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Al Sykes-Songs for the Open Heart
Robbie Robertson once said that “the songwriter was the low man on the totem pole.” But to a large degree, because of songwriters like Robertson,1969 was a pinnacle year in the development of the American songwriter. In this tradition, Al Sykes began to write and perform original music with the Norfolk, VA band “Extreme Heat.”
After playing with several ensemble bands, Al pursued the path of acoustic solo artist in 1971. Armed with his Guild D-40 acoustic guitar, he continued to write and perform songs with more of the broadness and influence of seminal songwriters such as John Martyn, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell & Tim Buckley. At this stage in his career he performed under the stage name of Alfonzo.
Looking to expand upon the sonic possibilities of his music, Al started to direct and add different musicians to his music in 1975. Thus began the creation of the Al Sykes Syndrome. Some of the best musicians in the Hampton Roads area assisted Al with the recording and performance of his music. One of Allen’s greatest gifts as a musician is the ability to turn disparate groups of musicians into focused conduits of song.
The role for Al as songwriting auteur came to full fruition during the years of 1977 to 1981 with Norfolk, VA based bands such as Solid Air, Mowbray Arch, and Taxi Dancer. During this time, Allen had his songwriting talents acknowledged by the board members of the American Songwriters Festival Contest. In 1978, he received an honorable mention for his song, “Never Fades Away” and in 1979 his song, “Ain’t Got No time,” won the Quarter Finalist award.
Starting in 1983, Allen’s focus shifted from the performance of music to sound engineering/production for public television and radio for Norfolk based stations WHRO and WHRV. This included recording performances of such artists as Branford Marsalis, Jon Hendricks and CO., Charlie Byrd, Tony Williams, Joanne Brackeen, and John Cephas. From 1991 to 1996, Al owned and operated Digital Design Recording studio. During this period of time he recorded many local musicians providing them with a professional and well recorded product. Allen returned to production work for public radio and television and recorded performances by such music legends as Ruth Brown, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Cowboy Junkies, and J.D Souther. The debut of Al Sykes ReverbNation Page shows the history of an American artist continually evolving.
By Michael Ingmire, February 2012