COVID BLUES NEWS AND NEW VIDEO PERFORMANCE
It's been a couple of months since my last newsletter, but with COVID-19 cases still rising and venues in lockdown, there is not a whole lot to report. I hope you are all doing well during these trying times. Be sure to check out the video link to a new song at the end of this email blast.
My previous hopes that summertime gigs would get the go-ahead have been quelled, and now it's looking like fall performances will be cancelled as well. I remember one time working with the great Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, as we were tearing down our equipment and getting ready to load it into his van, he commented, "This is the shit we get paid for. The playing is free!" That's exactly the way I feel about losing all this work. Playing the gigs is fun; getting the bookings is the hard part. It often takes weeks or even months of emailing and phone calls to confirm just one gig. While I still had some holes to fill in my calendar, I had enough bookings right into December to keep me going for the year. It's somewhat heartbreaking to have spent so much time doing this all for nothing. As a self-managed musician, much of my days are typically spent lining up shows, booking hotels and making travel arrangements. Since we can't predict when this pandemic will end, nobody is booking future shows. There is also the concern that some venues won't be able to survive this layoff, and I would imagine that many potential concert goers may be wary to sit in a crowded venue for some time once we finally emerge from lockdown.
The internet is currently flooded with musicians doing live broadcasts, but I have to wonder how many people are actually watching a full hour of someone's performance? If you're like most people I talk to, you perhaps catch part of a song, then move onto something else, just like going around the horn with the remote on the television. From a performer's perspective, I feed off the energy from an audience and find sitting in front of a computer to play just ain't the same.
Contrary to my usual upbeat perspective, I realize this month's newsletter has taken on a very negative tone. We are currently living in troubled times. What with the pandemic, a bigoted-violence-inciting president south of the border, the senseless killings of our black brothers and sisters, climate change and more, it is sometimes hard to stay positive. At least Dania and I are living in a beautiful rural spot and we have fun hanging out together. Fans have been kind with donations to my online tip jar and I thank you for that. My heart goes out to the younger musicians that I know who are struggling with high rents and no work. I'm also extremely grateful for all the frontline and essential workers who are risking their lives helping others.
NEW SONG VIDEO PERFORMANCE
In spite of the current situation, the world keeps on turning and this crap will eventually pass. To sign off on a positive note, CLICK HERE to see a video of a new song called "Together We Have It All". I hope you enjoy it. I miss you all. Stay safe everybody!
IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION RE ABOVE!
I want to clarify a comment that I made in the above newsletter that I sent out earlier today that might have been construed as being callous. At least one person that I know of took it the wrong way and that certainly was not my intention.
When I wondered how many people actually watch musicians' live broadcasts for the full duration of the concert, it was in no way intended to knock those who are doing them. Many of these players are my friends and I'm sure there are lots of people out there that are grateful to view these. I've not done a live stream for a couple of reasons. Aside from our slower rural internet which makes it near impossible for me to do, I also had some concerns that watching on the net along with the ads and notices that constantly pop up, people might be distracted from watching all the way through. I wasn't putting musicians down nor did I intend this to be mean spirited. I was merely commenting on that particular platform for live concerts. I hope I've cleared this up! Please accept my apologies if you took this as being offensive.
COVID-19 ISOLATION AND CANCELLATIONS!!!!
I hope you are all doing well. I'm sure we all miss our friends, miss going out, and, a lot of you probably even miss working. I know I do. It's very strange out there; like a science fiction movie where people aren't allowed to have physical contact. The whole world is feeling the same thing. We've been isolating, staying at home. I kinda feel like Howard Hugh's, except without all that money.
EVERYTHING IS CANCELLED!!!
This has been a strange year so far. First, I broke my wrist on January 7 and was unable to perform for a of couple of months. I worked extra-hard at my physio, and was able to get my fingers working well enough to play a gig a month ahead of schedule. That was on March 14. I played in Belleville and it felt great to be back at it. Two days later, all my spring-time gigs were cancelled. Summer gigs are still up in the air. What can you do!? There are so many self-employed people in the same boat and we are all feeling the pinch. We just have to deal with it as best we can.
If we continue to isolate and be smart about this, hopefully this pandemic will end sooner than later. I applaud the front line workers who are risking their lives every day to help those in need of medical assistance. I'm thankful to the grocery store workers and the others who are keeping essential services open. I am also very grateful to those of you who have bought my music, contributed to my online tip jar or donated during these difficult times. It sure helped. Thank you.
