Two guitars, bass and drums. The raw ingredients of a band. Small enough to fit inside a roadside Wisconsin tavern. Big enough to fill the hall and rock the house.
The Midwesterners is the brain child of Madison songwriter and guitarist Richard Wiegel. Back in 1991, after years of guitar-slinging in one band after another, Wiegel was determined to satisfy his own need for a no-nonsense blend of rock and country. With access to his pick of musical talent and a collection of original songs that ran the gamut from blues to twang to hillbilly and all points in between, Wiegel recorded the eponymous The Midwesterners.
Isthmus called it, "Brainy honky tonk." Rockzilla World noted the, "subtle, easy glide style of slide guitar", and credited Wiegel as, "One of the better songwriters in this genre."
Along with other musical projects, the core of players that recorded the first Midwesterners CD helped to keep the band alive over the next decade. In 2000 the same line-up recorded a second collection of Wiegel originals on a release titled Pretty Little Town.
The Onion dubbed the sophomore outing "rollicking Americana." Maximum Ink called it "true to form, winding through descriptive and often autobiographical lyrics."
After Pretty Little Town, Wiegel began assembling a road-ready band that could capture the spirit of The Midwesterners originals, as well as songs from an earlier era when rock and country were closer cousins. Along with original drummer Mark Haines, Wiegel recruited guitarist and singer Ernie Conner, and upright bassist Tom McCarty.
In 2004 The Midwesterners were nominated for a MAMA (Madison Area Music Awards) in the Best Country Band category. The same year Wiegel received nominations for Best Acoustic Artist and Best Acoustic Album based on his solo CD Out of the Blue, a collection of traditional finger-style guitar tunes.
In early 2005 the band began work on a new CD with plans to release it that summer. Wiegel brought in a collection of songs inspired by an early musical hero, Chuck Berry. Though plans had to be put on hold while Wiegel recovered from a heart attack, in May of 2006, less than a year later, Ridin' With Chuck hit the Madison airwaves.
Tom Laskin described it as "refreshingly straight ahead. 'a perfect chemistry' stands out in a very crowded roots-rock marketplace." Rick's Cafe found it "hard to imagine(a band)that blends early rock and roll, genuine country influences and honky-tonk so successfully."
And since the release of Ridin' With Chuck, fans have balloted The Midwesterners into contention for Best Country Band in the Isthmus, Best-of-Madison Readers? Poll.
And why not? The Midwesterners keep it authentic and straight ahead, creating a vital link to rock and country's past with just the basic ingredients: two guitars, bass and drums.
Quotes from local magazines
The Onion dubbed the sophomore outing (Pretty Little Town) "...rollicking Americana."
Maximum Ink called it "...true to form...winding through descriptive ...autobiographical lyrics."
Isthmus said, "Brainy honky tonk."
Rockzilla World noted the, "...subtle, easy glide style of slide guitar...," and called Weigel, "One of the better songwriters in this genre."
Ridin' With Chuck-local sounds
THE MIDWESTERNERS - Ridin' with Chuck
It's hard to imagine a more authentically American band than the Midwesterners, or one that blends early rock-and-roll, genuine country influences and honky-tonk so successfully.
Ridin' with Chuck is the first Midwesterners album to feature new members D. Ernie Connor and Tom McCarty and the smooth factor has increased significantly. John Chimes guests on piano and brings his usual touch of class and southern style, adding an extra dimension that you don't get at a Midwesterners show, particularly on "Best Years." Chimes would make an excellent choice as a permanent member of the band.
The rhythm section of Mark Haines and McCarty is tight as nails. The stripped-down simplicity of Haines' vintage kit is a testament to his versatility as a player and that snare drum is to die for. McCarty is right there in the pocket and in live performance this guy is a blast to watch with his snow-white stand-up bass and his effortless delivery.
The guitar work of Connor, who also plays with the Rousers, and that of Richard Wiegel is seamless and wonderfully understated. When it comes to tasty lead guitar licks, Wiegel is tops. He's also at the top of his game, bouncing back from a serious heart attack a year ago to produce his best batch of songs yet, though some of them date back a number of years. His phrasing and string-bending abilities are a joy but it's his sheer unadulterated tone that is so appealing.
Wiegel also writes some pretty clever lyrics, harkening back to good times of Studebakers and low-level mischief. No sad songs here; "Keep the Dance Floor Full," "If it's Bad Why Does it Feel So Good," "Roll with the Punches" and "I'm Your Daddy's Worst Nightmare" are fun loving and full of trademark quips. Several songs are centered on cars, and it wouldn't be too surprising if every track referred to a car in some manner. "Rusted Custom Ford," Studebaker," Keep Your Motor Oiled" and "Ridin' with Chuck" define the archetypical American feeling of freedom that comes from being behind the wheel of a cruiser on a summer day with the top down and the radio on and, in this case, tuned to Chuck Berry. There is no doubt that music has been Wiegel's GPS and moral compass throughout his life.
Most of the songs are short and sweet, clocking in at just over two minutes with the focus on the vocals and Connor's harmonies. But when the guitar licks fly things really get fun.
