By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 21, 2006 at 11:17 AM
Former Utopia and David Bowie keyboardist Roger Powell (at left, above) is releasing his first solo disc in 26 years. So, what does that have to do with Milwaukee?

Well, "Fossil Poets" -- Powell’s first release since his 1980 record "Air Pocket" -- was recorded with local producer and musician Gary Tanin (at right, in photo above) and Milwaukee guitarist Greg Koch.

"I met Roger Powell in the early ‘70s when he was a clinician for ARP Synthesizer Company," recalls Tanin, who is an accomplished keyboardist and songwriter himself and has worked on many projects as a producer, arranger and mastering engineer.

"He was doing a road show presenting demos for the new ARP 2600 programmable synth. He joined Todd Rundgren's band Utopia soon after that. I reconnected with him in the mid-‘80s when I was writing software reviews for CMC, a magazine for Computer Musicians. Roger had written one of the first sequencer programs for the IBM-PC. We stayed in touch on and off."

In the meantime, Tanin and Koch were mainstays of the Milwaukee music scene and Powell went to work for Apple, where he was involved in the creation of Final Cut Pro video editing software.

Two years ago, Tanin reconnected with Powell by sending him a copy of some just-completed projects.

"He was really interested in the Xpensive Dogs record ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and how that was accomplished (via) the Internet collaboration with the Japanese artist Toshi," Tanin says.

Not long afterward, Powell was interested enough to make a trip to Milwaukee to meet with Tanin, who brought Koch into the project.

"We had a great meeting, he played me some of the pieces he had been toying with for a few years," says Tanin. "He left me with the source material and let me have at it. I came up with some song ideas from his source parts and built them into arrangements. I sent the ideas back to him for approval. I then called Greg Koch and told him about the potential project. Greg and I were experienced in the process and he was thrilled to be working with such an icon of an artist as Roger Powell."

The record, which will be released in fall by the Ryko-distributed Inner Knot/DGM Records, was -- at least in part -- another long-distance collaboration for Tanin, who -- as he notes -- is experienced in such projects.

"Greg and I would sit down with my skeleton arrangements with melodic structures that I had played into the songs as reference lines. Greg would come up with some of his own ideas, and in fact shares writing credits on some of the songs. Once we tracked those parts I would edit and re-construct the parts into semi-final results, which went back to Roger for input/approval.

But, Tanin says, most of the recording was done in person, even if all three parties weren’t always present.

"Actually the back and forth via Internet/e-mail was just for the approval of direction and changes. The tracking all occurred in either Roger's studio in Northern California or GT Labs in Milwaukee. Roger Flew out to do overdubs in Milwaukee as well. During final stages we came up with production changes and pre-mix ideas together as well at my studio. I made a trip to California to produce Roger's recorded parts last summer. Roger came to Milwaukee in October to do the final few overdubs and pre mix."

While the disc will be released as a Roger Powell solo record with Tanin credited as producer and Koch as a guest musician, according to a press release announcing the release of the "Fossil Poets," Tanin says there’s already been talk of future collaboration.

"Roger and I have created a partnership for the ‘Fossil Poets’ project and future releases as well. Obviously, Roger has many musician friends that he'd like to include on future records, but I think the core group will remain. The recent announcement by Inner Knot of an album deal for this record is very exciting for all of us.

"I think this record is his best solo release.  I'm thrilled to have been part of making this really impressive record."

The "Fossil Poets" Web site is fossilpoets.com. The Inner Knot/DGM site is disciplineglobalmobile.com.
Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.