By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 02, 2023 at 9:02 AM

If you feel like you haven’t heard much lately from local singer, songwriter and ace guitarist Willy Porter, you’re not wrong.

Four years and a pandemic’s lifetime since his last record – 2019’s “mnemonic” – Porter is back with his 13th album, called “The Ravine,” due out Sept. 29.

Begun with local producer and musician Mike Hoffmann, work on “The Ravine” came to an expected halt in 2021 with Hoffmann’s untimely passing.

Finding his feet again, Porter finished the record, while also producing a pandemic-era series of live stream concerts with his son Liam.

Now that “The Ravine” is here – on all streaming and download platforms, as well as physical formats at – Porter is headed back out on the road.

After an Oct. 5 gig at Evanston’s intimate Space, Willy returns home for two nights – Oct. 6-7 – at Shank Hall.

We caught up with Porter to ask him about how he’s been, the making of “The Ravine,” touring and more.

OnMilwaukee: How the heck are you? Were you able to keep working through the pandemic?

Willy Porter: We are all well over here, thank you!  During the pandemic, I converted my home studio into a broadcast space with my son, Liam, and we ended up producing over 50 weekly "Live from the Bunker" live stream concerts. It was a blast to work with him, and a fun technical challenge as well.

It's been four years since your last record. Was that distance down to COVID and lockdowns and the like, or just the natural course of things?

The gap was due to a combination of many things. I was pretty burned out from traveling so much and honestly wasn't all that inspired to write before the pandemic hit. That break gave me time to reset, be more present at home and get back into the process of writing again.  

It looks like you've got a good run of gigs coming up, and I always remember you back in the day seemingly on the road absolutely all the time. Have you been able – and willing – to keep up that kind of pace? What's touring like for you these days?

Well, touring is still my favorite thing to do. I cut back when my kids were small and made that change sort of permanent. Now that they are both grown, I'm starting to push a bit more. I don't care much for air travel these days, but I am grateful every time I get to play music no matter where I am.

Tell us a bit about the making of "The Ravine.”

The record started out with me and the late great Mike Hoffmann co-producing in 2021. We tracked four or five tunes before Mike tragically passed away during a break in the recording. It was tough to get back into the mind-set needed to finish the record in the wake of his passing, but after many months, I did.

The album features my long-time collaborators including keyboard virtuoso Dave Adler, Dave Schoepke on drums, Carmen Nickerson on vocals and Eric Madunic on bass. It was recorded all over Milwaukee, but primarily at The Exchange by Kevin Arndt.

Willy Porter Band
Willy Porter Band.

We went old school in that we cut the full band live, with me singing and playing live, then added some things. There are some wonderful guest appearances by Darrell Scott, as well as the great multi-instrumentalist, Chris Wagoner and Grammy-winning bassist/producer Todd Sickafoose,  to name a few.

OK, last question and this is a hard-hitting one: why has it taken so long for you to pay tribute to Uke in a song?

This is the best question of the batch!  After 50 years of broadcast excellence, I thought Bob Uecker was worthy of a tune in his honor! I grew up listening to him, and think he brings a feel and flow to the game that is just magnificent. He's a gift to the game and a true National Treasure.  

We're incredibly lucky to have him on our side! Go Brewers!

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.