A lot of great guitar players have labored in obscurity under the label of "Best Unknown Guitar Player in (Any City, USA)." T. Albert Lloyd doesn't want to be one of them.
T. Albert who?
T. Albert Lloyd of St. Paul. And yes, it's likely that you haven't heard of him-unless you happen to have bought a Harley from Zylstra Harley-Davidson in Elk River. That's Lloyd's day job and his customers have provided a good base of support for his two self-produced CDs.
Either CD--last year's T. Albert Lloyd and the Kingpins or Tears from My Heart from 2001--can stand on its own with Lloyd's stinging Walter Trout-styled guitar attacks backed by his solid studio band, the Kingpins. Now, he's itching to take it up a notch with his live band, which features different personnel than his recording mates, and get his name out on the marquee.
At 42, Lloyd might be considered a late bloomer. With roots in Philadelphia shrouded in mystery--"Isn't everyone from Philly kind of mysterious?" he laughs--Lloyd developed a fan base with several bands on the East Coast before relocating to Minnesota. He spotted a job at the Harley-Davidson dealer while looking for a job for his wife.
"The Harley-Davidson connection opens the door for people," says Lloyd, and that's an audience that's favorably disposed to his brand of rock-edged chops. Lloyd played with a number of local musicians in clubs that he's rather leave unnamed. Drummer Greg Gaston, a LaPorte native, led him to Bemidji in 2001, where they found bassist Keith Thunem.
"He was just brutal. He hit three notes and I got goose bumps," says Lloyd. "He had the tone. We got together, I started jamming with him, Gaston goes 'crack' and the power trio was born."
Lloyd started out on vocals but, he confesses, "I sucked. I was like a fish out of water. So I fired myself." Some other singers were auditioned to replace Lloyd on lead vocals. Full-throated lead vocalist Ben Siino was auditioned at Gaston's recommendation. He listened to the tapes over a weekend and called on Sunday to say he was ready. Lloyd told him to get up to Bemidji as soon as possible, and they recorded their first cd live in two-and-a-half hours at Gary Burger's studio in the north woods. Harpman Curtis Blake was tapped for the session and guest organist John Steffel wound up in the mix as well.
Siino lends a soulful edge to Lloyd's sinewy leads, with steady, in-the-pocket backing supplied by the Gaston/Thunem rhythm section. Blake added a heavier blues influence to the mix on Lloyd and the Kingpins' first record, sharing the spotlight with Lloyd on shuffles and straight-up rockers alike. By the second release, recorded in a St. Paul warehouse in 2002, Lloyd's guitar has matured and he takes the front position unassisted. This is a hard-charging band with the throttle wide open but there's still plenty of blues in the tank. Lloyd just provides the ignition spark.
All but one song on the first record are originals; a Sonny Boy Williamson cover is the lone exception. The second record was entirely penned by Lloyd. He writes all the original material, often while sitting in front of the tv with his unplugged electric guitar.
"If it sounds good unplugged then I'm on to something," says Lloyd. "I'm an intuitive writer-I know when I'm on to something. If I can remember it the next day, it's there." Many of Lloyd's songs revolve around female relationships, mostly broken ones, and the aftermath of walking away from them.
Lloyd's rig is simple--two guitars, a single Fender Twin Reverb amp--with a precise, piercing tone that sneaks up on you. There's a hint of the old school there with a new buzz added. He'd feel right at home in Indigenous. Churning along in a nice groove, all of a sudden it grabs your ears and turns your head with one of those 'Hey, now that was cool' licks.
"When I'm playing, I know when all activity stops and people are just watching," Lloyd says confidently.
Lloyd counts among his influences Curtis Mayfield, Carlos Santana, Walter Trout and Pat Martino, and says he likes to listen to the rhythm of drummers for right-hand riff patterns.
Lloyd has a second band for playing club gigs and he wants to step that up.
"I'm on a quest to get management and keep the band alive. I'm just looking to get out there now."
Looking every bit the mystery man in his omnipresent wrap-around shades, T. Albert Lloyd sounds like he's on a serious mission to move beyond the Harley-Davidson crowd. Besides getting out on more live gigs, he's hoping to record his third cd with the Kingpins this winter.
"I've got two great bands and no baggage with either one," Lloyd says proudly.
You might want to put T. Albert Lloyd on your "to watch" list.
T. Albert Lloyd can be reached at TALBERTLLOYD@AOL.com
Karl Bremer is a free-lance writer in Stillwater.
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