BOLINGBROOK’S AL SPEARS STORMS ONTO LOCAL BLUES SCENE

MY SUBURBAN LIFE
Wednesday May 1, 2013
By ALEX SOULIER – asoulier@shawmedia.com

BOLINGBROOK’S AL SPEARS STORMS ONTO LOCAL BLUES SCENE

BOLINGBROOK – It didn’t come until he was in his 30s, but once Al Spears picked up a guitar, it just stuck.

Chicago Blues Guitarist

Al “Hurricane” Spears frequently plays at Coop’s Den on Boughton Street in Bolingbrook. (Photo by Sarah Minor – sminor@shawmedia.com)

“My boys called me nuts,” Spears said, a smile brimming from ear-to-ear as he recalled the day in 1992 when he told his family of his new hobby. “But, I stuck with it and now they understand that the blues is much more than the weekly gigs and jam sessions.”

Now 57, Spears and his Gibson guitar are regulars at Coop’s Den in Bolingbrook and the V-Lounge in Addison, two popular blues spots in the west suburbs.

The Bolingbrook resident and West Chicago native also plays lead guitar in bands Twist and the Groove Machine and The Chicago Doodads – groups that headlined historic venues such as Blues on Halsted, Buddy Guy’s Legend’s and Kingston Mines.

But it’s bringing the blues to his backyard in Bolingbrook – literally, in one case – where Spears gets his groove most, he says.

Spears and his wife host an annual Memorial Day blues concert their backyard, and Spears – who also repairs and refurbishes amplifiers in his free time has made it his mission to bring the blues from Chicago out to the suburbs. It’s even written on his business card, “Blues in the Burbs.”

“I’m a huge advocate (of blues) … it’s alive and flourishing in (Chicago) and it’s my mission to bring that to Bolingbrook and the suburbs,” said Spears, who has an audio recording studio in his basement.
Despite not picking up a guitar until he was 35, Spears has built his craft to the point where it earned him the nickname “Hurricane.”

After taking a few lessons in 1992, Spears bought his first guitar from a friend – an Ibanez Roadstar Series II.

He eventually began hanging out at open mics, small jazz clubs and blues joints, and his personal favorite, the now-closed Carter’s Place in Lockport. There, he met many artists, mentors and members of his soon-to-be blues ensemble, Twist and the Groove Machine.

Although Spears says he was neither the fastest nor most gifted guitarist, he steadily built confidence and began experimenting with a new playing style.

“Most blues guitarists play solely with their finger,” Spears said. “They have played for so long that they’ve developed knobs and calluses on their fingers. My hands weren’t fast enough, so I began using a pick, and I liked it a lot better.

“One of the guys saw me picking chords and said, ‘Look at Hurricane go!’ I’m still not sure if it was a compliment or a a jab, but it stuck.”

Playing the guitar and immersing himself in blues was a rebirth for Spears, who now describes his craft as an inspiration and something that’s best when shared with others.

The oldest boy of six children, Spears was born and raised on Chicago’s west side, and from a young age he was charged with earning a paycheck to help his single mother and five brothers and sisters.

“I’ve had over 30 jobs in my life,” Spears said. “I had a paper route, worked as a bus boy, and I was even a cabby for some time. A machinist, circuit court clerk, landscaper, painter, teacher, retail management – you name it, I’ve done it.”

Yet, Spears always found time for music.

“I would listen to music before I did my homework,” he said, detailing how such procrastination did not sit well with his mother. “Neither me nor my friends were musicians; we just liked music. We used to spend our entire paycheck on LPs.”

The nostalgia is palpable as Spears recalls blaring Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, old juke joints and countless 78 records on his family’s stereo. He’d then take to the alleys with his friends and imitate his idols, drumming on upside down trashcans and lamp posts.

When he’s not strumming the blues, Spears works with mortgage group Home Guardian, and is husband to Donna and four grown children Albert IV, Zachary, Jesse and James.

“Blues is a feeling,” Spears said during an interview before a Thursday night set at Coop’s Den. “It doesn’t have to always be sad, but it does have to be inspiring. When you can project whatever is on your mind through your guitar and relate to people, that’s special.”

Local Bolingbrook Couple Transforms Old Portillo’s to Blues Hot Spot

After nearly a year of searching for a location and building with the perfect ambiance for a new jazz hot spot, owners Lawrence and Samantha Cooper debuted Coop’s Den, Bolingbrook’s newest restaurant and jazz bar.

Blues and R&B band “Twist and The Groove Machine” christened the newest live music venue in the Western suburbs last Thursday night. Here are a few photographs from the event.

Coop’s Den is an elegant but casual restaurant and lounge that hosts live entertainment including jazz, blues and R&B music. Coop’s Den It is open for lunch and dinner daily and offers a standard American menu of burgers and sandwiches.

How To Get An Endorsement Deal

Written by David Lowry with The Lowry Agency. Some interesting stuff!

