Nights at The Office

Do you remember the first club you went to, the one that got you hooked on live music?

Mine was The Office. It was an old neighborhood bar next to the downtown fire station in Wausau, Wisconsin. The Office had a tiny stage, and it booked local acts. This was 1976, 1977.

I don’t recall how I wound up at The Office the first time, but I suspect my friend Joe had something to do with it. Joe always was there to help expand my horizons, whether I wanted them expanded or not, whether it was legal or not. Those nights at The Office often had as many beers as laughs. Some nights, it got pretty drunk out. Joe is still my friend, though.

We went to The Office several times, always to hear the same guy, Pat Houlihan, a good-natured hippie folk singer with long, curly hair. Pat was from Stevens Point, a nearby college town.

Pat introduced me to the joys of live music and to the music of John Prine, which he covered. I’m forever grateful for both. John Prine is an American treasure.

A while back, I got to thinking about Pat, wondering what he’s up to these days. I googled him and found him fairly quickly. I dropped him a note and we had a pleasant e-mail exchange.

Turns out Pat is not all that much older than I am. He seemed way older than us at the time. Turns out we had mutual acquaintances back then. Turns out we both went into journalism and writing, me to newspapers, Pat to teaching.

Pat recalls those nights at The Office as “some of my seminal solo gigs.”

And, as it turns out, Pat continues to perform. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from central Wisconsin, and he’s been in the Watermelon Mountain Jug Band since the early 2000s. The band plays a good-natured mix of “jug band, ragtime, country and bluegrass music with some rock ‘n’ roll or a Spanish ranchera added for spice.”

Pat graciously sent me the band’s CD, for which he wrote six songs. This one, about people’s quirks and quirky people, is my favorite. It’s the one that most reminds me of Pat’s gigs at The Office — lighthearted, like the Prine songs he covered.

“Slow Car,” Watermelon Mountain Jug Band, from “Old Dog New Tricks,” 2004 (re-released in 2011). Buy the CD directly from the band here.

After hearing Pat play at The Office all those years ago, I immediately went out and got the John Prine album that had some of the songs Pat covered. “Sweet Revenge” has been one of my faves for all these years. Here’s one of the songs Pat covered. It made me laugh then, and it makes me laugh now.

“Dear Abby,” John Prine, from “Sweet Revenge,” 1973.

The Office is gone now, torn down to build a new police station next to the fire station, but the memories of Pat and Prine (and Pabst) remain.


Filed under April 2007, Sounds

2 responses to “Nights at The Office

  1. Jeff,

    Enjoyed your column, I hadn’t thought about the Office in some time. Those were fun times. Pat Houlihan is a far better memory, than some of those with the other Pat. You couldn’t have picked a better gig for yourself.


  2. Shark

    I enjoyed a local band that played at area schools and other venues in Southwest Wisconsin back in the mid to late 1970’s. The band had a couple of different names, most notably “Clicker” and “The Tracy Brothers Band.” They featured Steve Tracy on bass guitar, Cubby Tracy on drums, Dick Wiegel on lead guitar, and Ron Page on keyboards. “Clicker” covered a lot of Paul McCartney and ELO songs and not just their hits, which prompted me to get the albums “Wings at the Speed of Sound” and ELO’s “A New World Record.” They also put on a great light show. I still have two albums they released, “Clicker” and “Hardy Har Har Har.” Both got some airplay on a couple of local FM radio stations, possibly from personally visiting the stations and convincing the late night DJ to play it.

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