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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Mostly Cloudy


Scatz revels in retro sounds
Blasts from the past

(Clockwise from top) Accept, Vanilla Ice and Tone Loc are
Scatz stars.
(Clockwise from top) Accept, Vanilla Ice and Tone Loc are Scatz stars.
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Ask almost anyone if Vanilla Ice rules in 2010, and you're likely to get a big laugh and an even bigger "no." But the answer's not quite so simple. His signature smash hit, "Ice Ice Baby," is a staple of wedding receptions and retro dance parties galore.

So Middleton bar and nightclub Scatz, 2248 Deming Way, tracked him down and brought him to town. The rapper performed there last year, and other retro acts with hits under their belts, like 2 Live Crew, Lynch Mob and FireHouse, also have graced Scatz's stage.

Rick Driese, the venue's entertainment director and owner of Headliner Entertainment Group, is a fan of many of these acts, but that's not the main reason he wants them to play Middleton. He's on a quest to draw audiences.

Take Tone Loc. The rapper responsible for "Funky Cold Medina" and "Wild Thing" was a huge mainstream star among teens in the late 1980s. When he played Scatz last year, Driese targeted people who remembered growing up during the Reagan and Run-D.M.C. years - and would pay for live music that ushers in the nostalgia.

"Yeah, guys like Tone Loc draw 27-to-45-year-olds who enjoy good, old-school hip-hop, but it's really a lot of 45-year-old women who want to go out and dance with their girlfriends," Driese says.

Tone Loc's Scatz show went so well that he's returning Oct. 15. Driese also is hoping for a return visit from Poison's Brett Michaels, who once did an impromptu performance with local cover band Cherry Pie when he came to Scatz for a meet-and-greet.

"We sold out the place and made him feel so comfortable with the way we set it up that he went the extra mile," Driese recalls. "His tour manager walked right up and said, 'Brett feels like doing a few songs with the band,' and his [general] manager told us later that Brett never does that."

Driese is particularly fond of Poison-style hair metal and European hard rock, so he's made Scatz a center for fans of these genres. Though he's a little disappointed Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee just canceled his Sept. 30 gig, he's twice as stoked about German metal gods Accept appearing with hard-rock stalwarts King's X on Oct. 6.

Driese says many German rockers are a big draw, since they tour the U.S. less frequently than their American counterparts. In fact, Scatz is sometimes the only Midwestern venue on these acts' tour itinerary. Other times, artists will fly into Madison specifically to play the club because Driese has helped line up shows for them in Chicago, Minneapolis or a north-woods casino.

"Michael Schenker from UFO and the Scorpions, he's in Germany but we got him to come here," he says. "Plus, we got the 35-to-55 crowd coming in with their teenage sons to get their vinyl signed. People come from all over for this kind of stuff, European metal and hard rock rarities. It's a pretty cool scene."

Driese is well equipped to host Euro metal shows because he's quite connected to the German scene. As a kid of German parents who owned a Wisconsin Dells-area supper club that featured a variety of big national acts in the 1970s, he quickly got acquainted with the music biz and what teens were rocking out to in Deutschland. In the 1980s he made a name for himself as a hard-rock singer and songwriter and later owned Waunakee's Attic Ballroom, hosting shows by hair-metal gods W.A.S.P., Ratt and Slaughter, among others.

Along the way, he's gotten to know lots of other bookers and venue owners, as well as bigwigs from national concert promotion outfits like Frank Productions. So when he thinks Madison's craving, say, a Y&T show, he's often able to dodge the red tape and cut a deal with artists' managers.

Driese hopes this strategy will pay off as he puts together a new, 1980s-themed Thursday-night event featuring DJs and live music by local bands and some of the biggest stars from 30 years ago.

"I'm looking to bring in Billy Ocean and the Fixx and a-ha. We'll be kicking it off with the Romantics, hopefully in October. It's gonna happen, 100%," Driese says.

In other words, grab your Madonna costume, practice your air guitar and head west for a trip back in time.

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