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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Music

Mojo Perry finds inspiration out the window of his practice space.

In Music

Perry with one of his custom-made cigarbox guitars.

Mojo Perry breathes fire, art and psychedelic blues


Mojo Perry is a multi-genre singer / songwriter whose main concentrations are psychedelic and blues music. An accomplished guitar player, Perry has been playing since he was five years old, and he has his own line of custom-made cigarbox guitars, which are made in Neenah, Wis.

Perry's latest album is entitled "Absinthe Journeys." It was released in July and recorded in St. Paul, Minn. Touring behind the album has taken Perry to such diverse places as Thailand, Madison, Sturgeon Bay and, in October, to several locations across Europe.

Perry, a transplant from the upper peninsula of Michigan by way of Appleton, has been working in Milwaukee for the past year, playing local gigs everywhere from the Up and Under, Shank Hall (with Chris Duarte) and at the 2011 Summerfest, where he played the Harley-Davidson stage twice.

And for the past year, Perry has been living in a mansion on Lake Drive.

"There's something to be said about being in a big house by yourself at night: it can get creepy," Perry says.

Perry has benefactors, the owners of the mansion he's living in are patrons-of-the-arts on a scale reminiscent of those who funded artists during the Renaissance. Because of them, Perry has a rent-free, East Side mansion to live in and a support network that rivals a close-knit church congregation or, at least, the defensive line of the Green Bay Packers.

Perry calls his benefactors an underground organization that pushes underground artists. The group is fronted by a married couple who fund artists and help make them self-sufficient. One day they approached Perry while he was preparing for a gig in Milwaukee, offering to help him get organized and to pick up the cost of his next two albums. They helped Perry set himself up as a limited liability corporation (LLC), professionalizing the business end of his music career, helping him look out for himself and they put him in touch with a wider community of musicians.

"They find one person, help put them through, then move on to the next 'find.' I'm still out there, my feet are muddy pounding the pavement, setting up gigs, doing it myself. What they do is help speed things along. I'm incredibly grateful," says Perry of his benefactors.

As a bit of a bonus that can't be offered to every artist they work with, the couple lets Perry stay in their mansion while it's on the market. They reside elsewhere.

Perry asked that the names of his benefactors be withheld.

"I can't tell you what these people did for my self-esteem," says Perry.

Perry grew up in Houghton, Mich., where because of the lake effect, the snow can pile up as high as the tops of telephone poles. Like many folks who grew up in that old, working class mining area, Perry had it tough in Houghton.

Perry says when his mom brought home his first guitar he "took to it real fast" and soon was playing along with the beer commercials he heard on TV. When Perry was six, his dad promised he'd buy an electric guitar for Perry when he hit 13 -- if he kept up his playing -- which he clearly did.

Perry's father came though on his promise, although Perry had to remind him, and by age 14 Perry was cutting his own albums, distributing his own cassettes that he put together with money earned shoveling snow and doing yard work.

"Everyday, I shoveled more snow ..." Perry says, his voice trailing off, most likely into a remembrance of sore backs and blistered fingers.

By 16, Perry was playing every sorority and frat house at Michigan Tech in Houghton. In a town of only 7,000 people, with only a couple thousand more across the canal, the university takes over many facets of everyday life.

"I initially got the sorority gigs because I'd come by with my dad's snowplow and plow out their driveways for free," Perry says.

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