Lots of musicians are presenting online concerts. Our slowish, rural internet has kept me from doing this, but I have managed to get a few performance videos up on Youtube and Facebook. Unfortunately, the video files are so big, they take forever to upload, or they time out before uploading. I will keep trying to get more posted. Here's a couple of them:
While there are many negatives to this horrible pandemic, it does come with a few silver linings:
- I get to spend more time with the person I would most want to be isolated with!
-We're not spending money on gas since we don't go anywhere
-While I really miss performing and the interaction with a live audience, the slower pace of not being on the road and having to be somewhere at a certain time is kinda nice for a change. It's like a glimpse into what it would be like to be retired!
-We're getting tons of chores done around the house (firewood cut, split, stacked; sheds cleaned; yard cleaned; new shelf in the studio, seeds planted, etc.
-I have more time to practice and play my instruments
-we no longer get annoying telemarketing calls around dinner time
-I've read a lot of good books lately
-Telephone conversations with folks I've not spoken to in years.
Ironically, now that I finally have the time to visit friends or have them over, I can't because we are supposed to isolate. No doubt we are all starting to feel cooped up and anxious to get back to our lives. These are trying times, but remember, they are trying for everybody. Let's try to be kind and understanding.
Our parents and grandparents lived thru the depression and world wars. They made do with very little. When the government and front line health care workers plead with us to STAY HOME, we should heed their warning. It's not really that hard to do.Try and plan your meals so you only have to go grocery shopping once a month or every few weeks, and don't go out in public unless it is absolutely necessary. You can "see" your family and friends on Facebook or Skype and stay connected with social media.
Between my broken wrist and gigs being cancelled, I feel like I've been isolating all year. I'll look forward to the day I can get back up on stage somewhere and play some songs for your smiling faces. Until then, stay home, stay safe and stay well. I miss you all!
BACK IN ACTION!!!!
This year didn't exactly start off the way I had planned. Breaking my wrist was quite a setback, and I was extremely disappointed to have had to cancel so many gigs. These couple of months off have been the longest I've ever been away from work in my entire career!
My cast is finally off now, and I'm currently able to play guitar for short periods of time. My surgeon says I should be good to go by April and I start physiotherapy this week. However, I'm hell-bent on getting my muscle strength back into shape by March 14 when I'm planning to return to work. I just can't stand to be away from it any longer. I'm practising and getting stronger every day.
I am extremely grateful to those of you who purchased album downloads during this forced hiatus. A couple of you even sent in unsolicited donations, and I want you to know how much they were appreciated. They really helped me out. A big shout-out is also in order to the Peterborough Musician's Benevolent Association (again, unsolicited) and the Kingston Musicians' Union. An extra-special thanks goes to my sweet wife, Dania, who did everything around the house, drove me to appointments and showered me with love. I was in very good hands.
While I may lack some finesse in my playing for first couple of gigs back, hopefully my joy in playing music again will make up for it. I am elated to be back in action, and I've got a few new songs written for you to hear too.
"NORTHERN BAYOU" A CHART TOPPER IN 2019
In the annual Roots Radio Music Charts, "Northern Bayou" ranked #4 for blues in Canada and #135 worldwide. It was also the top blues pick back in the September issue of Maple Blues magazine. A big thanks to all the deejays for playing it. 2019 was a fantastic year for me, touring throughout Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, playing festivals, concert venues, and more.
MAPLE BLUES AWARD NOMINATION!
I'm happy to report that I have been nominated for a Maple Blues Award as "Harmonica Player Of The Year"! Harmonica is the instrument that has always been closest to my heart and it is nice to be recognized for that. This is my eleventh nomination; I've yet to win one of these coveted awards, but win or lose, this feels absolutely great! I am in some fine company along with Harpdog Brown, Steve Marriner, Jim Zeller and Roly Platt. I will be at the awards gala at Koerner Hall, Toronto on Monday Feb. 3 as I play in the house band for this musical event.
