Since the age of 13, radio and jazz have been the only things I've been interested in radio. - Ron Cuzner
Cuzner was 64. He had a long history of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. When his wife, Janet Cuzner, returned to their Brown Deer home late Thursday afternoon, she found her husband unresponsive on a couch where he had been sitting that morning.
His long career in Milwaukee radio officially ended in January 2002, when he finally hung up his headphones and ended a gig on WJZI-FM (93.3).
For those who love jazz, Cuzner was the reigning king, though often one in search of a kingdom on the radio dial.
"He certainly was a pioneer," said Howard Austin, a noted Milwaukee radio jazz disc jockey himself.
Over the years, Cuzner remained true to pure jazz, Austin said, calling his friend's death a major loss for the local jazz scene.
Cuzner's shows "maintained the integrity of the music itself," Austin said. "There was none of that pop-crossover stuff. It was a respite from fusion and garbage (jazz stations) began pushing."
His shows - virtually always called Ron Cuzner's the Dark Side, for the dark of the night - remained among the most distinctive on the Milwaukee dial.
The list of stations that Cuzner called home read like a bowl of alphabet soup, albeit heavy on the W's - among them WBZN-FM, WUWM-FM, WYMS-FM, WKLH-FM, WLUM-FM, the old WTOS-FM and WMGF-FM, WOKY-AM, WTMJ-AM and, of course, WFMR-FM.
All Cuzner ever wanted was the freedom to play his jazz, without a programmer determining his playlist. His collection of 20,000 albums was inspiration enough.
"There were no playlists," Cuzner once recalled fondly. "Each jock played what he wanted."
He was born Ronald Graham Cuzner to Ethel and Frederick Cuzner, growing up in Racine. He discovered radio at 10, first dreaming of being an actor.
Then came jazz.
"He had heard Basie as a young person and Ellington and latched onto the music," Janet Cuzner said. "He explored it further and further and shared that knowledge with others."
Created own persona
For Cuzner, jazz might as well have been the air he breathed. The boy who wanted to act ended up creating a radio persona of his very own, named to the "WAMI Hall of Fame" by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry last April.
"Since the age of 13, radio and jazz have been the only things I've been interested in," Cuzner said in 1987, as he returned to radio at WTMJ. "For me, being taken off the radio was like taking a carpenter's hands away."
Cuzner graduated from Racine Lutheran High School and worked at several factory jobs before coming to Milwaukee to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the early 1960s, his wife said.
While taking communications courses, Cuzner worked as a counselor at a local Boys Club. In 1968, he moved from public radio to his first job in commercial radio at the old WTOS-FM station.
Those who loved the music reveled in the master's knowledge of his subject.
"If Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in the world, Ron Cuzner is the greatest jazz aficionado," said Journal Sentinel president and publisher Keith Spore, who got to know Cuzner while writing a jazz column.
Cuzner was, he said, an encyclopedia of jazz.
"You could ask him the most obscure question, and he would know it," Spore said. "It would be right off the top of his head. He could tell you the date, the label and every musician who played. He was the greatest. We would talk every couple of months. I never knew anyone who knew as much as he did about a narrow field."
One of a kind
"With his omnipresent caps, his slow drawl and his deep love for jazz, Ron Cuzner was sui generis, one of a kind," said Mike Drew, a jazz fan and columnist for the Journal Sentinel.
"His contribution to young listeners' taste, and knowledge of the music and, indeed, to the survival of jazz here was prodigious," he said. "And no one in America had a hipper record collection."
Columnist Bill Janz called Cuzner "our guru of the cool, our maharishi of the hip."
Playing station politics, however, was never cool to Cuzner. When it came to reading news from the world of sports, the details were always decidedly sparse. Cuzner never mentioned scores, sometimes not even the team names.
"In baseball, Baltimore defeated New York. . . . Chicago defeated Los Angeles," he would say. Or maybe just: "There were many football games Friday night . . . some teams were victorious. . . . Others were not."
For Cuzner, if it wasn't jazz, why would anyone care?
