Iconic Canadian rock n roll troubadour, Al Harlow, released his1st solo album.
Good morning Al Harlow Hawirko, I am honored, as the volunteer Music Editor, to welcome you inside The Wire MEGAZINE. Thank you for your time and interview today. The Wire MEGAzine has been inside the music scene, as a non-profit, since 1989, as 1 of Canada’s longest-running entertainment tabloids to date.
DEB: Q. 1. Did you come from a musical family background? Also, at what age did you first learn the bass and guitar, as well, when did you officially realize that music was going to play a pivotal role in your life?
AL: “My parents were both musical; my Mother played piano quite well, Nelson Eddy-style pop songs, while my Dad was a decent country breakdown fiddle player & guitarist. Our family had a wide variety of records in our house; my Mother had classical, symphonic stuff, and we usually held season tickets to the Vancouver symphony. My Dad had ‘40s R&B ‘78s on the Savoy Label, plus country, Hank Snow and others, plus Sinatra records. My great-grandfather William Allen on my Mom’s side was first-chair oboe in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. My parents were very supportive of my musical mischief, forming rock bands from age 14 onward. My Dad kept quiet about his own musical background, and it wasn’t until after he died, when I was 40, that my aunts & uncles told me he had been a successful musician, guitarist & violin for a recording star named Kink Ganom, making records, live radio shows, and touring. I think my Dad didn’t want the power of suggestion of wildlife on the road. Didn’t matter; that happened anyway. My older sister went crazy when Elvis Presley first hit. We had all his early records, the golden era. At age 5 I had a plastic ukelele and was gyrating all over the house, doing my Elvis act. Soon a guitar replaced the ukulele. My older half-brother Wayne, whom I hardly knew, stopped by the house with a Christmas present for me, an album called, “Duane Eddy And His Twangy Guitar” currently topping the charts. Songs like “Peter Gunn”, “Rebel Rouser”, tough-guy macho guitar twang. That was it for me; I was gone on Duane Eddy, and a committed-for-life guitarist by age ten! But I realized I had to sing, too. Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, guys who played guitar & sang at the same time; I had to get in on that. Bass didn’t come until much later when I lived in London England. I was picking up a few studio sessions, and if they needed bass, I gave them bass. Do that enough times, and you quickly learn to be a bass player! ”
Never idle throughout your in-depth career that spans 55 years. You have always had your hands inside the industry in one facet or form whether it was songwriting, performing as a multi-instrumentalist whether it be on bass or guitar, from backup vocals to frontman lead vocals/lead guitar, to producing, to teaching songwriting/record production/music history/business at Capilano University for 3 decades, all the while constantly touring.
DEB: Q. 2. What was the best advice you were given 5.5 decades ago regarding the ins and outs of the music realm?
AL: “Likely the best single piece of advice was to not allow record companies and/or managers to bully you into what sort of musical direction you should create in order to be successful; it’s merely chasing trends. If a particular sound or image was hitting big, someone insisted “do that! This is what’s happening!” But by the time your version is released, the trend is dying out. I never took that bait. It’s more obvious now, but a young band or singer should simply be true and passionate at what they do best, what they actually are, and what excites their heart.”
Performing in Vancouver’s rock act Seeds of Time from 1967-1974, then as a founding member, created Canada’s iconic and timeless SOCAN recipient & 2 time Juno Award-winning act PRISM, you started out on bass and backup vocals in 1977 through 1982, then, PRISM took a sabbatical in 1982. PRISM reformed in 1987, putting out an album in 1993, called Jericho, their 1st album in 10 years. Along comes 2003, you skyrocketing to both lead guitar and lead vocals positions inside PRISM, after the departure of frontman Darcy Deutsch and guitarist Lindsey Mitchell.
DEB: Q. 3. What is your fondest memory as frontman of Canada’s legendary rock band, PRISM?
AL: “Oddly, I probably played as much guitar as bass in Prism, as played guitar on the songs I wrote on Prism records, plus all the slide guitar stuff. Many of our songs require two guitars. Keyboardist John Hall would play left-hand key bass on many songs live, while Lindsay and I would do twin guitars. Vocally, I sang harmonies onstage with Ron Tabak, too. But when I found myself as lead singer, fronting Prism? There have been some fond moments, yes: Headlining a large outdoor show in my hometown, at Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition, where one night it’s a name like Heart, next night Prism, next night someone else. Thousands in the audience, including my Mom, and they all know the story of the band and are loving it. Being the frontman at a large show where there are shared billings with big recording acts, knowing you’ve got each other’s respect, lots of camaraderie backstage, and you know you’re holding your own — that always feels good, for sure. The audience may not know that many bands these days don’t have the original vocalist. But as long as it’s good and strong, you’re delivering the groceries.”
