FTV: Al J Returns
Raise your hands if you were in the audience for one or both of the Measured Chaos shows at the Ontonagon Theater for the Performing Arts in the summer of 2005 or 2009. If you were, then this will be a re-introduction to the band’s guitarist, harmonica player, lead vocalist, and leader, Al Jacquez. As of this writing, Al has been booked to perform as a solo artist at the OTPA on August 12, 2022. Theater coordinator Eric Hopper informs us the show will more than likely be indoors starting at 7:00 pm and if it turns out the show is moved outdoors, it would start at 6:30 pm. With that said, it isn’t too early to introduce Al Jacquez to those of you who are not familiar with him as this will be a concert that you will not want to miss. It has been too many years since we were able to see Al perform in person so you can bet your bottom dollar I will be there with or without bells on. Odds are those who were at the shows mentioned above will also want to be there.
Before I get too far into Al’s story, I am going to offer anyone interested an opportunity to get to know Al even more up-close and personal. Having booked two Measured Chaos shows at the OTPA, I can vouch for the cost of bringing musicians to the shores of Lake Superior. It took Al quite a bit of logistical planning to see if he could put together this summer’s Upper Peninsula mini-tour without losing an arm and a leg. Al said he has done every size and type of performance one can think of from home to church to deck concerts. While he is in the area this August, he would be more than happy to book some supplemental shows to help cover his travel and lodging costs. As you read through the biographical information to follow, you may find a niche in your world that a custom made performance by Al Jacquez might fill. If interested, go to his web page at aljacquez.com and click on the ‘book performance’ tab or call him at (734) 216-7741.
As they say, “Now, let’s get on with the show.” A recent visit to his web page provided the following account of Al’s early years: “I recall singing in the balcony with the church choir. School plays, talent shows, and rock ‘n’ roll bands soon followed. I acted with Junior Light Opera in Ann Arbor, sang and played guitar at fraternity parties and teen clubs, and attended theater classes at the U of M. Then. . . Savage Grace and the beginning of a very ‘interesting’ journey.” We will come back to the ‘interesting journey’ in a bit. There is no way to condense what a varied musical career Al has had other than to cop the ‘short list’ he provides on his bio-page: “I have sung with or for: The Hideaways, Dunning Maze, Savage Grace, Guardian Angel, Lightnin’, Custom Eyes, The Suspects, The Conqueroots, Burning Circle, Eagle Tavern (Greenfield Village), The Miller Bros., Opera Lite, The 2 5 1 Orchestra, Northridge Choir, Measured Chaos, OneAchord, The Cross & the Light, Dick Wagner, Main Street Productions, and Abbott, Jacquez & Zodiac.” In other words, this solo phase of Al’s career ‘ain’t his first rodeo’ to coin a phrase.
I first became aware of Al Jacquez in 1970 when he was the bass player / vocalist with the Detroit band Savage Grace. The tale has been told in this space before (most recently in FTV: Live Shows Revisited 3-2-22) so this is the shorthand version: I saw Savage Grace perform twice at Northern Michigan University. The first show was in the spring of 1970 and the second was in the fall of that same year. Besides Al, the band included guitarist / vocalist Ron Koss, keyboardist John Seanor, and drummer Larry Zack. My high school band, The Twig, plucked the song 1984 from their eponymous debut album (1969 on the Reprise label) and found it to be a big hit, particularly with frat party crowds. Between the recording of their first and second albums, the band relocated to Los Angeles (the second album taking nearly two years to finish), subsequently breaking up in 1972.
Savage Grace made the usual rounds for an upcoming band playing the Midwestern circuit of small clubs, ballrooms, colleges, high schools, and pop festivals. During this time, they opened for acts as varied as Three Dog Night, Procol Harum, Sha Na Na, The Moody Blues, and Small Faces to name a few. At one festival, Savage Grace found Yes, Soft Machine, and Alice Cooper opening for them. In the wake of their second album’s release (May 1971) they toured with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful, solo artist), both label mates at Reprise. Ron Koss and Jacquez reunited as Savage Grace in the late 1990s (this incarnation of the band included eventual Measured Chaos members Mark Gougon on bass and Bill Gordon on drums). They produced an album called One Night in America (aka Savage Grace 3) and performed live on several occasions.
