In Jamaica, most musicians have a record label or a record shop -- or both. And most Jamaican labels have phone numbers printed on them. So, if you know the industrious Eric Blowtorch, you'll be unsurprised to know that he has dialed a few of those phone numbers.
In that way, he's chatted with the likes of Augustus Pablo and others. And he's hooked up with Black Uhuru's Duckie Simpson, who produced one of Blowtorch's recordings during a Milwaukee visit.
So when you see that Eric Blowtorch & the Welders' new Bopaganda Records vinyl 12" single, "Most Dangerous Man" -- with "Free Up Your Mind," "Vision of Alpha" and "Welding" -- features some respected names in Jamaican music -- among them trombonist Rico Rodriguez and DJ Prince Jazzbo -- it will be no mystery how those connections were made.
"King Stitt at Studio One gave me Jazzbo's information," recalls Blowtorch. "Or did I get it from the back of a record? As you know, a lot of Jamaican artists re-release their old hits themselves on compilation albums. I know Jazzbo's phone number has to be there. But I was talking to King Stitt a lot in 2005, when I had the idea to have some Jamaican deejays voice some tunes.
"After talking a few times on the telephone, we met in 2007 while I was working at the Alpha Boys' School (in Kingston). He was chillin' in the parking lot of Tuff Gong, and we had a nice time reasoning and whatnot. He was really a very aware person. There is a very active mind there, despite the space-cadet presentation on the records. Prince Jazzbo has a lot of sense."
Based on a thundering bassline, "Most Dangerous Man" -- by Blowtorch and his Milwaukee band The Welders, which includes percussionist Nate Vest, bassist Michael Bell and drummer Tito Cruz -- has an eerie horn figure that recalls The Specials' incomparable "Ghost Town."
The horns come courtesy of Milwaukee trombonist Jay Tollefsen, Rodriguez -- an original member of The Specials and 20 years earlier, The Skatalites -- and saxman Brian Edwards, a veteran of Aswad, Jazz Jamaican and other UK outfits. Those parts were recorded at Mad Professor's Ariwa Studios in London on one of Blowtorch's visits there.
"Ariwa was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was worth it," says Blowtorch. "The engineers were not that well versed in some of the new tech, so we couldn't use the multi-track recordings I had taken along. So, Rico had to record over an instrumental cut, trombone / violin / melodica head and all. Which really worked out for the best, since he played a great alternate melody in the head that actually sounded brilliant with Sarah's (Sarah Jane Godwin, famed Milwaukee DJ / violinist) violin."
The session didn't always go smoothly, says Blowtorch, who was working alongside one of his musical heroes (Rodriguez) and along a long-time friend (Edwards; the two met on Blowtorch's first UK trip in 1987).
"Rico and I had spent some time relaxing in Victoria Station and in Thornton Heath, where Ariwa is, so I should have been calmer ... Rico took about 25 passes at the tune, and we recorded about 20. It started out fun, then almost became a nightmare, A communication gap almost blew the whole thing. Rico was blowing these brilliant ideas, and I was recording them on a Walkman in the control room. I'd write down the best ideas, have Joe stop the track, run into the recording booth, and suggest Rico play all these ideas together, like a structured song. That's not how Rico works, as Joe Ariwa --that's what they call him -- explained after Rico nearly quit the session. Senor Rodriguez likes to blow and blow and blow, and then let the engineers take his best stuff and assemble it.
"It was a really tense minute or so when Rico came out of the recording booth to voice his displeasure with the way things were going. I shut my mouth, engaged my brain, then reminded Rico I'd come 2,000 miles to have him record this tune. Which was a selfish last resort, since Rico said he didn't want to take a tea break or walk around the block or come back the next day. He was ready to bail! For some reason, as he explained after our work was done, that impressed him. I like to think it demonstrated that the Welders and I were serious, and that we had taken considerable trouble to work with him specifically."
"Vision of Alpha" -- named for the famed boys school in Kingston that produced many of the country's best musicians, including Rodriguez, is an instrumental version of the tune featuring solos by the trombonist. Blowtorch spent a few weeks in June 2007 volunteering at the school.
Work with Jazzbo, who does a sizzling, retro-style reggae toast over the rhythm track of "Most Dangerous Man," was considerably easier. Jazzbo's parts were recorded in Jamaica, while Blowtorch was at home in Milwaukee.
"We sent Jazzbo instrumental and vocal cuts of 'Most Dangerous Man' via e-mail -- amazing how you can do this now -- and he voiced his cut at Tuff Gong with Oneil Smith engineering. Jazzbo had a whole hook for the chorus, 'Leave Babylon, leave Babylon,' sung in a really shrill voice, in unison with the instrumental head, which you can hear at the end of the fadeout. We dug his spoken bits so much, we nixed the singing. At our commercial peril."
Blowtorch says that he will donate 10 percent of the profits from the "Most Dangerous Man" 12" to Human Rights Watch.
The disc follows a 7"45 last year of "Salt Water," a song that Blowtorch says will feature on his next full-length release.
"The album is done," he says. "It's going to be called ‘The Alphabet.' The singles are stand-alone, but they both figure heavily into the Alpha-centric theme of these sessions. The only song that's on the singles and the LP is 'Salt Water,' and the respective mixes are noticeably different."
The record will be out later this year. In the meantime, "Most Dangerous Man" is available at local record emporia, including Lotus Land, Bull's Eye, Flipville, Luv Unlimited, Musical Memories, Exclusive Company on Farwell Avenue and Rush-Mor. Order it via the Web at lotusland.gemm.com.
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.