Before Citizen King and the Gufs, before the Bodeans and Violent Femmes, there was Yipes!
The Milwaukee power pop quintet got together, fortuitously, right as labels were eager to snap up the best of the "new wave" and these five hard-working musicians -- Pat McCurdy, Mike Hoffmann, Pete Strand, Teddy Freese and Andy Bartel -- were primed and ready to go, having been rehearsing hard and performing even harder, racking up 250 to 300 gigs a year in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin and beyond.
Millennium Records inked Yipes! to a deal and the band recorded two LPs for the label. At the same time, the group toured with the likes of Jefferson Starship, Cheap Trick, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and others.
Yipes! burned brightly but briefly. In 1981, the year after the group's second LP, "A Bit Irrational," was released, Millennium dropped the band and its members dispersed. McCurdy to a successful career as a solo performer, Hoffmann as an active musician and producer and Strand as a music attorney in Chicago.
Last year, Yipes! was inducted into the WAMI Hall of Fame and performed a short set at the awards ceremony. Now, the reunited Yipes! headlines the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage at Summerfest at 10 p.m. on Thursday, June 26. Just before the band takes the stage, there will be sets by reunited Milwaukee bands Bon Ton Society (6:30 p.m.) and The Wigs (8:30 p.m.)
We caught up with most of the members of Yipes! to ask about the band's history and the reunion this week at the Big Gig.
OnMilwaukee.com: For folks to young to remember, tell give us the quick history of Yipes!
Teddy Freese: Pete and Mike were in Slick with Steve (Summers) and Ernie (Conner), later to be in EIEIO with Mike. Pat and Andy were in The Rings, hating it for the most part and dying to do something new, like "It's All right" by Adam Faith. Then in Kenosha I had just met Bill, a great friend of Andy's, about a radio thing and he asked me to audition for the new project. We won a "Battle of the Bands" contest at The Palms and won time at Shadetree Studios in Lake Geneva at The Playboy Club.
Mike Hoffmann: Well, three of us started playing out together back in high school, Pat, Pete, myself. Pete and I go back to first grade! We started back in the era when the drinking age was 18 there were thousands of clubs schools parties you name it, we had booking agents, manager from the start and played a couple of hundred shows a year at least. Pat left the nest for a year meeting Andy which led to Teddy then they added Pete and I with the intent of hitting the big time. We had five years of touring and most likely our 10,000 hours served, so we were ready.
Pete Strand: Yipes began in November of 1977 when the band took over Pat's parents' basement and began three weeks of rehearsal. We took the show live around Thanksgiving and were off, playing 250-300 shows per year.
Andy Bartel: Pat and I were living in Sheboygan, playing in another band together. Our spare time was spent listening to records and drinking Mountain Dew. We started kicking around the idea of a new band, that would play original material, and also include the reworks of the music we loved, girl groups, lesser known British invasion, that kind of stuff. Pat immediately suggested Mike and Pete, and I knew Teddy. This was always it, there were no auditions.
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.
OMC: Did it seem like folks -- at least folks outside the music scene here -- forgot about the Milwaukee bands of the '70s that had a national profile, like you guys and even Bad Boy?
MH: Probably, but I've been so busy in EIEIO, Semi-Twang, Carnival Strippers, Victor DeLorenzo, revivals of two of them, now playing with The Delta Routine -- making records plus touring plus producing -- guess I just haven't noticed.
AB: People don't really forget, they just move on to new music and things that are current. Sometimes, they just need a gentle prodding, and they remember quite easily.
PS: I don't think they forgot about us or Bad Boy or the other bands that packed the clubs back then. I think fans moved on when we all scattered but I think they remember. I meet someone every now and then in Chicago that like Yipes and remembers the Milwaukee and Wisconsin scene. Now Summerfest is a like a high school reunion for me. I see so many musicians and music industry friends and fans whenever I'm there.
OMC: What was it like to be a hard-working band gigging around the state practically every day and then suddenly finding yourselves signed and in New York and sharing stages with Kansas and Starship?
PS: The hardest part was cutting the show down to one 45-minute set. We'd been playing four or five 45-minute sets a night for a few years. We cut down to three 60-minute sets leading up to the record deal. So, we had a ton of material, both originals and covers. The other hard part was finding a way to burn off all of the extra energy we had since we were only playing one short set. We found a few ways to do that. The rest of it was pretty cool: opening in arenas and stadiums, meeting musicians we admired, having a road crew, traveling all over the U.S. and even making a few stops in Canada, having fans who first bought the record and then came to see us live.
AB: All the road work made us ready for anything that was thrown at us. We found our pacing and groove on the big stages quite easily. Plus, Pat is a great frontman. He came into his own with a large audience to work with.
MH: We toured more than just this state, we peppered upper middle America playing four sets in our first year and stacking up around 300 dates before being discovered. Jumping on a national tour was great only having to play one opening set -- 40 minutes sometimes 35!!! We toured with Southside Johnny, Triumph, Cheap Trick (and) countless others, some you mentioned. It was super fun.
OMC: Were you guys ready for that, not so much musically but on a personal level? Could you handle the stress?
