By Fred Dintenfass   Published Oct 03, 2005 at 5:07 AM

{image1}If you've lived on the East Side of Milwaukee in the last 20 years and still don't know who Eric Beaumont is then you're probably a hermit.

Even if you don't know him by name you'd probably recognize the dapper guy in suit, hat and shiny shoes who plays guitar outside of Koppa's some mornings, spins records all across town, and performs with his band the Inflammables.

Or maybe you've been browsing the stacks of the County Jail library and come across the librarian just back from a Walter Mosley reading with a letter from novelist James Lee Burke in his pocket.

Beaumont always manages to be both a man of his times and doggedly against them. "Joyful Noise" by Eric Blowtorch and the Inflammables is a "pro-ecology funk floorburner" about the current Bush administration's assault on the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge -- released only on a 7" vinyl 45.

"Sharon Jones and her crew, with their amazing Woody Guthrie cover last year, reminded me that great ass-quaking records can and should have explicit political and spiritual content," says Beaumont referring to NYC's Shorn Jones and the Dap-Kings, a "new" soul-funk group who annihilated Onopa once again last Friday.

But Beaumont has never forgotten the need for a message. The Inflammables repertoire includes songs about mining towns in Ohio and women victimized by welfare "reform."

Nor does Beaumont take his responsibilities to enthusiastically "edutain" lightly. Talking about the Inflammables' newest record he's really describing his whole life: "We took the hard way, the sincerest way possible, which was the use of real examples of positive action, relayed with real feeling and real joy."

Beaumont looks far and wide for inspiration information (as Shuggie Otis might say). He first started DJing on a public radio station in Texas as a teenager playing jazz, classical and Tejano music. As the Mighty Django Hi-Fi sound system Beaumont spun Jamaican music, "from mento thorough contemporary bashment-style reggae" and brought up Milwaukee's most important reggae DJs, the Schonecker brothers and DJ Avets.

When Rhino Records one day releases highlights from Beaumont's archives the world will be able to hear the tape made for a friend's birthday featuring 18 tracks by The Jam as reinvented by, among others, Ice Cube and Mariah Carey -- written, reformed and performed entirely by Beaumont on a four-track recorder.

And then there's his answering machine recordings of Beaumont talking to reggae legend Augustus Pablo.

Beaumont called Pablo in Jamaica to see what he thought of a new Brit-pop song -- a song Beaumont liked -- that essentially jacked one of Pablo's melodies. Pablo called back the next day to let Beaumont know that he had contacted his lawyer and was suing the band.

Fascinated by pop culture but unwilling to accept it uncritically, Beaumont sometimes gets himself into trouble. As a DJ he once received a death threat for refusing to play "Pumps and a Bump" at a birthday party. "I didn't care; I was rocking the Treacherous Three and I was ready to die to prove T3's supremacy over Hammer."

And although he's sort of joking he's also totally serious. I was standing between Beaumont and a bouncer when the owner of one East Side tavern ordered the bouncer to beat Beaumont -- whom he was refusing to pay, rankled by his music, appearance and the crowd's enthusiastic response -- and "throw him in the dumpster out back".

The usually peaceable Beaumont was throwing off clothing and shouting while the bouncer cracked his knuckles and snorted in anticipation. Neither was willing to back down: the bouncer because he enjoyed hurting people and Beaumont because he feels that if music isn't worth fighting for then it's not worth playing.

If former Inflammables bassist Ben Foldy, a 15-year-old in a cheap tuxedo, hadn't talked the owner down, Beaumont might be singing through a straw, but he would still be singing.

"The mission, for me, is to give back what I received in the first place, which is endless inspiration," says Beaumont.

Don't expect him to quiet down.

"Joyful Noise" b/w "White Hen Pantry" by Dan Flynn and the Inflammables is out on Bopaganda! Records and available on 7" at Atomic Records, Farwell Music, Flipville, Lotus Land, Musical Memories, Rush-Mor Records and the Farwell Avenue Exclusive Company.