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South Milwaukee Native John Sparrow: 'Now I'm Really Part of (The Violent Femmes)'

John Sparrow

Of all the iconic names in Milwaukee history, among the most enduring on the musical front is the Violent Femmes. The band emerged from the punk scene more than 35 years ago and scored hits such as Gone Daddy Gone and Blister in the Sun, and became one of the top alternative rock bands of the 1980s. 

Guitarist Gordon Gano, bass player Brian Ritchie, and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo founded the band.  They split up several times amid personality clashes, but have been playing together again since 2013, save for DeLorenzo, who now plays with the duo Nineteen Thirteen.

It’s now South Milwaukee native John Sparrow who plays percussion for the Femmes, which works well for a couple of concerts they’ll play Friday and Saturday at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, at Sparrow’s alma mater - South Milwaukee High School. 

Sparrow says he had a "lifelong bug" to play music. His father, also named John Sparrow, is a percussionist in jazz and polka bands, and taught his son a great deal.

Sparrow says that the Violent Femmes were his very first concert at the Marcus Amphitheater when they opened for the B-52's. "Honestly, when I saw them the first time, I did literally say, 'I want to do this' - but when I say ‘this’, I wanted to be in the Violent Femmes," he recalls.

In fact, Sparrow admits he used to sit in his basement and play drums along to Violent Femme records in high school repeatedly. "The music is unique and it's of its own, and that I think is what struck everybody that has discovered the Femmes."

Fortunately, all of that basement practice paid off. Sparrow not only knows the music inside and out, but he also shares a lot of the same musical tastes as the rest of the band. "That was something we knew right from the get-go if that was going to work. I was just playing with them, now I'm really part of that band. And as we start doing new material, it was a no-brainer. It just worked."