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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Greg Koch Plays Well

Milwaukee’s blues-rock titan releases new album

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Greg Koch describes his new album as “a dream.” The title, Plays Well with Others, is a signpost to what’s within. Koch had the opportunity to compose the songs with one of his favorite Milwaukee writers, John Sieger, and invite a half-dozen of his favorite musicians from around the country to perform them. The music follows the blues-rock trajectory the Milwaukee guitarist set for himself as far back as his first disc in 1993, yet the presence of so many ace players pushes the markers farther down the road.

Koch is a gregarious giant of a man whose outgoing personality helps define his music—and its wide appeal. Although he’s not a household name or a face familiar to readers of either People or Rolling Stone, Koch mapped out a successful career. He’s on the road 150 days a year between conducting clinics for Fender Guitars and touring the U.S. and Europe with his band.

“The credibility you get by being one of maybe three people in the world who work with Fender in this way is great in the guitar players’ world,” Koch says. And being a clinician has enabled him to meet some of the players on his new album. Jazz guitarist Robben Ford and Leonard Cohen’s music producer-bassist Roscoe Beck—both heard on the album—played with Koch at a 2007 guitar camp in Sicily. “At the end of the week, Robben said, ‘We should do something together,’ and it finally happened.”

Graced with Sieger’s lyrical wit and great gobs of guitar playing, Plays Well with Others is an audible labor of love for all players. The rich tradition of ’60s soul is mined often for melodies, arrangements and easygoing grooves. Featured on the album is Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere, blues guitar star Joe Bonamassa, New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary and Austin drummer Brannen Temple. Sieger sings on all tracks save one. Koch’s son Dylan plays drums and his regular sidemen, Theo Merriweather and Eric Hervey, are heard on keyboards and bass respectively.

The new album is barely a ripple on Koch’s busy schedule. He spends many days each month at Wildwood Guitars in Louisville, Colo., shooting guitar videos that have become popular on YouTube. He has written instruction books for Hal Leonard music publishers. “I have four kids. Fortunately I’ve been able to balance artistic integrity with supporting a family—and not being gone all the time,” Koch says. “It’s been miraculous.”

Greg Koch and John Sieger perform 6:30-9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 7 at River Rhythms in Pere Marquette Park.