Why would two guys from Minnesota have any business writing a song honoring Wisconsin?
Well, one of the guys is Milwaukee singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp.
And the other is Bob Dylan.
Schoepp, who was born in Red Wing, Minnesota but moved to Wisconsin as a teenager, released the video on Tuesday for his song “On, Wisconsin,” which he wrote based on three unpublished verses that Dylan wrote back in 1961. The video is an homage to Dylan’s iconic 1965 video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in which the singer tosses cue cards featuring the song’s lyrics.
In Schoepp’s version, dozens of Wisconsin luminaries share card-carrying duties, including Garbage’s Butch Vig, “Manitowoc Minute” host Charlie Berens, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and the Cap Times’ own opinion editor, Jessie Opoien.
“It’s a Frankenstein of some of Wisconsin’s finest,” Schoepp said of the video in an interview Wednesday. “The making of it took over a year. There’s about 70 people involved, and some creatures — Smokey the Bear and my Boston terrier, Ollie.”
Schoepp will almost certainly play the song when he performs on the Memorial Union Terrace, 800 Langdon St., at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 25.
The story of “On, Wisconsin” began in 1960 when Dylan, who was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, dropped out of the University of Minnesota and briefly moved to Madison, hoping to break into the folk music scene. He met Pete Seeger while he was here, but Dylan didn’t make much of a dent in the music scene. He ended up riding with a pair of recent UW-Madison graduates to New York City.
Dylan had much better luck in New York, signing a contract with Columbia Records. On the day he started recording his first album, Dylan reportedly had Madison on in his mind and wrote the three verses, but never recorded them.
Fast forward to 2017, when Schoepp was reading in Rolling Stone about how the handwritten lyrics were going up for auction. The article contained a full transcript of the song’s lyrics, which celebrated the land of “milk and cream” and calls Wauwatosa “Wow Wow Toaster.”
Schoepp just knew he had to finish what Dylan had started. So he added his own lyrics onto Dylan’s and created a melody to the song. For Schoepp, it was a project that exemplified the folk music tradition that both he and Dylan work in.
“I guess it was in the back of my head that Dylan could hear it at some point,” he said. “But that was not the be-all end-all. It’s just folk music. It’s extending the line. It’s taking something that someone started and finishing it. That’s the entire nature of folk music.”
The resulting song has an easygoing, polka-inspired swing beat, and one can imagine couples dancing to it at their local supper club.
“When I wrote it, I was thinking of this drifter who was being rocked to sleep in a train car, thinking about the things that make a place home,” Schoepp said of the melody.
Through what Schoepp calls “a series of Hail Mary passes,” his manager worked connections to get the completed song to Dylan’s camp for approval. Schoepp eventually got the okay, and the song is on his new album, “Primetime Illusion,” which was released in January.
The making of the video was a similarly Herculean task. Schoepp began in November 2017 the process of finding notable Wisconsinites to appear in the video, each holding a snippet of the lyrics on a placard.
“It was really a monumental task to carry those (cards) around in a Pontiac Vibe for a year,” he said. "We edited it quite a bit on multiple stages within the process to see what we didn’t have covered. It really was just a snowball effect. One person led to the next and so forth and so on. The video just began to change shape.”
The plan was that the last person to hold a card in the video would be Schoepp, standing in front of his home, holding the lyrics to the song’s last line, “Might as well stay.” The problem was that, over the course of the 18-month shoot, Schoepp kept moving and kept having to reshoot the ending in each new home. (The final version, filmed just two weeks ago, features Schoepp sitting in the back of his tour van with Ollie, a fitting “home” for a touring musician.)
Schoepp has been getting national attention for “Primetime Illusion” and has been busy touring around the country and in Europe. But he’s perfectly proud to be known as the guy with that “Wisconsin” song.
“So many songs in the early folk music canon are about where that singer is standing on that day,” he said. “Wisconsin is not a place like New York that gets beaten to death in songs.”
Here’s the full list of Wisconsinites who appear in the video:
• Mark Baden, meteorologist
• Russ Feingold, former U.S. senator
• Victor DeLorenzo , Violent Femmes
• Mark Borchardt, filmmaker
• Dale and Diane Pautzke
• David F. Bowen, state representative
• Michael Feldman, Whad'ya Know
• Gwen S. Moore, U.S. representative
• Robert and Bob Wills, Clock Shadow Creamery
• Al Kraemer, keyboardist/sailor
• Kurt Neumann, BoDeans
• Jordy Foy, newsperson
• Howard Fuller, civil rights activist
• Marc Tasman, Intermedia artist
• Matthew McClutchy, Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.
• Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee
• Victoriah and Gabriela Banuelos, REYNA
• Drew Olson, sportscaster
• Garrett Burton, luthier/surfer
• James McMahon, Beard Boss
• Tammy Baldwin, U.S. senator
• Tom Crawford, WMSE 91.7FM
• Dan Needles, sportscaster
• Gabriel Sanchez, The Prince Experience
• Butch Vig, Nirvana/Foo Fighters producer
• Bango, Milwaukee Bucks
• Jim Linneman, club owner
• Chris DeMay, singer-songwriter
• Amelinda Burich, bassist
• Casey Hoaglund, animator
• Jessie Opoien, Cap Times opinion editor
• Richard Riehle, actor
• Skylar and Samantha Schneider, cyclists
• Maryam Tunio, photographer
• Ken Sumka, DJ
• Damian Strigens, drummer
• John Revord, Boone & Crockett
• Richard Menning, Atomic Records
• Charlie Berens, Manitowoc Minute
• Luke Lavin, Bullseye Records
• Jim McCabe, Milwaukee Brewing Company
• Aaron Nance
• Ollie, Boston Terrier
• Kaitlin Sharkey, reporter
• John Kovalic, cartoonist/illustrator
• Michael Perry, author
• Dori Zori, DJ
• Kristoffer Puddicombe, educator/entertainer
• Rae Cassidy Klagstad, musician
• Marcus Doucette - 88Nine, DJ
• Brian Anderson, Bill Schroeder, Brewers announcers
• Jordan Lee, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee
• Milwaukee Admirals
• Russ Klisch, Lakefront Brewery
• Ben and Abbey Norman, rockers
• Matt McLimore (the puppet), Dorktower
• David Ivan Silbaugh, Summerfest
• Smokey Bear, forest fire fighter