Wacky nostalgia

Al Simmons celebrates 45 years

While childless adults are not likely to be part of entertainer Al Simmon’s audience, many Winnipeggers grew up with his tunes and caught a few of his performances.

Recently, a woman in her 30s approached Simmons after a show and told him her grandma had seen him when she was young. Puzzled, he sat down and crunched the numbers. He realized it was possible. She had probably seen him in a bar in her 20s.

These days, Simmons avoids the rowdy, drunk crowds.

“I’ve done shows where the audience absolutely hates me,” Simmons says. And those audiences tend to be drunk oil riggers.

Simmons credits some of his success to having no formal training, which led to his goofy, twisted show. For example, he combined two broken trumpets, a duck call and a baritone horn into one instrument he uses in his shows.

“If I was a learned musician, I wouldn’t be stooping to that level to entertain people,” Simmons says.

However, he thinks that if he had known where he would have ended up, he might have found a quicker path to get there. While he knew from about the age of seven that being an entertainer was what he wanted to do, it’s not the path he immediately followed.

For Simmons, there are many highlights of his career.

In 1977, he became the Human Juke Box, performing in a port-a-potty sized box in Old Market Square.

He looks back fondly on the plays he acted in where he would learn pages and pages of script and then it was all over after a week of performing.

“The brief ones were hard, but memorable,” Simmons says. 

Some of his favourite shows were when he was performing with other people, like the tour he took throughout Manitoba with a tent, sort of like one used for circuses, and many other performers.

“It was an extravaganza,” Simmons says.

But he only did the tour twice because people said they just wanted to see him on stage, even though the second tour was only with two other performers.

“It felt good that they wanted to see me, but it’s so much fun to work with other people,” Simmons says.

He credits some of his success to working with others.

Musician Fred Penner taught him to play the guitar, he learned more about songwriting from singer-songwriter Bob King and drummer Mike Klym always pushed for more comedy.

“I end up stronger as a solo performer,” Simmons says.

When he does his 45 anniversary show at the West End Cultural Centre on Sept. 19, he says he’ll have an army of performers behind him. The energy of those he has learned from will be with him on stage.

But this won’t be be the last hurrah to end Simmon’s career. 

“After 45 years of performing, I can’t see myself slowing down,” Simmons says. “I long to be on stage. That’s where I feel home.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 17, 2015)

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