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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘Bass’-ically, the versatile Pat Hibbard of Green Bay, Part 2

Critic At Large

A key cog in Let Me Be Frank Productions

The team of Frank Hermans, left, and Pat Hibbard perform in a Let Me Be Frank Productions show. (Sue Pilz Photography)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Pat Hibbard, taking a step back and looking at what he does with Let Me Be Frank Productions:

“It allows me a lot of room to be creative. I still think you can do that in other jobs. You know, when I was working sales, I could write as much as I wanted to. There just wasn’t an outlet for it. Now I have an outlet to write something down or perform something that’s actually being consumed. That’s really cool.

“Another thing that’s really cool about it is, because of our schedule, for the first time in my adult life I can actually look at a calendar and try to find places to take vacations. That was really hard to do before.

“And the coolest thing – kind of being able to control our own destiny as far as scheduling and just having an outlet for something you create – to put something together that’s going to be produced and consumed is really cool.”

Pat Hibbard is co-writer, co-director and bassist-singer-actor-arranger-editor-and-a-few-more-roles with the Green Bay musical comedy group.

He was interviewed by telephone because of the coronavirus COVID-19. A few days later, he got back with important additions.

“I was actually sidelined for about a year and a half due to being diagnosed with, and treated for, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That was pretty early in my music career. I think I was 19 or 20. 

“Also, please mention that the one constant through my entire entertainment biz journey has been my ultra-supportive wife, Tina. She and I have been together from my very first band all the way through where I am now. We have an amazing family, and that means everything to me. I love that they support my dreams. The fact that I now get to share the stage with my son Zach is another joy.”

With wife Tina, daughter Abbie and son Zach.

To experience a reality check early on has an enduring effect.

“Yeah, cancer is a game changer.”

Pat Hibbard’s game went this way:

“I grew up on a farm. My parents were musicians. My dad played in bands his whole life. My mom was a singer. I knew even when I was a little kid – I remember telling them that I was going to be a musician for a living. That’s what I was going to do. And they supported it.

“I went to school for theater. They supported that. My dad’s exact words were, ‘Theater major? What do we call that now, pre-unemployment?’ But they supported it.

“I remember getting a toy gun as a gift when I was a kid, when you could still get toy guns. I took a piece of bailing twine – because we were on a farm – and I made it into a guitar. I used it as an air guitar and started playing with it. I played with it as a gun, too, but I was able to multipurpose it. So I already knew that’s what I wanted to do.

“I started playing in a band when I was in high school and played into college. I actually left college to go on the road with a band. Back then, we were playing 20 to 25 days a month, which is unheard of nowadays. But we were able to do it.

“Going to back to being a little kid, I knew I wanted to do something in music. Obviously, I’ve had other jobs, too, through all of that, but I’m fortunate enough to be back to working in music and entertainment full time.

“I’m self-taught mostly. My dad sat down at the piano with me when I was a little kid and kind of took me through some basics on piano. He wasn’t really a piano player, either, but he could play and could explain to me a little bit of rudimentary music theory to get me through. I did take a few piano lessons when I0 years old. Wasn’t really my thing, but it did get me started on learning bit of music theory.

“Then in college – theater major, music minor. I took some lessons then and learned some technique vocally, although you’d be hard pressed to see that when you see me sing now.

“But, yeah, mostly self-taught. And you just absorb something from everybody who you play with. I learned a ton just from sitting in, even with my dad’s polka bands back then. You learn a ton from the guys who have been doing this forever. Every time you play with somebody who’s better than you, you learn from them. You go through your bullet-proof arrogance phase where, you know, it’s a competition, and now you get to the point where it’s not a competition anymore, it’s just all about camaraderie and it’s a community. The entertainment community is huge in this area. Everybody’s worked with everybody else.

“I did discover a very interesting, intertwined lineage of musicians I’ve worked with through the past four decades. It’s a real ‘six degrees of separation’ thing, except, there are only one or two degrees.

