By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Feb 21, 2012 at 3:01 PM

One-time Milwaukeean John Kruth is a teacher, poet and multi-instrumentalist. He's released nine albums as a solo artist, published numerous poems and articles and two music biographies. Kruth is also the co-founder of TriBeCaStan, the world music group that just released its third album, "New Deli."

A native Manhattanite, Kruth lived "Milwaukee-in-exile" from 1986 to 1996, then returned to New York.

"The club scene was dead in New York. I was broke and couldn't afford to finish my album. The Violent Femmes, who I was friends with, told me that studios were cheaper in Milwaukee and that if I came, they'd back me up," says Kruth.

Kruth came to Milwaukee and the Femmes did indeed record Kruth's first album with him, "Midnight Snack." Over the years, Kruth was able to return the favor, gigging with the Femmes, appearing on Brian Ritchie's albums and with Gordon Gano's gospel group The Mercy Seat.

"I liked the people in Milwaukee, got a radio show at WMSE and led a pretty laid back life – no struggle to pay rent like in New York. You can play Summerfest, Bastille Days, and be set for a couple months. It was great."

So Kruth decided to stick around. His second album, 1989's "Greasy Kid Stuff," was recorded in Waukesha. In addition to the festivals, Kruth had regular gigs at the city's smaller clubs and at local colleges. He also found touring out of Milwaukee to be easier, too, and enjoyed traveling to Chicago, Madison, Green Bay and Minneapolis.

Although Kruth enjoyed his time in Milwaukee a point came, he says, when it was simply time to get out. After returning to New York, Kruth turned more of his attention to writing.

Kruth's first music biography was on jazz icon Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the second was about Townes Van Zandt. He's half-way done with the third, which is about Roy Orbison, and expects the book to be available in early 2013.

These books led Kruth to another kind of gig, as an adjunct professor at Manhattan College, where he teaches two courses, "The History of Rock 'n' Roll" and "The History of Jazz."

In addition to teaching and playing with TriBeCaStan, Kruth's other projects include writing a book for the University of Texas and another musical group, Villa Delirium, which plays "gothic folk" – in other words, music celebrating morbidity.

"TriBeCaStan is up, happy music. Villa Delirium's main themes are murder, heartbreak, insanity. Some of it's tongue-in-cheek, like if the Addams Family had a band, Delirium would be it," says Kruth.

Villa Delirium includes Tine Kindermann, who plays musical saw and sings in German and English. Steve Bear, who played drums in the Madison band Swamp Thing, makes loud percussive noises by banging an assortment of objects and Doug Wieselman, who plays bass clarinet and bass harmonica.

Villa Delirium played Super Bowl Sunday at Joe's Pub in New York.

"We booked it so far out in advance we didn't know. And the Giants were playing, no less – not that I care, mind you. Despite all this, we had a good turnout. I think some people were trying to escape the Superbowl and that's what drove them in for our acoustic think music," says Kruth.

Villa Delirium doesn't have another show scheduled until March.

"You can't play too often in New York City because people start to treat you like used furniture," says Kruth.

Kruth learned to appreciate world music through jazz players like Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry.

"And, of course, through Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and world musicians like Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka who played with the Rolling Stones," says Kruth. 

But Kruth is most well-known for his world music band TriBeCaStan, whose music "Drum!" magazine writer J. Poet aptly describes as, "fluid global rhythms that wave in and out of odd time signatures and unique timbres to create their own individual place in the space-time continuum."

TriBeCaStan has Kruth joining forces with co-founder and percussionist Jeff Greene, who Kruth met at one of Greene's annual Labor Day Jug Band Jamborees. Peter Stampfel, Wauwatosa native and member of '60s cult / folk group Holy Modal Rounders, invited Kruth to the jam.

"I got there and I remember this amazing instrument collection from all over the world. It was one of those parties where on one side a group of people are playing 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' but on the other side people are playing Pakistani folk music," says Kruth.

"Jeff had a copy of my third album, 'Banshee Violin,' which I thought was interesting," Kruth says with a laugh. "But I thought Jeff was interesting and we played for a bit. He has this incredible enthusiasm for eclectic music."

TriBeCaStan has released three albums. The group's latest is "New Deli," and finds Kruth and Greene accompanied by the TriBeCaStan FolkLorkeStra, a 10-piece band which began growing soon after the first album was released.

"We had great reviews (of 2008 album "Strange Cousin"), so we decided to do a tour and we added a bass player (Ween's Dave Dreiwitz), a keyboardist (Cracker's Kenny Margolis, who also plays with Villa Delirium), horns and more drums," says Kruth.

Kruth first had the idea for something like a "folklorkestra" as an 18-year-old questioning why rock bands always had the same string instruments and jazz bands the same set of horns.

Jim Farber of the New York Daily News made TriBeCaStan's "New Deli" one of his weekly top ten picks, along with albums from Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen.

"To appear anywhere in the Daily News and not be dead, pregnant or in jail is simply amazing," says Kruth of the dubious honor. "It was just such a trip."

"And the guy wrote, 'Weird thing is that it rocks.' Yeah, thank you," says Kruth, who deliberately worked on making the latest TriBeCaStan outing more of a rocker.

Although he says it would be good to do a show in Milwaukee, when Kruth tours he usually goes east. As in Eastern Europe. He and his sweetheart of 14 years, Marilyn Cvitanic, have an apartment in Split, Croatia, right along the Adriatic Sea. Kruth's last solo album was an homage to Croatia, called "Splitsville."

TriBeCaStan will be touring eastern Europe during summer 2012. But maybe we can encourage a return visit to the Brew City, where the people are nice, it's easy to tour from and longtime John Kruth fans await.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.