What Made Milwaukee Famous (Courtesy of Stevan Alcala Photography)

When Jerry Lee Lewis sang “What Made Milwaukee Famous” in 1968, he was referring to beer. More than 40 years later, an Austin-based band has taken that song title and given it a new identity – theirs.

What Made Milwaukee Famous is a band that doesn’t like to be pigeonholed when it comes to their sound. It’s rock, pop, indie, Americana and ballads all rolled up into one big rubberband ball of music.

You can hear it for yourself this Thursday at Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall. Doors open at 8, and the show starts at 8:30 with A. Sinclair of Frank Smith opening.

WMMF has been together since 2003. Three original members are the core of the group – Michael Kingcaid on vocals, guitar and keyboards, John Farmer on bass and Jason Davis on guitar and vocals.

“Most of the guys that have played with WMMF still play shows occasionally,” Kingcaid said. “But it’s pretty much a revolving cast these days, which makes it really interesting to hear the older songs filtered through other musicians’ minds. It keeps a constant, fresh perspective on things.”

Kingcaid said most of the band members are Austin transplants in some fashion, “though the bass player for this tour is an Austin native, which is like finding a leprechaun in a lot of ways.”

While several band members have contributed to writing songs over the years, lately those duties have been shouldered by Kingcaid.

“We’ve had a few songs that we’ve shared writing duties on, but for the last couple of albums, I’ve done all of the songwriting,” Kingcaid said. “I’ve co-written a few of the songs with Jason Davis and Kelly Doyle. Also, I had help from Mike Harmeier on a few songs, too. I imagine that there’s no one in the world that it’s easier for me to write a great song with than Mike Harmeier.”

The group’s latest CD is “You Can’t Fall Off the Floor,” released in 2013. For my first time listening, I tried to anticipate what the song would sound like just by the title. I found myself surprised more often than not, but pleasantly so. It’s not just the sound that’s so addictive, it’s the clever titles and lyrics. One music critic called WMMF’s music “immediately familiar,” and I nodded my head in agreement as I read the review.

“Rosewood” is an endearing ballad that reminded me of Paul Simon. I swear I heard shades of Harry Nilsson on “Just Run.”

I listened to their other CDs wondering who I would discover, and was captured by “Sultan” on “What Doesn’t Kill Us.” I had a flashback to listening to another Austin band, Fastball, and I wondered if the two groups ever hung out.

“We haven’t ever played with Fastball,” Kingcaid said. “They are friends of friends but we haven’t really ever hung out. I’d like to, though. I really respect the music that I’ve heard from them.”

I guess the best advice I can give you is to come to Sam’s Thursday night to see what you believe What Made Milwaukee Famous. You’ll wonder what took you so long to hear them, at the same time you feel like you’ve known them your whole life.


Admission to the show July 17 is $10. You can reserve a booth for $35 (some are still available), but they don’t include the price of admission. Sam’s Burger Joint and Music Hall is located at 330 E. Grayson, between Broadway and I-37/281. There’s plenty of free parking.


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