2011 - Band
Band Members: Carl Thompson, Erik Berg, Mark Stumme, Paul Butler, Dan Shatek
Midnite Express came out of Decorah in the early 1970’s. The three-piece band was designed to give the group the ability to earn good money while fitting everything into one vehicle. Band leader Carl Thompson, said, “We wouldn’t play for less than $100 per person, pretty good money for those days.” By keeping the band at three pieces, the rate was manageable for the bars and nightclubs where Midnite Express appeared.
The band featured all three members on vocals - Thompson on bass, Mark Stumme on lead guitar and Erik Berg on drums. Working day jobs and playing up to five nights a week, they went on to play for another 20 years. They performed at weddings, dances, private parties, lounges and ballrooms throughout Northern Iowa, Southern Minnesota and Southwest Wisconsin including such places as Matters, Nob Hill, The Inwood at Spillville, Red Fox in Waverly and Bennington’s Lounge in Clear Lake .
Carl Thompson began his musical career in 1958 playing lead guitar in a band named the RocknBops. He and several friends were playing at a high school sock hop in his hometown of Ridgeway when he was asked to join that band. Forming another band, the Ernie Brevig Trio, the group hit the road playing gigs from Illinois to North Dakota to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula . Working with Chicago agent Ray Ahler, the band featured folk music sets and a classical piece or two.
Carl switched to bass in the late 60’s. He played an upright bass and had already decided that rock and roll was his thing. In the early 70’s he decided to customize his bass. He bought a Fender Mustang for the neck, a Jazz Master for the body and added custom pickups and a fifth string; shortening the neck scale due to his short fingers. Inspired by the song “Pretty Woman”, he was able to play it on his new bass without having to travel all over the neck for all the chord changes. He was ready for Midnite Express. To this day, that bass and that song are part of the band’s signature.
Although the band officially retired in 1994, they continue to get together for special events and have played five IRRMA events in Tipton, Decorah and Riverside . The band members have an amazing ability to play almost continually during their performances, barely stopping between the songs. Deciding to play no songs newer than 1970 has made them a crowd pleaser.
According to Carl, the band always operated with the three-song rule. “We would play similar songs in groups of three and folks who knew the band were comfortable that they would not have to rush off the floor after the first song because the next one would be in pretty much the same musical vein. If the floor was full, Mark would do a little lead riff,” I’d turn to Erik and we’d move into another song,” he explained.
Midnite Express characterizes it repertoire as recognizable and danceable and if someone brought a song to rehearsal that did not meet those to criteria, the band didn’t use it. The evening’s entertainment and set list was designed for the crowd, keeping them on the dance floor. Their goal was to come on hard and leave hard. To this day, nothing has changed. For their resiliency, talent and longevity, Midnite Express is inducted into the IRRMA Hall of Fame 2011.