A new local band debuted in May and then played at Summerfest this year, but when Louie & The Flashbombs took the stage playing great traditional, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, it was clear that these guys were anything but newcomers.
Fronted by Louie Lucchesi – who has been in bands in Milwaukee and New York City – The Flashbombs also include singer, songwriter and guitarist Mike Benign, drummer Bo Conlon (BoDeans, Pat McCurdy, Crime Family), bass Paul Biemann (Blue in The Face, The Yell Leaders, The Mike Benign Compulsion), guitarist Al Hildenbrand (Pet Engine, Britpop) and keyboardist Matt Meixner (Mea Jima, Milwaukee Underground Duo).
Though he was a music fan in Milwaukee Lucchesi didn’t start performing until he arrived in New York in 1978 and then he worked on stages at places like Tramps, CBGB's and The Bitter End.
Returning to Milwaukee in 1990, he led bands like Crime Family, Brother Louie and Klaus Nomi’s Homies.
Louie & The Flashbombs will play their next gig at Tosa Tonight in Hart Park on Wednesday, July 27.
“I'm from Tosa and have never played here so I've dubbed it my 'Homecoming Resurrection',” Lucchesi says.
As the band prepares for that gig – and one at the Brewtown Rumble on Aug. 7 in the Deer District – we caught up with Lucchesi to ask about The Flashbombs.
OnMilwaukee: You’ve had a long career here and in NYC, what were you doing musically here before you left and what led you to NYC?
Louie Lucchesi: I'd been wanting to form a band for a while. I was hanging out at The Electric Ballroom/The Palms a lot. I saw a ton of bands there including Elvis Costello and Television. I also saw the Ramones at Rev's in Waukesha on their first tour.
Most of my musical heroes were from New York. Patti Smith, Lou Reed, David Johansen, Elliott Murphy, Garland Jeffreys. I thought if I'm going to do it I want to do it there.
How long did you stay and what was your musical career there?
I lived in Manhattan from '78 until '90. I like to think of my time there as college. I didn't really do a million shows but it is where I started recording and performing as well as studying at The School of Visual Arts.
I played CBGB's, Tramps and The Bitter End as well as numerous other clubs. I began collaborating with John Collins, best known from his Max's Kansas City days. Together we wrote a lot of the songs that eventually became Crime Family tunes.
When and why did you come back?
I left NYC in the fall of '90. It was time. I was going to move to Los Angeles but my mother was ill and so I came back to Milwaukee. Blaine Schultz wrote an article about me for The (New Community) Newsletter and Rich Thomas saw it and contacted me. Rich and I hung out a bit in NY. He knew Paul Ryan, I knew Bo Conlon and Crime Family was formed. I also married my wife Brandy during this period.
Tell us about Brother Louie and Klaus Nomi’s Homies.
When CF broke up I didn't mean to take as much time off as I did but it quickly turned into almost 10 years. I pulled out some tapes that were intended to be the second Crime Family record but were never completed. I finished four of these songs and recorded a number of other songs that I had been performing live or just wanted to record. Songs by Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Gnecco Mike Fredrickson and Nil Lara.
This project became my “Second Hand Smoke” record. I formed the band Brother Louie to support it. I gradually turned the band into a '70s cover band. Sometimes I'd sing 40-45 songs a night. My voice really got a lot stronger because of Brother Louie.
After we broke up I was approached by Johnny Washday to do a one-off Oil Tasters tribute. We did it at Turner Hall as part of that year’s Pablove Benefit. We kept the band going but couldn't call it the Oil Tasters so we named it Klaus Nomi's Homies. The band was a lot of fun but its days were clearly numbered.
In January of '20 I put out a remake of the David Bowie/Pat Metheny song “This is not America.“ It was produced by my longtime friend and collaborator Jeff Hamilton. Then the world got shut down by Covid 19.
You’ve been through some challenging times recently, right?
Yeah, in the summer of '20 I was feeling really exhausted all of the time and found out I was severely anemic. This led to the discovery of a large mass on my left kidney. I was diagnosed with stage four renal cell carcinoma. Cancer of the kidney.
It had already spread to both of my lungs as well as the lymph nodes behind my heart. For 15 months I went through immunotherapy, chemo and radiation. Against the odds I recovered. I feel great but I do still have cancer and will be starting a brief series of radiation treatments in mid July, right between Summerfest and Tosa Tonight.
So how did The Flashbombs ignite?
In March of '21 I was starting to feel better and began collaborating with Mike Benign. I had just started writing what I jokingly refer to as my “covid, cancer, mortality, regrets” record. This is pre-vaccine and in the middle of lockdown. I started emailing lyrics to Mike who put them to music and demoed them in his home studio.
We now have 30 finished songs. Together we formed Louie & The Flashbombs and played our first show in early May. It feels unbelievably great to be performing again. I wasn't sure that I was even going to survive not to mention perform.
Are you and Mike sharing frontman roles?
No I'm fronting the band. From the very beginning Mike was very clear about not wanting to front a band anymore. He's having a gas just playing guitar in a rock 'n’ roll band.
What are the plans for the band?
We start recording the first record in August with Jeff Hamilton producing. We don't have any longterm plans. Just to make records and see what happens.
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.