Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Rick Pfeifer is a founding member of the band Mourning Dayze, a local rock band that has been together in some iteration for the better part of the past 50 years. Original members included Pfeifer, Ralph Wells, Steve Ellmann and Doug Henry, while the current lineup consists of Pfeifer, Bob Jenson, Wayne Skau and Pfiefer’s sister, Rise Hedebrand.
The band’s career is chronicled in the recent book “Mourning Dayze: A Wisconsin Garage Band Rockin’ Since 1965,” which is available on Amazon and at the band’s various gigs.
Aside from its longevity, Mourning Dayze is best known for the single “Fly My Paper Airplane,” a song penned by Pfeifer that was played on Chicago’s WLS and WCFL radio in the late 1960s.
A native of Whitewater, Pfeifer is a graduate of UW-Whitewater’s school of social work and has worked in the field of human services since 1984. He lives with his wife, Astrid, and their three cats, and he enjoys walks with his wife, native gardening and working on projects. Pfeifer also currently is learning to speak Norweigian, trying to “keep the lid on top of my head open” and working on being a better person and musician.
For more about Pfeifer and the band, visit MourningDayze.net or search for the band on Facebook.
1. Where does the name “Mourning Dayze” come from? The band was initially called The Coachmen, but we heard there was another band named The Coachmen in Wisconsin, so we decided to change our name. We had bought a hearse for our transportation, and one night as we were on our way home to Whitewater after a late gig in Wausau, we started coming up with names. It was the early hours of the morning with fog and haze in the air. We’d had a couple beers and were in our usual daze for this time of night. We came up with Morning Daze, but we were in a hearse so we decided to use “mourning” instead and decided to spell daze differently.
2. Name a skill you wish you had. Other than being able to negotiate world peace and living completely in the present, I’d love being able to play guitar like Paco de Lucia and dance on fire (playing like Jerry Reed or Django Reinhardt would be OK, too). I’d love to be able to play like I feel and put my heart into sound like these inspiring players.
3. You’ve met some big names in the recording industry. Have you ever been starstruck? As a young player, I was starstruck by local guitarist Sam McCue of The Legends and wanted to be just like him. He was everything guitar and rock ’n’ roll to me—great guitarist, great singer, fantastic stage presence.
4. In the band’s early days, it went from gig to gig in a hearse. What’s the story behind that? Doug Henry was from South Milwaukee, and he used to drive by this used car lot in Hales Corners that had ambulances, fire trucks, buses and hearses. He decided to check it out, and we were surprised to see they only wanted $500 for a used 1957 Cadillac hearse. It had a black exterior and whitewalls, and it still had a receipt for a body that was picked up at the airport. The hearse could fly (80-90 miles an hour, easy) even while pulling our U-Haul-sized trailer loaded with equipment. Many times, when we came up on a vehicle from behind, it would see the hearse and immediately pull over. One time, we were running late for a gig on a highway where it was impossible to pass. I took out the red, blinking light we used while changing tires on the road and put it on the dash. Everyone pulled over, and we weren’t late for the gig.
5. In your experience, what has been the biggest change in the music industry since Mourning Dayze got started? That so much music consumed these days is viewed as a product, formulated and marketed to a demographic by a handful of decision-makers. The fact you can, via a computer, be a successful artist without knowing a thing about how music works often generates music that lacks depth, but it certainly is art. The organic, soulful richness and diversity found on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1965 is long gone.
6. What inspired you to become a musician? The sounds of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry singing and playing guitar on their respective TV shows seemed like the way to go for me. When I heard The Ramrods’ version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the sound of the electric guitar drenched in reverb blew me away. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” and the Don Cossack Choir at age 11 sparked my curiosity and put me on course for a lifelong love and interest in any kind of music I could lay my ears on.
7. You’re trapped on a deserted island. Which five albums would you wish you had with you? 1. Tim Buckley, box set; 2. Albert King, “Live at the Filmore”; 3. Chet Atkins, Family Bear box set; 4. Simone Dinnerstein, “The Goldberg Variations”; and 5. Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue.”
8. What was your first job? I delivered 82 daily papers for The Janesville Gazette. Later in life, my mom would occasionally do my route for me when I had to go to band practice.
9. People would be surprised to learn that I: Dream of playing third base for the Milwaukee Braves.
10. What did it mean to be the “house band” at Alpine Valley? It meant we didn’t have to set up and tear down every night. We had a “regular gig” that allowed us to travel throughout the country without having to be on the road full time. When the amphitheater was built, we had the opportunity to meet many of the national acts touring the country.
11. What’s the secret to keeping a band going for 50 years? There is no secret. Do your best when you’re working, learn as much as you can and have fun. I was lucky to have loving, supportive parents who would do anything to support their kids. I also have been blessed with a talented sister I’ve worked with for nearly 50 years.
12. What is the best musical act you’ve ever seen live? The best live performance I ever saw was George Benson and his band playing a small club just before “Breezin” broke. George and his band that night were really unbelievable. The joy and energy coming off of that stage is something I’ve never forgotten.
13. Are you a Facebook/Twitter/Instragram person, or do you avoid social media altogether? I am not actively involved in using social media. I post the band’s schedule on its web page and on Facebook, but that’s about it. I really should use it more, but I really would rather play guitar or go for a walk.
14. Share one past trend/fad in rock ‘n’ roll music that you wish would find its way back. I’d love the return of the way music was consumed before it became a product. Take a look at Billboard’s Top 100 during the ’60s: There were national hits and regional hits in a marvelously rich and wide variety of styles. I think there is more great, meaningful, soulful and diverse music being made right now than at any other time in our history, but so little is being heard on the radio.
15. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? Make sure my family was taken care of so they would have the opportunity to pursue/explore who and what they are. Real happiness is found inside each of us, not from things or stuff in the material world.
16. All musicians talk about life on the road. In your opinion, what was the hardest part about being on the road as a traveling musician? Having your agent book you in venues you have no business being in. The hardest thing for my sister was her roommate and bass player Vaughn. Vaughn had a love for sardines, and she couldn’t stand the smell of them. She would always make Vaughn eat his sardines outside no matter the conditions. Vaughn has been seen eating a tin of sardines outside in minus-15-degree temperatures.
17. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. At this point in my life, I really don’t think there’s anything I couldn’t live without—now that the Cubs have won the World Series.
18. Do you collect anything? I haven’t collected anything since I stopped delivering newspapers for 35 cents a copy. If you asked my wife that question, you might get another answer.
19. If you could go back and give any piece of advice, about music or life, to your 15-year-old self, what would it be? That practice and exercise works. Early in life, I often thought I could never play at the level of my musical heroes because they put in the necessary work. When I was young, if I couldn’t play things quickly and easily, I would make up some stupid excuse as to why I couldn’t. But it had very little to do with the real reason, which was my lack of knowledge and chops.
20. Share a story from your earlier days with the band that always makes you laugh when you think about it. I always smile when I think of my third-grade choir teacher telling our class that Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll would never last, and that it was just a passing fad. Being sent home from high school because my hair was too long (it touched my ears) is always good for grins, too.