By Blaine Schultz
You may have seen him playing bass in any number of bands over the last few decades or even tooling around on his vintage Triumph Bonneville motorcycle when the weather permits, but odds are best you have seen Paul Biemann running the soundboard at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall.
In November Shank celebrated its 25th anniversary. On the opposite side of the musical coin. he also mixes at The Cactus Club where he saw “that little back room go from a pool table shoved to the side so the band could set up in the corner to hosting Wanda Jackson, Queens of the Stoneage, The White Stripes, and countless other local, regional, national and international acts.”Biemann has seen those clubs and many others from both sides of the stage. Playing in bands since 1977, he has performed and recorded with a string of combos (among them The Yell Leaders, or often accompanying frontman Mike Benign in the likes of Blue in the Face, Arms & Legs & Feet and Umbrella Man) where Biemann’s solid bass playing set the groove and tone.
“Shank is where I spend most of my mixy time but I do get the call to mix other places. I also work for Go Audio which is a great sound company with top-notch gear, “ he said. “I really started running sound and recording before I started playing bass. My dad had two tape recorders and showed me how to double track when I played trumpet in fifth or sixth grade. My mom would have me undo the knots in the clothesline as practice for an eventual career as a wire wrangler. It all just kept happening alongside one another.
“I’m not really sure when I started at Shank but I do remember the first show was Peter Tork of the Monkees.” On one memorable night Biemann recalls the monitor speakers going dead the instant Ray Manzarek mentioned Jim Morrison.
What has the sagacious soundman learned from his years in the trenches?
“Little has changed––some bands are serious some are not,” he says. “Everyone has a cell phone, but no one can call the club and say we’re running late ‘tell the sound guy get something to eat ‘cuz he won’t have time later.’ Some bands get it: Show up, set up, tune up, fire it up, reverse, drive repeat––some don’t.”Biemann recalls how it all began for him. In sixth grade a couple of buddies got Guitars; another got a paper route to buy a drum set. “I started cleaning grade schools and bought a bass. That was it. Within months George, Scotty and I were playing “Sunshine of Your Love” at St. Sebastian CYO. The devil had my soul.”
Aside from Shank, he also fondly recalls the Spinal Tap moments. “… [the unnamed Milwaukee songwriter] playing pool with his pants around his ankles at a club in Kansas, my dear friend and mentor Jeff Dagenhardt putting a phone book at my feet instead of adjusting the mic stand at a Liquid Johnnies gig, the club in Iowa that gave us the liquor room as a dressing room––not the best idea, kissing the ground and Joe Schkeryantz after he drove through a tornado in the middle of the night.
Sharing the stage with dear friends, legends, and heroes, being part of a group; the shared experience that is the high point.”