Bruce Cole brings his love of music to Marquette University
Bruce Cole is well known throughout the Milwaukee music scene. Some would even call him a legend.
Cole began his career in 1964 when he first laid eyes on the drums. Attracted to the way they looked, Cole soon realized he had to play them. That was not a problem though.
A few years later Cole was in a local band opening for The Dave Clark Five at McCormick Place in Chicago. In front of several thousand fans on a riser with his drums, Cole was experiencing what would become one of the most memorable moments in his career.
“When I play music it’s wonderful,” Cole said. “It’s like being in another world.”
More than 40 years later, Cole continues to devote his work to music. He is a drummer for three bands that play regularly throughout Milwaukee including “Western Civilization Blues Band,” which he began with Marquette University Professor Phillip Naylor. Cole also regularly performs at some of Milwaukee’s largest festivals: State Fair, Summerfest and Festa Italiana.
“At my age – in this point in time – playing every weekend is a great thing,” Cole said.
The extent to which Cole is involved in music extends beyond playing in bands. He is curator for the Jean Cujé Milwaukee Music Collection in Raynor Memorial Library and professor of a class called “The Beatles and the British Invasion.”
The music collection came to existence in memory of Jean Cujé, a symphonic bassoon player and Marquette librarian who died in 1992. Cole collects and archives thousands of memorabilia unique to Milwaukee music. The majority of CDs, vinyl’s and posters are donations. However, a small budget allows the music collection to purchase some items.
“We didn’t really think it would become a very large collection,” Cole said. “As we began collecting materials and putting them online, people would seek it out from different parts of the country – even the world – through the inter-library loan.”
Amy Cooper Cary began working with Cole in August 2012 when she became Head of the Special Collections and University Archives at Marquette. Even during the eight months they have been working together, Cooper Cary recognizes Cole’s importance to Marquette music.
“Bruce is the Cujé Milwaukee Music Collection,” Cooper Cary said. “His dedication to collecting and his knowledge of Milwaukee's music scene have enriched the collection by leaps and bounds.”
Cole’s background in music also led him to develop a history course on The Beatles and British Invasion. The honors seminar looks into how this era in music changed the world both culturally and economically. His familiarity and personal anecdotes from this time period help him further explain its significance.
“When The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came, that was the end of a certain kind of rock and roll so to speak,” Cole said. “From all kinds of standpoints, the world of music changed. The music business all of a sudden became something it wasn’t before.”
Cole often asks students what record they would bring if they were stranded on a desert island. A majority says The Beatles. When faced with that question himself, Cole is unsure of what he would bring.
“I never liked the whole work of one band or one person,” Cole said. “I’m a person that likes a song.”
For almost 50 years, Cole has been present in the Milwaukee music scene. Even though he toured around the country, Cole found himself coming back to Milwaukee. He will continue to be involved in music, educating people about “the soundtrack to the city.” After all, it is his life, family and job.
“I can’t imagine anything other than what I’ve been and what I am,” Cole said. “I want to be involved in music in every possible way I can until I drop dead.”