Bruce Cole is a legend in the Milwaukee music scene.
As a drummer for more than 45 years, he has played with many bands throughout his career. Currently, Cole is a drummer for three bands that perform regularly in Milwaukee. In addition to being a musician, he teaches a Marquette class called “The Beatles and the British Invasion” and is in charge of curating the Jean Cujé Music Collection, a music archive housed in Marquette’s Raynor Library.
The collection is named after Jean Cujé, a symphonic bassoon player who later became a Marquette librarian in 1979. A big music fan herself, Cujé dreamed of having such an archive and was honored with the collection after her death in November 1992.
“Instead of putting a plaque in her memory, we decided to start an archive,” Cole said. “It fell to me because I’ve been a musician in town since the 60s. I love local music and always have, so I’m in charge and I get to devote some of my time to this collection.”
The collection contains CDs, newspapers and other memorabilia from Milwaukee’s music history. It is mostly donation-driven, although Cole has added some things from his personal collection and has bought a few things over the years.
“This collection reflects the cultural, musical heritage of Milwaukee,” Cole said. “It’s always been a hard-working, blue-collar world.”
Playing and living in Milwaukee for more than forty years, Cole and his numerous bands have opened for famous groups such as The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Animals and many others.
Cole’s personal history with the Milwaukee music scene helps him teach his course “The Beatles and British Invasion,” a seminar available to freshmen in the honors program. The idea for the class came after Cole guest lectured in Phillip Naylor’s popular “History of Rock and Roll” class. Naylor is the assistant professor of history.
“I put together this proposal and submitted it, and (the honors program) just thought it was great. I know a lot about the Beatles and that era and British Invasion and garage rock,” Cole said. “The impact of the Beatles is just such a never-ending phenomenon. They’re probably the only band in the history of popular music where most people on this planet can name at least one of them.”
As for Cole’s favorite Beatles song, it’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
“I’m a tune person,” he said.
Having played and lived in the Milwaukee music scene, he’s seen the city’s different eras and has felt it transform through the years. Cole tells how the Milwaukee music scene used to be bigger and more visible than it is now. Milwaukee’s downtown area was known for its music venues, and bars were a popular hub for bands to display their talents.
“The amount of music that comes out on a local level is just amazing. There are lots of bands, but their visibility is not the same as in the 60s or 70s,” Cole said. “It was a more naive time. When I started, I had long hair, and people used to stop me and say, ‘You’re in a band.’ Who stops anybody for anything anymore?”
Over the years Cole has given lectures on music simply because he loves it. It’s one of his “top five most important things in life for human beings.”
As for future classes, Cole would love to see Marquette have a complete music department, in addition to the music minor it has only recently started offering students. He’d love to see “classes on the history of pop music in general … music classes where people would take primer classes to see where rock and roll came from.”