MH: We were disciplined already so adjusting wasn't hard at all. However, the pressures of writing and cranking out world class recordings was soooo different ... very stressful indeed. Record companies are hard-asses for sure, but we loved it.
AB: When you are in a band, and difficult or stressful situations present themselves, you depend on each other and tighten up the ranks. I think the only thing that really caught us off guard was the control on the part of the record company. We had always been very DIY and expected more freedom. That came as a bit of shock.
PS: We were very ready musically. We worked as much as we could and when we weren't playing, we were recording, and when we were recording we were rehearsing and when we weren't rehearsing, we were restless. But you're right, there's a different level of pressure when you've made an album and are touring. I think we handled the stress pretty well.
No rehabs, no drunken brawls, no TV sets out the window, no DWIs or accidents. We all got a bit introspective about our playing and writing and stepped up the practicing and rehearsals to be ready for whatever was next. Getting a deal is easy compared to what comes next.
OMC: What led to the end of the band or did the end just seem natural after you'd been dropped?
AB: Pat and I discussed it and decided not to drag it out, just playing clubs again, another band that lost the record deal. I think we may even discussed that when we were still signed, "should it happen." It felt best to go out with our integrity mostly intact. I still think it was the right thing to do.
PS: When Millennium decided after "A Bit Irrational," our second LP, not to have us do a third record, it was tough. But the consensus was that Yipes had had a great run but had run its course. We were all moving in diffferent musical directions and had different opportunities, so bringing Yipes to an end seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.
MH: Natural after being dropped, definitely. The necessity to move on and do something different was strong, Yipes! were damaged goods in the music industry's mind.
OMC: Did you guys come away with some good industry stories?
PS: We did spend time with Jimmy Ienner, who produced The Raspberries, Grand Funk, Three Dog Night and a couple dozen other artists. Jimmy had amazing stories and played our demos for John Lennon. Jimmy's brother was a VP at Millennium and later went on to run Columbia Records ... the last of the great record moguls.
MH: Jimmy was already an industry insider legend, starting at age 15 singing doo-wop and "Duke of Earl," leading him to produce some huge records. (The label's) NYC office walls were littered with gold and platinum -- at least a hundred, we walked around there staring slackjawed! Jimmy discovered us thanks to our manager Randy Schwoerer. A good human being, and a mover. He really believed in us and we believed in him. Also, our RCA promotion teams on tour were so fantastic! Some of them veterans of Elvis Presley's early career ... the stories unforgettable. We were there at the end of the old school major label era.
OMC: Did you get to hang out with (labelmates) Meco or Joey Travolta?
MH: Met Mitch Mitchell at a party and Meco covered "Out In California" as a b-side!
AB: No, but we were in Teen Pin Ups with Leif Garrett and Scott Baio.Does that count?
PS: We hung our with Tommy James at a Millennium Records party at Jimmy Ienner's Connecticut estate and Teddy beat Tommy at pool.
OMC: It was really the WAMI Hall of Fame thing in 2012 that brought the band back to light, but had there been talk before that of getting back together to play a gig?
PS: When the WAMI called to tell me that Yipes was going to be inducted, I thought maybe Mike, Pat and I would attend to accept the Hall of Fame Award. Then the WAMIs called back and invited us to play a short set to close the awards show. I simply emailed everyone and told them I'd like to play because I thought it would be fun. Many of the people currently in our lives had never seen Yipes and I thought it would be rude to decline the invitation. Everyone immediately said yes and so we accepted.
AB: Pete, Mike and myself had discussed it once or twice, but it seemed unlikely. I think the WAMI induction gave it a reason to happen, and it turned out to be a damned good one.
MH: Bob Babisch had inquired a few times over the years but the WAMI Hall of Fame made it very topical again.
OMC: You guys are all pretty busy, will there be more gigs? Is there time for more gigs with all that you guys have going on?
MH: Well, Teddy lives in Italy, Andy lives in Austin, I'm perpetually on tour or producing/recording, Pat plays constantly, Pete continues to play, partners a law firm in Chicago, (and) along with those talents he is also a National Trustee with N.A.R.A.S. so what do you think?
AB: That would be up in the air for now. I do think we could all find the time an opportunity presented itself.
PS: Who knows? 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. It's spectacular. It's rare that anyone gets to do that, in my experience.
OMC: You guys are headlining a three-band bill of Milwaukee band reunions -- are we all feeling especially nostalgic these days?
PS: Actually, I don't see the Yipes! show as nostalgic at all. I'm doing this because we can still rock!
AB: I hope it's more than nostalgia. I have run into fans all over the country of Yipes!, and I think it will be a great chance for folks that missed out the first time around to experience some great rock and roll. Above all, Yipes! is rock band. It's not art, it's fun. Nostalgia will always let you down, it's better to live in the moment.
MH: I think our music is still powerful and full of energy, it steers us. We're just passengers along for the ride.
OMC: Will there be a mega-Milwaukee-reunion jam at the end of the night?
MH: No, re-creating YIPES! along with the mess of music in my head already will be quite enough!
AB: There would be too many injuries if that happened, so I hope not.