Glenn Boren has been a musician for decades. And so, he knows when to it's time to step into the spotlight and take a solo.
Boren, who was raised in Cudahy, began playing in bands as a teenager and in the 1980s he formed The Convertors before joining the last line-up of Colour Radio, which had a deal with an A&M Records subsidiary.
But now, Boren's the man behind Trophy Straps; as in guitar straps.
In 2010, Boren launched Greendale Guitar Works, an online music retailer, and he quickly found that reissues of vintage guitar straps were fast sellers. And one thing led to another.
"In mid 2010 Greendale Guitar Works had taken on a supplier of USA-made guitar straps," he recalls. "Many of the models were vintage reissues. The sales of these straps were brisk and international, so the market seemed ripe. When the supplier continually failed to deliver adequate product and meet Christmas delivery dates for my orders, it became clear there was room for another company in this market."
Boren decided to start that company himself and called it Trophy Guitar Straps. Now, Trophy is something of an international sensation among guitarists, and the likes of Jody Porter from Fountains of Wayne and Milwaukee's Sam Llanas are among the company's dedicated customers.
"We now ship to six continents, with wholesale distribution in the Pacific Rim, and a growing base of customers worldwide," says Boren. "We will be attending the Summer NAMM trade show this July in Nashville to grow our domestic dealer base."
Much of Trophy's success has come on the back of what's been called the "Lennon Rooftop Guitar Strap," named for the strap on which John Lennon hung his Gibson when the Beatles played their famous 1969 rooftop gig in London, a performance seen in the film "Let It Be."
Again, Boren felt the buzz and stepped up to take another solo.
"After receiving a number of inquiries from around the globe looking for the Lennon Rooftop Guitar Strap, as it's come to be known, it became clear that no one had produced that strap since 1969, so it became a starting point."
That strap is now used onstage by Beatles tribute acts around the globe, including Rain, The Fab Four, The Bootleg Beatles, American English and the cast of Beatlemania. Producers of the 50th anniversary "Let It Be" show in London's West End this fall tell Boren that the strap will be featured in their production, too.
So how does a musician become a guitar strap manufacturer? It's been a learning process, says Boren, but, again, like a talented musician, he also makes it look sorta easy.
"I've learned an immense amount via trial and prototyping with my manufacturer here in Milwaukee. It took us the better part of six months of working together before the product came to market. As a guitarist for nearly 40 years, the strap was always an intriguing accessory. They have been constructed in many ways since inception, but what captured my imagination were the ones with unique patterns, many of which were historical, cultural and anthropological in origin.
"Musicians being vagabonds by nature seemed to pick up on patterns and fabrics based on where they travelled; almost a souvenir of their 'escapades.' Lots of times those became the basis for their straps, starting in the 1960s and beyond."
Boren says that Trophy straps are all made in the Milwaukee area. And that's important to him.
"We were determined to make a superior locally made product, as there are loads and heaps of cheap straps on the market, but we wanted to make something that is of such quality and style that it makes the player feel good, thereby enhancing their performance," he says.
"The actual process of sewing the fabric to the backing is not super tricky, just requires a good machine and steady hand or better yet a jig. Finding the right backing material, hardware and designing the ends and stitching pattern all took time and experimentation."
But it's all worthwhile, because, like Boren likes to say, "a $50 strap can make a $100 guitar feel like a million bucks."
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.