A more star-studded CD than Greg Koch Band’s "Plays Well With Others" won’t likely emerge from Milwaukee this year. Or maybe even next.
And not just because the 10-track disc (with three bonus remixes) features performances by nationally known musicians like Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford and Roscoe Beck, among others, but also because the record is the fruit of a collaboration between two of this town’s most talented folks.
For the record, respected guitar-slinger Koch teamed with tunesmith John Sieger. Surely the two came together backstage at a big gig and hit on the idea of working together, right?
"It was literally seeing him in front of Starbucks in the (Wauwatosa) Village and him saying, ‘Would you like to try writing?’," recalls Sieger. "I thought it might work and it did."
And thus was this stellar project launched.
"Writing with John has been truly remarkable," says Koch, who notes that the two never sat down and wrote together in the same room at the same time. Instead, Koch assembled his musical ideas into instrumental demos built around layered guitars and casual percussion (like Koch tapping the desk in a hotel room) – and forwarded them to Sieger, who found the process worked well.
"Being in a room together never happened and probably would have killed it," says Sieger. "He sent instrumental sketches and I did the rest, sometimes rearranging a little, but his ideas were really solid and inspiring."
Koch adds that Sieger was a diligent collaborator, often sending back finished tunes constructed from those demos within 24 hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this work led to the completion of nearly 70 songs.
"The only reason we stopped the writing process is that we had to start harvesting the crop ... as it were," says Koch.
Ten of the tunes appear on "Plays Well With Others," where Koch’s limber guitar inventiveness brings some swagger to these big-bottomed slices of blues-fueled rock. What’s nice is that Sieger’s lyrical skills lift the tunes above the pack of modern blues themes, giving them a more universal feel.
"I picked out tunes for ‘Play Well With Others’ that I thought were good matches for the guests and for my current lineup. I love all the songs so I can't say they were the 10 best but just seemed right for that project," says Koch.
Another dozen songs will make up Sieger’s upcoming solo record.
"His bunch are a little better for stretching out instrumentally. Since he has some of the best guitarists in the country joining him, plus John Cleary on piano, it made sense," says Sieger.
"The ones I'm doing don't need solos as such, but have real hooky guitar parts that Greg created. It will also have less drumming and more acoustic guitar. Smaller scale, more like a solo project, so there's no confusing this with Greg's thing or (Sieger’s band) Semi-Twang."
Adds Koch, "The tunes for John's record are a little more laid back and a little folksier. There are all kinds of flavors with the songs we have written together."
Sieger also plays guitar and sings lead on most tracks. The pair are joined by drummer Dylan Koch – Greg’s son – bassist Eric Hervey and keyboardist Theo Merriweather, as well as that slate of impressive guests: Beck, Bonamassa, Ford, Jon Cleary, Paul Barrere and Brannan Temple.
Some of those out-of-towners performed while here and others contributed from afar, says Koch.
"Robben, Roscoe and drummer Brannen Temple came to Milwaukee in early February of this year for one day of tracking. A couple of days later, Paul Barrere came in town and recorded with myself, my son Dylan on drums, Theo Merriweather on keys and Eric Hervey on bass. Joe Bonamassa and Jon Cleary recorded their parts remotely.
"Initially, I had the idea of having these guys be guest singers as well as players. ... When I started writing material with John Sieger, the project changed altogether. I still wanted the people I had reached out to guest on it but decided John would deliver his lyrics best.
" I look forward to recording more in the near future. It has been a very inspiring period for both of us," says Koch.
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.