Birthday Boy Rick Tvedt Gives Many Gifts to the Madison Music Scene
Compiled, written, and edited by Teri Barr
Celebrating his birthday at the end of November, Rick Tvedt will keep it low-key this year.
It was not the case for the Madison man in 2012. One of his pet projects, the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) and its yearly awards show, was just months away from its 10th anniversary.
Rick wanted it– he needed it– to be a big deal, and decided to kick off the promotional campaign at a birthday party he threw for himself. He asked some of his favorite musicians to play, and the cost to get in, along with any donations, even birthday money, was given to the MAMAs in support of the June, 2013 show.
If you missed either of these events, you missed some of the best nights for local music.
The MAMAs was what Tvedt hoped the show would be, and much more. The theater at the Overture Center was packed, revealing a truly diverse scene: from long-time U.W. Marching Band Director Michael Leckrone, Frank Sinatra tribute crooner Mitch Henck, Hip Hop artist Tefman, to the now national pop act PHOX. Following the celebration, the musician-side of Rick told me he was especially proud of this particular MAMAs awards show. But the business-side of him was already planning ahead, despite just hitting the important milestone. “There are lots of people responsible for that. But, the financial model really needs to be addressed. We have to find a way to fund this properly. I am holding out hope that the city will get involved. There’s one thing we know for sure and that’s that there will always be a substantial amount of talent on which to base the awards show,” Rick said.
The talent was also quite evident at Rick’s fundraising birthday party just a few months earlier, but one act stole this show. There’d been talk Rick might take the stage. It would be the first time since 2006. And it was, after all, his bash! So, when he finally grabbed a guitar and joined his friends Bob Manor and the Getaway Drivers, the crowd let out a collective cheer. Rick has spent years helping others find an audience for their music. But on this night, this one was there for him. And the joy of it all, was overwhelming.
Click on the link to see the video of Rick, hidden since last year’s event (even he hasn’t seen it!):
Then keep reading for more of a candid conversation with Rick, below. From his musical influence to what he thinks about the music scene, you may be surprised by his responses. And be sure to wish him a Happy Birthday. Though I’ve come to consider him a “gift,” and Madison the lucky recipient.
Teri: Haven’t you been rockin’ since you were able to walk, Rick?
Rick: Almost! I got an acoustic guitar when I was eight and started lessons. My ninth birthday, I got my first electric, an Apollo semi-hollow body. I also play bass and sing. However, I felt I had to prune my collection of twelve guitars down to six, as I’ve not been in a band for more than seven years. I play six and twelve strings but these days mostly pluck on a classical guitar I keep in the living room.
Teri: What sparked such an early interest in guitar?
Rick: My mom was the church organist and they had a choir, too. She had a piano at the house, but that didn’t draw me in. It was her AM radio, a small Hitachi in a brown leather case on top of the refrigerator, where it all began. It’s where I first heard Bob Dylan and I distinctly remember asking who it was and she said, “That’s Bob Dylan; he’s a pill.” I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan – that was another influential moment. I also liked Glen Campbell and watched his television variety show.
Teri: So, now knowing all of this, you were destined to be a performer. How did it actually happen for you?
Rick: My older brother Randy was a phenomenal drummer very early on. He started a band in 1965 with another lifelong music pal of mine, Chris Underwood. There were about five people in Mt. Horeb who had guitars, so this was a big deal. And despite my brother’s protests, Chris asked me to join them.
Thus, the Blue Hornets were born. Every Saturday, my dad would back the car out of the garage so we could set up and practice. It was horrible noise; the equipment was lousy. But we blasted tunes we learned by The Doors, Grand Funk, and Steppenwolf. Kids would come and hang out until their ears started to bleed. The cops would eventually drive up and say, “Enough for today.” Our first real show was at my seventh grade dance. We still have a cassette tape of us playing “Eighteen” by Alice Cooper and a few other songs. It actually doesn’t sound that bad!
Teri: Nice! And to still have the recording of it must be great. Did you keep playing shows?