We'll close this tribute with Cuzner's own warm wishes from The Dark Side he loved to share with his listeners.
"I sincerely hope you are warm tonight. . . . I sincerely hope you are together tonight . . . and I sincerely hope your cookie jar is filled to the very brim . . . with the cookies of your choice, of course."
Sounds Of The Darkside
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The history of the Butlers/Raw Soul is dense, but for all of us music nerds, that's normal. It is not totally clear what year the Butlers actually formed but they released their first single in 1963 on Liberty Records. That single was "She Tried To Kiss Me" and another single followed on Guyden entitled "Lovable Girl." After the Guyden single the Butlers took a break not recording another record until the single "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" was released on the Phila label in 1966. The group also backed Charles Earland and Jean Wells on one Phila single ("I Know She Loves Me").
As you might be noticing, the Butlers were doing a fair amount of recording but not achieving much success. The group's recordings sold regionally but never had the promotion to make an impact on the national scene. After the single with Phila, the Butlers moved to the Fairmount label (part of the Cameo-Parkway family) and released a handful of singles, some being reissued singles of the past. The Butlers were with Fairmount for 1966-67 and then moved to Sassy Records. Sassy released the group's greatest single (in my opinion) "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" b/w "If That's What You Wanted." A copy of that 45 sold for just under $500 last summer on eBay. Even though that isn't that much in the world of record collecting--it's still a hefty sum. The Butlers released another single on Sassy ("She's Gone" b/w "Love Is Good") that appears to be even
harder to come by then the "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" single.
The true history become a bit blurred here as the AMG biography states that the Butlers last record was released on C.R.S. in 1974 (". However, between 1971 and that single, Frankie Beverly formed a group called Raw Soul and released a number of singles. Some of the songs recorded by Beverly during this period are "While I'm Alone," "Open Up Your Heart," (both on the Gregor label) and "Color Blind." "Color Blind" was released by the Eldorado label and rerecorded by Maze. Beverly's big break came when Marvin Gaye asked Raw Soul to back him on a tour. Gaye helped Beverly/Raw Soul get a contract at Capitol. Beverly decided to take the group in a different direction, a name change occurred, and Maze was created.
The above isn't the most complete history of Beverly but hopefully someone will know a way to get in touch with the man or his management because a comprehensive pre-Maze history needs to be done on Frankie Beverly (his real name is Howard, by the way). Below you'll find every Frankie Beverly (pre-Maze) song available to me right now ("Color Blind" will be up soon).
If you have a song that is not included below, shoot it over to funkinsoulman (at) yahoo.com and it will go up in the next Frankie Beverly post (later this week--highlighting Maze). Also, if you have any more information please share your knowledge. The Butlers material has been comp-ed sporadically (usually imports) but the entire Maze catalog has been reissued and is available.
Enjoy. "She Kissed Me" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"I Want To Feel I'm Wanted" (not sure which label or year) "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" (Phila, 1966) "Because Of My Heart" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" (Sassy, 1967)
"If That's What You Wanted" (Sassy, 1967)
Frankie Beverly is one of those cats that has lasting power. He started in the music business doing a tour with doo wop group the Silhouettes and then formed his own group called the Blenders. The Blenders never recorded a single, Beverly wouldn't appear on wax until forming the Butlers a few years later. Along with Beverly, the Butlers included Jack "Sonny" Nicholson, Joe Collins, John Fitch, and Talmadge Conway.
Beverly would later enjoy great success fronting Maze and Conway would become a
well-known penning Double Exposure's
"Ten Percent" and the Intruders' "Memories Are Here To Stay."
While Maze is a phenomenal group, Beverly's work before that group will always stand out as his best (imo).
The Butlers produced tunes that most Northern Soul fans would kill for and Raw Soul gave the funksters something to pursue. If, by chance, you know of a way to get in touch with Frankie Beverly or his management, please drop me an e-mail. It would be absolutely great to do an interview with him about his pre-Maze work. He's still playing out, most recently doing a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta.