Richard Wiegel rides the ‘Magic Wind’

Madison music icon puts out a new CD
Richard Wiegel rides the ‘Magic Wind’
Album cover courtesy of Richard Wiegel
On "Magic Wind," Richard Wiegel sings and plays acoustic guitar on a dozen new songs.

There’s a song on “Magic Wind,” Richard Wiegel’s new solo CD, titled “One Door Closes (Another One Opens).” It nicely captures Wiegel’s own professional circumstance.

In 2015, the Madison singer, songwriter and finger-picking guitarist stepped away, for the most part, from performing live. By then, Wiegel, a Darlington native, had been playing gigs for 50 years.

You want history? Wiegel and his band, The Bowery Boys, played the famous “Wisconsin Woodstock” concert in April 1970 at a Poynette farm. The Grateful Dead was also on the bill.

He was always playing, though the band names changed, as did the venues. As years became decades, Wiegel played on.

“I think I’ve performed as many shows as any musician in Madison,” Wiegel says. The number may be pushing 10,000, though Wiegel doesn’t claim that; he wasn’t counting.

His peers may not know either, but they know talent and grit when they see and hear it. Madison’s eminent country music historian Bill Malone calls Wiegel “the grand old man of Madison music.”

By the mid-1990s, all those shows, many of them rock and roll–Wiegel played electric guitar for 30 years–had taken a toll on his hearing. There was tinnitus–a ringing or buzzing in the ears–and an increased sensitivity to sound.

Wiegel switched to acoustic guitar, and sought quieter venues.

It helped, but by 2015–his 50th year as a professional musician–Wiegel had pared his live performances down to one or two a year. The closing of that door, as his new song says, opened another: Wiegel has been concentrating on writing and recording.

The new CD, with 12 original songs recorded solo by Wiegel with an acoustic guitar, will be launched with a party, 5-7:30 p.m., Dec. 10, at the Harmony Bar.

The Harmony is where a distinguished list of Madison musical artists held a benefit for Wiegel after he suffered a heart in 2005. Nobody had to be asked twice. As Local Sounds magazine said of Wiegel, “He is truly a gentleman and a towering figure in Madison music folklore.”

The list of bands Wiegel played in provides a half-century time capsule of Madison music. The Bowery Boys, who played the Wisconsin Woodstock, became Clicker, and Clicker’s self-titled album was named by Isthmus one of the 25 top pop albums ever recorded in Madison. He followed that with The Swing Crew, Wisconsin Opry and Out of the West with Beverly Jean, among others, including his current roots rock group, The Midwesterners.

Wiegel has worked hard enough at his music that he’s only had two other jobs, each of brief duration: one with the IRS and one roasting coffee beans for Victor Allen.

“I never thought it was hard making a living as a musician,” Wiegel once told me. “But being able to play the music you want to play–there’s the rub.”

On “Magic Wind,” the new CD, Wiegel plays what he wants to play: personal songs, about men and women, the road and life’s small moments that loom large. He recently wrote a song, “She Liked the Wind,” about the end of a relationship, and realized he’d written some half a dozen songs in which the wind factored. They center the new album.

Also of note: Wiegel’s decision to record “Magic Wind” at Madison’s new analog studio, Williamson Magnetic Recording Co. There’s an organic feel to the tracks, a sense that you’re getting the no-frills essence of the songs. Wiegel says he enjoyed the experience to the extent he’s now planning to record a new Midwesterners album at Willy Mag, his nickname for the studio.

“I still do a live show here and there,” he says, and there was one earlier this month, at the Mazomanie Music Conservancy He just picks his spots, like next month at the Harmony.

Come hear Richard Wiegel ride the magic wind.

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.

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