LATE FALL BLUES NEWS
With the cooler weather here, my busy touring schedule is slowly winding down after one of my busiest years yet. I've travelled countless miles and played some great places & venues. I'll tend to stay a little closer to home in the winter months, but there's still lots of opportunities to catch me live. I'd also like to remind you not to miss the rare, full-band appearance of AL LERMAN & NORTHERN BAYOU coming to Hugh's Room Live on Nov. 21.
I'm thrilled to bring the studio band that played on my Northern Bayou album to Hugh's Room Live in Toronto. Featuring producer ALEC FRASER on electric bass, LANCE ANDERSON on piano and organ, CHUCK KEEPING on drums, it's a treat to play with these long-time friends. The band recently made its live debut at the Southside Shuffle Blues Fest in Port Credit and fans showed their approval with a standing ovation. Come witness the joy that's created when AL LERMAN & NORTHERN BAYOU come together for an evening of music magic.
FALL BLUES NEWS
I'm just back from a successful tour of BC and Alberta. Every gig was a winner, most notably the incredible weekend of music and camaraderie that took place at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival. Highlights included playing with the top notch house band led by Brent Parkin... workshop stages with the Sue Foley Band, Lil' Jimmy Reed, Jeni Thai, the Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer and more... a standing ovation for my main show... meeting so many great musicians and friendly fans... dinner with Ruthie Foster & her band... breakfast with Valdy... catching up with lots of old friends... beautiful mountains... selling a lot of CDs. I also got word that my Northern Bayou album had moved up the Roots Radio Chart to #2! Save for one week, it has managed to stay in the Top Ten since it entered the charts back in May at #8. It's been a great summer, and it feels good to be back home again. There's plenty of opportunities to catch me all over Ontario this fall, from full band shows to intimate solo house concerts. I hope to see you there!
The blues-loving crowd at the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival.
April 12, 2019
NORTHERN BAYOU HITS THE STREETS TODAY!!!!
My brand new album Northern Bayou officially hits the streets today! The album offers up eleven standout tracks in an upbeat acoustic/electric setting that features spirited performances by all involved: Alec Fraser (producer, electric bass, backing vocals); Lance Anderson (piano/organ); Chuck Keeping (drums); and a special guest appearance by my long time pal Morgan Davis (guitar). It is available from iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, CD Baby and of course my own web. I appreciate your support and hope you'll pick a copy today!!
ABOUT THE COVER
My wife had taken the photos used for the front and back covers a couple of years ago. We live in a beautiful, forested spot along the Crowe River. The gravel road from our house dips down for a stretch before it begins to climb up a steep hill. When the river rises in spring, that long dip in the road sometimes floods deep enough that we can't drive our car through. Consequently, we park on higher ground for a couple of weeks until the water level recedes. In order to get my gear from the house to the car and vice-versa, I first have to haul it in a canoe. Once I decided on the album title, her photos seemed like the perfect images to use, conveying the mysterious look of a bayou and the swampy feel of the music. Graphic designer Bruce Greenaway took the ball from there and hit it out of the park!
SPECIAL GIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!!
I mostly perform solo shows, so it is rare to find me playing with a band these days. This gig is a way's off, but I want to let Toronto-area folks know that I will be bringing the studio band that played on my latest to Hugh's Room Live on Nov. 21: Al Lerman & Northern Bayou! This is one show that I hope you won't miss. You can tell from listening to the album that a lot of magic happens when this group of friends gets together to play. Combine that with one of TO's best music venues and you have a winner for sure. I hear they have a new menu as well. We hope to make this an annual event and a full house would certainly cement that. Mark your calendars for Nov. 21!
WINTER BLUES NEWS
Jan. 14, 2019
I'm a little late, but Happy New Year! I wish you all the best, and look forward to playing for you in 2019!! Last year ended off in style with a fun "Bluesy Christmas" show at Hugh's Room. Thanks to promoter Ross Robinson for putting this one together. One of the highlights for me was an impromptu harp trade-off with Monkey Junk's Steve Marriner. I was glad somebody captured this on video and here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwl6_fqyb7g This video got over 2,000 views when it was first posted on Facebook! I've since posted it to Youtube.
Back in November I went into the studio with producer/bassist Alec Fraser, piano man Lance Anderson and drummer Chuck Keeping. We played "live-off-the floor" over two days and recorded 13 songs, 12 of which will be included on the new disc. It was fun and loose in the studio, and these guys rocked! As an added bonus, it was a treat to have my old pal Morgan Davis drop by and play on a track.
