• Writer Al Dawson
  • Pub Co: Smokin' Moose Productions LLC
  • Admin: Non-cdbaby


Al Dawson


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Al Dawson "Dreams"
  • Performed By: Al Dawson
  • Album: A Traveler's Hat
  • Album UPC: 700261309286
  • Album ID: aldawson2
  • Label: Smokin' Moose Productions
  • CD Baby Account: CDB00153975
  • CD Baby Track ID: 7740162
  • ISRC: ushm91029583
  • Released: 10/10/10

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A little bit of blues, rock, folk and even an oldie or two mixed together and performed by one heck of a singer and guitarist.


A Dawson was born to two farmers in the Midwest in what was then a rural area but is now a suburb of Chicago. At a young age his parents instilled in him a love of music. In fact he recorded his first record “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window” at the age of four, and the acetate of that recording is probably choking off plants in some faraway landfill somewhere. While a young boy he would ride along in the family sedan in the annual trek to somewhere in the vast expanses of America. One year it would be to California and the next to the Dakotas and the next to Florida. It was the Florida trips that he remembers best. There were no interstates then and the southern two lane route out of Illinois took them through the heart of the rural south, through the small towns with their segregated drinking fountains and washrooms. The road passed by small shacks on the sides of the road where old black men sat on front porches and played country blues to no one in particular. Al could hear some of these songs as his father drove slowly southward along the tree lined roads. This was the first music to etch itself into his young memory.
In his early teens his parents encouraged him to join a drum and bugle corps and learn the drums. He studied under Mitch Markovich who was the three time consecutive national rudimental drum champion. Al learned all the important snare drum chops and toured with Mitch to the various drum championships. When home, and while his parents were out of the house, he would crank up the volume on their console record player while listening to his sister’s 45’s, playing snare along with Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock and rollers from the era. He eventually bought a used Gretsch drum and started playing in high school and garage bands. He also joined the school choir. He found that singing came naturally and was told by the choir director that with a voice like his he would go far. But it was in 1964 that his musical path was cemented. Otis Redding’s recording of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” came on the radio and through the tiny dashboard speaker of his father’s Dodge he realized what his whole life was about to become. “I had always thought, and maybe was taught that way, that being a singer was about hitting the right notes and phrasing correctly but until that moment I never realized that pure, raw emotion trumps everything. I knew then that all I wanted to do was sing”.
The following year, 1965, marked another important moment in Al’s life, as it does in all teenagers’ lives. He got his driver’s license. Now able to borrow his father’s car, he began almost weekly Sunday morning trips to Maxwell Street on Chicago’s near west side. There, music that had been performed since the 1930’s and 1940’s and became known as the Chicago Blues could be heard on the streets and in the alleys being played by what would become some of the legends of electric blues. Ignoring the vendors with their stolen goods (and great prices) he went straight toward the electrified sounds of something he recalled from the back of his memory-the sounds of the old black men sitting on their porches in the Deep South. This could be the point at which Al began to really absorb everything about music. His parents listened to country and western, his sister rock and roll, the local stations were playing The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who (still Al’s favorite rock band). He wanted to learn all about all the styles, sounds, genres, all that music ever was and would be. He listened to Big Bill Hill and the blues and R&B on WOPA, all the pop music on WCFL and WLS, Ralph Emery and country on WSM at night, classical on WEFM, WFMT and WNIB, jazz on WAAF and folk on WFMT.
Yes, Al became a music sponge, soaking up the rhythms and styles surrounding him but he was, after all, a teenager and teenagers love rock and roll. And most of the local bands that consisted of and were playing to teenagers were rock bands. So that is the direction he was headed. After playing in a number of school bands he got an audition with a local band with a Beatle type sound called the Squires, which featured a young guitarist and songwriter named Lenny Kerley (more on him later). He auditioned on their current drummer’s kit which was unfamiliar to him and he didn’t know how to set it up so their roadie put them together while the band members stared at Al thinking “what the hell’s with this guy?” But, perhaps miraculously, he passed the audition. It was time for a real drum set so he went to Frank’s Drum Shop in downtown Chicago and bought a brand new Rogers four piece kit with Zildjian cymbals and began a regiment of serious study. As his drumming improved he began to get other offers, which eventually led to his recording various projects at the legendary Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. “I was just a kid when I first walked in the front door of Chess” he recalls, “but the first thing that hit me was the smell of hot vinyl from their pressing plant. That to me was the most awe inspiring thing I’ve ever sensed in my life.” Here he began to meet other musicians and through them his exposure to other types of music was heightened, and of course his love of the blues was being reinforced. He left the Squires and formed a blues band with Al on lead vocals and harmonica and Bruce Birkland on drums. It was called, not surprisingly, The Al Dawson/Bruce Birkland Blues Band. They were a fixture around the Chicago area until Al got a great offer to play drums and sing with a Motown band called The Boston Tea Party. The Tea Party not only gave Al a chance to hone his R&B drum chops but his singing style as well as the group members had the ability to switch roles during their performances. During all this time he was soaking up influences as diverse as Ray Charles, The Beatles, The Who, Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Hank Williams, Sam Cook and of course Otis Redding. He also began private singing lessons with the choir’s assistant director.
