A loser in the sweepstakes of the heart
Congratulations! You may already be a loser
A loser in the lottery of love.
-- Al Perry, "Congratulations"
Al Perry may write a lot about losers, but he's coming out on top this year.
In addition to seeing his 2004 release, Always a Pleasure, picked by the TAMMIES critics as the Best New Release, he's earned a spot in the Tucson Music Hall of Fame.
The twin honors go to a guy who's been belting it out on local stages for more than a quarter-century, first as a bluesman, then as a punk, and finally as the twangy alt-country rocker who heads up the Cattle, a trio that includes bassist Dave Roads and--in classic Spinal Tap tradition--a rotating cast of drummers.
A Phoenix transplant, Al has been livening up the Tucson party scene since the late '70s, excluding a brief relocation to San Francisco a few years back. (He took advantage of the time away to fulfill his dream--inspired by the Beach Boys, natch--to learn how to surf.)
As Al himself observed in a profile in these pages last year, "It's sick that I am still doing this stuff (after) so long, but it's the only thing I like. Well, I like surfing, too. And girls are OK." ("Home on the Range," Aug. 26, 2004.)
Al's guitar chops are matched only by his wide-ranging influences. "Who else but Al Perry can perform a blazing surf guitar instrumental next to a country weeper, follow that up with a balls-to-the-wall Motorhead cover, and somehow manage to avoid a sense of incongruity?" noted TW music maven Stephen Seigel in the aforementioned profile. "On top of it all, he's also a witty lyricist, armed with a gift for a wry turn of phrase."
Besides his work with the Cattle, Al's joined a long list of local bands onstage and in the studio--Gila Bend, Fraidy Cats, Calexico, Giant Sand, Subterranean Blues Band, James Dead and too many more to name.
His adventures have been well chronicled over the years: Bartending at the punk nexus Tequila Mockingbird at the old El Con Mall. Becoming a superstar in Canada. Touring Europe. Dragging Sharon Stone down a dusty Old Tucson street during the filming of The Quick and the Dead.
Al Perry has pretty much seen it all. And besides all that, he does a real mean cover of "Cinnamon Girl."
"I think Al is extremely talented and extremely knowledgeable and extremely authentic," says attorney Jefferson Keenan, front man of the Phantom Limbs and a cohort of Al in the Fraidy Cats. "He's become a fixture in the Tucson music scene. And he's just a fun guy to be around."
When he's not performing or working behind the front desk at Hotel Congress, Al soaks up music like Spongebob Songpants. A vinyl throwback in this digital age, Al owns thousands of records, all nearly alphabetized on shelves in the living room of the tiny university-area casita he calls home. He shows off the collection every week to night owls who tune into Al Perry's Clambake, a two-hour radio show that airs at midnight Tuesdays on KXCI, 91.3 FM.
Anyone who's heard Al's latest release, Always a Pleasure, understands why the critics named it Best New Release. With the backing of Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico and a few other old friends, Al has put together a smooth collection of fan favorites, including "99 Pairs of Shoes," "Little Bird," a mariachi-enhanced remake of "Dreaming" and a countrified cover of "We've Got Cactus," a gut-bustingly funny song about life in the Old Pueblo. (Writing credit goes to the legendary punk band Bloodspasm for that number.)
The album, recorded here in Tucson at Craig Schumacher's Wavelab Studios, includes the track "Congratulations." Al nearly didn't include the song because he'd abandoned it years ago after deciding he'd written too many songs with that particular theme.
"I had all these songs, 'Losin' Hand' and 'Loserville,' loser this and loser that," he remembers.
He'd forgotten all about "Congratulations" until he was listening to some old tapes and realized it was pretty good for a "goofy old song about being a loser." One of the best tracks on the new CD, it wraps with the verse:
Though I may not want to
I'll surely try again
Because the price is worth it
If you eventually win.
Congrats, Al! It surely is always a pleasure.