After New Years, I was back in Toronto for an afternoon with Alec while we added some harmony vocals to finish off the recording. I left the session feeling quite happy with it and I look forward to hearing the mixes, which I'll get in a week or two. Watch for an early spring release. I will keep you posted.
Last newsletter, I asked for some album title ideas, and I want to thank those of you that took the time to send them to me. There were some really great suggestions, and I'm hanging on to them for possible consideration later down the line. However, after hearing all the songs together, I came up with the album title "Northern Bayou". It seems to suggest the gumbo-like mix of blues, roots and R&B that this Canadian boy is offering up for you, and it also evokes the place where I've been living for the past ten years.
Things don't get terribly busy until April for me, but there's still lots going on. Rehearsals start for the Maple Blues Awards this week as I play in the house band. Further ahead, lots of tour dates are already confirmed, and I feel this will be another busy year for me. There will be lots of Ontario dates, and I would love it if I could make my way to the east coast. I've put some feelers out so we'll see what happens there. Later this summer I'll be playing in BC and Alberta. Stay tuned...
DECEMBER BLUES NEWS
It has been a wonderful year, playing lots of high profile shows and festivals across the country. Now that winter is here, my touring schedule slows down considerably; I'm not a big fan of long drives through lousy winter conditions! I've done so much driving to and from gigs, I actually welcome a little time off. This has given me the opportunity to finish off some new songs and gear up to making a new album. I also have a couple people looking to record at my home studio, so while you may not see me out playing as much this season, I will be keeping busy in a slightly different musical capacity. On top of that, rehearsals will start soon for the Maple Blues Awards, and there is always a monumental amount of material to learn for this show. There are still a handful of shows to play before the year ends. Check my schedule here.
NEW ALBUM STARTS PRODUCTION
Last week I went into Toronto's E-Room studio with Alec Fraser producing and playing electric bass, Lance Anderson on piano & organ, and drummer Chuck Keeping, who is now a member of the alt-rock band Big Wreck. Not only are these great musicians, they are also great friends. We had a lot of fun laying down these songs. I had never played them with a band before and they came together very quickly. Thanks to my wife Dania, we were well fed as we wined and dined between takes. Twisting the dials on the console was Grammy Award winning recording engineer Peter Moore. We recorded more than an album's worth of songs "live off the floor" in only two days, and I am very pleased with the results. As an added bonus, my pal Morgan Davis dropped by the studio and played guitar on a rockin' instrumental we called "Delta Stomp". Great performances all around, and a sonically pleasing album. To sweeten the pot, there's still a few overdubs to add, which is always kinda fun to do. Those will probably get done over the next week or so before Alec starts mixing. Expect a late March release date. In 2019 I will be touring in support of this recording. I already have a August tour of BC and Alberta in place with lots more to come.
HELP ME NAME THIS ALBUM!
I've yet to come up with a title for the upcoming album, so if you have any ideas, please email them to me at email@example.com with the words "Album Title" in the subject box. If I end up using your suggestion, I will mail you the new CD upon it's release. A short, one, two or three word title would be best.
LATE SUMMER BLUES NEWS
So far, it's been a busy summer full of amazing gigs! I am recently back from a cross-Canada solo tour that went incredibly well. The highlight would have to be the Vancouver Island Music Festival. Besides my own solo slot there, which I'm happy to say received a standing ovation, it was a treat to be involved in several "workshop stage" performances. These are where musicians playing at the fest share a stage and jam songs together. It was a thrill to trade licks with Senegal's Elage Diouf, play Lebonese influenced music with Lamia Yared et Ensemble Zaman, rootsy country with BC's Duck Creak and Ontario's Gabrielle Goulet.
Pictured above is a workshop stage that included former Bob Dylan/Levon Helm guitarist Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, NYC based band Western Centuries, Mississippi bluesman Terry Harmonica Bean, and Montreal folkie Rob Lutes. I was also honoured that my friend Shakura S'Aida invited me up for the final two songs of her Saturday night closing show that also boasted Sacred Steel's Chuck Campbell laying down some cool grooves on pedal steel guitar. Lots of music industry people were there as well, and I am excited that I have been invited to perform at another major western festival next August. More on that at a later date. A big thanks to artistic director Doug Cox for staging this wonderful festival!