Musicians come and go (sadly, Ron Koss died in 2004) but great music always seems to find a way to remain. The three Savage Grace albums are still available if one works the internet a bit. Al has also done some one-off concerts (in pre-COVID days) with a new Savage Grace line up that includes his Measured Chaos bandmates, Gougeon, Mark Tomorsky (guitar), and Frankie Charboneaux (drums) along with keys player Jim King. It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on those who make their living performing. We are still slowly working our way out of the performance vacuum created by the pandemic, so attending live events as they open up is important for audience and performers alike.
The year before Koss passed away, I had made contact with ‘Al’ at 33 ? Records and obtained a two CD set of the first two Savage Grace albums. It was at this point in time ‘Al’ sent me a copy of the first Measured Chaos album and I (being a little slow on the draw sometimes) finally realized my correspondent was ‘Al Jacquez’ whom I had first seen onstage in 1970. One thing led to another and by the summer of 2005, we had managed to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s to bring Measured Chaos to Ontonagon for the first of two shows they would perform on that stage (again, a tale covered most recently in FTV: Live Shows Revisited 3-2-22). Both shows were terrific and we had a lot of fun involving the student DJs at WOAS-FM who helped stage a live music event. The second show was really special because we were able to bring the entire Ontonagon Area Schools student body in grades 4 through 12 to see a matinee the afternoon before the evening show. It took a little finangling as the show date happened to fall on the first day of the school’s final exam schedule, but it happened.
I still remember WOAS DJ Tommy Croteau smiling ear to ear from the front row and mouthing ‘Best school assembly ever!’ three songs into the set. The band exchanged smiles of their own when the house lights were brought up for a little Q&A session. Up to that point, the stage lights prevented them from seeing that virtually every seat in the theater was occupied. They took the time to answer questions, acknowledge the WOAS DJs and theater staff who helped put on the concert, and finished off the show to a thunderous ovation. While the buses were boarding to take everyone back to school, the band signed autographs and answered even more questions until the chaperones had to herd the rest back to school. In the archives, I have a great photo of Mark Tomorsky draping his Stratocaster on Mike Immonen’s shoulders as they exchanged guitar player talk. Drummer Frankie said, “Oh next time, it would be great to come right to the school and do some workshops with the kids – they had so many great questions!”
Sadly, the live music industry took a serious downturn soon after the second Measured Chaos show. With two band members (Tomorsky and Charbonaux) living in Los Angeles and live music venues closing left and right, it became quite impossible for them to keep doing regular band gigs. In the intervening years, Al and I have been in contact off and on. When Al would have new music recorded, he would send me a file to listen to and air on WOAS. The video performance he sent of Joy to the World featuring a full church choir, band, and Al out front is still one of my favorite gospel music moments. Finding a clip of Al as a backup singer (and lead vocalist for the song Sweet Jane) at a tribute concert for the late Dick Wagner (The Frost, Alice Cooper) was also a treat. I was reminded the wide musical circle he has traveled when I recognized some of the faces in the tribute band but not the drummer: “Oh, that was Danny Seraphine from Chicago,” was Al’s reply.”
Mind you, as a musician and music lover from high school through college and into my adult years, I have had a few encounters with famous musicians, but most were fleeting affairs. Once again I will fall back on the ‘I have told this tale previously’ mode and give you the short versions. There was an animated discussion with The McCoy’s Rick Derringer about backstage security at a Greek Week Festival at NMU’s Hedgecock Fieldhouse when I was sixteen. I happened to be standing in a line of well wishers and got to shake BB King’s hand at the same venue a couple of years later. The most recent was probably the stage-side conversation I had with Jimmy Carpenter who was playing sax and selling merchandise for Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers in the early 2000s. We got to the packed Great Lakes Room at NMU a bit late and ended up grabbing some folding chairs and plunking ourselves down next to the stage behind the right P.A. stack. Between tunes, Carpenter looked over at our exclusive seating section and said, “Hey, how y’all doing? Enjoying the show? Ya got the best seats in the house!” Prior to booking Measured Chaos at the OTPA, I still found myself putting musicians on a higher plane than the rest of us mere mortals.
