few grandchildren come to performances.
“They get pretty excited when they see grandpa on stage,” Norman said.
He is teaching his son Brian to play the guitar. His daughter Erica plays piano.
Tarantino said he’s a roadie and does sound for his son Dave’s heavy metal band. His daughter Hannah had the lead in Port High’s musical “Grease,” and his daughter Heather plays piano.
Drummer Mark Wildhagen with band members (from left) Bob Mittnacht, Gary Haseley, Frank Tarantino and Bob Norman. Photo by Sam Arendt