Jonnyby Eryn Moris / photograph by Peter DiAntoni

“My name is Jon, and yeah, those are my allergies up there in my nose. I’m a little bit more whiny and nasal than normal.” This is how Jon Ziegler greets the faithful listeners of his Friday “Chickenshack” radio show one recent morning on WMSE, 91.7 FM. On this particular Friday, the show opens with a handful of Johnny Cash tunes featuring Cash’s wife, June, and Ziegler is in mourning. “If you’re just getting up or didn’t tune into the radio or anything last night,” he tells his audience, “June Carter Cash passed away yesterday, so we wanted to play some of her music to pay tribute to her impact and her familial impact on country music.” Though Ziegler may be best known for his weekly presence on Milwaukee’s airwaves, his contributions to the Milwaukee music scene hardly stop there. He played bass for the popular but now defunct surf rock band The Exotics, and he now fronts The Uptown Savages, a six piece, rhythm and blues inspired rock ‘n’ roll band. He also sings and plays bass in the 60’s power pop band the Nelsonics, who are on hiatus “until we can solidify our lineup,” says Ziegler. But that’s not all, on Monday evenings you’ll find him behind the bar at Foundation, and on the third Friday of each month you’ll find Ziegler spinning rockabilly, surf, ska, soul, new wave, and punk records at Circle A. He’s also helping book more local and national acoustic acts for the Bremen Cafe. Whew! And did I mention he’s got a day job in the call center at Bank One? “I’m not Catholic or anything, but I have this stereotypical Catholic guilt like ‘You should be in school, you should be working a straight job, you should get married and have a family,'” he says. “I always have that on one shoulder and then on this other one, ‘You know you should get in a band and book some more shows, call in sick, have a hangover and play that show.’ It’s always this push-pull thing.” Ziegler grew up in Madison and moved to Milwaukee in 1994 after a successful stint with a band called “The Rockin’ Bones” while in college at Oshkosh. “We were like the quintessential bar band, really,” he says. “I mean, people would request a tune, and if we didn’t know that one, we knew one similar to it. We played over a hundred dates a year for three or four years straight.” Unfortunately, Ziegler’s college career was not so successful. He is now a tenth-year senior, studying Biology, Geology, and Spanish at UW-Milwaukee. After living in Bayview and on the east side, Ziegler settled in Riverwest in 1998. He is currently closing on a fixer-upper next to the house he rents on Dousman. Today Ziegler is mastering the art of multi-tasking; simultaneously lining up tracks for the show, answering phone calls from friends and fans, promoting shows for the upcoming weekend between songs, and doing an interview with me. He is casual and comical, on and off the air. I ask how he got his weekly slice of airtime. He explains that he became friends with some of the other DJs at the station while promoting shows for the Exotics, who were having much success touring nationally. “I knew there was nobody that was doing, regularly, a rockabilly or honky tonk show,” says Ziegler. “I had a lot of that kind of music. Just from touring, I made a lot of contacts with bands that we’d played with, and I just had this stuff from all over the country.” What began as a temporary slot has been a permanent Friday morning staple since 1997. During the show, the phone lines light up frequently. “There’s a lot of DJs that don’t understand this,” says Ziegler, “but when you do a show here…you’re really opening up a dialogue about music, a musical discourse with the people listening, because most likely they’re going to want to call and ask who you’re playing or tell you something else. It’s real important to realize, you’re not here to perform, you’re here to communicate.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 6 – June 2003

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