He’s tall and lanky with a big guitar and big American songs. Singer, teacher, maybe part preacher. Writer, thinker, agitator. A beer and shot man with a Ph.D. and a suitcase of songs. Bar band front man and student of history. Folksinger, rocker, alt-country twanger.
“The living heir of Woody Guthrie . . . Halker reaches into his strings and conjures up the passionate fire of John Steinbeck.” (Allgemeine Zeitung Mainz, Germany)
Bucky Halker was born in 1954 and grew up in Ashland, Wisconsin, a declining blue-collar, iron ore, lumber town on Lake Superior. Fish fry Fridays, country music, Swedes, polkas, Finns, Indian reservations, Poles, 12-foot fishin’ boats, girls with transistor radios, and 40 bars on main street. At 13 Bucky plugged in his guitar and was giggin’ at teen rock dances. At 16 he discovered Woody Guthrie, blues piano, songwriting, and solo gigs. He skipped town for college in cowtown Idaho, learned how to read, and got hooked on caffeine, cigarettes, and history books. Dividing his time between gigs and and footnotes, Bucky came back to the Midwest in 1976 and earned his MA and Ph.D. in US labor history at the University of Minnesota.
Troubador and professor, Bucky roamed the Heartland for a decade, performing, writing, teaching, doing odd jobs, and falling in/out of love. In 1984 his recording, A Sense of Place, an LP of original acoustic material, was released. Step ‘n Blue, an admixture of blues and acoustic originals, followed in 1986.
He joined The Remainders, an eclectic Chicago band performing zydeco, Tex-Mex, New Orleans R&B, and Bucky’s originals. A popular Midwest act, the band drew considerable praise from critics. Bucky also pursued his interest in labor activity and working-class protest music. The University of Illinois Press published his book For Democracy, Workers, & God: Labor Song-Poems and Labor Protest in 1991. Critics called it a “pioneering and invaluable assessment” and a “major contribution to working-class cultural studies.” Bucky followed in 1993 with a solo CD of stripped-down acoustic originals, Human Geography, and a much more pop and R&B-inspired band release, The Remainders.
After a year on the Maine coast in 1993-1994, Bucky returned to Chicago with Passion, Politics, Love (1996). The CD combined alt country, folk, blues, and rockabilly, and stellar tracks from the Complete Unknowns and guest artists. Then Bucky put his music skills and labor song research to work on a series of projects. The legendary Ella Jenkin’s invited Bucky to work with her on the Smithsonian-Folkways release Ella Jenkins and A Union of Friends. The recording earned a Grammy Nomination in 1999 for Best Musical Album for Children. Bucky’s 2000 release Don’t Want Your Millions included honky tonk, folky, roots rock renditions of Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, and lesser-known worker bards, 1886-1955. With funding from the Illinois AFL-CIO, Bucky followed with Welcome to Labor Land in 2003, a collection of Illinois working-class protest songs.
Bucky went back in the studio in 2004 for two CD original-song project, Wisconsin 2-13-63. Bucky recruited his core band, but also called on an impressive roster of guest artists: the legendary jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, Brazilian guitarist Paulinho Garcia; bassist Pickles Piekarski (John Prine); vocalists Kat Eggleston and Sue Demel (Sons of the Never Wrong); saxophonist Paul Mertens (Brian Wilson and Poi Dog Pondering); and pedal steel guitarist Brian Wilke (Hoyle Bros.), among others.
Wisconsin 2-13-63, vol. 1 was released in 2006 in Europe on Brambus Records. A U.K. critic immediately hailed the recording as “the Lake Superior alt-country twanger’s superior CD. An exceptional CD!” The CD was released in the USA on December 31, 2006 (Bucky’s anniversary!). Look for Wisconsin 2-13-63, vol. 2 in 2007!
Bucky’s also producing a 3-CD series on Illinois folk music for the Illinois Humanities Council. The series–Folksongs of Illinois–will feature tracks from archives, old 78s, LPs, and contemporary recordings. There’s polkas, traditional ballads, fiddle songs, tamburitza kolos, Irish reels, ethnic musical comedy, and gospel tunes. Jon Langford, Kelly Hogan, Janet Bean, Bucky, Special Consensus, Alison Krauss, Liz Carroll, Johnny Frigo, The Girls of the Golden West, Eddie South, the Prairie Ramblers, and a host of great artists past and present all make appearances. Look for volumes 1 and 2 to be released in March 2007 and volume 3 later in the summer. A truly great collection of material that highlights the rich legacy of Illinois music. Retail sales will be handled through the Univeristy of Illinois Press. Go to their website for advance sales, or visit Amazon.com