The creative spirit that envelops those who feel called to do music dies hard in most people.
Music is a timeless art and an ageless entity that does not judge those who create it, and so those that enjoy doing it can feel free to create music to their heart's contentment, as long as they wish to do so.
The Beastie Boys are examples of hip-hop artists that are musicians that just love to do music. They enjoy it and don't abide by the cultural infatuation with an age limit in hip-hop. As hip-hop grows and more of its artists and DJs find success into their 40s (or older), the higher the limbo bar goes.
Since the '80s, producer and DJ Gerry "Grooveblaster" Belsha has been chopping up records to make soulful dance cuts, and his recent album "Out Of The Past" continues the tradition of creating grooves that have funky drum loops and other samples to cultivate new sound from the records of days past.
Featuring several tracks with a few different female vocalists, the album creates a party vibe that anybody who appreciates the origins of a genre like hip-hop will certainly enjoy.
I talked to the Grooveblaster about his newest project and the days that he once spent as a Milwaukeean.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you get interested in break beats?
Grooveblaster: I started to get interested when I got into hip-hop in the early '80s, listening to Grandmaster Flash and also the Wild Style compilation and other early DJs. I found out about the "Ultimate Breaks and Beats" records that were out back then. It was a series of white label releases that would have mostly hard-to-find songs from the '70s that had breaks used by DJs. So, I would call record stores in Brooklyn and the Bronx to have them mailed to me because they were impossible to find here in Milwaukee. I would use those a lot when I first started out to build my own beats.
Back then, before decent samplers were available, I used a pretty primitive setup with turntables and a cassette deck that had a good pause button. I would use that to make up my own loops. Also, over time, I did my own digging for hard-to-find breaks.
OMC: Do you play any live instruments on the project?
GB: Bass is the only thing I play live. All the rest is from various other sources: loops, samples, beats, etc., which are then put through different processes to fit the needs of the songs.
OMC: You teamed up exclusively with female vocalists. Did you feel that only a female voice would work with your tracks?
GB: Not necessarily, but when I'm writing songs that I intend to have vocals on I always seem to have a female vocal in mind. So, it's just worked out that way. Also, sometimes when I work with a vocalist and song writing partner, they will like an instrumental that I have done and come up with a melody to go over it. It may be a song I never intended to have a vocal on, like "Stretch Out and Relax" that has Jana Tarasenko on it. That song was on a previous album as an instrumental, "Groovin' with a Little Sharp Chick (Last Night At Ronnie Scott's)," and Jana liked it and came up with the melody and vocals for "Stretch Out and Relax."
OMC: How did you meet the different vocalists?
GB: Through the miracles of modern technology. I first met Anji Bee when I was working on a remix for one of the Lovespirals' songs. The remix turned out well and I loved her voice and we started working on some originals. She is really easy to work with and is a great songwriter. I first heard Yasi Baby on the first Pacha Massive album and I loved her vocals, so I connected with her through MySpace. We found that we had similar tastes and ideas and did three songs on the last CD and continued on this one. I heard Jana Tarasenko on several dance compilations and singles, found her on Facebook, and sent her a few things I had. We clicked really well. So, because of the powers of the Internet, you have a guy from Raleigh, N. C., able to hook up fairly easily with singers from Los Angeles, New York and Berlin.
OMC: How do you construct your music?
GB: It varies from song to song. Sometimes I start with a drum loop and work from there. Sometimes it's a keyboard or guitar riff. These days I use Adobe Audition as my program and it is a really easy program to work with. As I'm working I begin to get a feel for whether it is going to be an instrumental or whether I think vocals would work. The inspiration comes from who knows where. Mostly from years and years of listening to all kinds of music.
OMC: What's your fondest memory of your time in Milwaukee?
GB: Many fond memories. The great times I had while I was in the band the Blowtorch with Bobby Tanzilo and Eric Beaumont, all the friends I made through music and all the fun shows we played and saw; hanging over a fence watching the R&B Cadets for the first time, sneaking in to watch The Clash sound-check the night they played The Auditorium, and when Frank Sinatra played at the Arena; opening for Billy Bragg at The Landing; getting bass lessons from Mike Sieger.
OMC: I spoke with Bobby and he said that when you first got started, you had him pick up different break beat records for you from New York City when he went out there. Was Milwaukee that behind the times back then?
GB: Yeah, when Bobby would go to New York he would come back with some of those "Ultimate Breaks and Beats" records. I don't know if Milwaukee was really that different than any other city at that time other than New York and Chicago. There were some record stores that had some hip-hop and house. Bobby and I would go down to Chicago a lot to get house records and Latin hip-hop (I guess it's called Freestyle now) like Sweet Sensation, The Cover Girls and Expose. It's hard to compete with Chicago and New York. I don't think Milwaukee was any different than say, Minneapolis or St. Louis or Kansas City.
OMC: What do you hope people take away from this project?
GB: Nothing grandiose; just the enjoyment of the music, make people feel good, also inspire people to search out other similar music and styles and find more new artists. And, maybe inspire the powers that be to eliminate flopping from college basketball and implement goal line technology in soccer.
OMC: Are you going to be doing any gigs in the Midwest or around the country to support the release?
GB: No gigs. My days of playing out are long gone. Right now, with a family, time is tight. I do most of my recording and writing between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. when everyone is asleep. I get support and promotion of the CD through club DJs, podcasts, Internet radio and old school radio stations.
OMC: How did you come by the name of "Grooveblaster?"
GB: Wow. I can't even remember! I think it may have come out of nicknames we all had when we played pick-up basketball games, which is better than a lot of other names I was called. I tended to foul hard, borderline flagrant fouls, but hey, call your foul and shut up.
Grooveblaster's new album "Out Of The Past" can be found on his Web site.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.
As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.
Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.