Walt Lontkowski — known by his fans as “Walt Hamburger” from his days with the punk rock band The Hamburgers — has been practicing his craft for more than 18 years. At just 15, he was already playing in a couple funk bands while honing his jazz skills in the school band at Neenah High. Senior year he earned the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, eventually going to UW-Whitewater where he played the jazz trombone.
Musical instruments he knows how to play collectively include the trombone, piano, guitar, bass, trumpet, kazoo, and all variety of whistles.
During his eclectic music career to date, Hamburger has collaborated with a wide range of musicians. Past band connections include collaborations with Caution to the Wind, Honor Amongst Thieves, The Hamburgers, and Obvious Man Hands.
Notable artists he’s played with include Richie Ramone, Joey Cape, Dave Hause (of The Loved Ones), Kristopher Roe (from The Ataris), Chris Cressell (of The Flatliners), Kepi (from Groovie Ghoulies) and Josh Caterer (from Smoking Popes). Local musicians he’s teamed with include Justin Perkins, Tyler Streeter, Brett Newski, Auralai, and Jordin Baas.
Today he’s finding his groove as a single patty, solo folk-esque singer/songwriter.
Recently signed on with pop-punk legend Joey Cape’s label, One Week Records, Hamburger has a newly released debut solo record and is on the cusp of a USA/Canada tour.
“Walt is a diamond in the rough” says Cape who is highly revered by punk rockers for his notoriety with Lagwagon, Me First and The Gimme Gimmies. Cape claims to have “discovered” the unassuming, energetic performer while performing together at a Green Bay show at The Lyric Room.
Cape and crew had to head to Winnepeg shortly after the gig. Not much conversation ensued, but contact info was shared and Hamburger gave him a demo CD.
“I didn’t give it much thought and was surprised when Joey called me about a week later and asked if I wanted to make a record. He and his bandmates were listening quite a bit to my CD apparently and really like it. Joey especially loved the song Agape.”
Liked it enough to fly the Appleton musician to his home/studio pad in the hills of San Francisco (in Jerry Garcia’s old neighborhood) where Hamburger hung out for a week while recording amongst Cape’s family, pets, friends and fellow music artists.
According to Cape, “A one week record is ten songs that are recorded in seven days. The records are produced in my home studio. The artist is invited to my house to eat, drink, sleep and record music for one week. Given the limited schedule, there is no time to overproduce. The idea stems from my long-time love affair with demos, as I’m often disappointed with the big production that follows. I don’t want to hear what the studio sounds like, I want to hear what the artist sounds like. The goal here at One Week Records is to produce high quality recordings that are an honest representation of on artist’s creativity.”
“Just being able to wear shorts in January was exciting, recalls Hamburger. Yet here I was recording in the private home of one of my musical idols. Truly, it was like I won a rock and roll fantasy camp contest. Yet I’ve never approached a label, never really submitted my stuff.”
105.7 WAPL’s Rick McNeal recalls Hamburger was one of the most memorable moments on the Mile of Music festival’s “band wagon” bus last summer.
“One of my more delightful experiences at the 2014 Mile of Music was catching Walt Hamburger performing on a Valley Transit bus. I’d heard of him before then but had not seen him. His unassuming everyman charm seemed to be a hit with most everybody on the packed bus singing along. In fact, he had us singing from one end of the Avenue to the other and back. I actually stayed on the bus longer than I planned just to catch his whole set. Sadly, I ended up missing another band I wanted to see. Damn you, Walt Hamburger!”
(You can hear WAPL’s Rick & Len talk about Walt Hamburger and the Mile of Music bus on August 11, 2014 via this audio broadcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebnByUR5W5k.)
“I got to hear Three Tattoos, the first song from Walt’s upcoming album. It’s a fun tune with the same quirky feel of early Bare Naked Ladies. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I’m afraid to see it in print. “Rick McNeal of WAPL says Walt Hamburger reminds him of bare naked ladies.” Good God, what kind of bare naked ladies has Rick McNeal been hanging out with?”
(You can take a listen to Three Tattoos here: https://soundcloud.com/oneweekrecords/three-tattoos-by-walt-hamburger)
The song made its radio debut in May on WAPL’s Home Brewed, the stations new local music show Saturday mornings at nine.
McNeal witnessed another memorable performance at a recent live show at Fox River House in Appleton: “Walt whistles like he’s scoring a Tarantino film!”
Hamburger apparently need not whistle, however, to get people’s attention. “I couldn’t believe the strangers I encountered at Mile of Music who saw me play and were yelling my name on the streets when I walked by. My time playing on the bus was especially fun. I actually broke three strings on an acoustic guitar, which is rare. The whole experience was just so cool and such a surprise!”
And the surprises continue. There’s also a softer side to the talented “everyman” that earns the respect of fellow performers and fans. It’s customary for Hamburger (who’s vegetarian, by the way. A fish eating pesco-vegetarian, or pescatarian, to be exact) to collect donations at his shows for Valley Cats Cat & Kitten Rescue and Orphan Animal Rescue & Sanctuary (OARS).
“Walt is a funny guy and a good hang but also a good role model because he gives back,” says Wisconsin singer/songwriter Jordin Baas, one of Hamburger’s “favorite people to play with.”
“Jordin is such a brilliant, unselfish musician who makes things look so easy.”
“It’s so cool that he helps animals without homes and collects donations for the animal shelter at his shows,” says Baas. “And even though his name is Hamburger, he’s public about being a [fish eating] vegetarian, which is also something to be admired.”
Adds Mile of Music’s founder/curator Cory Chisel, “I love his passion for animals… I also love how much joy music making clearly gives him. There’s a purity to what he puts out that resonates with an audience!”
Hamburger’s talent definitely resonated with Fox River House staffer Jessica Boogaard where Walt has been a long-time friend and patron.
“We knew that he played music, but we always kind of passed it off as one of those “basement hobbies.” A few years ago, Patti (the owner) finally agreed to let Walt play in the bar after a good amount of badgering by Walt. We had no idea what to expect, and if you know Walt like we know Walt, honestly we were all a little nervous. So as he started to set up, my co-worker Kate and I were tending bar together, in quiet anticipation. The crowd filled in, and Walt began to play. Kate and I almost dropped the drinks we were serving and looked at each other and almost simultaneously said out loud, “Holy crap, he’s actually really good!”
So good, in fact, that the descriptor “Punk Rock Legend” often prefaces his stage name Hamburger, “I kept that name after my days with The Hamburgers because “it makes people happy, it’s kind of classic American, and it’s easier to remember than Lontkowski.”
But the name alone hasn’t always been enough to get people to take notice. “I was feeling saucy one time while performing at The Crunchy Frog in Green Bay. No one was paying attention, so I jokingly yelled out to the crowd, “Don’t you know who I am?! I’m Punk Rock Legend Walt Hamburger!!”
If they weren’t paying attention then, they will be now.