One new years eve The Tea Party was playing at a dinner theater , Pheasant Run, in St. Charles, Illinois and in the audience were members of The Cryan’ Shames, a pop band with Beatle type harmonies. Lenny Kerley (remember him?) had recently joined the band and wanted them to hear Al sing and play drums. That night Al stepped out of the drummer’s role for one song as a lead singer. He did The Temptation’s “My Girl”, a song still in his repertoire, and was instantly asked to be the Shames new drummer. Of course he said yes. The Shames toured all over the Midwest and were a featured band on the great television network show “Lloyd Thaxton’s Showcase ‘68”. They recorded their third and final album, “Synthesis” in New York at Columbia Records which was released at the end of 1968 and featured Al as the lead vocalist on “Let’s Get Together” (released before the Youngbloods’ version). It also showed the Shames moving in a more progressive direction which allowed Al to stretch out a bit and drive the band in a harder fashion. Recording for Columbia Records in New York and meeting folks like Sly Stone, Al Kooper and Art Garfunkel was pretty heady stuff for a 19 year old and his first experience of being a musician on the road was exciting for sure, but the time spent on the tour bus, though filled with merriment and mayhem, , was a little bit frustrating for him as there wasn’t much for him to do. So he bought a cheap guitar and the guitarists in the band showed him how to play. Within a year he had progressed so much that it was time to get a better instrument. He bought a Martin which he still plays today.
After the band broke up Al found himself at a crossroads. His guitar playing had improved to the point where he felt that he enjoyed it much more than drumming and he wanted to push himself to learn even more. That’s when he met Jim and Alice Welton who at the time had a folk duet. That quickly became a trio as Al and the Weltons found in each other a perfect blend of guitar styles and harmony. They played at all the legendary coffee houses and folk clubs in the Chicago area including The Quiet Knight, Orphan’s and The Earl of Old Town where they hung out with the likes of Steve Goodman, Bonnie Kolok, John Prine and Bob Gibson. Things were going extremely well and then Al was drafted. Not much he could do about that. He went off to basic training and then to San Antonio, Texas where two things of note happened, one of which would change his life forever. While there, learning to be a medic, he played in the local coffee houses, as well as the one on base. A young lad, Steve Earle, would come in and listen to Al sing love songs and songs of protest. Steve learned of the Earl of Old Town and The Old Town School of Folk Music from Al and later taught and performed there. Steve wrote liner notes for Al’s first solo CD, “Against the Grain”. Al also met fellow soldier and songwriter John Seay, who was to become his lifelong friend and collaborator. In fact, Al probably does more of John’s songs than any other songwriter, including his own.
When Al returned from his army duties he hooked back up with Jim Welton and put together a folk-country- bluegrass band called Cotton (or Platte River Crossing, depending on when and where they were). It was at this time that he began to see that he had a talent for writing songs as well as singing and playing them. He also realized that he would never be a prolific writer but that was no problem because his good friend John Seay wrote great tunes that Al interpreted perfectly. And he wrote a lot of them. Anyway, Cotton (or Platte River Crossing, depending on when etc.) were pretty successful and recorded one fairly eclectic album that featured Lloyd Green on pedal steel guitar. By this time Al was playing Dobro and various percussion instruments. By the mid ‘70’s Al was in demand as a singer on the Chicago jingle scene, doing commercials for United Airlines, Juicy Fruit Gum, Franco-American, Heritage Bank, Meister Brau and MacDonald’s as well as many others and was doing session work for Jim Peterik of Survivor and Ides of March fame, writer of “Vehicle” and “Eye of the Tiger”. Al was finding his voice.
Flash forward to the 21st century. In 2008, after a long layoff, Al released his first album in over thirty years, “Against The Grain” and in 2009 began working on this CD, “A Traveler’s Hat”, an eclectic blend of folk, rock and pop.
Al has played, sung and recorded jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk, country, pop, hard rock and big band music. In fact pretty much everything except opera. He has performed as a singer, guitarist and drummer with The Cryan' Shames, The Boston Tea Party, Aorta, Platte River Crossing, Cotton, Possum River and Otis & The Elevators. He has been a member of AFTRA, SAG and has been a voting member of The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (the Grammy people). He has played music in the U.S., Southeast Asia, Europe and Canada. He has opened for (to name a few )The Who, Jimmy Buffett, The Hollies, The Moody Blues, Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows, The Association, Tom Rush, Tim Hardin and Count Basie (that’s a whole ‘nother story). His voice is better than it’s ever been and his guitar playing continues to grow. Now officially and old geezer, he looks forward to another 45 years of bringing joy to people through his music and art.
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