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The sun rises at Dusk

Recession was merely the dawn of a new song period for couple

Dec. 28, 2009

Dean and Kathy Winklemann spent the bulk of the 1980s in much the same way as Sonny and Cher or Donny and Marie did a decade earlier.

The husband-and-wife duo earned their keep playing music for audiences. The Winklemanns, playing under the name Dusk, spent nearly all 52 weeks of each year on the road.

With Dean on keyboards and Kathy on guitar, they sang five or six nights a week throughout the Midwest and Canada. Despite the constant traveling, they managed to start a family along the way, raising three children.

Fast forward to November 2008. By then, it had been 17 years since they stopped performing.

Kathy was now a real estate agent for Century 21, and Dean was running a company that does interior-vehicle repairs for used-car dealers.

Neither sales-dependent job was the kind you would want to have at that time, when the economy took a serious turn for the worse. The downturn certainly affected their income.

Singing the answer

But the Winkelmanns had an interesting answer for "the worst recession since the Great Depression."

Dean and Kathy always wanted to get back into singing anyway. The economic downturn gave them motivation to do so. They may be some of the only people in the world who use the word "blessing" when describing the impact of the recession.

After a retreat to the Northwoods to get back in the grove musically, 2009 saw them return to their first love: singing and entertaining crowds.

Their goal is to book enough gigs to perform four nights a week and earn enough to quit their day jobs.

"Never let what you want to do die," Kathy said. "If you have a dream for what you want to be or do … sometimes it doesn't really happen until you're older, but you should never let go of that."

A life meant for music

Dean and Kathy met in 1977 while Kathy was waitressing in New Berlin. Both were musically inclined - Kathy used babysitting money to buy her first guitar at age 13 - and neither was afraid to take risks.

They got connected with a music agency that booked couple gigs all over the Midwest and into Canada. They would often spend four weeks in one town and traveled throughout the year.

The schedule was exhausting and their families considered it a crazy way to make a living, but the Winklemanns said they have no regrets.

"One of my other jobs when I first met Kathy was delivering liquor," Dean said. "To a 19-year-old guy, do I want to play music or deliver kegs to a bar? I think I'd rather play music. It's kind of a no-brainer if you have the opportunity to do it."

They played until 1991 before settling into "real jobs."

A blue-sy period

The pair's return to music might have seemed even more improbable 10 years ago, when Dean suffered a stroke that severely impacted his speech and ability to play piano.

The timing was especially poor because Dean was trying to start up his car-repair business.

"I would sit in the car and practice the first couple sentences before I talk to these guys," he said. "By the grace of God, for some reason the business worked."

He battled through those difficulties, which improved over time. From Kathy and the kids' perspective, they were just thankful Dean was alive, let alone retaining the skills to play music.

Then again, it's not surprising the family weathered that storm, because they had arguably been through worse.

They spent two years in Branson, Mo., living relatively poor next to neighbors who were in similar financial straits. But they would learn the definition of "community" and together with their neighbors, made sure everybody had enough to eat.

That meant adopting survival techniques, such as collecting food from KFC at the end of the day that otherwise would have been thrown out and delivering it to people around town who needed it. Later, one of the residents would run with the idea and develop it into a sizable food pantry.

As payment, neighbors would give whatever spare items they could to anyone who could use it.

"It was such a lesson in community," Kathy said. "It was an experience I don't think I'll ever forget because government didn't bail us out. It was just people being real with each other and sharing with what they give."

A new tune

The hard work and perseverance paid off.

As Kathy and Dean returned to doing what they love most, they found a market for their talents in 2009.

Dusk regularly performs its wide variety of songs, mostly covers, at O'Connor's Perfect Pint, 8423 W. Greenfield Ave., RJ's in Waukesha and, shortly before Christmas, at 88 Keys Piano Martini Lounge in downtown West Allis.

In a time where the future of their respective industries is more than uncertain, they are more than willing to jump-start their singing careers again.

"This is something we always wanted to get back into but maybe wouldn't have if there wasn't something to push us," Dean said. "In a sense, it's a blessing because now we're really getting back to what we like doing."

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