Pat McCurdy's mother wanted to raise a well-rounded child. He had to play the piano and could not quit. Then, when he was in junior high, a relative left the country. He gave McCurdy a Yamaha gut-string guitar and said, "Why don't you play with this while I'm gone?"
"Oh, I couldn't put it down," McCurdy says.
Now, crowds throughout Wisconsin, Minneapolis and Chicago gather to interact with his one-man music and comedy show. They come for originals, such as "Sex and Beer," "Screw You" and "Our Song of Love." They come for revised pop songs from the '80s and '90s. And "Paddy Virgins" (newcomers to his act) are entitled to individual "lap songs" for no extra charge.
Never with a set list, often dancing and singing with crowds, McCurdy has a charismatic stage presence. His interaction with fans is the centerpiece of his shows. He can do Ludacris in a country twang, sing a Gregorian chant or mimic an American Idol. He is tightly synced with his soundman, "Pipe Jim" Schaufelberger, cueing him to play the Temptations, Madonna, the "Hokey Pokey" or the Chariots of Fire theme song.
For the past 18 years, McCurdy has aimed to entertain his Midwest "family" with an acoustic guitar, a 900-song repertoire and a quick wit. Based in Milwaukee, he plays over 300 shows a year, sometimes three shows a day in three cities. In Madison, he performs every Tuesday night at the Regent Street Retreat.
McCurdy finds a solo career more rewarding than his early days with his old band, "YIPES!," even though they had a record deal in the early '80s.
"It's been so gratifying to me that I got that longevity," he says. "I could never have done this well having a record label. I was signed to a record label when I was 20 years old, and I hated every minute of it. We made two albums for RCA and then got dropped. And it was horrible how we were treated. We had no control at all. We didn't even own our songs. We didn't own anything. It's an awful business."
Even with a family and the intense touring, McCurdy finds time to write new songs.
"A couple times an idea struck him during a ride," says his manager, Brian Murphy. "He has pulled his guitar from the back of the truck at a rest area or a Kwik Trip and written a song on the spot."
McCurdy has recorded a new album under his Magnificent Records label. It's slated to come out later this year.
As for the old guitar?
"It's all smashed to pieces," he says. "You couldn't play it, but I still have my guitar."