Mike Hoffmann, “legend” of Milwaukee music scene, dies at 67


For John Sieger, Mike Hoffmann was more than a valued member of their Semi-Twang group.

“The first time we recorded together I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is magic,’” Sieger said.

“He was like a ray of sunshine, always positive,” Sieger continued. “He gave you more confidence than you thought.”

Hoffmann certainly had a magical touch, becoming one of Milwaukee’s most prolific and accomplished musicians.

He has performed in four local groups that have won national recording contracts: Yipes !, E * I * E * I * O, Semi-Twang and Carnival Strippers. He has been a contributor, producer and engineer to several albums by renowned local artists also released by labels including Willy Porter, Paul Cebar, the Spanic Boys and Violent Femmes co-founder Victor DeLorenzo.

He played bass for Marshall Crenshaw on tour and opened gigs for Lou Reed, The Clash, Cheap Trick, The Replacements, Wilco and other major bands. He has recorded albums overseen by renowned producers such as Nick Lowe, Mitchell Froom (Paul McCartney), Chris Thomas (The Beatles, The Sex Pistols) and Jerry Harrison, a native of Milwaukee and a member of Talking Heads. He has recorded with Herb Alpert, T-Bone Burnett, KD Lang and legendary drummer Hal Blaine, among other well-known names.

And he was inducted twice into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Hall of Fame, as of October 17 with Semi-Twang. To commemorate the occasion, Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed October 16 “Semi-Twang Day” in Milwaukee, the night of their last full set, at Shank Hall.

On October 24, Hoffmann died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism, Sieger said. He was 67 years old.

“It was so easy to record with him. All he did was cheer you on, all he did was uplift you,” said Peter Strand, Chicago entertainment lawyer. , who played bass in Yipes! and had been Hoffmann’s best friend since the age of six. (On Facebook, they called each other “brother”.)

“His guitar was an orchestra. He played roles you never would have thought of,” Strand said. “One of the reasons I liked the relationship so much was that I felt really good in who I was when I was with him.”

The power pop group Yipes!  performed in 1981 with (left to right) Andy Bartel on guitar, Pat McCurdy on vocals, Pete Strand on bass and Mike Hoffmann on guitar.  Teddy Fresse (not pictured) played the drums.

Born in Brookfield in 1954, the youngest of three children, Hoffmann was inspired by the Beatles to pick up a guitar at the age of 13, learning to play alongside his friends Strand and Pat McCurdy.

“(Hoffmann) is incredibly funny. He could have been a stand-up or an impressionist, ”said McCurdy, an accomplished Milwaukee musician himself noted for his humorous catalog. “There was never a person who was more fun to spend time with.”

A few years later, while in high school, the three friends were part of their first band together, Rory Slick and the Roadsters, influenced by Sha Na Na from the movie “Woodstock,” Strand said.

“We were really the beneficiaries of the time,” Strand said. “There were dances (from the Catholic Youth Organization) and youth dances and church dances and college dances and high school dances. We played a lot and you get good or you get out. I don’t know how good we are, but we were too stubborn to go out.

Even after graduating from Brookfield East, Hoffmann continued to play music with Strand and McCurdy, while the two studied at the University of Wisconsin. Hoffmann visited McCurdy every Thursday in Madison to record songs on McCurdy’s tape recorder, and he performed with Strand in a modified version of the Roadsters, renamed Slick, which became popular in Madison.

In October 1977, the trio – with guitarist Andy Bartel and drummer Teddy Freese – tasted the highlight with Yipes !, a power pop group inspired in part by Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick.

Performing 300 concerts his first year, Yipes! developed a solid reputation for its electric shows, ultimately culminating in an arena concert opening for Foreigner in Cleveland. They released two albums on Millennium Records via RCA – “Yipes!” in 1979 and “A Bit Irrational” in 1980 – and songs ended up on the radio, before being dropped and disbanded in 1981.

Yep!  in action: Andy Bartel (left), Teddy Freese, Pat McCurdy (foreground), Pete Strand and Mike Hoffmann.

Nonetheless, Hoffmann continued to perform with McCurdy as part of his “Men about Town” lineup in the early 1980s, where he honed his engineering and production skills (and was able to perform on “Star Search”).

“He was one of those people who has such a strong musical instinct to not be trained,” McCurdy said. “Anyone can jam, anyone can make noise, but he was able to do guitar solos that you remember, which were as important as the melodies. “

After working with McCurdy, Hoffmann co-founded the cowpunk band E * I * E * I * O in 1983 – releasing two albums on the national Frontier Records label – before focusing on Semi-Twang with Sieger before releasing their debut album “Salty Tears” on Warner Bros. Records in 1988.

