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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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In Music

Multi-instrumentalist John Kruth and his really big sitar. (PHOTO: Passing Stranger)

Manhattan's John Kruth reflects on Milwaukee


One-time Milwaukeean John Kruth is a teacher, poet and multi-instrumentalist. He's released nine albums as a solo artist, published numerous poems and articles and two music biographies. Kruth is also the co-founder of TriBeCaStan, the world music group that just released its third album, "New Deli."

A native Manhattanite, Kruth lived "Milwaukee-in-exile" from 1986 to 1996, then returned to New York.

"The club scene was dead in New York. I was broke and couldn't afford to finish my album. The Violent Femmes, who I was friends with, told me that studios were cheaper in Milwaukee and that if I came, they'd back me up," says Kruth.

Kruth came to Milwaukee and the Femmes did indeed record Kruth's first album with him, "Midnight Snack." Over the years, Kruth was able to return the favor, gigging with the Femmes, appearing on Brian Ritchie's albums and with Gordon Gano's gospel group The Mercy Seat.

"I liked the people in Milwaukee, got a radio show at WMSE and led a pretty laid back life – no struggle to pay rent like in New York. You can play Summerfest, Bastille Days, and be set for a couple months. It was great."

So Kruth decided to stick around. His second album, 1989's "Greasy Kid Stuff," was recorded in Waukesha. In addition to the festivals, Kruth had regular gigs at the city's smaller clubs and at local colleges. He also found touring out of Milwaukee to be easier, too, and enjoyed traveling to Chicago, Madison, Green Bay and Minneapolis.

Although Kruth enjoyed his time in Milwaukee a point came, he says, when it was simply time to get out. After returning to New York, Kruth turned more of his attention to writing.

Kruth's first music biography was on jazz icon Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the second was about Townes Van Zandt. He's half-way done with the third, which is about Roy Orbison, and expects the book to be available in early 2013.

These books led Kruth to another kind of gig, as an adjunct professor at Manhattan College, where he teaches two courses, "The History of Rock 'n' Roll" and "The History of Jazz."

In addition to teaching and playing with TriBeCaStan, Kruth's other projects include writing a book for the University of Texas and another musical group, Villa Delirium, which plays "gothic folk" – in other words, music celebrating morbidity.

"TriBeCaStan is up, happy music. Villa Delirium's main themes are murder, heartbreak, insanity. Some of it's tongue-in-cheek, like if the Addams Family had a band, Delirium would be it," says Kruth.

Villa Delirium includes Tine Kindermann, who plays musical saw and sings in German and English. Steve Bear, who played drums in the Madison band Swamp Thing, makes loud percussive noises by banging an assortment of objects and Doug Wieselman, who plays bass clarinet and bass harmonica.

Villa Delirium played Super Bowl Sunday at Joe's Pub in New York.

"We booked it so far out in advance we didn't know. And the Giants were playing, no less – not that I care, mind you. Despite all this, we had a good turnout. I think some people were trying to escape the Superbowl and that's what drove them in for our acoustic think music," says Kruth.

Villa Delirium doesn't have another show scheduled until March.

"You can't play too often in New York City because people start to treat you like used furniture," says Kruth.

Kruth learned to appreciate world music through jazz players like Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry.

"And, of course, through Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and world musicians like Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka who played with the Rolling Stones," says Kruth.

But Kruth is most well-known for his world music band TriBeCaStan, whose music "Drum!" magazine writer J. Poet aptly describes as, "fluid global rhythms that wave in and out of odd time signatures and unique timbres to create their own individual place in the space-time continuum."

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