Although a "singer/songwriter" in the sense that he wrote nearly all the music he performed, it's closer to the truth to describe the well-traveled Al Grierson as a folksinger and Renaissance man in the mold of Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, Pete Seeger, Utah Phillips, and Jack Hardy -- equal parts troubadour, poet, storyteller, and comic. In a life and career that included addresses in Buddhist monasteries, newspaper offices, and traveling along the Great Canadian Railroad, Grierson distilled a multitude of variety and experience into a body of songs that provided material not only for his own performances, but also for those of his many friends in the world of folk and country music like Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Canadian by birth (1948), Alan David Grierson was raised in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, British Columbia. The Griersons were a musical clan -- his father was a French horn player in the Canadian Army, and a cousin, Ralph Grierson, was active as a keyboard player in Hollywood, including recorded work with Randy Newman. Beginning with brass instruments in his early teen years, Grierson was drawn toward folk music in his high school years, as he said, "when I realized that folksingers were essentially self-contained musical units and could do the deal without needing other players." While growing up, he also developed a life-long love of the classic folk and country music of heroes like Guthrie, Rodgers, the Carter Family, and fellow Canadian Wilf Carter, aka "Montana Slim". Following a less-than-satisfying year or so in the mid-'60s at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, Grierson set out on his own and worked at a succession of jobs that included newspaper editor (he once hired Irish rock star Bob Geldof as a record reviewer), railroad worker, and Zen Buddhist monk. Along the way he began writing songs that expressed not only real life experience ("The Wild Dogs of Kitwanga," about the packs that wait for scraps from the dining cars along the Canadian railroad), but also about more metaphysical ("Dust Bowl Don Quixote") and whimsical subject matter, such as "Sunday Way Up Yonder," in which he presumes to play 18 holes with the Almighty
A performance by Al Grierson was, more likely than not, much more than an evening of well-crafted songs delivered in his well-worn, slightly crusty voice. A fan of Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other "beat" poets, Grierson's original poetry added to the show, and he was known to do the occasional tribute to the hipster comic Lord Buckley from time to time.
In 1995, while living in Ashland, OR, Grierson released his first CD, Things That Never Added Up to Me on his own Folkin' Eh label, later picked up and distributed on the Folk Era label. Subtitled "Songs of Love, War, Theology, Golf and the Great American Railroad," it served as an introduction for many folk listeners to his fertile mind and talent, and received widespread airplay on folk music radio shows across North America and beyond. In 1997, he uprooted himself once again and moved to the Hill Country west of Austin, T, where he became the proprietor of his own "armadillo farm" near Luckenbach. His new neighbors wasted no time in claiming him as their own - - Kathleen Hudson of the Texas Heritage Music Foundation said, "Al represents the spirit of Texas music, even though his birth certificate does not match up." Grierson was killed in a freak accident on November 4, 2000, when he was swept away in a flash flood in Texas hill country.