There have been a lot of great rock bands from Wisconsin since the 1950s and ‘60s, though sadly, few received much exposure outside of the Midwest.
Not so Yipes!, the New Wave-era power pop quintet featuring mostly their own material that launched out of Milwaukee and Madison in late 1977, played hundreds of shows throughout the region (four sets a night, six nights a week, 300 shows a year) and released a pair of albums on New York-based national label Millennium/RCA: Yipes! (1979) and A Bit Irrational (1980).
But there would be no third album, and Yipes!—singer/composer Pat McCurdy, guitarists Andy Bartel and Mike Hoffman, bassist Pete Strand and drummer Teddy Freese—disbanded, with McCurdy staying in Milwaukee and going on to a solo career, Freese ending up in Italy, Bartel in Austin, Strand in Chicago in bands and a law firm and Hoffman serving in stellar Wisconsin bands E.I.E.I.O. and Semi-Twang.
Then in 2013, Yipes! was inducted into the WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Hall of Fame and performed for the first time since its 1981 farewell concert. One of the most exciting and original bands of their time, they enjoyed it so much that they’re playing a reunion show Thursday at Milwaukee Summerfest.
“I think fans moved on when we all scattered,” says Strand. “But I think they remember. I meet someone every now and then in Chicago that liked Yipes! and remembers the Milwaukee and Wisconsin scene, and now Summerfest is like a high school reunion for me: I see so many musicians and music industry friends and fans whenever I’m there.”
Most Wisconsin bands in the 1970s were bar bands that played mainly covers. But McCurdy and Bartel, who were in a band in Sheboygan (“Our spare time was spent listening to records and drinking Mountain Dew,” says Bartel), wanted to start a new one to play original material along with girl group/lesser known British Invasion fare, and Strand, Hoffman and Freese quickly came aboard.
“This was always it,” says Bartel. “There were no auditions, and the band was set from the first rehearsal. Everything came together very quickly, and we hit the road. Our manager got us heard by Jimmy Ienner at Millennium, and things took off from there.”
An industry legend, Ienner was aided at Millenium by his brother Don Ienner, later to famously head the Sony Music Label Group.
“Our RCA promotion teams on tour were so fantastic!” recalls Hoffman. “Some of them were veterans of Elvis Presley's early career, and the stories were unforgettable. It was at the end of the old school major label era.”
It was the relative big time, what with Yipes! opening for then big acts like Kansas, Jefferson Starship, Triumph and Cheap Trick. But the hardest part, according to Strand, was having to cut their show down to a single 45-minute set after playing four and even five of them a night for so long.
“All the road work made us ready for anything that was thrown at us,” says Bartel. “We found our pacing and groove on the big stages quite easily, and Pat really came into his own as a great front man with a large audience to work with.”
But when Yipes! lost their Millenium deal, they chose not to “drag it out and just play clubs again, but go out with our integrity mostly intact,” says Bartel.
Notes Strand: “The consensus was that Yipes! had had a great run but had run its course. We were all moving in different musical directions and had different opportunities, so bringing Yipes! to an end seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.”
Like any band that loses its recording contract, Yipes! in fact may have been perceived as “damaged goods in the music industry’s mind,” as Hoffman puts it. But their reunion Thursday night is bound to remind those who were there—and inform those who weren’t—what a great band Yipes! was, and maybe still is.
“I hope it's more than nostalgia,” says Bartel. “I have run into Yipes! fans all over the country and I think it will be a great chance for folks that missed out the first time around to experience some great rock ‘n’ roll.”
As for the future, “Who knows?” says Strand.
“It’s amazing to me that I have the chance to play with these guys again, to feel that connection, to be a tight, muscular and fierce rock band again," he adds. "It’s spectacular—and in my experience, it’s rare that anyone gets to do that.”
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