A Milwaukee native who goes by the unassuming name of Gerry Belsha during the day, has been working as The Grooveblaster for more than a decade now, doing remixes by the seat of his pants, taking bits and scraps of rhythms and musical details and using whatever equipment he can gather to make some of the booty-shakin’-est mixes you’ve ever heard.
Belsha began his musical career as the self-taught bass player with 1980s Milwaukee outfit The Blowtorch (of which this writer was also a member; Grooveblaster also remixed a song by the writer's band in 2002). After the band split in 1988, Belsha put down the bass and picked up the headphones.
His mixes -- which draw on old funk, disco, jazz, ’60s French pop and more -- can be heard on his Web site, thegrooveblaster.com, and his Myspace site, myspace.com/grooveblaster. Lately, they can also be heard in European clubs, thanks to Thievery Corporation, which is spinning his mixes, and on iTunes.
But where is he now? He moved to New York State in 1994 and two years later relocated to Raleigh, N.C., returning to visit Milwaukee a couple times since. He does, however, maintain contact with some Milwaukee musicians.
The Grooveblaster has just released his first “official” CD, “Look in the Mirror and Dig Yourself,” after a string of small-run, “unofficial” discs appeared over the past few years.
We asked him about how he got into mixing and what he’s up to at the moment.
OMC: How did you start doing remixes? Did you have any background in it?
The Grooveblaster: I started getting into it in the late ‘80s when I heard crews like Coldcut, the Wild Bunch, M/A/R/R/S, Bomb the Bass and Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and the remixes and sampled based-dance music stuff that they were putting out. The whole scene really made sense with what I was listening to at the time and it shared a lot of style and essence with Dub. So I just started on my own with primitive equipment at the time and started doing my own mixes and originals. The great thing about remixes is someone has already done the hard part for you. The hook is already there. All you have to do is exploit the hook and ride it for all it’s worth.
A few years later I put out a single on Don’t Records with a mix of a Loey Nelson song (“Only the Shadows Know”).
OMC: Did being in a band and playing and writing original songs give you any kind of insight or skills that have been useful to remixing?
TG: Yeah, it helps a lot because it gives you a lot more options. You can always add your own stuff to the mix that you’re working on. A lot of times I’ll add my own bass line, keyboards, guitar bits or strings and horns or whatever. And the whole process works well with my writing style as far as originals go. I’ve always written stuff that was fairly simple, usually based on a groove, sometimes not really changing a bass line at all through a song. You can fool people into thinking a lot is going on by using other methods, like dropping instruments in and out. My feeling is, if you found something cool that is really working, why screw it up by putting in a bridge just for the sake of putting in a bridge. There is a great quote by Norman Cook "Grooves and hooks. Chorus and a groove and don't bother writing the verse."
OMC: You don't work in a studio, but, rather, at home. Has that presented a challenge for you or has having to if you'll excuse the expression, jerry-rig things led to some good surprises and discoveries?
TG: I love being able to do all my stuff at home on the computer. It means that when I get ideas I can go right to work on them. Although I tend to do most of my work late in the evening when my wife and daughter are asleep. I really don’t find it limiting at all. I’ve taught myself how to use all the programs I need and a lot of times the mistakes I make end up being keepers. And if I end up needing something that I can’t really do myself I can get friends to help out. For example, when I needed a soulful early ‘70s style guitar solo to put over one of my originals, I was able to find a guitarist in Milwaukee to do one up for me and a week later he sent one back and I was able to drop it down into the mix.
OMC: Who are some of the people you've done remixes for?
TG: I’ve recently done a remix of Georges Deligny’s “Panique Au Salon‚” on the Stereofiction label in Paris as part of the “Boutique Chic” EP. I also have two songs on a Redskins tribute CD.
OMC: How has the response been?
TG: The response has been great. The Deligny remix has been getting airplay in Europe and a lot of my not yet released remixes and white label remixes are getting played in clubs all over the place. My remix of Steely Dan’s “Josie‚” is very popular. It was recently played in an All Good Funk Alliance set before a James Brown show in D.C. And now with the release of the CD my originals are getting played more.
OMC: Are you seeking out higher-profile remixing gigs or are you happy to keep working the way you do now?
TG: Whether I get higher profile remixes or not, I think things will take care of themselves once more and more people get to hear my stuff. Lately I’ve been getting more offers to do up some mixes and have some collaborations in the works also. I've been pretty much splitting my time evenly between remixes and originals.
“Look in the Mirror and Dig Yourself” is available at cdbaby.com/cd/grooveblaster.
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.