“Ole Olson the Hobo from Norway” by Goose Island Ramblers
Wisconsin Historical society
Archival Reading Room, 4th floor
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
Wisconsin’s Goose Island Ramblers epitomized the Upper Midwest’s “polkabilly” sound with their wild mixture of Norwegian fiddle tunes, “Scandihoovian” and “Dutchman” dialect songs, Irish jigs, Slovenian polkas, Swiss yodels, and old time hillbilly songs. The house band at a succession of Madison of Madison family-run taverns from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, the Ramblers had a second career during the last decade of the 20th century. Eclectic though they were, all three musicians were steeped in Norwegian American folk culture. K. Wendell “Uncle Windy” Whitford (1913-2000) was descended from English fiddlers and singers, but grew up absorbing the repertoire of fiddling Norwegian neighbors in southeastern Dane County. “Smokey George” Gilbertsen (b. 1925) was the son of a Norwegian immigrant, Karsten Gulbrandsen, and heard “Norsky” tunes from fiddlers on Madison’s working class east side. And Bruce Bollerud (b. 1935) hailed from a dairy farm in Iowa County, Wisconsin, where his music-loving Norwegian American parents hosted house parties, while employing immigrant hired men who sang Norwegian songs and played button accordion. Recordings, photographs, and manuscript materials comprise the Goose Island Ramblers collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The band is the subject of a book by James P. Leary, Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music (NYC: Oxford University Press, 2006), The Midwest Ramblin‘ CD offers the full range of their repertoire, Cuca Records has issued a series of their earliest and most recent recordings as part of the “Country, Bluegrass, and Folk” section of their catalog.