Eric Blowtorch & The Welders' latest disc -- a vinyl LP that is available for download, but is not released on CD -- has been some time in the making. But, says veteran local musician Blowtorch -- who was featured here recently when an non-LP 12" 45 was issued -- "The Alphabet" captures a moment in musical time.
"It's the Welders repertoire from start to end, frozen in amber," says Blowtorch, who has been out front with a number of fine bands in Milwaukee over the past 20 years. "Our bassman, Michael (Bell), moved out of town last year, and we decided we had to document our two years of work. We had sufficient notice to record all of Michael's bass and vocal parts before he left."
Although Blowtorch has been a master musical networker and has collaborated with reggae legends like Prince Jazzbo, Roland Alphonso, Black Uhuru's Duckie Simpson, Rico Rodriguez and other internationally respected musicians, he never undervalues the contributions of the Milwaukee musicians with which he works on a daily basis.
"Michael and I started playing together less than three years ago," says Blowtorch. "At first we were just getting together to play reggae songs and for me to show him some more bass lines -- he already had amassed a huge reggae fakebook from working one-on-one with Andy Noble -- but as soon as he played me the beginning of one bass line, probably (Augustus Pablo's) 'King Tubbys Meets the Rockers Uptown,' I knew I wanted to play with him."
Although he's always been out front -- in name and on stage -- Blowtorch has similar praise for the others in his band, too.
For example, of drummer Tito Cruz, he says: "(We) played out live with him for about a year, and grew to love him like a brother. Tito was 18 when he joined, and easily the most composed dude in the band. That affected how I presented myself with the band."
Of Paul Mattox, the man Cruz replaced: "He sang beautifully, loved everything we did, dressed incredibly well, and played the hell out of the tiniest kit I've seen since the Fine Young Cannibals gigs in '86."
Of some of the guest performers on the new 13-song "The Alphabet:" "Irma (Roman) and Shahanna (McKinney-Baldon) sang on the previous album, and everybody who heard that record went nuts over their vocals, so we had to have them back. Dave (Cusma), Jay (Tollefson) and Don (Turner) all had recorded with the Inflammables and done mightily."
Of Shane Olivo, who recorded the album at his Bobby Peru Studios in Milwaukee: "He was a major contributor in arranging and instrumentation."
Besides drawing inspiration from the musicians who helped make it, "The Alphabet," Blowtorch says, is the result of his 2007 stay at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, Jamaica, where he worked as a volunteer. Alpha is famous for having produced many of the most respected and influential musicians in Jamaica, including many of the pioneers of ska.
Blowtorch has interspersed excerpts from audio tapes he made during that trip throughout the album.
"I went to Jamaica, came back with double the energy," Blowtorch recalls. "The trip to Jamaica was a huge influence, but our experiences in Milwaukee turned out to be the big story."
Those experiences -- and his musical brethren (and sistren, naturally) -- have helped Blowtorch realize a sound that is both cosmopolitan in its inclusiveness -- and the referential quality of the lyrics -- and rootsy in its execution and passion.
The reggaematic "Living Larger Than Life" looks back at Milwaukee's socialist past and, especially, Frank Zeidler, who was the bard of Milwaukee history -- in addition to being its last socialist mayor -- before his death in 2006.
"Katy-O" is an Afro-funk workout laced with killer brass, "Easy Be Strong" -- a tribute to Blowtorch's favorite fictional hero, Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins) and there is a samba, featuring Roman and McKinney-Baldon, called "The Latest Outrage." Decapitado (and formerly Die Kreuzen) vocalist Dan Kubinski helps fuel the punky "Don't Put Down the Dream."
The single, "Salt Water" is here in a new, extended mix. However, "Most Dangerous Man" -- the tune featuring veteran reggae DJ Prince Jazzbo and Skatalites and The Specials trombonist Rico Rodriguez, is not included on the LP.
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.