Al and I had run over the logistics of their first visit here but previous to meeting them at the theater to unload their gear, I only knew the other three band members from the photo on the Measured Chaos Live CD Al had previously sent me. I won’t say I was apprehensive about meeting them, I just wasn’t prepared for them to be ‘real people’ if you know what I mean. They could not have been more down to earth folk if they tried and it was obvious they were excited to be getting the chance to perform at the theater. I spent enough time hanging around with them at the theater to have some excellent one on one discussions with Al, Mark T, Mark G, and (of course) their original drummer Bill Gordon. When drummers meet, naturally they talk about drums, drummers, and drumming and to this day I am still sharing some of the anecdotes passed along by Bill.
The second go around in 2009 (with Frankie now replacing Bill who had moved down south for employment purposes), I was more relaxed around the band. Not wanting to be intrusive during their off time, I left them alone when they were not at the theater getting the show together. When Frankie later said, “Hey, you should have come up to the AmericaInn and had dinner with us,” I realized I had missed an opportunity to learn a lot more about the guys in the band. The lesson was learned and over the years, I have made it a point to share more time (and a meal if the timing works out right) with other bands we have hosted at the theater like Trees, Kitty Donough, and The Rusty Wright Band. The lessons learned have also made my time volunteering stage side at the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival an enjoyable time to learn more about the musicians who appear there.
Now that we have covered the ‘how Al Jacquez managed to perform in Ontonagon in the past’ part of this story, let us catch up on what he has been up to more recently. I will let Al explain by lifting another section from his website: “Currently . . . I am singing my solo thang at public and private events, singing that Gospel Music with OneAchord, and singing and working with Abbott & Jacquez. (my note: ‘Abbott’ being Drew Abbott who performed many years with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band.) Please contact me if you have any questions. The calendar on this site begins with the dates that are furthest in the future, so please scroll to find current dates. I keep it up to date.” Al is certainly a ‘rolling stone’ (as in ‘gathering no moss’) and the following quote from his Facebook page pretty well sums up his working career: “I’ve had a million jobs, I’d rather just sing.”
So why is Al booking a solo show in Ontonagon? I asked him that very question and he responded, “I truly enjoyed singing in Ontonagon. The folks are so hospitable, the venue is marvelous. The fact that we have corresponded and become friends is another reason. I had this cwazee idea about a tour. I have ‘discovered’ the joys of “One Voice, One Guitar” and the amazing number of incredible songs that I never sang in the past. When good friends who summer at Torch Lake offered a concert, I said yes, and that germinated the idea of a mini-tour. Ontonagon seemed like a great way to end the tour. I am still working on adding dates. So far I have private gigs, a restaurant/pub gig, a Church service, and the Ontonagon gig. I am hoping to add a house concert with Drew Abbott”. With that said, you can see I wasn’t kidding when I said you have an opportunity to get to know Al even better if you want to add another date to his calendar.
So there you have it: Al Jacquez is returning to Ontonagon and we can only hope that it will not be for the last time. It was interesting he mentioned Drew Abbott, formerly of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Not long after the second time Measured Chaos visited Ontonagon, I had made contact with Drew Abbott and inquired about getting the band he was gigging with out of Traverse City to the Ontonagon Theater. The timing wasn’t right and we couldn’t put the pieces together for that one, but who knew Al and Drew were doing shows together from time to time?
WOAS-FM 88.5 will be on summer hiatus in August, but we will come out of mothballs early and spin as much ‘Al’ music as we can the week before his Ontonagon show. The week after Al’s show at the OTPA, we will be right on schedule to begin airing Porcupine Mountain Music Festival artists in the run up to the much anticipated return of the PMMF August 26 & 27, 2022.
Top Piece Video: From 2014, Al J singing lead vocals on Dick Wagner’s Mystery Man.