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  • Writer's pictureKen Wallis

Ken Wallis Chats With Multi Award-Winning Canadian Blues & Roots Artist Al Lerman


Al Lerman


Al Leman is a veteran of the music industry.  His career took off with Fathead as the group pulled in two Juno awards. Since then he’s been touring as a solo act, playing acoustic guitar and a rack harmonica, and singing tunes with his distinctive voice. Known for his wit and sense of humour, his performances always feature relaxed talks about the greats of the blues genre.  His albums are tight and the music resonates with down-home lyrics.  Al Lerman encompasses what a blues musician should be!


Ken Wallis interviewed Al Lerman for the radio show BluesSource Canada.  The following are excerpts from that interview, edited and amended for clarity and brevity.



Al Lerman


Ken Wallis

Al Lerman has a brand-new album out, it’s an entitled Country-Fried Blues and joining us to tell all about it is Al Lerman. Al, thanks for coming on the show.


Al Lerman

Thanks for having me, nice to see you.


Ken Wallis

I really am enjoying the album. Tell us why you chose the title, Country-Fried Blues?


Al Lerman

We recorded it in an old 1830s farmhouse that had a certain character to it. And this record is probably closer to me than anything I've done. I live out in the country too, sort of a quite secluded area. I really think this recording reflects the kind of atmosphere that I'm in most of the time. And I had such wonderful musicians with me and we just really had a ball playing this stuff.


Ken Wallis

I pulled the CD out and started listening to it. The first song is The Backbug Song.  I couldn't stop playing it over and over again. Why did you pick that song as the first one? It's a great choice.


Al Lerman

Because I was hoping it might make people want to play that one over and over again when they first heard it. [LAUGHTER]  I don't know, that one was just a fun one. I think that was the first take we did of it and it just sounds so live. You can tell it's a band playing live. And that's why I hired those guys because I knew they would just nail my stuff.  I wrote that tune with my old Fathead bandmate Omar Tunnoch. That's an old Fathead song sort of redone anew.


Ken Wallis

It's such a happy-go-lucky type of song and I think it sets the tone for most of the album. You've mentioned all these great musicians.  Who played with you on the album?


Al Lerman

Well, Alex Fraser played upright bass and he played guitar on one song as well, and backing vocals, and he produced the record. Jimmy Bowskill played just about anything he could grab onto and  he's on mandolin and fiddle and he plays guitar on a couple of tunes. Steve O'Connor played some keyboards, accordion, organ and piano, and a few songs. And another ex-Fathead, Chuck Keeping was on drums and he's always a treat to work with.


Ken Wallis

I’ve got to ask about one other song, Big Bill’s Blues. Now I've got a funny feeling that's referring to somebody, but maybe you could tell our audience about that.


Al Lerman

It's referring to Big Bill Broonzy because he wrote that song. That was one of the covers that we did. That's the song I just started doing, I love the old earlier Blues stuff and that one just really struck me.  What really made that song was we looked over at Jimmy and said so you going to play mando on this because I had originally thought I wanted mandolin on the record, instead of a piano. I thought that would be a cool thing to do. And I'd been listening to some old Johnny Young records and I thought, mando was such a cool instrument in blues. So anyway, we turned to Jimmy and said you gonna play mando on this? He says no fiddle would be good. I said I can't afford to hire a fiddle player and he says I got one upstairs and I didn't even knew he played it. He just nailed it first take. 

 

And another funny thing about that song. It's got a nice loose vibe to it and because we were in this farmhouse staying over, I just assumed that it would be like a normal session where you you go in, you play for 8 hours and then you break. So we broke after 8 hours and we had our dinner and we're having a few drinks and hanging around and somebody said, hey, I feel good, let's cut a tune. So we cut that one and the next thing I knew it was like midnight or two in the morning and we're still recording stuff. And I thought, well this is fun. This is what musicians do when they hang out.


Ken Wallis

How did you go about writing the music for this album?  What comes first for you, the lyrics or the music?


