Canada’s Ambassador of the Steel Guitar
Born & raised on the family ‘APPLEDALE’ farm in the community of NORTHCOTE, near RENFREW, ONTARIO, CANADA, where early musical influences included the school & church. Five years of piano music lessons plus learning some chords on the acoustic guitar lead to playing bass at the age of 16 with country bands.
One of these bands named The Countrymen were desirous for a steel guitar, & since there wasn’t a pedal steel within many miles, Al proceeded to build his first one, from a picture on a Pete Drake LP. After many tuning frustrations, Al purchased his first factory-built pedal steel, a Fender 400, finished high school & went on the road making music his career. In 1966 he took delivery of his first Sho-Bud D-10 Finger Tip pedal steel.
His influences over the years include Ralph Mooney, Tom Brumley, Buddy Emmons, Buddy Charleton & Lloyd Green. Since there were no cassette tapes in those days, he practiced with a LP turntable which would play a half speed, putting coins on the tone arm to slow it down to pitch. (really great for the record grooves!)
Al started doing recording sessions in the late 1960’s, & in 1970 he put the hit sound on the song “COUNTRYFIED” by Dick Damron. Over the years, he has been active doing session work with such names as: George Hamilton IV, “Bustin’ Out” w/Pure Prairie League, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, Gordie Tapp, Gary Buck, Tommy Hunter, & Johnny Burke, to name a few.
Throughout the years, Al has been in demand, playing with such artists as Grant Carson, Sons Of The Saddle, Honey West, Gary Buck, & then in 1972 he was called by Ronnie Hawkins, taking the position as band leader. During his 4 years with “The Hawks” playing mostly Rock ‘n Roll, gave Al the experience of using a ‘Leslie’ organ-type speaker and a fuzz tone, taking the steel guitar into a new dimension. During this tenure he got to back up many notables, such as Frank Zappa, The Band, Kris Kristofferson, Beverly D’Angelo, & many others.
In 1976 Al joined Johnny Burke & Eastwind, one of Canada’s top country groups, & in 1977 assisted in making “Wild Honey”, a #1 record. Eastwind were in demand, having won RPM Magazine’s Big Country Award for Canada’s top country group. Consequently, Eastwind were often the first choice for back-up musicians for live gigs, as well as CTV’s Funny Farm, & CFGM’s Opry North syndicated radio show. During these years, Al also assisted Eddy Fulawka in building pedal steel guitars.
In 1979, after being inspired by attending the International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis, MO, Al (with fellow steeler Al Gain), started the Steel Guitar Club Of Canada, (S.G.C.C.), now named “Steel Guitars of Canada” (SGC).
Al quit the road in 1981 & started working at Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill, Ont., where he worked for nine years, maintaining The Steel Guitar Club Of Canada, as well as playing misc. engagements. He left Cosmo in 1991, continuing to operate the S.G.C.C. from his residence in Mississauga, Ontario, & eventually moved to his current location in 2000 on 4 acres in the country near Colborne, Ontario where he built his current Steel Guitars of Canada store in 2002.
Al has been playing at various steel guitar conventions & events, doing seminars, etc. throughout North America & Europe, including the Pedal Steel Guitar Association’s Celebration in Connecticut, USA; the Texas Steel Guitar Jamboree in Dallas, TX; Steel Days 2000 in Holland, the Irish Steel Guitar Festival, Bettysville, Ireland; the first ever Finland Steel Guitar Convention, as well as playing Scotty’s International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis, MO, regularly since 1982.
Other highlights of Al’s career include the October of 1994 induction into The Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame & the subsequent release of his first solo album, “PICKIN’ UP THE DUST”, containing 10 pedal steel guitar instrumentals, available on CD, which has received fantastic reviews!
On November 28, 2004 Al was honoured with the ‘2004 Career Musician’ award at the O.C.P.F.A. (Ontario Country Performer & Fan Association) awards show & banquet.
In 2005 Al was invited to become committee member of ‘The Steel Guitar Hall of Fame’, which meets once a year at the International Steel Guitar Convention to select nominees to be inducted into the SGHF.
Al released his second solo CD “Pickin’ Your Picks” in 2007 which is a variety of 14 tunes (2 original combined with 12 popular favourites).
Over the years Al has published a variety of instructional material for the pedal steel guitar. In order of their release they include: “Pedal Steeling” Tab Book w/CD, “Pickin’ Up The Dust” Tab Book w/CD, “The Bakersfield Sound, Ralph Mooney Style” DVD w/Tab, “Care & Feeding of Your Pedal Steel” DVD, & “Appledale Ride” DVD, “Tuning Your Pedal Steel” & “The Volume Pedal Tutorial”.
As well as operating Steel Guitars of Canada & promoting his music, Al keeps active playing with Carroll Baker & Baker Street, Johnny Burke & Eastwind plus other miscellaneous gigs, steel guitar concerts & seminars. In addition to assisting his wife Betty in maintaining their property, Al is a member of the Masonic Lodge, & is very active with The Rotary Club of Colborne assuming the position of President for 2011/2012.
…But Don’t Get Caught!