The Wigs reunite for a hair-raising reunion
Local power-pop heroes The Wigs, who left Milwaukee for Los Angeles in the early 1980s, return to town for a combination reunion show and CD release party Saturday night at Shank Hall.
The band's 1981 record "File Under: Pop Vocal," a steady seller on eBay and other fan sites, has been remixed on a CD that will include two previously unreleased songs. Original members Jim Cushinery, Marty Ross, Bobby Tews and Bob Pachner will reunite for the Shank show to play tunes from the CD as well as the movie "My Chauffeur," which featured eight Wigs songs and the band's first on-screen appearance.
We chatted with Cushinery via e-mail about the band's history, the record and the upcoming gig.
OnMilwaukee.com: Some of our readers will remember seeing your gigs back in the early 1980s. Others weren't born yet. Can you recap the band's history?
Jim Cushinery: The Wigs proper -- Jim Cushinery, Marty Ross, Bobby Tews and Bob Pachner -- played their first show in February 1980 at Marquette University. In 1981, Bob Pachner left the band shortly before we recorded "File Under: Pop Vocal" ("FUPV"). The record topped the college radio and local sales charts, but we just weren't getting any traction on the scale to which we aspired, so we decided to hang it up. Our farewell show on July 4, 1982 broke an attendance record at Summerfest's rock stage.
Bobby and I moved to L.A. and Marty followed shortly after. It was a definite leap into the big leagues. Our competition in the clubs included Los Lobos, Jane's Addiction, Guns & Roses and Motley Crue. The toughest part was that the power pop scene was dying. We made the choice to add Val McCallum on lead guitar, and I switched to bass. For better or worse, that had a massive impact on the band's dynamic. It was around that time we did the film "My Chauffeur" and signed on with a management company that turned out to be owned by Stanley Polley, the notorious manager of Badfinger.
CBS Records put us in the studio with an up and coming producer. They were not sure of the results, so they sent us back to the studio, this time with Rick Springfield's producer and Prince's engineer. This time, the label was thrilled with the results, but unfortunately, as we were mixing the tracks, CBS called a "Black Friday" and the people on our A&R team got the axe, so there was no one left at the label to champion our cause. We were rather unceremoniously dropped.
There was pretty much no place for us to go, so Marty pursued an acting career with a part on the "New Monkees" television show and that was that. There was no acrimony between us regarding Marty's decision. We all wanted to be successful and understood how precious opportunities are. If anything killed The Wigs, it was that we didn't believe strongly enough in our own taste and talent to not follow the massive amounts of horrible advice we were getting from all sides.
OMC: How would you describe the Milwaukee music scene in the early 1980s? Who were the big stars? When you guys were coming up, who were you excited to go see and what clubs were you pumped about playing?
JC: I gather from the musicians I know in Milwaukee that (that) time may be the last era of a truly great music scene in town. There were a lot of bands making some very inventive music -- The Haskels, The Oil Tasters, and Youth In Asia. The Shivvers, Yipes and (Chicago's) Off Broadway were all terrific pop bands and there some very talented traditional rock bands like Arroyo, White Lie and Bad Boy. That was a pretty diverse scene and The Wigs did our best to pluck fans from all genres. Teddy's (now Shank Hall) was our home. Playing The Palms was always exciting, because it usually meant an opening slot for a touring act. The Starship was depressing, but we enjoyed it. Zak's was always fun.
OMC: When you moved to L.A., what did the band think when the Femmes and BoDeans achieved a measure of success. Was there a sense of "Milwaukee pride?" or was it a sense of "That should have been us"?
JC: A measure? They killed. There were actually six bands that got signed to major labels from Milwaukee within two years of us leaving town. We were thrilled for them. The Wigs never bought into local rivalry. I will say that at first we thought it was ironic, but there were probably 50 bands that didn't get deals. Our success or failure had nothing to do with anyone else's. The real irony came when the BoDeans' label turned us down flat,
without even hearing a song, because we were from Milwaukee and they had "already signed a band from there."