Eddie Haskel band, from left: Gregg Bushner, Carl Buchanan, Chris Dame, Todd Lent, Pat Hibbard.

“When I was a kid living on the farm, I started out on drums. My brother was a guitar player. My brother ended up destroying my drums, so I took his guitar.

“A few years later, when we actually started a band, my brother played drums and I played guitar, although I was drawn to the bass. Even back then, I wanted to play bass. I wound up on guitar, but bass is what I wanted to do. But I’m from Wrightstown, so there wasn’t a ton of people to draw from to put together this band, and we already had a bass player.

“So I stood up front with a guitar basically as a prop and sang because I didn’t want to stand up there without – I felt naked just standing behind the mike stand. I couldn’t do it. Still can’t.

“So I kind of gravitated toward bass. Played guitar in band for quite a while, got a call from some guys in a band called The Blitz from Green Bay – Kelly Klaus, Tim Pilz, Tony Pilz and Todd Lent. Kelly’s actually our sound guy at Let Me Be Frank’s now, Tony’s our keyboard player.

The Blitz, from left: Pat Hibbard, Kelly Klaus, Tim Pilz, Tony Pilz, Todd Lent. (XFR Productions)

“They were putting a band together and had a bunch of original material written, and they were traveling to Kansas City to record an album at Chapman Studio and wanted me to play bass on their album. And that turned everything.

“I got rid of all my guitar gear and changed it all to bass gear. I was very happy with that move. Just from a professional standpoint and even a financial standpoint, everybody’s looking for bass players. They’re the rare breed. To find a bass player who sings is even more a rare commodity.

“The coolest thing about the bass is, I don’t know, it’s kind of subliminal. If you go see a band and there’s something wrong and you can’t pinpoint – the group doesn’t feel right or you can’t dance – it’s probably something in the rhythm section. It’s the bass and the drums. That’s where the power of the music really is. It comes from rhythm section, from the bass and the drums.

“Bass actually has the power to change the voicing of a chord. If I change my root note, it changes the entire sound of the chord. There’s only one note difference between C-major and A-minor, and I can make that happen just by changing the note that I play on bass.

“I own 24 maybe – 22? Ahhhhh, my wife would probably have a more accurate count. My greatest fear is when I die, my wife will sell my basses for what I told her I paid for them. Probably there are guitars in that collection, too. I have 24 instruments.

“Among the ones I use, I’ve got a Steinberger from the late ’80s/early ’90s with a big No. 1 painted on the front. That’s my favorite instrument. Has been since I bought it. And even though I have a lot of instruments that I use to try and get different sounds, that one always pulls me back. Every time I play it, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why I have this one.’

“But I probably use, in a regular rotation, half of them – about 10 of them for different things. There’s five strings, which gives you a little bit different range. Gives me a lower range. Then I’ve got some instruments that are shorter scale. Give you kind of a thumpier sound maybe. Hollow body. Same thing. Kind of a more broad sound. I’ve got an acoustic instrument. An electric upright bass. Got a ukulele bass, which sounds like a string bass. So everything kind of gives you a different sound – not just to have them to have them, although that’s cool, too.

A bass.
Another, with Maggie Dame.
Another. (Sue Pilz Photography)
Another. (Sue Pilz Photography)
Another, with Kasey Schumacher. (Sue Pilz Photography)

“When we put together shows like the show we’re working on right now, ‘The Frankstones,’ Frank and I were talking about, ‘Is there a bass out there that’s going to look kind of primitive or kind of make one of mine look primitive?’ So there is that for what bass I play.

“I did buy – I shouldn’t say ‘I,’ we bought, the company bought – a machinegun bass that I’ve used on stage in a couple of shows, like ‘The Duck Dynasty.’ And I bought a goofy lime green double-neck bass when we did an ’80s show to kind of make it look more ’80s and more Flock of Seagulls-ish. So, yeah, there’s some cosmetic reasons, too, but those basses kind of fit until I need something that looks like that again because, quite honestly, most of them aren’t very high quality. They just look cool.