“Mike and I would work overtime,” Sieger said as he wrote demos for the Americana album before the rest of the group – including Mike Sieger, Bob Schneider and Bob Jennings – fleshed out the songs. “This is where I really understood how fast he was working. It didn’t take long for him to learn a song and figure out how to make it into something cool.”

“Being in the studio was a great experience. It felt like we were in good hands,” Sieger continued. “I felt like it was my best job I’ve ever done, and it had a lot to do with it.”

When “Salty Tears” failed commercially and Semi-Twang was disbanded, Hoffmann quickly bounced back into local band Carnival Strippers, which signed with Fox Records and landed a song in the 1993 action movie. ” Speed ​​”. He also contributed to Victor DeLorenzo’s 1996 solo album “Pancake Day” and was part of the touring group behind the project, which led to a brief stint on bass for Crenshaw when the groups toured on the west coast, Strand said.

The 90s was also when Hoffmann became a popular local producer and engineer, producing the father-son folk group “Strange World” and “Dream Your Life Away” by the Spanic Boys for Rounder Records in the early 90s, and Willy Porter’s career-establishing album “Dog Eared Dream” released in 1994.

“Thank you Mike Hoffmann for bringing out the best in everything you touched…,” Porter wrote in a tribute to Facebook. “I have never met someone with such incredibly diverse and useful chops combined with truly selfless musicality.”

In the early years Hoffmann briefly brought E * I * E * I * O together and helped collect items for the “Les Paul’s House of Sound” exhibit at Discovery World. Then in 2009, Semi-Twang reunited, performing together frequently over the following years and self-releasing three more albums – “Wages of Sin” in 2011, “The Why and What For” in 2013 and “Kenosha” in 2019 – with Hoffmann producing the first two, Sieger said.

“The first time we rehearsed it was like we did something last week and it’s been 20 years,” Sieger said. “There was always the chemistry and the vibe … and (Hoffmann) kind of took care of it and made everyone happy.”

SOUND29, fea, adp, 1 of 4 - Members of Semi-Twang from left, Jason Klagstad on guitar, Mike Sieger on bass guitar, John Sieger on guitar, center, Mike Hoffmann on guitar, Bob Jennings on keyboard, far right and Bob Schneider on drums, back left, at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel studio on Wednesday, March 21, 2012. Angela Peterson/apeterson@journalsentinel.com

Yep! also reunited in 2013, the year they were inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Hall of Fame. A few tours followed and Hoffmann produced a self-released reunion album, “Yipes !!!” in 2018.

“Working with someone I’ve known since I was 13, I tried to impress him all the time,” McCurdy said. “I think I sang the best song I’ve ever sung (‘Blink of an Eye’) in a small closet in her home studio.… It was probably the biggest musical part of my career in terms of ‘registration.”

Between these and other bands – including playing in rock band Delta Routine and with BoDeans co-founder Sam Llanas in recent years – Shank Hall owner Peter Jest suspects Hoffmann of playing in more bands in his 32-year-old East Side club than any other. musician.

“He was really good at what he did to be in all of these bands, and the people who mixed and recorded in his studio loved him too,” Jest said. “The fact that he was so busy shows just how talented he really was.”

And the wave of tributes on social media from former collaborators and friends this week shows how much loved Hoffmann was on the Milwaukee music scene.

“I lost my best friend and musical partner Mike Hoffmann”, DeLorenzo wrote on Twitter. “I am broken beyond words.”

And veteran of the Milwaukee music scene Chris Vos, frontman of Los Angeles-based Grammy-nominated blues rock trio The Record Company, wrote on Facebook that Hoffmann was “one of the greatest friends, heroes and influences that I never had the honor. awareness.”

“Mike, you taught me that song matters first. That being a great person is as important as being a great musician,” Vos wrote. “You taught me how to make a real record. How to listen with my heart, with perspective, with depth. You taught me to love myself with my music.”

“Mike was a giant in the community,” Vos continued. “The coolest of the cool. The most soulful of the touching.… You are a legend.”

Hoffmann is predeceased by his parents Janet and Fred Hoffmann and is survived by his older sisters Sue Palmquist and Judy Martine. There will be one or more events celebrating Hoffmann’s life, Strand said, but details have yet to be finalized.

Mike Hoffmann performed with Semi-Twang in 2011 for the "Wages of sin" album release show.

Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook on facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.

Piet also talks about concerts, local music and more on “TAP’d In” with Evan Rytlewski. Listen to it at 8 p.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9) or wherever you get your podcasts.


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