Happy Trails, Joey and Bill

two local music scene veterans prepare to leave

Ian Jacoby, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Scientists estimate that drummer Joe Gunderson and singer/guitarist Bill Hamilton have played in a combined total of 78,000 Eau Claire bands (give or take).

The first time I ever played a show in Eau Claire was because of Joe Gunderson, booker of gigs at the House of Rock and the Mousetrap. Bill Hamilton has been cranking out jams locally for the better part of 10 years. To put it mildly, if you have enjoyed local music on some level for the last decade-and-a-half, you can probably thank at least one (but probably both) of these gentlemen. But now, both mens’ lives are taking them away from here on new adventures.

    Gunderson’s musical journey started in 1995 when he got a drum set for his 21st birthday. He spent the next year alienating his friends while practicing almost nonstop. The 90s and 2000s saw Gunderson playing in a string of successful bands, including (but totally not limited to): The Nicotines, House of TVs, Death of a Ladies Man, and The Jim Pullman Band. At one point there was a festival called Joepalooza, where Gunderson played a marathon session of 5 sets, each with a different band. Yeah, five.

    Hamilton cut his teeth playing with jam band powerhouse, Day Old Bread. His signature guitar sound, alternating between searing and soaring, has been a staple with many local groups, including The Space Rangers, Little Willie, The Eau Claire Blues Allstars, and The Excellent Adventure (and a few in between). He is truly a staple of the scene and a stalwart column of the Eau Claire music community. And now they’re both moving; Gunderson to Naples, FL to pursue a new career, and Hamilton to Arizona so that his wife, Tiffany Bailey, can attend the prestigious ceramics MFA program at ASU (a big loss to our art community in her own right). The combined effect on our music scene their departure creates is that one cannot immediately put into words. It’s the end of an era, and although Eau Claire will continue to grow as a music community, it won’t ever be quite the same.

    But if there’s one thing we can take from both Gunderson and Hamilton’s legacy, it should be this: although they were (and are) great musicians, above all else they were great listeners. Neither of them have been anything less than supportive to virtually every young musician to walk through the doors of a local venue. Beyond developing their own music, they both stand as immensely positive forces striving to develop music in the community. Because to them, that’s what music is about – building a community.

    “To me, there’s no greater satisfaction than giving a new band a chance,” said Gunderson of his time booking music in Eau Claire. “I love to watch them mature as songwriters and as human beings. That’s the best reward for this job.”

    Even in leaving, these men will still support the scene, albeit in slightly peripheral ways. Gunderson plans to continue booking The Mousetrap and playing in his two current groups, and Hamilton is still the greatest cheerleader I know. You want to know what I mean? Try this quote from Bill on for size:

    “It’s fun to think about what’s going to happen (in Eau Claire) next. Who’s going to step up? There’s the Mike Rambo project playing new, crazy, awesome stuff. There are bands like Farms and The Gentle Guest. I’m excited. It’s going to be an adventure.”

    Truly it will be an adventure. Thanks for the memories Bill and Joe, we’ll miss you.