The longtime Madisonian was known for championing local bands.
Ted Putnam, who championed local music as a radio DJ under the name Ted Offensive, died on November 22, 2017. Members of Madison’s music community will be honoring Putnam with a Sunday, January 14 event at the High Noon Saloon featuring speakers and performances from several local bands including No Hoax, Pachinko, and Transformer Lootbag.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Putnam spent much of his childhood in San Francisco, where he attended both high school and college, and returned for several years between periods of living in Madison. Throughout all that change, music was a constant. Putnam was also a writer, flautist, bassist, and singer, though he was not very active as a musician himself in recent years. For a Halloween show in 2014, he fronted a Killing Joke tribute band. He also played out as a live DJ, at venues including Nattspil, which will host a tribute night to him on Monday.
“He was extremely passionate about music,” says Putnam’s brother, Roger Putnam III, who lives in Madison. “When we were both kids we just listened to music all the time. Our family was just musically inclined. Our mother sang opera.”
Putnam’s show on WORT-FM, Songs Of Safety And Manners, began in the mid-1990s and was still running at the time of his death. The show frequently included in-studio performances from local musicians. Putnam had an affinity for punk and rock ‘n’ roll but also frequently reached beyond rock into R&B, African music, and elsewhere. A WORT benefit compilation he put out in 2000, Offensive?, captured 21 recordings of bands playing his show, from noise-rockers Pachinko to hip-hop outfit Black Poets Society to gentle indie-rockers Rainer Maria.
Likewise, the people who shared remembrances of Putnam, as both a friend and a champion of local music, spanned a range of ages and genres.
“Ted was an avid learner, fan, devotee and team player who selflessly went far beyond hosting and performing shows,” says Sybil Augustine, WORT’s music director. “He used his teaching and leadership skills to support the music scenes and communities he loved. Always honest, always kind, always warm and always cool.”
Lisa Marine, a longtime Madison resident and musician who has played in bands including The Quickies and The Tiny Band, remembered hanging out with Putnam at a show just weeks before his death. “We both went to hear Wendy Schneider’s awesome band Howler and shared a table during the opening band,” Marine says. “We talked about music, his book, my daughter, his San Francisco motorcycle accident of yore, doing crosswords. I went to the bar when Wendy was playing and saw Ted walk slowly toward the stage, eyes locked on the band. He leaned down and put his hands on the edge of the stage, closed his eyes and just let the music wash over him. He stayed like that for a while, immersed, and I really took in the moment. It seemed sacred. I’ll never forget it. I even furtively took a photo of the moment, but I was blurry, so I deleted it. I regret that so much.”
Elly Fine, who will be spinning Monday’s Nattspil tribute under her DJ Ellafine moniker, says: “Ted was the one who encouraged me to try getting a gig at Nattspil, so that’s part of the reason I wanted to do a little tribute for him there. If he hadn’t suggested it I don’t know if I would have tried it.”
Madisonian Troy Peterson recalled playing on Putnam’s show in 2015 with his experimental solo project Kleptix.
“I’ve been in bands that would be right up Ted’s alley, metal and punk and whatnot, but he was just as interested in talking about my weirdo noise nonsense,” Peterson says. In a Facebook post, Peterson recalled Putnam as someone who quickly came to treat people like close friends, and made people feel like a part of the local music community.
If you’d like to share a remembrance or comment about Putnam for this story, please email it to [email protected] and we’ll be happy to include it.