Rick: I really was an athlete first; played all the sports. Starter on the basketball team, the football team, and I could run really fast so I was a sprinter for the track team. But, sophomore year is when I made a drastic change in my life. I left sports behind to focus on music and also got a job so I could buy equipment. We had a couple of bands that included my younger brother Roly on drums. He also played keys in a band we called Black Suede. But, Monarch was the band that evolved out of it all. I bought a double Marshall stack and mounted a black light butterfly on the top. It was, like, nine-feet tall! Our hair was long and we were playing a lot of Blue Oyster Cult, some Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. We also wrote our first music while in Monarch.
Teri: And this was while you were still in high school?
Rick: Well, the most important thing I may have ever done while in high school, was join the choir. I learned how to listen and what harmony was about. A brand new music theory course was introduced and that expanded my knowledge exponentially. I could read music at eight, so theory was very enlightening.
I spent several years away from Wisconsin after that. Had some bad luck, never got anything going, really.
I returned in 1980 and started a successful solo performance run. I was discovered that way, and the And was the result. That band was very popular and is where I learned recording techniques. If I were more sensible, I would have gone into production, as I am naturally suited to that. But, I wanted to be like Steve Howe (of the band Yes) so I kept it up. I’m very proud of the work I did in the And but, it wasn’t really my musical cup of tea. I did a solo album after the And split in 1989. Then I joined up with old friends for the Sled Dogs. That band was definitely more up my alley; with very challenging music to perform. I took six guitars to every show. We sang like angels and could do gorgeous Neil Young ballads as easily as our own progressive rock material. We put out one album, Salute, in 2002. Very proud of that and the production still impresses me.
Teri: All those efforts also kept you in the area. Why did you come to Madison and decide to stay here?
Rick: I grew up in Mt. Horeb, and when I lived in other places, it never measured up to Madison in terms of its hipness. Those were different times. It’s not that I wanted to stay here, it was that I never achieved my dream of being a professional, and being able to tour and relocate. I always dreamed I’d end up in California. The bus just never pulled up or I would have gotten on! Now that I’m older I realize I would probably have never survived. I was definitely a partier!
Teri: And what do you think of Madison, years after your own band experiences?
Rick: I honestly always found Madison’s music scene to be rather cliquey. There was so much talent all around but it seemed like you only heard of the media pets. After the Sled Dogs I was driven to start my own media outlet to try and change that, open it up, and give more musicians the press they so badly needed. When I was publishing Rick’s Café, I was tremendously humbled by the genuine appreciation musicians had for it. They just want someone to notice and to care, and in many cases this small amount of support goes a long way in providing confidence to achieve the next step. Without that there is often no “next step.” The public generally does not understand the amount of work it takes to keep a musician or band functioning. There are probably thousands of bands that could have been the next Beatles but simply couldn’t persevere. The lack of local press and the still-pervasive clique continues to frustrate me.
Teri: I remember reading Rick’s Cafe’ when we first moved to Madison. It was disappointing to see it end. Local Sounds, which you are involved with, is making the effort to pick up where you left off with Rick’s Café but in an on-line format. And once in awhile you’ll see something in the traditional media, but certainly not often enough. Would the lack of support fall in the bad experience category for you?
Rick: Wow, I could write a book here! But, I am fortunate to have had many thrilling performances with the And. One of my best musical experiences was in high school, however. I played classical guitar but was never that good at it. I would freeze up during some performances. I joined the state honors competition and in the regionals I was in another zone completely. I just nailed it. It was the best performance I’d ever done. I went on to a 1st place finish at State..
Teri: ..not an easy feat! I competed at state on piano and saxophone while in high school. It was always the time to make it or break it..
Rick: ..I still consider it a great experience! The bad always had little to do with music. It’s the perseverance part – the money, the arguments about who is doing what, and the problems at home with being away so much. Occasionally differences in songwriting, but that usually had a satisfactory ending.