Creating alongside Jim Vallance, the greatest hits album entitled, The Best of Prism, which was released in 1996.
DEB: Q. 4. What was the feeling like to have spawned a 2nd career for PRISM, seeing a resurgence of fans, young and old attending and singing your songs in the audience?
AL: “It’s a wonderful feeling to look out at an audience and see people of all ages singing along with songs I wrote, absolutely. That joy never wears off. For a band like Prism, or any band that has enjoyed longevity, or a second career, we’re now in a time where the bond between audience and performer has reached a point where we’re all glad to be keeping it alive — I feel like the steward of Prism and it’s music; I know the secret sauce of keeping it authentic … I was there all along, so the audience shares that sense of trust and community. And the guys in Prism have all been there for twenty years or more anyway; when the stage lights go up, everyone knows this is going to be a night of Prism.”
DEB: Q. 5. Do you recall where you were and what you were doing when Covid-19 shut down the world?
AL: “Yes, Prism had just finished a show at RAMA in Ontario at the end of February 2020, then we played a show in Kelowna on March 6 on our way home. We then heard the next band into RAMA was canceled, and the Kelowna venue shut down after our show. So Prism was among the last to perform before the pandemic locked everything down.”
You are releasing on Valentine’s Day 2022, your very 1st Solo album entitled, Al Harlow, NOW, however, you are still performing as frontman and lead vocalist/guitarist with the incomparable, PRISM.
DEB: Q. 6. When touring resumes, how does it feel to be fronting 2 careers and when do you find time to just be Al? AL: “Nice problem to have, two careers! As the old saying goes, “we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.” At the moment it’s exhilarating to get this new music out to its audience, and I look forward to putting it onstage. At the same time, the Prism show is home-based; when the intro to Spaceship Superstar rings out and the crowd cheers, it’s like being part of a big opera that ends on the tympani roll finale of Armageddon. So I look forward to both shows, and yes, finding personal time is important. Living out in the country, I just drive my old English cars to church and back! Well, maybe not quite as simple as that! But I’m fortunate to live in a lovely, quiet setting.”
DEB: Q. 7. You are a charismatic, honest, humorous, and passionate songwriter with an inspiring soul, with a flair for fashion, and you are no ordinary performer. You exude raw energetic emotion as a musician, and as a philosopher. Would you say your songs are based primarily on your personal experiences or life’s sociopolitical views in general?
AL: “Thank you for the kind words! My songs tend toward the personal. The new album is largely autobiographical, from the subjective to the observational. I always love the craft of lyric writing, including the aspect of leaving room for the listener to get involved, make it his or her story or feeling. Some songwriters can be very topical or political and make that work. But without backing away from making statements, I often write on different levels within one song, so the listener might hear it a few times, then suddenly interpret the song in a different way, hearing another story within the story. Meet Me In The Sky and Dance With The One You Came With are like that. The latter is girlfriend/ boyfriend loyalty on the surface, but it’s also someone’s entire life story and a journey of personal trust & faith. I got tons of mail from fans of the old Prism hits Take Me Away and Flying, people telling me how those songs sounded like their own life journey. We all like to apply songs to our own lives, don’t we?”
Al Harlow, Now, consists of 10 songs that made the final version for this album, eight of them written or co-written by you Al, who, with more than 5 decades in the biz, you know your way around a good pop-rock tune. Prism is, after all, the band whose anthemic hits like Spaceship Superstar, Take Me to the Kaptin, It’s Over, Armageddon along with your compositions like Take Me Away, Young, and The Restless, and Flying have been on rock radio playlists since the late 70s.
DEB: Q. 8. Take us on a stroll through your 1st solo album called, Now, & highlight your unique songwriting process on how your singles, My Mind Is Running Away With You, and, Dance With The One You Came With, came to fruition. Also, share with the readers the outstanding list of the dozens of musicians who were brought in to play instrumental tracks on this album.
AL: “Kevin Stuart Swain, co-producer, bassist, guitarist, renaissance-man, and friend composed My Mind Is Running Away With You during the recording session breaks as we worked on Al Harlow, Now. At first, it was a Stones-like dark rocker about low self-esteem; I recall his working title as I Don’t Hate Myself Enough to Love You. But as his process continued, the song became more upbeat, faster in tempo, more exhilarating, energetic. Then came the positive title and chorus. I asked him why it went from one type of song, so far into another? He said he was writing it about me, the things happening in my life at the time, uptempo for sure. Back to Dance With The One You Came With, I saw that as a line in someone’s email message! It just jumped out at me, and I envisioned the entire idea for the lyrics, plus the tone of the song, that calm, caring character of the singer. But I knew it should be uptempo, energetic. The 12-string guitar part was to be part of that attitude, so all these decisions were made within minutes of seeing that phrase in an email.