There's lots of great gigs coming up. Check the "SHOWS" section often!
A BEAUTIFUL GIFT AS SUMMER IS IN FULL SWING!
Since moving out to the country nine years ago, I have been sitting in with some folks at the Havelock Town Hall most Wednesday afternoons. They play old time country music and fiddle tunes. They are warm, friendly people and it is always fun to hang out and sing some songs that I don't normally do in my shows. I was totally blown away last week when one of the jammers, Murray Henderson, presented my with a brand new 12 string guitar! He said he had never seen me play a 12 string and thought I should have one. It is a really nice guitar, hand-made in Canada with a cedar top, cherry body and mahogany neck. I will cherish it forever, not only as a fine instrument, but as a testament to how kind the people are around here. No doubt this baby will end up on a song or two on my next album!
Summer is in full swing and I have just returned from instructing at the Shared Harvest Harmonica Retreat, a three day harmonica workshop in Dunnville, Ontario. It was an amazing weekend with students coming from all corners of the globe. It was a treat to hang with everybody including the other instructors Joe Filisko, Roly Platt, Jerome Godboo and Carlos Del Junco. Andrew Zajac was also on hand, and I learned quite a bit from him about repairing harmonicas.
I am about to head out on a two week cross country tour. I'll be performing three shows a day on the VIA Rail train from Toronto to Vancouver. Once there, I play the Vancouver Island Music Fest for three days where other artists include Ry Cooder, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, Arlo Guthrie and many more. After that, it's a house concert presented by the White Rock Blues Society, then a concert at Wise Hall in Vancouver. I fly home on July 18th, play a couple of Ontario dates, then take two weeks off for vacation. As much as I love playing, I look forward to spending some downtime with my wife and enjoying life here at home on the river!
Gigs and touring always slow down in the winter months, but now that spring is here my calendar is brimming lots of great gigs. I've got theatre shows, house concerts, festivals, guest spots, plus a whole lot more!
The songwriting muse has been kind lately and I plan to include many newly written songs in my upcoming tour dates. I also hope to record a new album later in the fall, so stay tuned on that news. I hope you can make it out when I'm playing close by. Check the SHOWS section to see where I'm gigging near you.
HARD CORE HARP!
I am incredibly happy that Electro-Fi Records will include a track of mine on a new album slated for a fall release that celebrate's the label's 20th Anniversary. The album will be called Hard Core Harp and will feature tracks by Snooky Pryor, Billy Boy Arnold, Paul Oscher, Mark Hummel, George "Harmonica" Smith, James Harman, Harmonica Shah, Little Mack Simmons, Sam Myers and more. I am in some pretty stellar blues company here. My track, "Liquified Boogie", is an improvised harmonica instrumental I cut a few years back with The Juke Joint Rockers, which featured Grammy winner and long-time Muddy Waters drummer Willie Big Eyes Smith, along with Chicago stalwarts Bob Stroger and Little Frank; Jack DeKeyzer, Kenny Blues Boss Wayne, John Mays, Alec Fraser and Michael Fonfara. That was such a fun session which I co-produced with Alec Fraser. A big heartfelt thanks to Andrew Galloway at Electro-Fi for including me on this compilation, and to Andrew Kempa who initially hired me onto the Juke Joint Rockers album project. Once the disc is released, I'll have some copies available for sale at my shows.
I was honoured to receive a recognition award for "Leadership In Arts & Culture", presented by the County Of Peterborough. It's been a very busy summer so far and I was glad I was able to attend the award ceremony. A few weeks later I got this certificate in the mail from the government of Canada. Sweet!!
SLOW BURN MAKES "TOP ALBUMS OF THE YEAR" WORLDWIDE
The Roots Music Report just released the world-wide list of the Top 200 Blues Albums Of The Year. I'm pleased to report my "Slow Burn" disc made the year end list, sitting at #54. The number one album was "Let Me Get By" by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which is a fave of mine too. "Slow Burn" managed a spot on the charts every week (except for one) since it's June 2016 release. It had previously reached as high as #4. The RMR list is based on world-wide radio play, so it's nice to see this collection of songs is reaching a lot of listeners. I'm grateful to all the DJs that have played it and to folks like you that have bought it. So far, I have sent mail-order purchases to Canada, USA, Europe, The Netherlands, Australia and South America.