Probably the most bizarre thing happened to Monarch in Albany in 1976. We played an outdoor celebration and everyone was drunk, including the police. Afterward, as we were tearing down, we were attacked by girls who were mostly after my brother (the drummer, of course). I saw them sneaking around and told my girlfriend to go get the car. Good thing because they actually gave chase! We dove into her mother’s car in the nick of time as they proceeded to throw themselves on top of it, pounding with their fists and actually causing body damage to the vehicle. As we drove out we saw a cop, obviously drunk and with a local broad in his arms, laughing at us. When the bass player left, the cop followed him and gave him a ticket when he made an illegal turn trying to get out of there.
Teri: The girls chasing you? There’s a rock star moment! But you must be happy now with the efforts of Local Sounds, and you hit a big milestone with the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) and its 10th awards show in June of 2013?
Rick: Um, happy is a difficult word for me. I am most happy when I am helping others. When I was a performer I went through a routine before every show, big or small. It was a meditation, really, and I would tell myself, “Just one person…” meaning, if I could reach just one person, make a difference in their life, touch them in some way – then it was a successful performance.
I could greatly reduce the stress in my life by not doing what I do. But I just don’t seem to be built that way. I want a better world. I don’t see any other purpose in life but to work for that. In a way it is an impediment to happiness, not a route to it. I would be a lot happier if I saw less injustice, less suffering, less hunger. Some say happiness is the road, not the destination. I guess I’m still learning that.
I do get great joy from my family and dearly love my wife and children. I have a strange way of compartmentalizing that; protecting it as best I can while feeling compelled to do service to the rest of the world. Maybe I should see a therapist!
Teri: You must be– you should be– proud of all the things you’ve accomplished, both personally and professionally?
Rick: I am still very proud of Rick’s Café. I really felt I was fulfilling a purpose with that. At the same time it’s one of my greatest disappointments that it couldn’t continue financially.
I am very proud of all three of my children; they are wonderful human beings and I’m sometimes dazzled by that. I believe the professional achievements I will be most proud of haven’t happened yet.
Teri: Great way of thinking! But, with your experiences, what do you tell others who want to go into the music business? It’s all so different now, too..
Rick: ..going into the music business is very different from going into music, which every child should do. Music is like learning a language. It is extremely fulfilling, and instills confidence, teamwork, and self-esteem. Everyone should have music in their life as it can provide escape from an uncaring world. It’s a magic card you hold in your pocket.
The music biz is a minefield, however. If you want to be in the music biz you have to have two main things: a summary knowledge of how the business works, which is in constant flux, and a single-mindedness of purpose. Most “artists” want nothing to do with the first part. You can’t be wishy-washy if you want to be successful. You’ll have to sacrifice a lot of things. You have to be completely driven. Somewhere along the line you’ll have to place your trust in someone and they are very likely to let you down or even rip you off. You’ll likely sacrifice personal relationships. Few are cut out for the music biz, really, and the chances are astronomically stacked against you. You can achieve a certain amount of satisfaction at a lower level without sacrificing your creativity, but it will not support you. You’ll have to multitask and that can be even more soul-crushing. Not a pretty picture, eh? But if it ends up being a conversation I have to have with my own children, it is going to be brutally honest!
Teri: Continuing with the brutally honest theme, what is your real job these days?
Rick: I have a degree in business and am a CPA. So really, both sides of my brain are maxed out!
Teri: And music, especially the important work you do with the MAMA’s, will always be something you are involved with here?
Rick: I want the MAMA’s and the awards show to continue, so I am working on what amounts to a succession plan. It’s hard work getting people to care, and even after 10 years, we haven’t been able to get enough financial support. The next step is to develop a grantwriting process. It all comes down to human resources, however.
I also have a large idea to develop the Madison Music Museum, a Hard Rock Café-style facility that is a restaurant and an archive. I am interested in preserving and documenting Madison’s musical history and this is also part of the mission of Local Sounds, so it would be a great partnership.
And then, there’s the three screenplays that have been in my head for far too long. I need to address that; time is running out!