Gas Crisis Hits Wisconsin Boogie Scene

That’s the headline on an article in the edition of Billboard magazine dated July 7, 1979. Oh, we gotta read that.

The article reports that because of an independent trucker’s strike, Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfuss has declared a state of emergency. The Billboard article doesn’t explain why, but truckers had blocked fuel storage depots in the  Green Bay area, and police had to force them to move. As a result of the blockade, most of the gas stations in northeastern Wisconsin were out of gas and closed. The article says, “As a result, attendance at discos in this car-oriented part of the country is off.”

But the quotes the reporter gets don’t support that contention. The manager of the Carlton West, “one of the biggest Green Bay-area discos,” says that people are still coming out, but they seem to be carpooling. (His restaurant business has been hit, but not the disco.) The manager of Jungle Fever in Green Bay tells the reporter that because the gas crisis came on “awfully sudden,” he hasn’t had the chance to assess his business situation yet, but he allows that people seem to be doing less hopping from club to club.

In Milwaukee, “a show of force” by police has kept truckers in line, so the gas shortage is less severe. A club manager says the Milwaukee situation is helped by the fact that most of the city’s discos are in the same general area. The manager of a gay club observes that his place is located on a bus line, so “the guys’ll get here.” At the Sunken Sub in Fort Atkinson and the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, the gas shortage has had no impact on attendance. And in Madison, the central location of most clubs near the University of Wisconsin is expected to keep attendance up.

So in fact, there’s no story in the story. Despite the headline, the gas crisis seems to have had little or no impact on the Wisconsin boogie scene. And by the time the article appeared, the gas crisis in northeastern Wisconsin would have eased anyhow.

Disco seems to us today like a crazy fad, but at the height of the disco boom—and the summer of 1979 was that—the music industry was consumed by it. The amount of disco-oriented material in the July 7, 1979,  issue of Billboard is fascinating. There’s a big ad for Billboard‘s Disco Forum VI, which was expected to attract a thousand attendees to New York. There’s an ad for the world’s first disco DJ school, and ads for PA systems, disco lighting, and sparkly panels you can stick on walls, ceilings, or floors to create effects. (The latter ad is headlined “Sexy Walls!”)

Nobody knew in July 1979 what we know 32 years later—that within a year or 18 months at the outside, disco’s grip on the marketplace would weaken, and within two years or so, it would be as dead as whatever we said things were as dead as before we said they were as dead as disco.

One response

  1. Someday there will be a band called Wisconsin Boogie Scene, and they will have an album and/or single called “Sexy Walls” (without the exclamation point; that’s just silly).

    I remember wanting so badly to be old enough to go to a disco, or at least to own a mirrorball for my bedroom. I’d have to wait until 1990, when “trash disco” nights would figure regularly on club calendars. Ten years later, the Polly Esther’s chain would devote a wing of each club to the cause; alas, the Houston location shuttered in 2003 and barring the occasional ill-attended revival night, disco appears to be dead yet again in my neighborhood. At least the expensive gas trend is thriving.

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