Producer, engineer, drummer, and at times guitarist/ singer Scott Young had commissioned songwriter Devin Rice to record a couple of his songs at Scott’s studio. Let it Go and I Believe, plus another. With Kevin Stuart Swain, they realized they had some really rocking tracks, but no singer. They phoned me to come to a “session gig.” That means to play on someone’s track, get paid, and go home. I brought a guitar but was told it was a vocal session. I looked around for the other backup singers, thinking that’s what I was, and was told they wanted me to sing lead vocal on these tracks. We completed the tracks, but I didn’t know why they’d just hire someone to sing lead? “Because we’re hoping this is the beginning of your new solo album, Al!” What a sweet bunch of con-men! And so I kicked in a bunch of other songs, became the solo artist, and we got busy creating it all into a cohesive album.
Among the delights of working on this record was walking in and simply being the singer on a few tracks, such as those first songs mentioned above, but on others, being the only guitarist, writing some songs during the making of the album, writing deliberately to give the album flavors it needed to hold up as a strong cohesive album. A good example is, He Don’t Live Here No More: This was the last song I wrote for the record nearing the end of the sessions. I felt the album needed a very different groove, a deep, dark minor-key feel — smoky vocals delivering tension, mystique. And I wanted to bring in some great musicians, other guitar players included. Shaun Verreault of Wide Mouth Mason was the perfect player for “He Don’t Live Here” … I play slide guitar, but Shaun’s technique is superb, like no other player on the planet. I was thrilled when he said he’d play on that track. I asked him to duet with himself, or rather, against himself, a battle! He did it, and the results are thrilling!
Darryl Hebert plays keyboards throughout the album and brings exquisite brass, organ, and piano to the event. The solo piano of Lonely Town is all Darryl. A real string quartet was brought in for that one, too. Another superb guitarist on the record is Sean Kelly of Nelly Furtado and Lee Aaron fame. Sizzling technique and such a delicate touch; superb player. Kevin Stuart Swain delivers some of the rocking guitars heard on Let it Go, I Believe, and My Mind. Scott Young is the main riff guitarist on I Believe and If It Wasn’t For You. I’m weaving around the album, too, the only guitarist doing the parts on Meet Me in the Sky, Rising Son, Dance With The One and Way of the World, the song that Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance, and I wrote a while back.”
DEB: Q. 9. 55 years on the music scene, did you ever dream that your career would have unfolded the way it has and that your songs, musical talents, and contributions to the industry would have made such an impact as they have?
AL: “Well, I’m grateful for all that has occurred, certainly. I do ponder that I could’ve done more, made better moves along the way, better decisions; I’m sure we all view ourselves like this at times. But often it’s all for a reason; meant to be. Part of the bigger plan. In my case, this will all be detailed in my upcoming book, Flying. The rollicking, crazy, near-death ride of the Life of Al. And I’m happy to say I’m at peace with it all and am doing it all now. Hence the album title. The next several projects are already on the stove.”
DEB: Q. 10. How does it feel to have your name included as an iconic Canadian rock n roll troubadour alongside music’s historical trailblazing legends?
AL: “It’s becoming apparent that simply persevering, sticking your chin out, and continuing to create new music and perform in public brings its own rewards, yes. Some of the greats are friends of mine; I’m glad to be along for the ride. What’s the phrase, “You don’t have to be the best one; you just have to be a good one!”
I heard your Global News interview with world-famous Much Music famed VJ, Bill Welychka, back on February 10th, 2022, what a great segment by the way. Regarding your newly released 1st solo album, you were quoted as saying,
“I am filing this whole exercise under too dumb to quit. I just thought that the time was right. We are living in an era where anything goes, it doesn’t have to be hip-hop or any category, so I thought, well, let’s just do what we love and do what we do best. What a time to make a straight-ahead melodic rock record, and fortunately, I was surrounded by a team of guys who had the same goofy idea, so we find ourselves in this moment.“
DEB: Q. 11. Exuding such youthful energy and showing no signs of slowing down, what would you say is the highlight of your career thus far? As well, what is your secret to longevity?
