A businessman running an Edward Jones
branch office by day and working as a sought-after professional musician by night, Jeff Yantz
– known locally as Mr. Happy – seems to have found the formula to balance family, work, and music.
“I just think it's the joy of balancing your life,” Yantz says. “Everyone wears different hats and I think that there's a way. Why can't a financial adviser play music out at night? Then also have a family and do that? To me that's one of the beautiful things about where we live and how we live. It's great. I don’t have to say, ‘I’m just this
For Yantz, the balancing began in his first act as a burgeoning songwriter, going away to college, and not being able to bring his drum kit.
“Unluckily for my brother, but luckily for me, his girlfriend broke up with him and she had bought my brother a guitar. It was a Picador – I remember the name brand. It was one of those (where I was) probably taking advantage of a bad situation, but I was like, ‘Hey, you probably don't want that, do you Mike?’ He was like, ‘No!’ ‘Fantastic! I'm taking it to college.’ “
There has been talk of the One Trick Ponies reuniting for a performance.
At the time, the 1986 John Glenn graduate was a drummer The Hitman and Steve. The band included classmate Chad Cunningham on guitar and their mutual friend, Steven Klee, on bass.
Even then, Yantz was balancing work and music. On weekdays, he was in class. On weekends at Central Michigan University, he locked himself in his dorm room to record.
“I couldn't afford a four-track cassette player, but I used to rent them from Cooks Music in Mount Pleasant for the weekend. They didn't usually (rent them), but they were kind enough to do it for me. It was one that was on the floor, a Ross. I would just geek out for the weekend knowing I only had it for so much time, like training myself thinking about studio time. I would stay up late and try to create anything I could.”
During his senior year, Yantz was also the runner-up in campus radio contest, which lead to his longed-for studio time. The winners of the contest invited him to join them in the studio. The studio was Blue Dog Audio in Shepherd. There, Yantz recorded a six-song project called Therapy.
“It was just me and songs that I had written while I was in college,” he recalls. “I did little homemade cassettes and my buddy Chris Flisek put it on CD years ago. It just blew me away.”
In the 1990s, Yantz, at right, formed the band One Trick Ponies with fellow musicians Ted Hoogland, left, and Steven Klee.
After graduating in 1990, Yantz took a series of jobs around the country. He found solace in creating music with another Bay Cityan,Ted Hoogland. Adding Klee on bass and filling out the band, they formed the One Trick Ponies
. They connected over their love of writing music.
In 1995, the locally fabled (recently re-mastered and re-issued) Midland Street Above Mary’s was released as the One Trick Ponies debut album. It was recorded entirely above Mary’s on Midland Street.
“Ted was in the apartment above me,” recalls Yantz. “And I had the little studio apartment right above where Brooklyn Boyz
“There weren't a lot of people doing original music. If they were, we didn't know them. Mike Brush was doing stuff back then, but there wasn't that mechanism (like the Internet) where unless you went to his gig and found out he had an album, how would you know?”
At the same time, the independent national band Uncle Tupelo was about to break into Son Volt and Wilco, jump starting an Americana Music revolution. The One Trick Ponies were on the same exact musical journey.
“There was always a drive to create something new, (like) a painter looking for different colors in their palette, through learning what others are doing,” Yantz explains.
It wasn’t easy to learn what others were doing. The internet didn’t exist, so Yantz and his fellow musicians took inspiration from the songwriting elements of Hoogland’s beloved Replacements and Yantz’s love for R.E.M. The sound they created was perfectly timed for that Midwest music storm. The Ponies were a singer-songwriter group with acoustic guitars and wood floors.
“We were like, ‘Is there any way we can create something from our own experience that would have any merit or any value? A lot of it was necessity. We knew, but didn’t know how to get some of the sounds we were hearing that some of our favorite bands play. Plus we had a shoestring budget, which was zero, except for basically buying instruments.”
The lack of money forced creative solutions.
“There's a song called Midland Street Theme and the shuffle beat is literally me with a broom on a screen door and Ted holding the microphone. That's how we got the ‘brushes sound’ for the drums. So, in retrospect I say we reinvented skiffle, like Bay City skiffle,” Yantz remembers with a laugh.
“We had two microphones, my four-track – because I was in love with multitrack recording – a handful of instruments and in an apartment above Mary’s. We loved writing songs. It was simple and pure, but that is where we wanted our energy to go.”
