When this adventure into writing began, I decided to interview our musicians with burning questions I always have for anyone with the guts to hop on stage and be vulnerable, inspired and talented simultaneously. Honestly, I worried I might have bit off more than I could chew. What do I know about music? Sometimes it gives me goosebumps, and other times it makes me wanna shake around inside my boots. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the company of true music lovers and incredible music makers, and all I know is they fascinate me. I wanted to tell their stories. I shouldn’t have worried too much about how to sound like I know what I’m writing about. These cats, every one of them, have such rich material within, that all I have to do is sit back and wait for them to tell it.
As I suspected, the guys that became our “house band” this year, Alfredo Improvisational Quartet, tell their story better than I ever could. Their playful anecdotes riff on each other like buddies together over a campfire. Yet there is also a compelling seeker’s journey happening for each of them. Their music allows us to bear witness to this journey. Their music sparks an awareness and energy which conjures the explorations of a beatnik stirred into the same pot as a shaman, John Muir on an expedition, and your Appalachian uncle brother!
It’s easy to listen to their music and feel the good time they’re having, because it is right there in your face. But good music, like theirs, does more; it takes you somewhere else. Even if you’ve heard them before, I challenge you to catch them this Friday night and see if you don’t catch their vibe.
Where did the name come from?
Fred: Al and I (Fred) were once kitchen slaves in the tourist kingdom. There was a lot of rap and other computer generated music blaring in that kitchen but whenever Al or I got a hold of the radio it was Phish and The Grateful Dead. That’s how the friendship began: maybe it was the music and maybe it was just the ponytails and Volvos we also had in common.
One day while making alfredo sauce, Al said to me, “Hey if we start a band we should call it ‘Al-Fred-O.’” Long story short, as they say. Al’s version of events is a bit different: “you know Fred…..the night we made love you said if we could have a child we would call him/her Alfredo.”
How do you make a living?
In this economy, it’s hard to call it a living. But, we are 3 highly skilled carpenters and a criminal defense attorney. Look at the haircuts and try to match the ‘do to ‘what they do!’
What are the ages you each discovered your talent, what was that moment like & how did you cultivate your talent?
Chris: Chris says he doesn’t remember when or how he started. He’s been playing since his teens. Long before he was old enough to drink. Which means he got laid way before the rest of us. Name any Jimi Hendrix tune and Chris can play the bass line. (It’s quite incredible).
Bill: Bill’s mom took him to see Buddy Rich when he was 7. His mom took him because she felt he had good rhythm. He got his first drum set shortly thereafter. He played in the school band from that point on. He wouldn’t join the marching band because he was also on the football team. He moved to St. Louis after graduating from High School and played in cover bands in that area. He moved back home and played locally before moving to Florida and gigging with bands in that area. Bill has been playing drums in bands since. In 1999-2000 he started singing as well. In late 2010 he began playing guitar. In 2011 Sub-Prime Blues Band—in which Bill sang and played drums—played in the International Blues Competition in Memphis, TN.
Al: Nuns used to smack my knuckles with a ruler when I would pound out sick rhythms on my desk in first grade. Drum circles at Dead shows and other groovy events throughout my life have contributed to my inspiration. Like, once in the Virgin Islands…a friend and I stumbled upon some folks, including a drum teacher and a couple of Rastas from Jamaica, in an old sugar mill playing drums on a full moon! A spiritual journey in a sweat lodge in my 20s, then 10 years later….I hung out with a bunch of dudes in the Mountains of WV. They played bluegrass on the front porch but were challenged in the timing department. I showed up with my djembe drum, and thus began my journey into playing hand drum with strings musicians. A short tour around WV bars with an incredible guitar player named Ken Kruger gave me a chance to express myself backing him with percussion.
Fred: I was high on acid at a Widespread Panic concert and I heard Jimmy Herring play a note that reached inside of me and held a piece of something inside so gently and yet so cosmically hopeful and fun that I decided “I want to be able to do that to people.” I wanted the notes I play—channeled from who knows where in the ether of it all—to give people that feeling. Anyone who has ever been to a Phish or Grateful Dead show knows the power of the guitar to take you on a journey. I have not been able to do it yet—probably never will—but that’s what I am aiming for.
I think we’d all agree that—with the exception of Bill’s soulful voice—it is not about talent. It is about loving good music, listening to good music, and trying to make something that comes close.
What attracts you to the type of music you perform?
Fred: The exploration and vitality of our improvisation combined with the joy of executing carefully composed difficult sections of music as a team.
Al: I love music! All kinds! But when I heard the Dead, and then jazz, and Phish, I fell in love with the sound of freedom….the improvised jams that no 3 min. song could match.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve gone through as a band?
Recently, we recorded our first album. That was a great experience. It is such a pleasure to hear each other in high quality and it offers an opportunity to appreciate one another’s playing in a way that’s impossible when playing live, because you are focused on listening to each other and not (expletive) up your own part. To just sit back and appreciate the chops of your band mates is fantastic.
The most exciting news thus far is that Bill’s original song “Boxcar of Gold” which deals with the shipwreck full of gold off the coast of Frankfort has been passed on to a crew that is diving and filming a pilot episode for the History Channel or A&E or something. Apparently the crew liked it and it is being passed up the ranks. It is a great validation of Bill’s incredible songwriting and singing.
Al: Being in our infancy….the thrill of fostering a musical child and watching it grow into something beautiful and amazing! Because we all love our children no matter how awesome or f—– up they are!
How do you keep things fresh musically, for yourselves?
Fred: It comes in waves. Most importantly for me is staying healthy emotionally and physically and paying attention to everything around me. Of course listening to good music. But you can’t compose music if you are too self-centered.
Al: We are right out of the ground. Can’t get much fresher…as of now anyways
Do you play for yourselves/each other or for the audience?
Fred: We play for the sake of the music. Everything and everyone falls into place after that. We play because it is fun and we love it. We have no expectations other than to enjoy ourselves. The fact that people are willing to listen—and even enjoy doing so—is just awesome. When we play live we do our best not to let them down and hope that they have fun and come back.
Bill: To paraphrase our friend Paul May: We play for free, but you gotta pay us to travel, set-up and break down.
Al: It’s a combination….I can get lost in my trip or get on the bus with the band…and back and forth. People getting off on our tunes is like throwing fire works on the camp fire!
What is it about an audience that helps you find your groove?
Fred: Having our sound dialed in from the get-go is probably the number one factor in determining how quickly we find our groove. If the sound is off everything is off. If the sound is solid, off we go.
As for audiences, we love them all and if they dance, then F— Yeah!
Al: They get drunk and will dance to anything!
WE LOVE DRUNK PEOPLE!
But seriously….dancers always inspire. If I look up and see one guy tapping his foot it’s an inspiration!
What is the worst heckling you’ve ever had?
Fred: People have been pretty kind to us so far. Sometimes it’s the things people don’t say that hurts. (And of course if they did say something nice, you always wonder whether or not it was a load of s— and they just said it because it was the polite thing to say.) Politeness accounts for a lot of bad music in bars all over…
Al: None….everyone is way to polite around here….at least to our faces! If we lived in the city I would be in jail!
What makes you want to be a performer?
Fred, Bill, Chris: None of us want to be performers, we just want to play good music. It is all about the sound!
Al: Hot chicks!
Are you artists in other forms?
Al’s got all the skills. He is very creative and artful. Fred used to write short stories and boatloads of poetry but the guitar took over.
What is your favorite St. Ambrose beverage?
Al: Granny Smith
Fred: Granny Smith
Chris: Evil Twin