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Tess Passes On

The Loss of a Longtime Milwaukee Musician

Jun. 4, 2010
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Milwaukee’s music scene lost another veteran musician this week when James Tessier, known to everyone simply as Tess, died in the hospital of cancer on Thursday, June 3.

Although he did a little busking on the streets with his acoustic guitar, Tess was known mainly as a rock drummer with an insatiable appetite for pounding the skins. Over the years, Tess played with such hard driving garage rock bands as the Alewives, Dog Style Dandies, Nicole & the Educators and, briefly, the Dummy Club. He was a fixture at the annual Trash Fest. Softening his tempo, Tess also played psychedelia with the Petals. Tess was always willing to fill in when a band was in need. “He was the guy who played drums with anybody,” said his friend and sometime collaborator, Stoney Rivera.

I first met Tess in the late ‘70s when he played with the adventurous space rock band Or. The group’s slogan was “Absolute Alternative,” years before alternative became a marketing tag line without much meaning. The Or House, which stood on a hill overlooking North Avenue near the Milwaukee River, was painted inside with psychedelic murals. With his mop-top hair and scraggly mustache, Tess appeared very much at home in this environment. He always looked as if he should have been a member of the Seeds or some other tough, West Coast garage-psych act from the ‘60s.

And yet, Tess was always the most affable of local musicians, grateful for whatever attention he received and happy just to play. For many years he was part of the backbone of a thriving Riverwest punk rock scene. He will be missed by anyone who knew him.

A free concert in Tess' honor will be held at the Uptowner, Friday June 18, starting at 8 p.m.

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