August 17, 2022

A Special Guest Column

Our friend and mentor at the Ontonagon Herald graciously provided us with the following account of Al Jacquez’s recent show at the Ontonagon Theater of Performing Arts.  Thank you to HSR for his kind words about WOAS being involved in bring musical talent of Al’s caliber to the people (and especially the kids!) in Ontonagon.  We are hoping top see Al show up on the bill for next summer’s Porcupine Mountain Music Festival!  KER

Al Jaquez Revisits Ontonagon Theater

Harold S. Riter, Reporting

On Friday, August 12, our local theater hosted one of the most prolific song-writers in contemporary rock-soul music, Mr. Al Jacquez.  Al Jacquez is a veteran of rock, blues, and folk music. Starting out in the rock idiom in the 1960’s with a group called SAVAGE GRACE out of Detroit, he has moved around for years in various roles ranging from rock, to folk, to Gospel.

Much has been covered about his storied career by my colleague, Ken Raisanen, who actually managed to get Al and his gang, performing as MEASURED CHAOS on the Ontonagon stage some years ago and also added a bit of cultural education to the local high school by arranging a live music performance for the entire student body. An additional word should be added about that event: that actually presenting for a live music performance by a name band is something our local school children miss out on and the special 2009 performance of MEASURED CHAOS, a rock group, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of our local kids. Let me say, from personal experience, that promoting musical performances, or for that matter, cultural offerings or any kind in our local school can be a difficult undertaking, and it took no little arm-twisting to bring it about. As well related in Mr. Raisanen’s column, From the Vaults, the show was well received, not only by the local school kids, but by the band itself that had little experience playing before a near-capacity school assembly audience of young people who drank it all in like sponges. An impromptu question and answer session between the band the kids and the musicians, with Al Jacquez handling most of the responses was a highlight of the program.

We were quite anxious to meet Mr. Jacquez in his new solo role presented as ONE VOICE, ONE GUITAR. We were especially interested to see how this veteran troubadour of blues-rock would bring off a solo act without being backed by a regular band.  Jacquez more than fills the stage with his presence. He knows his business as an entertainer, as a musician, and as an artist. He came on stage in casual attire and wearing a fedora (which he soon discarded). As the music & drama critique for the nationally known Ontonagon Herald, we will attempt to keep on course in describing his performance.

Jacquez uses acoustic guitars, not the solid body planks, and for a welcome change, he allowed the sound crew of the theater to handle the balance of his folk-style guitar and his voice up to them. The result was easy listening. Jacquez remarked that is was something of a unique experience to have an audience that could and did actually listen to his performance.  Al is a strummer, rather than a picker, and the real value of his performance lies in his carefully modulated voice. Oh, don’t get the idea that he puts one to sleep…he can raise the volume, and even slides easily into the “falsetto” range, plus adding a bit of humming as he strums through chordal progressions during interludes. His real instrument is his voice that he uses to put forth the lyrics, or messages of his songs. We also heard the use of scat singing, as in “Night Riding.” For those not familiar with the term, scat singing is the art of jazz/folk improvisation where the voice is used as an instrument to create mainly wordless phrases.

The artist’s real style is what we would call bluesy….now blues, in one sense, is a musical style that flattens the 3rd and sometimes the 5th of the scale being used. It can also describe a music genre or subject matter. Most of Jacquez’s own song compositions deal with things that he sees or experiences that bring out a narrative of some sort, such as “The Old House,” a song about an older house that needs a family to come alive as a home.

“One Night in America” is a song about the troubled times, past and present, in our country. “Gypsy Woman” was quite upbeat, unlike the slower “Church Bells.” “Train is Comin’ Closer” is something of a life-lesson….and “I’m Gonna Roll Up in a Ball and Die…My My! Was a bit fatalistic, but, again, related to life.  To blues enthusiasts, Jacquez is one of the best in the country performing today. His vocal inflections grab the listener’s soul, deeply. His voice is that of a younger man, but the stories his lyrics relate tell of some very mature experiences and life lessons learned over time.  “Don’t Pass By the Jerusalem Road” came to him as he was driving by a road sign, and the tune has a surprising meter change in the middle.  Jacquez, in addition to his own creations, presented “I Touched the Land” by Chris Stapleton, and John Fogerty’s “Who Will Stop the Rain?” and a few others.

Having a performer of Al’s caliber on the local stage is a rare treat as well as a privilege. He has been here before, and we fully expect that he will be back again in some role. It is easy to tell when a performer actually likes the area I which they are performing, and Mr. Jacquez expressed to this reporter that he had plans to enjoy our local area and spend a bit of time here before moving on. Thanks, Al Jacquez, for gracing our stage…don’t be a stranger.

(Al sent a note after this went to press to clarify that the following songs were not written by him:

    Night Ridin’ – Mark Gougeon
    One Night in America – Ron Koss
    That’s Life (that’s was a Sinatra tune)
    Gypsy Woman – Curtis Mayfield )

Top Piece Video:  Al Jacquez in a different role than his recent ONE VOICE, ONE GUITAR performance.  Here he is singing MYSTERY TRAIN with the Dick Wagner Band