A Man of Many Words
Pat McCurdy of Whitefish Bay sings with a mission in mind---amusing others
by Dianna Greening
Let's get one thing straight. Singer/musician Pat McCurdy is definitely not Luciano Pavoratti.
But then, he never said he was.
What Pat McCurdy is, is someone who could be your next door neighbor. In fact, in his Whitefish Bay home, he is someone's next door neighbor, just to be precise. And he looks like your best friend---and interesting face with affable features, an infectious smile and slightly kinky hair that's pulled back into a ponytail. He's the type you'd probably like to give a big hug. And he sees his mission in life as amusing others.
More than that, though, McCurdy is a man of many words. Many, many words. He likes words, or lyrics as musicians and composers like to call them. And he's good at them, which is possibly why he majored in journalism and communications at UW-Madison where he got his degree.
And of course he likes music, especially if it has anything to do with the Beatles or rock 'n roll. He grew up in Brookfield in a musical family where, "in our house there were at least ten different musical instruments from harps to oboes and guitars.
"My father was not a musician, but he was a jazz aficionado. My mother had us take a lot of piano lessons when I was a kid. She was a saint. I picked up the guitar playing on my own. And my brother is a music professor.
"I knew I wanted to be a musician the first time I heard the Beatles. There wasn't just one song. I liked the whole package, the fact that you could play guitar, write songs and be cheerful. I've never been angst-ridden."
I started playing music when I was in high school. I formed bands, which helped put me through college. And when I was just out of college, I got a record contract. The band was called Yipes. But we really weren't too successful. And the experience gave me a sour taste of the music business."
Nonetheless, his love of music has not diminished over the years. Almost every day, McCurdy usually spends time working on either words or music on one of the three levels of his home, each of which includes at least one of the ten guitars he owns. He says he works at least 40 hours a week, but he doesn't consider it working for a living--he loves what he does too much.
And there's no set rule to his composing, sometimes the words come before the music, sometimes not. One of his recent prolific lyrical compositions was inspired by reading a newspaper.
"I was reading a story in the New York Times about TV ratings and the network ratings being down so much because of the Internet and cable. And this is what came to mind: Everybody's glued to their television set,
To the world wide web and the Internet
Everybody's wrapped in a little cocoon;
Everybody's trapped in a tiny little room;
Let's have a party tonight, let's all get out;
Let's have a real life experience.
Everybody's floating in cyberspace
There's a blank expression on everybody's face
Everyone wonders just what hit 'em
Everyone thinks someone is out to get 'em
Let's have a party tonight
Let's all get out;
Let's have a real life experience.
"Usually though, the music usually comes first. And sometimes things come into my head while I'm driving and I just keep it in my head until I get home."
He describes his typical two-hour performance sort of like cabaret, "but raunchier." He also works with a man called Pipe Jim, who sets up his equipment and does his sound work. And on weekends he includes bassist Mike Sieger in his performance.
"When I first started the show I do now about nine years ago, I did it at a club on the East Side of Milwaukee, which is no longer there," he said. "They were just starting to have music, small solo performances and duets. I started out on Wednesday, when they usually don't have many customers.
"It took between four and five years to build it into an act, but I got to be someone who people came to see on a Wednesday night. The act has evolved. It's not folk music, but more knee singing songs. Some are a parody. And it's interactive with the audience. The audience is a big part of the show. I kind of bridge the gap and am in the gray area between music and comedy."
McCurdy said he made up his own format and didn't base it on anything or anyone he had seen before, even though some of his heros are rock musicians such as the Kinks and songwriters such as Cole Porter.
And if you listened to one of his seven CD albums, especially "Pat in Person," which was taped at a live performance, you would understand his style. McCurdy depends a lot on his audience not only for feedback, but for fun. The topics of his songs in just one album range from movie stars to God to fear and even a Freudian love song. In fact, the song about God is a staple, an audience favorite. A little sarcastic, McCurdy portrays God as a loving entity, but jokingly gives him faults and then kids around even more about what God likes and dislikes--all to a quasi melody line and strumming of the guitar.
"Although there are sexual themes, most of my songs are about relationships--not raunchy, but funny. It's not wholesome, but bright-eyed. I just think people want something amusing. They don't want to be brought down when they go out. And when they come to see me, they're pretty much guaranteed to be amused or something funny will happen."
Because of his skills in working with an audience and the amusing prose he composes, he has received numerous awards including being an eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) award for state entertainer of the year as well as two merit awards from Billboard Magazine for songwriting. He also has developed quite a following of "Patheads," those who have come to know his music so well they even sing it for him. He either knows many of them by name or has nicknames for them. One fan has even designed a web site in his name.
He has performed in front of as few as three people all the way up to 5,000. His average crowd though is about 100 on a week night to about 200 to 300 in bars on the weekend. And sometimes college tours have taken him far away.
"I once had a booking on a college tour in Anchorage, Alaska," he recalled. "I thought it might be a really dreadful experience, but as soon as I walked out on stage, someone screamed out one of my songs that they wanted to hear."
Most of his bookings take place in three cities -- Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee. And once a month he performs at Shank Hall on Milwaukee's East Side, as well as Menomonee Falls and Germantown. For the last three years, he's also been booked at Summerfest.
"Every night at Summerfest I would be the one to close out the comedy tent, which means I would go on at 10 p.m. But there were still between 3,000 and 4,000 people there. It's sort of breathtaking to hear all of them sing along with you."
McCurdy said his material is not age-specific nor is it geared to any specific group of people. Sometimes he weaves in old songs, which could be considered a little nostalgic, but generally he's pretty forward looking.
"I stay up on current events. There are a couple of political things I do about anti-guns, but it's not a big part of what I do. I'm just not nuts about handguns. I don't buy the arguments that guns don't kill people. You can't tell me that if there were no guns, if magically overnight they all vanished, that there would be any shootings."
If he runs out of current ideas for a show, he goes to one of his piles of cassettes that are labeled "Song Ideas" and listens to them again to get a little inspiration.
His daily lifestyle typically involves getting up about noon, working on his craft and doing performances in the evenings and on weekends. All this doesn't seem to affect his fairly new marriage to Bethany, a Marquette law student.
"I met her at a show in 1990. It wasn't love at first sight though. It's a bit more complicated. But I was walking around the audience at this club, schmoozing them trying to build interest. There were about 45 people or less. And I went up to her table. She was with this girl I knew. More than a year later, we were an item. Then five years later, we got hitched."
This summer he hopes to put out another CD album that's tentatively titled "Fainting With Happiness."
"I generally like to make the CDs different than the show. If people don't buy them, that's OK. I really make the CDs for myself, to try and challenge myself."