Biography

The Lil Rev Story: 

"It's the wonder of me!" -Jim Liban

I grew up in Milwaukee, WI.

Graduating from John Marshall High School in 1987 and The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 1993 {with a B.S. Degree in Community Education}. 

My musical inspiration started when I was just a kid listening to my dad's record collection. 

Later on, I had an early morning paper route,  and it afforded me the chance to purchase my first guitar, along with some rock n roll records and a few guitar lessons to boot.

That was 38 years ago, and I've lived each day,  to listen to,  play,  perform and teach music any chance I can get. It still amazes me all these years later that I am able to make my living doing what I love! 

I first heard Bruce Springsteen sing Born to Run and Thunder Road in 1979 {I was 11 years old} and I've never been quite the same ever since.

Music had to be a part of my life! 

After hearing Woody Guthrie sing I Ain't Got No Home, when I was 14, I had to have an acoustic guitar! More importantly, Woody posed a question in his music, that has always haunted me...."What does it mean to be an American?" This is the same question, that, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to answer in story and song. 

Eventually, I heard Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and man, once I did, the deal was sealed, I was bound to become a musician come hell or high water! 

From 1993 until 2000, I toured the Midwest as a troubadour, performing at coffee shops, nursing homes, street corners, house concerts and community festivals both solo and later on with the Milwaukee Super group Frogwater. During this time, I played at so many nursing homes, assisted living centers and veterans homes that my friends jokingly called me, The King of The Nursing Home Circuit!  For the record, I was, and am, proud of that title! I love being with our elders!

Music has brought romance, adventure, wisdom, sustenance and  fellowship into my life in a way that nothing else could have. It is the wellspring from which I drink each morning that I am blessed to wake unto a new day. 

Milwaukee, WI was a great town to come of age in. With lots of bars, coffee shops and the lower east side street corners to busk on summer nights. 

From Folk Legends like the late Larry Penn, to musical heroes like Milwaukee's Harp Master Jim Liban, all of these people inspired me and gave me something that could not have been had anywhere else but in Milwaukee. To these folks, some living and some now gone on, I owe a debt of gratitude for encouraging me in some small way, not to give up on the music, even if,  at times it can be challenging. 

In the early 90's I was given an old beat up ukulele by a fan. I didn't know it at the time, but this act of kindness, would alter my life in ways I could never have imagined. With each passing year, I began to become more and more enamored with the instrument, researching, collecting ephemera, connecting with other players around the country and eventually recording ukulele records and writing books. I like to think it was all meant to be. The ukulele felt like being with an old friend and always left me a little lighter than when I first lifted it up into my arms. To this day, my work largely revolves around teaching, performing, writing and recording ukulele themed projects. I am particularly interested in the ukulele's role in old time music and blues styles, but I also enjoy writing my own songs too. 

As of 2020, my music career largely revolves around touring North America, teaching at music camps, festivals, and concert series, as well as presenting my one man musical history shows like:  scraps of quilting music,  jews n blues, and  the jews of tin pan alley. 

I perform about 125-150 shows a year, sometimes alone, and sometimes when I'm lucky, my wife Jenna and daughter Mariela travel with me. 

Locally,  I run a ukulele club and annual ukulele festival and I can often be found teaching music at Mead Library in Sheboygan, as well as Brass Bell Music Store in Milwaukee. In addition to my solo endeavors, I work with Milwaukee Celtic Duo Frogwater  as well as with Milwaukee Guitar & Amp Maven Jim "High Noon" Eannelli as a duo. In Sheboygan, I can often be found performing with local favorites Mike Ammons and "Lost Jim" Jim Ohlschmidt as The Sheboygan Hokum Boys. 

Thank you for taking the time to read about my musical journey, 

I do hope to see you at a class or concert, 

As my harmonica mentor Jim Liban once told me..."It's better to be seen than viewed." 

Musically, 

Lil Rev 10-5-20

 

 

Testimonials

Listen to this! Lil Rev is great!
Pete Seeger

Lil Rev isn't an act, he's real.
Joe Hickerson, Former Head of Library of Congress Folk Archive

Lil Rev is the real thing!
Art Thieme

Lil Rev is a Wisconsin treasure.
Ann Schmid, UW Milwaukee Folk Center

A remarkable muscian, entertainer and teacher.
John Leefe, Mayor of Liverpool, Nova Scotia

A Ukulele and Harmonica Wizard
Elderly Instruments

Lil Rev is the Jewish Pete Seeger: a voice that just pulls you in, a raconteur, and a folksinger in the classic tradition of songs of justice, dignity and Jewish heritage
Rabbi Larry Milder

 

Awards

Best Folksinger
Wisconsin Area Music Industry, 2004

Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame
Inducted 2003

Best Harmonica Instrumentalist
Wisconsin Area Music Industry, 2000

National Blues Harmonica Champion
Hohner Competition at Avoca, Iowa, 1996

Best Acoustic Act
Shepherd Express Readers Choice Awards, 1996