Al Jacquez returns to the pod to secure the legacy of one of Michigan's greatest bands. Savage Grace was considered by many rock writers to be an unusual Michigan rock band in that they incorporated more intricate jazz and blues signatures instead of relying on high-octane rock with a capital “R”. Sure they rocked with the best of 'em including Nugent, Wagner and Fred Sonic Smith but they also utilized harmony and melody while creating more complex music. Jacquez was the singer and his gravelly soulful voice was front and center in the mix. It was a short run but the power and beauty of Savage Grace music resonates to this day.
Savage Grace will perform an outdoor show @ Whites Bar on June 16th. Show begins @ 5pm. Donny Hartman will open the show. Tickets are $15 and will be available @ White's Bar, Records & Tapes Galore, and The Red Eye Café.
Review: Savage Grace were big from 1969-72 but you reformed the band in the nineties and a few other times. What prompted the current reunion tour?
Al: After Ron died I still kept getting this interest in the band, so I started doing a little research so I said, “Well, let's give it a shot.” I talked to the guys again, and obviously Ron was gone by now, and the logistics just didn't seem to work for whatever reason. I don't want to psychoanalyze people, but it just didn't seem to work out. I had some people who said, “Well, we can still do a gig. As long as you're singing, it should be great.”
My intention is to do Come on Down and end with “Watchtower,” and then we'd do all that stuff that we did in between or most of it. The people I spoke to were real positive, so I said, “What the heck, let's give it a shot,” and the Magic Bag said, “Yeah, let's do it.” Then Hugh obviously said, “Yeah, let's do it.” That's what started this…it being this summer, and there's still some interest. I've had some calls about other dates in Grand Rapids, potentially maybe up in Boyne.
Review: Is the tour building momentum?
Al: Yes, we're still booking. Royal Oak had contacted me too late in the season last year about doing it, so there are still people calling about doing it, and what's really interesting is that I was asked to sing at the Detroit Music Awards. What we're calling it is Savage Grace Featuring the Grande All Stars. What the band consists of is Mark Gougeon, who as far as I'm concerned is a member now. He had the rock cost seal of approval, and Drew Abbot from Third Power and Bob Seger playing guitar, and Chris Kovich on keys - his credits are…they're just too many of them. Chris is a great player, I mean a scary good player.
Review: Who are the members in the band you're touring with this summer?
Al: The band is going to be me, Mark Gougeone and then then the guys from Measured Chaos - Mark Tomorsky playing guitar, Frank Charboneaux on the drums, and then I'll bring a guy in from Ann Arbor, Jim King, to play keyboards.
Review: Let's get back to your first album. I bought it when it came out. I thought it was a masterpiece of progressive rock. Can you talk about that LP? What kind of input did you have and what was the interplay between you and Ron Koss? About Ron Koss, it's clear that he was a great guitarist.
Al: Yeah, and he was also a great arranger and he knew a ton about music structure. I knew a bit about theory myself, so when I first came in the band before we cut the record, I had played the guitar, was a rhythm guitar player, and not bass. He was the bass player and so I picked it up and started playing and using the theory that I understood, along with their suggestions, ended up with some good parts. You know, it's a continuum. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I had quite a bit of input but I was really concentrating on trying to learn how to play that instrument. I liked the music and I'd been in rock bands since I was very, very young. This was just a continuation and obviously something that had potential, so I dug in and tried to do the work. I had pretty good input back then, probably not as much as I wanted, but in retrospect I was quickly making sure I could play the bass and sing at the same time, which is a tough job.
I don't know, working with those guys was great. “Talk to Me,” and “He's One of My Heroes,” and John Seanor was a scary piano player and Zack was a powerhouse. It was a great band. It was a lot of fun. I never thought of the band as being progressive rock until Cub Koda's review of us later, much later, like in the 80s or something. I was in the band. I was playing, and we were writing. We were touring. Things were happening pretty fast plus that scene back then was amazing -. The Frost, MC5, the Stooges, Nugent. Everybody was giggin' …we were working all the time
Review: I was wondering about what are your favorite songs from that first album? There are so many great songs. Are they songs anyone would identify, or do you have a sleeper in there?
Al: That's really hard. I've been lookin' into this stuff a lot again, too. As far as a song goes, I really like “Into Freedom” because there was a little Gospel to it and it was a very brave choice for those guys. I mean to play a song by Oscar Peterson and play it in a rock band was, I thought, pretty ballsy. The band was not afraid. They played that kind of stuff. That's one of my favorites. As far as originals go, I'd have to say, “Turn Your Head.” Ron and I sing it together. It's got brilliant solos.
Review: So how do you describe your singing style?
Al: I actually started singing about age six in Church, in Catholic Church. I was a boy soprano, and I sang in choirs and stuff when I was in New York City, a sort of German-American choir I sang in. I sang in school of course. When the Beatles came, I started singing in a rock and roll band and I wanted to rock and roll like Elvis and also do musical comedy and stuff. My parents exposed me to opera, symphony, jazz, and musicals, so I think all that stuff kind of worked its way in. Thank God I can keep developing my style, and my voice has actually held up.
Review: In 1970 the band moved to LA, and did Savage Grace 2 there. It sounded like a stylistic change. What prompted the move to LA and why did you shift your musical sensibility? You kind of changed musically.
Al: We went to LA because of the record company. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn't have moved when we moved. The stylistic change came about, I became a better bass player and the band became much better at playing pockets and trills…like “Roll River Roll” on the second record. It's got a great pocket, you know. Zack could always play, had a great pocket, but I don't think it was as obvious on the first record as it is on the second. “She's A Woman,” “Sandscript,” I think they have some really strong pocket playing. I think the band just wanted to become more, not that we weren't musical, but more musical in a sense, 'cause a lot of our heroes were blues artists at Motown and people like that. If you listen to those bands, the pocket is really very forceful. It was just sort of a logical place to go. Again, I was improving as a bass player. If you compare the bass playing on the first record to the second, I mean it's almost like a different guy, much more focused on my parts playing and it shows.
Review: When you look back at the two LPs, do you favor one over the other?
Al: It's funny. The second one really has grown on me. It wasn't the greatest recording experience in the world. There was a lot of fun involved, but it was also a lot more work than the first one and a lot of rehearsal went into it, stuff like that. But the second one has really grown on me. I don't know…to pick a favorite is really hard. I have a tendency to lean toward the second record because of songs like “Roll River Roll,” and also the fact that “Sandscript” was on there which I wrote with Jeff Jones, so those are kind of selfish reasons. I think that the music holds up really well and that's something to be proud of, you know?
Review: Savage Grace was highly regarded. People to this day still talk about Savage Grace and that you had a ton of talent, but something went wrong. What went wrong for you?
Al: That's a hard question to answer. I think part of the problem is that it was a double-edged sword - like going out to LA too early for a band that was used to gigging daily. I don't think was a good thing. Again, hindsight is 20-20 because we were used to working, and we didn't always get along perfectly. When we were working a lot, just like any job, we had respect for each other; we found ways to work together. Now you take the work away, suddenly we're sitting in houses hanging out, not doing what we're good at doing, which is rehearsing and playing, doing gigs. I think in the long run that was a bad idea, but I don't know if we would have ever done the stylistic change or had the opportunity to improve as a group or for me to improve as a player if we hadn't had that kind of hiatus from gigs. So that's part of the issue. I think some of us grew apart personally.