Ridin' With Chuck-Isthmus review
Isthmus May 12, 2006 Vol. 31 No. 19
'Ridin' With Chuck' (Darlingtone)
The Midwesterners chief singer and songwriter, Richard Wiegel,
sticks closely to roots-rock tradition on 'Ridin' With Chuck'. The
title cut's a reference to Chuck Berry; indeed, it borrows it's
structure and a couple classic guitar riffs from Berry's oft-covered
tale of six-string-slinging sainthood, "Johnny B. Goode." But even if
the Midwesterner's sources are familiar (a lot of '50's rock and
rockabilly, a little twang, some blues), their execution of each track
is so smooth, easygoing and, in most cases, swingin' that you'd never
dream of knocking them for reveling in Americana. They've got a feel
for this music, a deep one. When Wiegel and fellow guitarist D. Ernie
Conner pick some honky-tonk-flavored blues during "If It's Bad Why Does
It Feel So Good" or the band slows things down for an ambling,
countrified cover of Berry's "Roll With The Punches", it's impossible to
resist their amiable vibe.
Both Wiegel and Conner's preference for a round, distortion-free
guitar tone and the band's simple, lockstep rhythm arrangements
contribute to the music's power. Wiegel's singing style is also
refreshingly straight ahead. But something else helps the
Midwesterners' nods to rock and country's past seem vital. Maybe it's
that they don't strain to be hard-edged and gritty. Maybe it's that
they've achieved a perfect chemistry among themselves. Whatever it is,
it makes this CD stand out in a very crowded roots-rock marketplace.
Kiki Schueler article
The Midwesterners bring roots rock to the Harmony Bar
First stop on the MadisonMusicProject.com Charter Club Tour features the elder statesmen of the Madison scene
Kiki Schueler on Friday 04/27/2007 07:04:01, (1) Comment
A Madison institution, the charming Harmony Bar may be the last venue in the country without a website. They rely on a dedicated fan base and word-of-mouth to advertise their shows, though they did just start a MySpace page to fill the void until they get a site up and running. They just barely beat The Midwesterners to it, as lead singer/guitarist Richard Wiegel admitted to me during a recent interview. The Midwesterners play the first stop on the Madison Music Project Charter Club Tour at the Harmony on Saturday night at 9:45 p.m.
"I just set up a MySpace page for the band last week," he said. "It used to be that you spent thousands setting up a web page, now you can do it for free."
That's not all that has changed in the 40 some years that Wiegel has been a Madison-area musician. "Back in the '70s and '80s, you could play four nights a week in Madison and make a living, you can't do that anymore," he said, explaining that the Midwesterners only play about 30 shows a year, focusing on rooms like the Harmony and the Brink Lounge. They have also been fortunate enough to get the opening slot on several Barrymore shows, most recently appearing with Marcia Ball earlier this month.
These are some of Wiegel's favorite rooms to play and the band has been recording their gigs in hopes of eventually compiling a Midwesterners' "live" CD. This will likely be the band's next release, following last year's well-received Riding With Chuck. That would be Chuck as in Berry, not Norris. Wiegel has always been influenced by Berry and the tracks on this record reflect that affection, including one Berry original "You Never Can Tell." In addition to the proposed live record, Wiegel hopes to put out another solo record eventually, "if I can find the time to write the songs."
The band that played on that record is also the current touring line-up, and includes Mark Haines on drums, Tom McCarty on bass, and D. Ernie Conner on guitar in addition to Wiegel. John Chimes, who Wiegel calls a "world class musician" and one of his favorite local performers, guests on piano. Even though the Midwesterners self-titled first record came out in 1991 and featured both Haines and Wiegel, they have only existed as a touring band for the past five years.
That makes them the elder statesmen of Madison's roots rock scene. Wiegel describes newer bands in that broadening genre, such as Dear August and Earl Foss' Brown Derby, as "being young at it." While Madison has a jazz society and a folk society, he admits that there isn't a roots rock society, which presents some challenges in keeping track of the local scene.
In fact, while Madison has a vibrant music scene, there is no one genre that dominates it, which a passing glance at the MMP directory should make rather evident.
Recent Summer Performances
New Glarus Music Fest 2012
Mazomanie Concerts at Lake Marion 2012
Mt. Horeb Wednesday Night Live - 2007
Darlington Tunes at Twilite - 2008/2012
Warner Park Summer Concert Series Madison 2008/2009
Delavan Fire Dept. 4th of July Festival 2010
Evansville Concerts on Lake Leota - 2008/2010
Baraboo Concerts on Downtown Square - 2008/2009
Fitchburg Summer Concert Series -2009
Atwood Summerfest Madison 2007/2008/2010/2012
Orton Park Fest Madison 2008/2013
Willy St. Fair Madison 2011
Monona Convention Center Rooftop Series 2006/2007/2008
Sauk Co. Fair Baraboo 2008/2009
Iowa Co. Fair Mineral Pt. 2008
Taste of Portage 2008/2012
Middleton Good Neighbor Fest 2008/2009
Cottage Grove Fireman's Festival 2008/2009/2010
Bratfest Madison 2006/2009
Sauk City Summer Concert Series 2009
Jefferson Summer Concert Series 2009
Reedsburg Concerts in the Park 2010/2011/2012
Monroe Balloon Rally 2009/2010/2011
Monroe Concerts on the Square 2010
Wisconsin Dells River District Concerts 2010/2011
Sun Prairie Concerts in the Park 2011
Poynette Street Festival 2011