“I am a metalhead. I listen to everything from steam metal, death metal, ’80s hair metal. I like the heavier side of music. Always have, going back to ’50s and ’60s stuff – I like the heavier side of that, like ‘Youngblood,’ which we’re doing in the ‘Sputnik Manitowoc’ show (coming up), I always thought of as a heavier rock song. I think Bad Company covered it, too. But things like that – I was always kind of drawn to that.

“I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I like their heavier stuff, like ‘She’s So Heavy’ and ‘Helter Skelter.’ I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to that. I consider myself a metal guy. Although pretty open minded. I like everything I played in country bands, played in polka bands. When you’re into music, if it’s good, it’s good. When I’m in my car, I’m listening to heavy metal.”

Let Me Be Frank Productions band, from left: Adam Cain, drums; Tony Pilz, keyboard; Pat Hibbard, bass; Dennis Panneck, guitar. (Sue Pilz Photography)

Pat Hibbard got into Let Me Be Frank Productions not on Day One, but close.

“I’d known Frank Hermans for a long time. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, I had a talent agency called Direct Hit Productions, and I was working some gigs with Frank’s band, Third and Short. So I knew who he was and talked to him a handful of times.

“Kind of flash forward: He’s part owner of The Sports Corner (in De Pere), where Frank’s Dinner Theater started out. I’m working in radio in sales, and I sold a radio show to The Sports Corner. I think it was with Billy Lyon, the Packer player (defensive tackle, 1998-2002). As the sales rep, I’m required to attend offsite remote things.

“So it’s after work, I show up at The Sports Corner wearing a tie, sitting at the bar. Frank’s behind the bar. And we’re talking. He asks me if I’m still playing, and I said, ‘Yeah, I still play.’ And he was telling me that he was going to do this theater thing and was doing a ’50s show and wanted to know if I would play bass. And I kind of thought, ‘Okay, yeah, a theater show doing ’50s songs in a banquet room above a bar. I better cash in now.’ My first question was, ‘How much does that pay?’ because I was positive ‘It’s a one-and-done. That’s not going to work.’ Well, 20 years later, here we are still doing it.

“I think we all were thinking, ‘We’ll do this and if 50 people come, it’s going to be fantastic. Well, it turned into more and more shows. We started doing two nights at The Sports Corner, then it was two weekends, and then it turned into Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sundays. Then they built the SC Grand (Banquet & Convention Center in the Town of Lawrence), and that took off. We couldn’t do enough shows at the SC Grand. We couldn’t seat enough people. So we ended up at the Meyer (Theatre in downtown Green Bay).

Remembering The Sports Corner era.

“Yeah, it started with me sitting at the bar at The Sports Corner, me wearing a tie, Frank asked me to do a ’50s show. And then I couldn’t shut up at rehearsals and kind of weaseled my way into writing, like a theater major. (Serious voice): ‘You know, you’re doing it wrong. We could do this, we could do this.’ And then I started doing that.

“So then we’d sit around after rehearsals and have a few beers and I’d write down my ideas on bar napkins. That’s truthfully how I started with the company: New. Started writing. We’d jot down ideas on bar napkins when we were sitting around having beers.

“We get so many suggestions now from people who come to the shows because we kind of made our niche trying to tie in something local. We found that if we can put something local into the title, it resonates with people. If we do something about Manitowoc, we get people who drive from Manitowoc. We did ‘Something Stinks in Kaukauna,’ and we got a huge response from Kaukauna, including the paper mill in Kaukauna sent a whole contingent of people to come see our show. So it’s a lot of suggestions from people, but I think the majority of it – 90 percent plus – of the titles comes from Frank.

“Coming up with pieces to play in a show is pretty wide open. When we come up with ideas and we kind of know what genre the music is going to be in and what style, Amy and Frank pick out the majority of the things and the majority of the ideas. Everybody kind of gets to throw in their two cents, looking like a list of suggestions. So we kind of look at it that way – things you’re going to be comfortable doing 20 times for 20 shows.