One of the most exciting things about being a musician is getting that endorsement deal! Playing that guitar or amp you love or maybe banging that drum kit you have been salivating over for years and it’s finally in your hands. It’s a great feeling! The questions are how do you get one? Who deserves one? What are you going to do with it once you get it? What are your responsibilities once you get one?

I find that like most aspects of the music business the artist completely doesn’t get it when it comes to endorsement deals. They all want them when they have absolutely nothing to offer the endorsement company. Bands want everything handed to them. They want someone to book all their shows because they don’t want to do it. They want management to make things happen because they don’t know how and they want free gear, clothes or what ever else they can get for free and giving nothing in return.

Endorsement deals have to be a win-win situation for both parties involved. Sometimes as musicians we forget that it takes money to make anything happen and that these companies need to make money for them to be able to endorse or sponsor artists. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the artist asking for the endorsement has nothing to offer the company whose product they are asking an endorsement for. Granted there are always exceptions to the rule in any given situation but for the most part this is the way it is and you would do well to act professional and always give yourselves the best chance possible.

So what does an artist need to bring to the table before asking for an endorsement deal? Well number one it’s all about the exposure for the endorsee. How many shows are you playing a year? How many people per average show? How good is your social media campaign? How good are your photos and videos? How influential are you among your peers and people who look up to you as a musician? Do you understand marketing and branding?  Usually these questions are answered within the first 30 seconds of reading the artists email and looking at their press kits.

Company’s really only want artists or bands that love and use their product, not people looking for any deal they can get. You should be passionate about what you are playing or using before you approach a company for an endorsement deal. Send an email and ask what information they would like to see but most importantly why you think you are a good fit for this company.  Highlight to your prospective endorsement company with the appropriate information such as your fan base size, social media coverage and plan, professional electronic press kit with professional photography and not just a one-line email with your Reverbnation link. The key here is to make sure the company is seeing how many fans you have. Facebook fan pages are great because then they can also see what your fans are saying about you. Make sure you state how many shows a year you play on average and average crowd size per show as well. Mention your touring and media plans for the upcoming year this why having a marketing plan is imperative. Have past calendars available if possible to prove you how busy you are. You need to make sure that your exposure coverage is worth it to a company before they give you any of their gear.  It’s also good sometimes to mention what products of theirs you may have purchased in the past and are currently using. Remember here that not every artist-relations person is the same so this may alter slightly.

Make sure you understand that if you get a deal you will have to put their logos on all you concert posters, your websites with hyperlinks attached and you should mention and thank them regularly in your social media campaign. You have a responsibility to growing their brand. That is why they gave you the deal in first place. Most musicians are horrible about doing this. Also please realize that just because you get a deal doesn’t mean you are going to get a ton of exposure from them. You may or may not be listed on their website or at least not prominently until you are a big enough artist to really influence the average buyer. You really want to be building a long-term business relationship with these companies so work hard at giving this the proper attention.

Most companies are not giving full endorsement deals anymore so please don’t ask for a deal if you have no money to at least pay cost on the equipment you are asking for. Make sure you are prepared to be professional with them at all times and represent them to the best of your ability.

Last but not least please don’t be “Horshack” from “Welcome Back Kotter” with your arm up squealing ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! Me! Especially after a friend or a band you know gets a deal so you run to Facebook and spam their page asking for a deal too. Remember there is a reason they got the deal. It wasn’t just handed to them.

Remember these blogs are here to help you become more professional and help you stand out from the crowd. Head the advice and you should see greater results.

Al “hurricane” Spears

Blues News

I am happy to see that the blues is still alive in the suburbs of Chicago. Be it North, South, East or West new venues are opening their doors to live entertainment with blues being a primary focus. Yes, even in a down economy but maybe that’s why the blues will never die! Specifically, Live59 in Plainfield, Illinois, Uptown Tap in Westmont, Illinois, The House Pub in St. Charles, Illinois, The French Quarter in Lombard, Illinois. As Al Hurricane Spears journeys through the burbs spreading peace, love and the blues. He realizes that the music scene is just like any other business. As a musician I’ve notice way to many musicians that do not have a sense of business and or showmanship. Yes, I said it!
Rules of the road for any working musician ( this is not an inclusive list, but can be very helpful )
1) Ensure your gear is in working order before attending.
2) Keep a bag with strings, tools, cables, mics ect- I like to call it the magic bag :} Depending on how far I’m away from home I’ll bring another small amp.
3) Dress like your mother was gonna show up
4) Practice good stage presence.
5) Be on time, end on time
6) Not gig related, but stay right sized with your music.
7) There plenty of music and people to share it with. Network and don’t be a hoarder.. You know what I’m talking about
8) Have fun doing what you do
9) Treat every gig like a job that you enjoy doing

 

Make it a point to tell the management that you came for the blues. Tell them Hurricane said so :)