OMC: What was it like recording "File Under: Pop Vocal?"
JC: It was intense, wonderful. We were at Madison Street Studios in Waupun 24/7 -- slept on the floor. It's funny looking back at all the people who tried to guide our career, Nick Kuzulka, who produced "FUPV" was probably the only person who actually understood us. We worked with some people who apparently had no idea what band they were dealing with, the choices they made.
OMC: How did the "My Chauffeur" thing come about? What are your two favorite stories from that experience?
JC: The director, David Beaird, approached us after our show at what is now the Viper Room in Hollywood. We pretty much blew him off, because we were constantly getting approached by people who wanted to use our music for no money. But he came to our next show and brought the film's producer with him, so it seemed pretty legit. I have two favorite memories: David fell in love with The Wigs and decided to use eight of our songs in the soundtrack.
They edited the film around some demos that we didn't have the right to license and I got summoned to the office of the chairman of Crown Pictures. I had a nasty flu and a temperature of 102 when I walked in and faced a battery of lawyers and a very unhappy producer. That was my first taste of real business in Hollywood. I went home and vomited. Then, when the film was released, there was a big controversy because "our little film that could" surprised everyone and beat out "The Color Purple" at the box office. That probably got the film more press than it otherwise would have. But in all the reviews, no matter how much they may have slammed the film, everyone gave The Wigs the thumbs up.
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I thought the event was amazing.... The Wigs had people coming from all over the country to spend money in Milwaukee.... How many other Milwaukee acts can say they did that in January? They are by far not the best band...but what they are is one of the most fun audience involving honest rock bands out there....even to this day. THANK YOU!!!!!!
Well, I thought that the show was nothing short of amazing. All musicians provided a terrific performance. Cush, as he always did for so many years, came through with passion and energy that captivated the entire audience, and there were certainly people of all ages in attendance. Marty was fantastic and did the same, and Dr. Bob played bass guitar and keyboard reliably yet mainly inconspicuously in the background. Last but not least, the unbelievably talented Bobby Tews never missed a beat in the background, with Bobby it is easy to forget that he is there because no one ever asked him to stand and be noticed, however I agree with the previous comments that he was absolutely the glue that kept every song together. The gig would have be nothing without Bobby Tews, IMHO. Great job to everyone. Please come back soon!!
My comments were on the GLOBAL state of the arts, not just Milwaukee's. At our busiest, The Wigs could play three to five nights per week in town, and not parked at one club. Does the local market allow that today? It doesn't appear so from the club listings I read. And, I'm extremely grateful for everything that WMSE did for us - we charted higher on their station than Ghost In The Machine our first couple weeks [then those darn Police had to go have a real hit ;) ]. Radio Milwaukee plays a local artist every hour. That's a fantastic investment in the community. Hope everyone enjoyed the show. We had a blast. Peace out.
I remember seeing this band in the early 80's and they were good. Kind of surprised at some of Cush's comments regarding the local music scene and media. Granted there are lots more diversions out there today (internet, video gaming, tons of cable channels) and the drinking age is 21, but I feel the local bands have some consistencies in their numbers over the last 10-15 years. And media exposure over the airwaves hasn't changed that much. Cush, you mentioned Radio Milwaukee but I've heard Wigs songs on WMSE off and on for years and tons of other old and new local bands . And Sandstorm, the Oil Tasters aren't for everybody like many other bands but they were good enough for Henry Rollins to try to reissue that album on his old label about ten years ago.
The opening band was terrible. I've been preaching power pop for quite some time now and the friends I talked into coming to this show were not swayed after seeing the opener. I can't blame them either. Cliche pop covers like "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Lies" sung flat as pancakes and excluding the much needed harmonies and backgrounds? OUCH. Don't do it if you can't do it.
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