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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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The Oil Tasters, with Richard LaValliere (center).
The Oil Tasters, with Richard LaValliere (center).

LaValliere was a true original

I remember anxiously looking out the window of my parents house watching for someone named "Richard" to arrive. He was driving in from Madison, and I knew very little of him other than the brief but promising conversation we had the day before regarding an ad I had placed in a free local magazine: "16-year-old girl looking to start a band. Into Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones, etc. No hippies."

A dull beat-up van slowly pulled into the driveway and an interesting looking skinny man wearing a beret and walking with a distinctive bounce in his step approached the front door. Richard politely introduced himself to me and my parents. My mind began to race. His intellect and sophistication were immediately evident. What had I done? I was in way over my head. I had been in bands with a few of my school friends, but Richard was a completely different animal.

Wait 'til he finds out I can't sing and play the piano at the same time. I bet he thinks my home permanent is really lame. I need braces. Oh my God he's 25 years old. I bet he has his own apartment and everything!!!!! But Richard put me at ease and we went down to the basement, where my piano was, and started working on songs.

For the entire summer, Richard drove from Madison to Brown Deer on an almost daily basis – to the point where I was wondering if I was ever going to have any time off. I had two more years of high school left, and summer was a precious commodity before the doom laden return to class.

But we had fun working on songs by The Yardbirds, Roy Orbison, The Stones and – "Boom Boom Boom Boom, knock me offa' my feet" – I was knocked off my feet by his booming voice, constantly moving stick legs and that swing in his bass playing. After practice we would ride around in his van on an absurd random search for other band members. Richard would see an elderly woman walking down the street, roll down his window and ask her if she played the drums.

After a few weeks, Richard convinced his brother Gerard – who played guitar – to come along to practice. Much to my amazement Gerard was as shy as I was, so between the three of us – it was kind of like Groucho Marx with 2 Harpos – Richard with his never-ending stream of witty observations, followed by Gerards distinctive laugh (but barely a spoken word), and my self-conscious teenage Beavis and Butthead giggle.

Richard introduced me to The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and The Flamin' Groovies, and later his own brilliant and eccentric songs about dictators and scary girlfriends. Listening to his songs always made me feel like I was swirling in the middle of a great cult horror movie, or wild carnival ride. They were thrilling, funny, spooky and loaded with style.

While I obviously admired him as a creative artist, I admired him even more for treating a painfully shy 16-year-old girl with patience and respect. Girls in rock 'n' roll bands were not common in 1976, and he took me seriously from the beginning. He was never condescending, harassing, demeaning or sexist. He was a true original that cannot be captured in words, so...

Put on one of his songs, turn it up LOUD and dance!!

Jill Kossoris was a member of In A Hot Coma, a band that later became The Haskels, with Richard LaValliere. Kossoris went on to form The Shivvers in 1980.

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