Forty-two years after getting his first guitar, Milwaukee native Arthur Fowler has finally got around to making his first album — in Tokyo.
Fowler, a 54-year-old Spanish language instructor, has lived in Tokyo the past five years.
“As a language teacher, I wanted the experience being a total beginner, and I also wanted to learn a language that’s not a European language,” Fowler said. “I really love languages, and it seemed like (teaching) was a more steady money option. I have musician friends who have stuck with it for a long time and done a lot of great music and have had their challenges.”
But Fowler never stopped playing music since he got his first guitar when he was 12. Before that, his older sister introduced him to Cat Stevens, Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix, “singer-songwriter models for me,” Fowler said.
He wrote his first songs about five years later and studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for two and a half years in the ’80s. Material he wrote during that decade ended up on his debut album, “What’s Keeping Me Going,” independently released through CD Baby,Amazon and iTunes in April.
“I finally had a little bit of extra money and a little bit of extra time,” Fowler said. “And I had the good luck of being introduced through music acquaintances to a very good engineer with a professional-quality home studio. He liked my music, coached me and took on the role of record producer.”
That engineer, Seiki Kitano, also brought a number of collaborators to the project, including percussionist Yasui Kikuko.
“Tokyo is swarming with first-rate musicians available at an affordable rate,” Fowler said. They were also able to exceed Fowler’s modest initial ambitions for a guitar-and-vocals album.
“Yasui was in the mood and had the liberty to set up arrangements,” Fowler said. “This one part on the second to last song, ‘Splash,’ she had this round North African percussion instrument, like a big bottle.
“On another song she added an effect to a vocal passage, and another song, when a guitar solo would start or stop, she would hit a crash cymbal. It brought the songs to life and added drama.”
Lyrically, “Splash” speaks to Fowler’s occasional sense of isolation teaching languages overseas. He makes it to Milwaukee a couple times a year, and he’ll play a $5 show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St., at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 16, joined by his former guitar teacher, Jack Grassel.