The Rousers

an interview with guitarist and founding member Ernie Conner
by Teri Barr
July 2019

Vintage Rousers from the 80’s  - photo by Charles Behnke

Vintage Rousers from the 80’s
photo by Charles Behnke

Be careful with a promise. People may hold you to it.

Just ask the members of The Rousers. The Madison-based band has been quoted as saying, “When we stop having fun, that’s when we’ll stop playing.”

Luckily for us, the playing continues because the band is still having fun, 35 years after it all began!

The Rousers formed in Madison, and are a deep part of its music history; from playing at well-known venues—Club de Wash to Headliners—and recording at Smart Studios. But, The Rousers are part of the future, too.

And as one of the founding members, Ernie Conner tells me, the group promises to show you why when they play AtwoodFest in Madison on Saturday afternoon on July 27th. 

Maximum Ink: We are really looking forward to seeing The Rousers at AtwoodFest. But you’ve played this event in the past?
Ernie Conner:
We played it many times when it was still the Atwood Summer Festival. But, it’s been awhile, so we are looking forward to rockin’ out on the East side again!

MI: Well, AtwoodFest and The Rousers have changed with the times…
Frank Furillo is still our lead singer. Originally from California, Frank has a background in swing and blues. He is also an accomplished actor, and plays a mean harmonica. I play lead guitar and sing background, and sometimes, lead vocals. Don Irwin is on piano and organ, and on occasion, will come out front and lend his own vocal talents. Drummer Lee Laski is the rock steady beat back on the drum kit. Dave Benton helps fill out the sound on electric and acoustic guitars and background vocals. Frank Queram holds it all together, behind his shades, on the bass guitar. Dave and Frank are our newest members, but have already been with us for awhile!

MI: Most bands, like some relationships, don’t last as long as The Rousers. How did you and Frank meet, and how did you build a lasting band relationship from there? 
Frank and I met at a party in 1984, and we got together and started writing some songs. Don Irwin soon came on-board, and that’s when we knew that we had something. I had known Lee Laski since 1979, when we played together in Stavin Chain. We convinced him to join us, and we’ve been rockin’ ever since. 

Dave Benton and I play along with Lee in The Waterdogs. Dave, who was in Spooner, would occasionally sit in on guitar with us for special shows. He was added permanently when we brought in Frank Queram as our awesome bass player five years ago. In comparison to a relationship, this is my other family. I know these guys will always be there for me. We have our spats, just like any other family, but mess with my brothers and you’ll be sorry! Honestly, I’m just glad to keep rockin’ out with these guys.

MI: Are you able to keep rockin’ as much as you’d like these days?
We are now weekend warriors. Music is in our lives full time, but we choose, to play live as The Rousers, when it’s a cool gig and people want to hear us.

MI: Well, we want to hear The Rousers at AtwoodFest! What should we be looking forward to when you take the stage?
We still live with the motto:  have a good time, all the time. Ok. We may have borrowed that line from Spinal Tap.

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