Probably 20 years ago, while perusing a friend's record collection I came across a Blind Blake LP that noted that some of the tunes were recorded at the Paramount Studio in Grafton. That was the first I'd ever heard of the long-lost blues history in the Wisconsin town to our north.
Whenever I saw a book about the blues or old blues reissues, I'd look for information about Grafton and never with any success. It seemed like a mysterious secret doomed to obscurity.
So, I'm thrilled that finally, the story of the Grafton blues -- Paramount set up a studio in an old chair factory in town and when it closed, it was rumored that the masters were tossed into the river that runs alongside the building -- is everywhere now. There's a blues themed restaurant up there and an annual festival, too.
Opening on Jan. 12 is the Milwaukee Rep's production of "Grafton City Blues," a musical drama written by Kevin Ramsey ("Sam Cooke -- Forever Mr. Soul" and "If These Shoes Could Talk"), in the Stackner Cabaret.
The show stars Jeremy Cohen, Jannie Jones, Eric Noden and Juson Williams, along with some of the music recorded in Grafton by the likes of Son House, Ma Rainey, Skip James, Alberta Hunter and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
In addition to his previous shows for the Rep (listed above), Ramsey has written for film and television and his credits include "24," "Judging Amy," "CSI: Miami" and "The Hughleys."
Tickets for the show, which runs through March 9, range from $25 to $40.
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.