Three decades after suddenly dissolving, Milwaukee’s R&B Cadets are back, and headed next weekend for their virtual second home, the Twin Cities.
The Cadets, who specialized in the soulful sounds of classic R&B while filling Midwest dance floors in the 1980s, quietly reunited last summer, resurrecting their terrific trident of lead singers in John Sieger, Paul Cebar and golden-throated Robin Pluer.
So how did a decades-long rift finally disappear?
“They say you’re supposed to space out your plays in the market. We thought we’d wait 30 years,” Cebar, tongue firmly in cheek, said by phone.
“It was very strategic on our part. We got everybody right where we want them now,” added Sieger in a conference call filled with the banter of longtime friends.
Audiences with fond memories of the Cadets’ exhilarating performances of clever Sieger originals and intriguing Cebar-unearthed cover songs now have the band where they want them — onstage, at the Dakota Jazz Club next Saturday.
Actually, all it took was a strategic request.
“We got asked to do an outdoor festival last summer by some old fans, and it just kind of stayed together after that,” Sieger said. “It was one of those magical nights in the summer when everyone’s dancing. It reminded me of how the R&B Cadets had been the first time around.”
Cebar quipped, “We enjoyed playing the material again, and we thought we’d engage in sporadic legacy-act type behavior.”
Considering the busy lives of band members, sporadic may be a key word for the Cadets at the moment.
“We’re all doing a lot of plate-spinning,” said Sieger, who’s now juggling three bands. “Last year was ridiculous for me. I just felt that my brain was filled with songs for a while there.”
“It’s better than the usual empty, John,” interjected Cebar, who stays busy with his own band, Tomorrow Sound.
“Yeah, the usual dreary emptiness that my life is — it was a nice change from that,” Sieger deadpanned as Cebar howled with laughter.
From breakup to makeup
It was the frenetic pace of Sieger’s songwriting that inadvertently led to the Cadets’ breakup in 1986.
“I was writing so much material that I started this little side band, and that kind of took off,” he said.
That band was Semi-Twang, whose roots-rock Americana vibe is now cited as an inspiration for the alt-country movement. At the urging of Emmylou Harris, Warner Bros. signed the band. Its album “Salty Tears” was critically praised but sold poorly, prompting the label to drop the group, which then split.
By then the Cadets were history. Just as Semi-Twang landed its deal, the Cadets were completing their first and only album, “Top Happy,” for Minneapolis’ Twin/Tone Records. Sieger decided to run with Semi-Twang, and took along Cadets bassist/brother Mike Sieger, drummer Bob Schneider and keyboardist/saxophonist Bob Jennings.
Cebar and Pluer were left in the proverbial cold.
“There were a few years of incommunicado and kind of wound-licking on this end of things,” Cebar admitted.
“I didn’t realize you can do everything you want,” Sieger said. “You don’t have to stop doing one thing to do another. If I was doing it now, I would do it that way, ’cause immediately I missed” the Cadets.
Cebar subsequently formed the Milwaukeeans, which included Pluer for several years. Cebar has issued a handful of superb, quirkily brilliant albums and has a loyal cult following. Pluer’s many projects have included dabbling in French chanson. Sieger sold some songs in Nashville to the likes of Dwight Yoakam and put out solo albums, along with two new ones with Semi-Twang, which reunited in 2009.
But now the R&B Cadets — the full sextet plus original saxophonist Juli Wood, who’s busy on the Chicago jazz scene and will miss this gig — are dusting off their old, deep repertoire and rediscovering what fired up the band in the first place.
For Cebar, that includes a host of soul influences he came to emulate as a songwriter after the breakup of the Cadets. New Orleans Renaissance man Allen Toussaint, who died last fall, is particularly close to his heart.
“There’s a richness to that music,” he said. “That’s what we were doing as a band. We were trying to find a way to conjure up that thickness of influence, that ramshackle sense of fun.
“The fun was amongst us as a band way back when, and it’s real heartening whenever we come together that fun is always right there at the center.”
Rick Mason is a Twin Cities music critic.