Les Paul holding a copy of Maximum Ink backstage at the Iridium Jazz club in New York City
photo by Otto Schamberger
“Some of the best original music today comes from high school garage bands.” –Les Paul
The Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) is about to kick off the seventh year of the one of a kind music competition called Launchpad, using the same idea that the late great Les Paul personified in his quote. Launchpad is a statewide alternative music competition for high school students in bands formed outside of the traditional music classroom. Maximum Ink caught up with director and creator of the competition, Dennis Graham to talk about how the competition got started and where he sees it heading in the coming years.
Maximum Ink: Tell us about how Launchpad got started.
Dennis Graham: I was approached by the WSMA, which presents this program, seven years ago to talk about raising awareness on raising funds for them. As a result of my discussions with Michael George, the current Executive Director of the WSMA, and I brought up a couple ideas and the first was to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize people who had a successful music career and were also impacted by a music teacher. The first ever Lifetime Achievement Award in Wisconsin was given to Les Paul. I hand delivered a letter that I wrote, which was signed by Governor Doyle, to Les inviting him back to Wisconsin (He hadn’t been back in twenty years.) October 27th, 2004 was Les Paul Day in the State of Wisconsin and it was just a marvelous day of honoring him. Steve Miller (Steve Miller Band), Les’ godson, came out and was part of it as well.
The second thing I brought up to them, even though it was kind of out of the box at the time, but I’ve always wanted to start a statewide music competition who don’t have a forum, obviously they can’t play in bars, and there’s all this talent out there and it needs to be recognized. I told Mike I build these things from the ground up and I have approximately 27 statewide television, radio and newspaper sponsors which Maximum Ink is one of my Madison Regional sponsors and Rökker has just been absolutely wonderful in helping for so many years now. We are truly grateful of his support and Max Ink’s support.
MI: Tell us about Launchpad’s association with the Les Paul Foundation.
Graham: There’s a four person Trustee Board of the Les Paul Foundation, two on the east coast and two on the west coast, and one of the gentlemen Jeff Salmon will be coming to Wisconsin this summer. We will be creating an instructional materials committee to roll out in Fall 2011 to all the public and private music teachers, Les Paul lesson plans. So basically information on his inventions, multi-track dubbing sound on sound, to the guitar.
If you go to www.LesPaulFoundation.org, you’ll see information on the congratulations to (2010 Launchpad winner) Little Saint Anything, and the picture of the presentation of the check, which was the first gift ever by the Les Paul Foundation. They have continued to be a sponsor of our finals in the future and that mean a lot. When I went out to visit with Les, he was stunned that we came out there and hand delivered the invitation to come back to Wisconsin, and I told him I had another idea called Launchpad. I mentioned to him that we’d like to be able to name the winning band award the Les Paul Launchpad award. And honestly he was the most humble man about it. He said, “Dennis do you really want to do that?” So I told him, “You know Les, this is our honor!”
MI: Tell us about the upcoming 2011 competition.
Graham: Bands have the opportunity to send in an application by going to www.LaunchpadWisconsin.org from January 3rd until February 4th. They can upload their music (3 songs per band) through www.Broadjam.com, another partner of ours, or they can send it in by CD or tape. Any band that applies, whether they upload it through Broadjam or not, gets a $200 subscription package with Broadjam as well. One new thing that we started last year was that every band that applies, chooses one song from their three they send in to digitize, if it already hasn’t been. We’ll then upload it to Broadjam and the members of the site will vote on it to have the winning band be the 13th band at the finals in June (12 selected from regional competitions.) We also added last year that the winning band’s school, will receive a $5,000 Yamaha instrument package. The bands compete to win the Les Paul Launchpad Award as well as a 2011 Summerfest gig.
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