Goose Island Ramblers Documentation Project Collection, 1990-1991



Bill Graham, founder of the W.T. Rogers Company, initiated the project through the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Folklorist James P. Leary collected research materials from and on the Goose Island Ramblers and recorded interviews with the group's three members. Leary and Phil Martin, then Executive Director of the Wisconsin Folk Museum, recorded new versions of favorite Rambler tunes at Marv Nonn's studio near Cross Plains, Wisconsin, and produced the commercial cassette, Midwest Ramblin' with liner notes.

Project History

The Goose Island Ramblers were an old-time "Norwegian hillbilly" band active in the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area-including Dane and Iowa counties--during the 1960s, '70s, and '90s. Band members K. Wendell "Wendy" Whitford, George Gilbertsen, and Bruce Bollerud used the stage names "Uncle Windy" Whitford, "Smokey George" Gilbertsen, and "Loose Bruce the Goose" Bollerud. Their repertoire combined Anglo-American country music, Norwegian-American fiddle tunes and dialect songs, an array of European dance tunes, regional transformations of American popular songs, and original compositions regarding life in Wisconsin. The Goose Island Ramblers recorded LPs for Sauk City's Cuca label when they were first active in the 1960s and 1970s, and attracted a large local following to their customary venue, Glen and Ann's in Madison.

Long-time fan Bill Graham, of the W.T. Rogers Company, encouraged staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society (then the State Historical Society of Wisconsin) to produce a video of the popular group. They enlisted the help of Phil Martin and James P. Leary, then both affiliated with the Wisconsin Folk Museum in Mount Horeb, who had long histories of researching and documenting the Ramblers. The Ramblers, fans, and officials agreed to support documentary work that would lead to a new commercial sound recording with substantial liner notes.

Leary recorded interviews with each band member and gathered other documentary materials including personal memoirs, photographs, and ephemeral publications. Then Martin and Leary recorded new versions of favorite tunes from the Ramblers at Marv Nonn's studio near Cross Plains, Wisconsin. They produced a 26-song commercial cassette, Midwest Ramblin', issued through the Wisconsin Folk Museum. The substantial liner notes include a history of the group, band member biographies, photographs, and performance details.

Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts-Folk Arts Program and the W.T. Rogers Corporation, and organizational contributions from the Wisconsin Folk Museum, UW-Madison Folklore Program, and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, supported this project. In 2004, a CD version of Midwest Ramblin' was produced under Leary's supervision, with support from the UW-Madison Folklore Program, through the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.