“My theater background shows up mostly when it comes to staging and blocking. It’s kind of like a formula. It’s scientific the way we put things together. We have so few rehearsals. Thinking back to starting 20 years ago, that part of my theater background has already snuck in there – just putting together the template, I guess you’d call it.

“The biggest thing is almost impossible to teach. Comedy-wise, the timing is the thing we most work with the younger cast members – and even the older cast members. Not that I’m great at it, but I really study that. Like when I said Smothers Brothers, their timing was just amazing. And my favorite comedians, their timing is what sells it.

“I think that’s where my theater thing still comes in, like something could be paced differently. Even when – our shows are supposed to be funny, but, obviously, not everything is a joke – there are parts that are just setting up things. With setups, I think the pace is very important. That comes from my theater background.”

Acting and role-playing and character building, naturally, are part of Pat Hibbard’s theater background. He looks back on some of his characters, starting with the dual roles of Pat Pierce and Pat LaPierre in “Frank Fontaine’s Bandstand USA.”

“Well, Pat LaPierre – I’m just a farm boy from northern Wisconsin, so it’s easy to become a Yooper. Pat Pierce – if you look at that show, it’s almost set up like Let Me Be Frank’s. So Frank is the face of it, and my character was the sidekick. That’s kind of the way it is. It’s not that it’s nearly that narcissistic, and I don’t know what my character would have been – not happy – but it’s not like that. But it’s kind of funny the way that one laid out.

“I like some of the goofy stuff, like Paddy O’Paddy, the character I did in ‘Rattle Those Pots and Pans, Mirro Style’ He just spoke in doubletalk and didn’t say anything. I loved doing that. The characters that have some kind of speech pattern – I love doing that kind of stuff.

“Being Sheriff Smith in ‘The Hodag and Scooby Dude’ was fun. That character ended up having a lisp kind of, and I didn’t tell anybody I was going to do that. I didn’t do it in rehearsals. I just ended up doing it when the curtain opened that night.

“Kasey Schumacher was in the first scene with me. Her character was supposed to be completely stoic. She’s supposed to be non-emotional through the whole thing. I didn’t get her to break, which I thought I was going to get her to do, but I did see in her eyes – when I started doing it – her eyes opened up just a little bit more. It was an affectation that I threw on that guy right when we opened.

“I like my characters to not be the smartest guy on stage. It’s not as easy to play dumb as people think. It’s real easy for me, yes, because it’s who I am. I like playing the dumb characters. I think there’s comedy in that.

A “not the smartest guy” character. (Sue Pilz Photography)

“I think that’s the other thing that’s kind of funny with some people in the cast. Once they’re into it a while, they get over it. But you can play a character that’s unattractive or not smart, and that doesn’t mean you’re not attractive or smart. It’s just adding something to your repertoire. It’s like playing a song in a style that you don’t really like. You can still play it very well, and it adds to your bag of tricks. I like doing things like that. I think a lot of the cast does, too. I think everybody’s up for the challenge.”

Probably a temporary casualty of COVID-19 will be the Let Me Be Frank Productions reception line after shows.

“I like when we get compliments on our writing. A lot of people tell me that they really enjoyed the writing in the show. I get compliments on songs that I sing. Everybody does, but because I do the heavier songs, there’s a certain amount of people in the audience who really enjoy that – like the fact that we’ll do a heavy song in a show that doesn’t have any heavy songs in it.

“I remember two funny ones. After a matinee, I had an older gentleman tell me, ‘The show was so good, I couldn’t even fall asleep.’ Also, a lady had stopped to talk to cast member Lisa Borley. She was just gushing about how amazing Lisa and all the girls’ voices are. The lady then looked at me and said ‘I’m sure you’re probably good also’.”

To close, Pat Hibbard wants this known:

“I just want to thank everybody for supporting us. I mean, there’s no way this should have worked. There’s no way we thought we’d get away with this for 20-plus years and working in the future. That’s big thanks to the people in this community who supported us. And thanks to Frank. It was his idea to try and do this, and it worked.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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