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Monday, Jan. 12, 2009

The Wigs

Powerful old-school pop

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The Wigs are remembered by music fans of a certain age, but a younger generation in love with their genre will want to cock an ear. Popular in Milwaukee during the early '80s, The Wigs were with the first wave of local power-pop bands, breaking ground for later groups such as The Blow Pops, Trolley and The Lackloves. The Wigs' 1981 LP FileUnder: Pop Vocal, with its propulsive beat and jangly bittersweet songs, has been remixed and reissued on CD. They are returning to Milwaukee for a single show.

Power-pop was a newly minted term when The Wigs debuted in 1980, even if Cheap Trick and Yipes had already perfected their own combination of the crackle of hard rock and the snap of pop melody. "It was slow-going finding our audience at first," says guitarist Jim Cushinery. "Rockers thought we were punk and punks probably found us a bit mainstream."

Leaving for Los Angeles after their crowded 1982 gig at Summerfest, The Wigs landed in the company of pop-rock acts such as 20/20 but were soon muscled out of the clubs by the likes of Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe. They appeared in the comedy movie MyChauffeur and contributed songs to the soundtrack. CBS put them in the studio. When their A&R rep was fired, the curtain fell.

But Cushinery and guitarist Marty Ross, the band's songwriters, have had little trouble finding work in Los Angeles, especially in movie and TV soundtracks. Between them their credits include "E.R.," Mod Squad, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," "Days of Our Lives," "Dawson's Creek" and "7th Heaven." Ross has also produced and mixed video game soundtracks. Drummer Bobby Tews moved back to Milwaukee and into bluegrass. Bassist Bob Pachner became a doctor.

"My feeling is that The Beatles laid claim to about 35% of the great melodies written for the [power-pop] genre," Ross says. "Anybody modern who can come out with a melody and get it well known is good news for the form."

Since The Wigs hung it up in the '80s, the definition of power-pop has hardened, at least in the minds of musicians clustered around the International Pop Overthrow (IPO) music festival. "I've found that many of the bands who fit the IPO guidelines seem to have adopted 'Penny Lane' as their paradigm," Cushinery says. "I like to think that the thing separating The Wigs from other bands was that we never lost sight that Paul McCartney also wrote 'Helter Skelter.'"

The Wigs perform Saturday, Jan. 17, at Shank Hall.