AL: “Career highlight? It would be easy to point at some obvious moments, the “Group of the Year” Juno, or the biggest shows, biggest hit records, stuff like that. But before Prism, we went through a period where we really wanted to be serious students of the Delta and Chicago blues; that was important. During one iteration of the Seeds of Time, with Rocket Norton, Lindsay Mitchell, and myself, we went deep-cuts as a blues band, and that landed us the opening slot, touring western Canada with legend Willie Dixon and “The Chicago Blues All-Stars”, Lafayette Leake on piano, Buster Benton on guitar, and Dog-Man Jackson on drums. We thought we’d entered the Pearly Gates. We became friendly with them all, like grandparents to us. Mr. Dixon would come into our dressing room and give us encouraging talks, saying he liked our band; we were entitled to sing the blues, even at our age. That was a highlight — still is! As to the secret to longevity? That loving, living, peaceful abiding faith that only your God and Saviour can provide when you sincerely and personally ask. I didn’t always have that; I was riding the rails in some other direction. But I’m so grateful that I got honest enough to ask in prayer. The resulting relationship, that forever bond gives you the gratitude attitude. I’ve been getting younger ever since!”
DEB: Q. 12. Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in the restrictions that COVID-19 places on our lives or how hard it is to still be ambitious about getting their art recorded, seen, or sold. This album you have written over the last 5 years, and outside of recording your 1st Solo album during a worldwide pandemic, share other creative ways you managed to stay in tune directly with your sea of fans worldwide?
AL: “The pandemic has not been easy on anyone to maintain a sense of community, including a performer-audience relationship. I shied away from the at-home living-room acoustic videos of our songs. Aside from recording of “Al Harlow, Now”, Prism was asked to perform a worldwide pay-per-view TV simulcast. The chosen venue was Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom. I’ve played there numerous times in my life, and it’s always a thrill. But this time there was no audience. Just a camera crew and audio feed to the broadcast, filmed on a sunny afternoon, in a cavernous, blacked-out Commodore. It was a ghostly experience. The New York-based crew later told us on subsequent concerts they’d learned to dub-in fake applause! But it was a great way to connect with thousands of people out there all at once — there was a live chat feed on a side-screen which only we could see — audience members watching live from all over the world. It was wonderful.”
Rock and Roll has stood the test of time remaining in the forefront for some 6.5 decades deep, reaching so many generations thanks to its unification, bringing freedom and the masses together, felt by a crowd of thousands, maybe even millions. It is magical to witness musicians synchronizing a crowd no matter the differences in age, religion, race, or sexuality… with an even more impressive part, how Rock and Roll executes it. You have been also quoted as saying,
“You’re supposed to hear the human flaws in rock, the way that the instruments and rhythms interact with each other, that is real people, breathing!” – Al Harlow and “Some of us old guys who still have the fire burning inside cannot help it – it’s what we do. I’m just hoping this album reaches its audience, and I can tour behind it. Thank the good Lord we can still do this.”
Al Harlow, congratulations on the release of your Al Harlow’s, NOW on Valentine’s Day as well, Happy Birthday this Sunday, February 13th, 2022.
DEB: Q. 13. What’s next on the horizon for both Al Harlow and PRISM?
AL: “Next project to follow the “Now” album is a historic, archival album, “Al Harlow, Then!” Seriously, when my Seeds of Time pals first invited me to be part of this new band called Prism, I was in the studio recording my first Al Harlow album, with my own band. That album has now been digitally remastered and should complete the circle of the singular Al Harlow, making records and leaping around. Prism was my 40-year recess! Then comes the book, “Flying” the autobiography. I’ve also got a “B-Sides” album planned, songs I grew up loving as a kid; songs we played in our earliest bands. Favorites by the Kinks, Small Faces, Yardbirds, Muddy Waters … a couple of one-hit-wonder songs, that sort of thing. Can’t wait to do that one! And my follow-up to “Now”, brand new songs to comprise my next studio album, already on the launching pad.”
AL: “Thank you, Wire MEGAZINE for letting me express this journey, and supporting music and its artists over these years. We’re all in this thing together!”
DEB: Thank you for a fantastic time Al, cheers!!
Fans enjoy watching/listening to your 2 singles
My Mind Is Running Away With You
My Mind Is Running Away With You
My Mind Is Running Away With You
Dance With The One You Came With
Fans can stay in tune with Al Harlow by visiting
Cheers, Deb Volunteer Music Editor | PhotoJournalist | Columnist | The Wire MEGAzine https://thewiremegazine.com The Wire MEGAzine Blogger http://www.seeingshowswithdebdraper.com email@example.com