Over the next few years, One Trick Ponies released three albums and Yantz worked three different places. He also saw both locals Larry McCray
and The Verve Pipe
take flight into the national music spotlight.
“If Larry’s album was called Ambition, ours would have been Blind Ambition,” laughed Yantz. “Ambition – that one was dear to my heart, because that was where I would find out where he was playing in Saginaw, go by myself and listen. Then he would talk to me between sets. He's like, ‘You know, I appreciate you'd want my opinion, but opinions ... everybody's got one. Just keep doing it.’ ”
He also saw Question Mark
when his old school pal Cunningham called and asked to borrow some microphones. “Question Mark was over at Chad’s place recording tunes,” Yantz laughs, looking back.
“So I show up with the microphone (and) all the guys are there doing a session. Chad's eyes are wide open like, ‘Look man!’, and I'm like, ‘I don't want to bug you guys.’ It’s just so un-rock and roll. I was right there. In my later years I am trying to embrace these experiences.”
In 1999, Yantz started at Edward Jones. His family’s roots were firmly planted in the area and he soon was playing out music periodically as a solo artist.
“Personally, I’ve had the ability to share the stage with Faith Hill, Styx and the Bijou Orchestra
,” Yantz says.
In 1995, the locally fabled Midland Street Above Mary’s was released as the One Trick Ponies debut album. Recently, the album was re-mastered and re-issued.
“As for Bijou, as a songwriter there is no higher compliment than playing your songs that you’ve written with an orchestra. I always thought that was interesting, because I think I'm comfortable with not quite pinpointing exactly what the heck I'm doing musically.”
Yantz also was re-connected with musicians who found their way back home, such as McCray and members of the Verve Pipe.
“They were inspirational, because it was otherworldly, like too real. It was almost like these guys are not from Michigan, because look at how popular they had gotten. And we were like, ‘That can really happen?’ That's amazing they were somewhat ‘discovered’ and kind of ‘cultivated.’ It was fantastic.
“Obviously years later, being able to meet (ex-Verve Pipe drummer) Donny Brown and consider him a good friend, to me is amazing. It's funny to be up for an award and tour all over all over the world, but for some reason with Donny, I was like, ‘Tell me about when you played on David Letterman!’ You know, for me that I think that was the apex. I think if I could have got on Letterman, I would have probably dropped it and quit my career right then and there.”
Jeff Yantz spends his days helping people build wealth. By night, he's a local musician performing at area bars, restaurants, and events.
As the musician in him took a breath, the businessman began to blossom.
“I do get teased over the years that, ‘You're a musician and
you manage people's money? Doesn't seem like those two would fit.’ Hopefully in 22 years, I’ve proved that wrong. It’s the stigma of a lot of things in our lives that we’ve got to break down.”
With his daughter nearly a Glenn graduate and his business going strong, Yantz has released solo albums and singles.
“From the last 10 years of being able to write, record, and create with the people that I've had the ability to connect with, especially locally, it's been a huge blessing, because I can learn so much just from the musical community around here.
“I've always lived in this area and I have a passion for this area. So I'm probably biased to say that in this area, we've got a great bullpen of amazing musical artists. I think building that up and realizing that we should – the same way that Studio 23
promotes local artists – we really need to embrace that, because it's part of our place. Part of who we are in this area. To be able to celebrate that is kind of cool.”
After having some videos nominated for Review Music Awards
in 2020, Yantz says the new frontier is going to remain video oriented. But at the end of the day, he is all about the craft of the song.
“I'm in love with the song. Not as much the sound. I don't care who the artist is. There are some wonderful songs I listen to all the time that were poorly recorded. It doesn't matter, the song shines through.”
There has been talk with the Ponies about a reunion and going out as a duo with Hoogland.
“The band was supposed to play Mittenfest
last year in 2020. Obviously, that fell through. But I guess the nice thing was, everybody was kind of on board to do that, so maybe that's something that will happen down the way once things start to open up and if we find an opportunity that makes sense. We did knock out one rehearsal before that and gosh, that was fun. I really wish I would have recorded that. It was kind of magical. It's like muscle memory with an old band and that part of it just amazes me.”
For what it's worth, Yantz is ready for his second wind and will be bringing his town along with his original sound for the ride. You can see and hear some of his work on YouTube
“It's having the ability and some freedom to open up the schedule to play other places. Stretch out into further parts of the state and regionally wherever. Yeah, I think I think I'll be at a point where I would be able to be more open to that, which is exciting.