Jim Linneman has a list of over 100 Milwaukee music venues that have come and gone in the 25 years he’s been in business.
“This is just not an easy business,” he said, adding that he’s never made much money at it. “The whole thing here is just always, for me, about having fun, you know?”
It’s his love for music and the people that keep him going at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. He and his partner & girlfriend Marty Hacker are nightly fixtures at the venue on the corner of Locust and Weil in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Marty tends bar, and Jim runs the sound board for everyone.
From touring acts like Country Joe McDonald, members of The Violent Femmes and The BoDeans, to artists just starting out at the city’s longest running open stage, Linneman’s has been a great place to catch live music for a long time.
Jim Linneman loves his open stage. “That’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen here, is somebody is so nervous and they actually do pretty well,” he said. “I try to make them sound really good on the sound board and then the people here will clap for that person, and you can just see the happiness wash out of them. It’s worth more money than…you know, it makes the world go round.”
Chris Porterfield of the Milwaukee band Field Report said Linneman’s hospitality is a reason he loves performing there a decade in to his music career.
“Jim and Marty have been amazing to me,” he said. “Not just to me, but to anybody like me who thinks that they might have something to say and needs a place to try out how to do it.”
Jim has always loved music. His mom got him his first guitar when he was 11 years old in 1966. He still has it in his apartment above the venue.
“The first song I learned how to play was ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ because I heard it on the radio,” he said. “And then soon it was off to the races.”
Jim had three big goals in life. One was to be a pro football player. He played in college for a bit, but didn’t make it to the pros. Another was to be a TV broadcaster. He worked in the field for several years. The third was to own a restaurant and bar.
When he visited his Grandparents as a kid in Oshkosh, WI, they liked to take him to a place called Jimmie’s White House Inn. “That’s why I named my bar Linneman’s Riverwest Inn,” he said. Jimmie was in his 70s and gave the kids bubblegum cigars and dimes for the jukebox, “which was good for 3 songs back then,” said Linneman.
“And we’d run over and play ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ which had just come out, and I’ll never forget playing it on that jukebox,” he said.
That sealed it. He said, “I had a goal some day, even when I was a little kid, of wanting to have my own restaurant like Jimmie and give bubblegum cigars and people dimes to play the jukebox. Now it turned out a little bit different, but…”
As for the future, Linneman knows he wants to keep the venue going for as long as he can. “There’s a club called The Bitter End, and it was owned by a guy…CBS news did a story about him when he turned 90,” he said, referring to longtime club owner Paul Colby. Neil Diamond even showed up and did a show at the club to celebrate the occasion.
“We don’t have the fanfare of New York, but he liked it so much and it made him happy and he made it to 96,” he said. “If I could make it to 96, I wouldn’t mind going out that way too.”