Milwaukee Talks: Willy Porter

A live performance by hometown singer/songwriter Willy Porter is always full of energy and that certain Milwaukee-specific charm that comes from being a local entertainer. A cup of coffee with Porter doesn't provide the great music (he left the guitar at home), but the experience does bring out the down-to-earth friendliness of one of Brew City's better known music men.

With lyrics that offer much more than ordinary pop songs and are incredibly full of life, Porter's songs blend creative guitar arrangements, passion and a unique vibe that make the singer/songwriter and his band a national draw.

His latest self-titled release is a bit different from previous albums, but still spins stories and life with grooves like " If Love Were An Airplane" and the inspirational "Unconditional."

We enjoyed our recent cup of coffee with Porter as much as we do his new disc. He talked about life in Milwaukee, a new live album, future plans and more. Read on for our new installment of "Milwaukee Talks" with Willy Porter.

OMC: Where did you grow up?

WP: Born on the East Side and lived there for the first five years of my life, then moved to Mequon. I went to Homestead High School and I have continued to live in the city of Milwaukee ever since.

OMC: When did you start you music career?

WP: I started playing guitar when I was about 13. I studied classical guitar for a year, but mostly studied folk and contemporary acoustic music at the time of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez … also studied traditional music but contemporary song writing. Later on I got into rock 'n' roll bands and stuff and spent some time in high school as a guitar tech for a popular band at my high school.

When I got to college I fell into this group of people that were running a coffeehouse at the University of Wisconsin -- Eau Claire. Through those connections, I realized that acoustic music and songwriting was what I wanted to do.

OMC: What year did you graduate high school?

WP: I graduated in '83. I am officially old.

OMC: Did you start playing then in Eau Claire?

WP: I played at high school AFS and talent shows and stuff like that. That was my first taste of live performance, I guess. Really it was at UW-Eau Claire that I got into performing, at this coffeehouse which was a national-level room with a great sound system. It was called "The Cabin." They brought in a lot of people that were really amazing musicians, Preston Reed and Stanley Jordan.

They booked Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges -- they didn't play in that venue, but the community that was booking the concert that I was on was in part responsible for bringing artists to our campus. Some pretty amazing folks were running that program and they did a great job. I was sort of at 'musician graduate school' because I learned everything about booking a concert and promoting it. Learned how to deal with the agents, what the artists wanted to see when they were on the road, and how to take care of people to get the best results out of performance … that helped me understand how to tour later on.

OMC: Did you know early on in high school that this was what you wanted to do?

WP: I was pretty sure I wanted to be a musician, I just wasn't sure what genre of music I wanted to be in. First I thought it would be really cool to be a classical musician, and that was really attractive to me. But I have to say that I wasn't good enough and I wasn't disciplined enough at a young age -- so that wasn't going to be my calling. I think playing Bach tunes and things for six hours a day really didn't speak to me. But I have a deep respect for classical musicians and the discipline that it takes to do that.

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