GRIERSON, AL (1948–2000). Al Grierson, singer, songwriter, and "Poet Laureate of Luckenbach, Texas," was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, in 1948. The eldest of eight children, Grierson grew up in British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta. As a singer and songwriter, he briefly used the name McKinney, after his picture was mislabeled in a songbook. In the 1970s he served as editor of the Georgia Straight, an alternative newspaper, in Vancouver.
Grierson's life took a dark turn when two of his brothers perished in a house fire while still in their teens. His music and poetry reflect his wanderings through philosophy, mythology, literature, history and religion, as well as his life on the road. He worked on the railroad and carried the red "Wobblies" (Industrial Workers of the World) card, took part in the peace movement of the 1960s, and lived for a time in England and Ireland.
Grierson's first wife was from Ireland. With his second wife, Claudia Stevens, to whom he was married from February 1989 to February 1997, he had two daughters. He and Claudia met in a Buddhist monastery "in the shadow of Mount Shasta" in Oregon, where he lived for six years and became a Zen Buddhist monk. The two left the monastery to live together and have children. During their marriage Grierson started a small home business––a tofu chip factory. Folk singer and songwriter Utah Phillips wrote that the business failed because the chips were so unpalatable as to be almost inedible. Phillips also wrote, in a tribute to Grierson printed in Performing Songwriter magazine, that Grierson's older daughter was allergic to tofu. Phillips further reported that while living in Ashland, Oregon, Grierson became part of a group of writers called Camp California and was part of a sort of loose society comprising "about twenty people."
From Oregon, Grierson moved to Texas in 1997 and took up residence in a school bus parked in a makeshift camp called Armadillo Farm just outside Luckenbach. There the peripatetic poet owned little besides his Guild guitar. He was, however, an enthusiastic e-mailer and his own Webmaster, according to singer–songwriter Anne Feeney, who at the time of his death was planning to record two of Grierson's songs. One of his songs, "Rick Blaine Retires to Luckenbach, Texas to Cultivate the Middle Way," which appears on his second album, speculates on what might have happened to the Humphrey Bogart character from the movie Casablanca. In Grierson's fancy, Blaine moves to Luckenbach, becomes a hermit, and studies Buddhism.
Grierson's festival appearances included the first Vancouver Folk Festival, the Napa Valley Festival, the High Sierra Fest, and, in Texas, the Kerrville Folk Festival. He was a two-time finalist in the Napa Valley Music and Wine Festival's emerging-songwriter showcase and a guest on National Public Radio's River City Folk program. The twenty-fourth annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival was dedicated to Al Grierson.
He made only two recordings: Things That Never Added Up to Me (all Grierson's songs except Jack Hardy's "The Zephyr") in 1995 and A Candle for Durruti in 1999. The title of his second album came from singer–songwriter Dave Van Ronk, who told Grierson a story about a friend of his who never passed a Catholic cathedral without stopping to light a candle in memory of Buenaventura Durruti, leader of the anarchist militia during the Spanish Civil War. Both albums are recorded with vocals, guitar, and harmonica by Grierson alone, on Grierson's own label, "Folkin' Eh!"
According to his wife, Grierson said it would take a crane to get him out of Texas. He died on November 2, 2000, in a flash flood that swept him off the road when his pickup stalled three miles from Luckenbach after a performance at a school. His body was found some two miles downstream the following day. Grierson's ashes are said to repose at the Buddhist monastery in Oregon.
His songs recorded by others include "The Resurrection," from his second album, recorded by singer–songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard on his album Dangerous Spirits; and "Sunday 'Way up Yonder," from his first album, recorded by performer-songwriter-folklorist Alan Wayne Damron on his album Texas Spirit Live. The latter album was made in response to the request of numerous Texas teachers to promote appreciation for Texas history and culture. Anne Feeney also recorded several of Grierson's songs, including "Flowers of Auschwitz," "The Widow's Lament," and "Fifty Cent Sneakers."
Austin American–Statesman, November 5, 2000. Al Grierson Remembered (http://www.utahphillips.org/al/), accessed April 2, 2008. John North, "Texas flood claims folk singer but his music lives on," November 5,2000, CNN.com (http://edition.cnn.com/2000/SHOWBIZ/Music/11/05/al.grierson/), accessed October 7, 2011.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, J. E. Jordan, "Grierson, Al," accessed February 26, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgraz.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 11, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.