Al Lerman

I’m not one of those songwriters that has a formula that I can sit down and just write a song like that. I'm always noodling on the guitar and sometimes out of that noodling an idea for maybe a chord pattern happens. Sometimes a phrase might pop into your head that you just sort of riff on in your head. So it's not any one thing that spurns me to to write a song. I wish I could just write them at will, but I can't.


Ken Wallis

I've seen you perform many times and what I really enjoy is you often get into the history of music and the Blues and I think that's admirable. You must be a student. You must have studied it for a long time.


Al Lerman

I really got interested in the music when I was about eleven, and at that time, the Yorkville Coffee House scene was really running. I had an older brother-in-law that was really into music. He had a Blues show at the University of Buffalo, so he was quite well informed and so he was taking me down to coffee houses like the Riverboat to hear different Blues artists. And I just fell in love with the music and when I'm playing now, I love talking about it because I feel so lucky that I got to play with so many of my heroes, like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Those guys are just giants in the field and to have met them and talked to them was great. I just have a lot of stories that I've accumulated over the years and it's fun to share those with folks.


Ken Wallis

And when you perform solo, you're always you got your guitar and you always have your harmonica with you. And I'm curious, which one did you start playing first?


Al Lerman

First when I was really seriously playing it was harmonica, but I did own a guitar before I owned a harmonica. I think everybody got their parents to get them some kind of cheap guitar after they saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, we all thought that looks like a pretty good job. Maybe I'll do that and then of course, I found the Blues. I had been playing the harp by the time I was about 13 and when I was 16 in high school, that's when the harmonica just took over, and I lived and breathed, no pun intended. I lived and breathed harmonica 24/7.   


I went out and met all my Blues heroes and there were so many great guys coming through Toronto at that time, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Big Walter Horton, Sonny Terry and I got to meet all those guys and just bugged them to show me stuff. I think they were kind of impressed that a young teen like myself was so into their music and knew everything about it. They took the time to show me. Guys like Carey Bell, we became good friends and he'd stop off at my apartment on his way out of town and sometimes phone me up and say, hey, listen to this man and he'd play me some riff and go try and do that. So yeah, I just feel I really grew up in a great time.


Ken Wallis

And you've been a member of so many different bands, of course, Fathead and the Maple Blues Band. And it goes on and on. But you're really well known for your solo act. Is that a different feel when you perform by yourself as opposed to within a band?


Al Lerman

Yeah it is. In a band, you're just a musical cog doing a certain role. When you're playing solo you gotta be doing everything. If you stop and take a drink of water, the show stops for a second and everybody's just staring at you taking a drink. So it's a different mindset. There's a lot more to concentrate on. You're singing, you're keeping time. You're playing guitar and you're playing harmonica solos. It's nice.


There's a lot of freedom in it and you know, now I understand why Blues guys played a lot by themselves, like Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. Sometimes it would be 12 bar Blues, sometimes it would be 13 bar Blues or whatever. 14 ½. Because when you’re by yourself, you don't have to worry about anybody going where you're going. You can do things on a whim. The downside of it is if a gig is going bad, and we all have bad gigs where nobody's listening, it's so much easier when you got a band that you can at least lean on a bit. It's awful lonesome when you're out there by yourself and nobody's paying attention.


Ken Wallis

Well, again, the album is entitled Country-Fried Blues. It's a great, great album. Where can fans get a copy of it?


Al Lerman

The best way that works out best for me anyway, is to hit me up on my website. Just allermanmusic.com and hit the store and you can download it from there or get a CD copy mailed to you. You can stream it on wherever you stream, Spotify or whatever. And you can buy it off of Apple Music or iTunes and places like that.


Ken Wallis

And we hope people buy rather than stream, that's much more important to an artist. Well, I thank you so much for your time. It's been great chatting with you. and I hope to catch up with you again soon. You always seem to be somewhere I am. I’ve crossed paths with you often. You're such an enjoyable man to talk to and such great music you put out there.


Al Lerman

Thank you. And I always look forward to it when our paths cross and I thank you for doing what you do.



Al Lerman


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