Eric Blowtorch has been rocking the Milwaukee crowd as a musician and DJ for nearly 30 years now, playing punk, post-punk, ska, soul, reggae and more.
On his Bopaganda! label, he has issued some of the most varied and interesting records to ever emerge from Milwaukee, including a string of 7" 45s that are a testament to his love for the format and for the music that made its mark on singles.
As he hones the tracks for his latest full-length record on Milwaukee's South Side, he issues his best work to date. "Salt Water" is a hard-hitting reggae track with a deep, heavy bass sound and just about the best reggae mix Brew City has ever unleashed. It was recorded with his current band, The Welders.
We asked Kid Django about the song -- which is a collaboration with a Milwaukee musician now living in Florida -- and about the progress he's making on his new LP.
During the discussion, Blowtorch announces another 45 release that features living Jamaican legends rapper Prince Jazzbo and British-based trombonist Rico Rodridguez, who was a member of The Skatalites and The Specials.
OMC: Tell me a bit about the record.
EB: Shane Olivo of The New Loud engineered the recording of everything except for the piano at Bobby Peru's Welding Yard, his studio on the South Side. The piano was recorded by Joe Vent at his house in Hales Corners.
OMC: Why did you choose this tune?
EB: This was the first song composed by our bassist, Michael Bell, a/k/a Dr. Bassie. He had the words and the bass line. Nate and I came up with the head melody, and split the percussion duties. Tito and I came up with the drum part. The keyboard and guitar parts were pretty simple -- chank, chank, chank, as
OMC: How did the collaboration with Bell come about?
EB: Michael is a roots man from Florida. He used to come to the Mighty Django Hi-Fi on Sunday nights at Club Timbuktu. It turned out that Andy Noble was giving Michael bass lessons, and it helped that the good doctor had such a pleasant disposition. He is a real doctor, you know.
Michael and I got together on the regular to play. We started with "Row Fisherman Row" by the Wailing Souls, which suited Michael because it was easy and really settled me the hell down, because I tend to overplay. So Saturday afternoons became a regular thing. Our first collaboration was on a song called "Holding Out My Hand," for which Michael wrote the bass line, and it was beautiful, like a Johnny Clarke tune, with those sweet triplets on the head.
OMC: What is the song "Salt Water" about?
EB: It's about how trying to record history, on paper, digital files, even 7" 45, is ultimately like drinking salt water -- it drives you insane. According to Michael, a lot of Christopher Columbus's crew did just that. And so he wrote about trying to write history from the perspective of a hallucinating crewman about to lose his marbles.
To convey some of that druggy feeling, we had everybody sing the title in a different language. Tito (Cruz, drummer) sang it in Spanish, Nate (Vest, percussionist) sang it in Gaelic, Michael sang it in Amharic, and I sang it in drunken English. When Nate and Michael did their parts, I had them take off their headphones, and I would point to them just before or after Tito and I sang the title, so they would be off every time. Enter Shane with single-repeat delay, and voila! Welders gone psychedelic!
OMC: Are you working on a new LP, too?
EB: We are. It's all recorded. Shane and I are mixing, or editing I guess they call it now. There will be another single too.
OMC: Is this a taste of that or is it its own project?
EB: The 7" mix is different from the LP version, which is longer and has more chank, chank, chank.
OMC: You know, this record is 12" dub plate-ready.
EB: It's funny you should say that. We decided to make the song available digitally, and the iTunes sh*tstem does not allow singles to have B-sides. A single, to them, is one tune. Posting two songs would have cost us twice as much, which is silly. So we decided to make a composite, one-after-the-other the 7" vocal and the dub, available for 99 cents. Just like on that compilation you put together for OnMilwaukee.com, with the vocal and version sides of "Flash Flood." Value for money!
OMC: What will be the next single and when's it coming?
EB: A 12" single called ''Most Dangerous Man." It won't be on the album in any form. A demo version of the tune is on our narcissistspace page. The A-side mix features a deejay vocal by Prince Jazzbo called "Free Up Yu Mind." It's absolutely frightening. Jazzbo is as scary and funny as ever. The B-side will be a Rico Rodriguez trombone cut of the same tune, along with a nyahbingi-type instrumental called "Laboring."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.