Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Wisconsin Paramount Records Frozen Custard and the Birth of the Blues


Join as we celebrate, well...I would say the opening of Olin's Frozen Custard Stand, but what we are really celebrating here is the American Dream. A white family in brand new "open for business" form and their Icy new Custard stand, with a most remarkable "colored" band ready to entertain the crowd when they arrive.

In one photograph showing a span of no more than 50 feet, we see enough real American history to last a lifetime.

Photographs of seemingly "rural" African-American professional musicians in 1930s are rare as can be. And professional they are, make no mistake. There is even a piano and drum set on that puny stage, and what I would give to have a listen as I try the custard. I would not be surprised one bit if a few of the stand workers broke out into a dance later, and trust that was the primary skill of the performers.

Make them dance.

As musicianers, the job would have been to play all the current hits for their audience, including standards...but I'm going to say some of them brought the blues.

Music is certainly not the only harmony here.

Now allow me some some speculation which might be of interest to record collectors, fans of the blues and more. Although frozen custard was invented in Coney Island in 1919, it really took hold in Wisconsin a decade later. That's right. Wisconsin. Soon small custard stands spread over the state. Now do I KNOW this is Wisconsin? Nope. But there is another reason besides custard I suspect as much.

Paramount Records was located there. Everyone from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Robert Johnson (with Charley Patton in between) went up to Wisconsin to make 78 records which created the earliest aural record of the Blues.

Were these musicians up north to record?

I try to be fact based, but this is too good a story not to surmise, and even if not true, it is one hell of a photograph.

Additionally, there was a connection between an "Olin" and the underground railroad. Smoke that too.

By the way, I found no record of "Olin's Custard" but someone knows, so PLEASE let me know? Likewise, if any blues scholars recognize this most remarkable band, get in touch. The Wisconsin connection is too obvious to ignore, but for all I know the scene depicted is Michigan (where the photograph was found) and the Olin name turns up in both places.

But a Custard Stand in Wisconsin with Paramount performers passing through is the stuff of legends.

Anonymous Photographer "Custard Stand with African-American Musicians" circa 1930 Original Photograph with handwritten notation on reverse. Collection Jim Linderman



  1. ...typed in whole long explanation of Paramount Records in Grafton Wisconsin, but your site wouldn't load it from my old computer, so this is a very abbreviated posting...

    I actually wouldn't be surprised if this is now Hefner's Custard, on Columbia Road, on the edge of Cedarburg and about five miles from, and on the main road to, Grafton, the proximity seems correct. It's about three times this size, but looks like it could have been added on to and might have originally looked like this. They say there are still bands that play in the parking lot for certain events! I'd call them and find out if they were ever owned by the Olin's, they're on the 'nets".

  2. Really a stunning image. Surprised it wasn't made into a post card for ad purposes.

  3. In the second and third pictures, under careful consideration, it sort of looks like the flora in the background are of a tropical vent. Could be Florida? Also, if this was the 30's, and the Grafton Paramount studios were closed sometime in the early 30's, it would have been mighty rare for there to be Dr. Pepper available, as per the sign, in Wisconsin, and rarer still that they would have sold enough to get factory signage. The Southeastern Wisconsin area, at the time, had tons of small soda companies, and even Coca-Cola at the time would have been just another brand; I never even saw Dr. Pepper in any quantity until the late 70's...

    Not unusual, even back then, to have Michiganers and Wisconsinites partially wintering in Florida. These pics might have been brought back as momentos? Custard never caught on much around the country, but it was certainly tried in a lot of different areas.

  4. Dr Pepper was first nationally marketed in the United States in 1904, plenty of time for it to get up here. Thanks for the comments!

  5. perhaps the license plates can be enlarged and scrutinized by the appropriate fanatic

  6. Might be a clue in the license plates, if anyone could make them out. One on the left looks like ED-6718. But it's a cool enough picture to not need to be related to Paramount (which I doubt it is)