Photo by Audrey Bilger
Some people make mix tapes for fun, but Milwaukee native Cheryl Pawelski can list that on her resume. As far as music fans go, Pawelski’s 17 years beat most people’s lifetime of participation. As a young music maven she worked at the old downtown Radio Doctors learning record distribution. She moved to California and in 1990 began a 12-year run at Capitol Records, and in 2005 moved over to Concord Records to run their catalog development. In January of this year she began what many consider a dream job, heading up A&R at Rhino Records. Though music is what pays her bills, she remains a devoted fan. In her words, the whole trip “…only took 17 years. I’d do it all again, too – it’s been a ball.”
1. What is your dream project?
Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a couple dream projects. In fact, at this point, I’d have to say I’m working on my dream project in that I’m heading up A&R at Rhino and the catalogs under the Rhino umbrella are some of my favorites. That having been said, I would indeed drop everything to go and work as Bruce Springsteen’s archivist and special project producer.
2. Is there any Milwaukee-related artist or project you’d like to work on?
Yes. For years I’ve wanted to cut out enough time to put together a double CD release I’d like to call The Real Happy Days. It’s not a single artist anthology but a Wisconsin-based one. I’ve long been a fan of the single and by that I mean the 45 rpm or 7” vinyl slab. I started collecting records on local labels from the ‘50s and ‘60s a long time ago – Cuca and Raymond among others. I would like to pull together a nice collection of those but just haven’t had the time.
The Band box set, A Musical Journey, certainly reflects my detail-oriented, “everything must be right” kind of work ethic. The rockabilly box, Rockin’ Bones, is four discs of really fun and sometimes surprisingly absurd early rock & roll and there’s an earlier compilation I did at Capitol called Rebels & Outlaws, which is basically filled with all kinds of songs about carryin’ on and makin’ a racket, so those all collectively add up to something. I guess sometimes projects can be an extension of a personality but only a small fraction, and at that, the fraction may be based in fantasy or wishful thinking.
4. What do you like best about California?
I like everything in California between about Big Sur and Point Reyes (just north of San Francisco). LA for me has been something that I put up with as a trade for getting to do what I do. The best parts of LA seem to be hidden and certainly not advertised – so uncovering the history of LA is a lot of fun. It’s a fascinating place and I do love the musical history. Bits and pieces are still left and it’s so great to see where things actually happened.
5. What do you miss about Milwaukee?
I miss all kinds of things about Milwaukee. I miss the weather, believe it or not. I like the changing seasons and miss that very much out here. I miss people dancing at shows. Everyone in California is too cool for the most part. I’m not a dancer at all but I like it when people are enjoying themselves that way. I miss being close to my family and friends. VS