Al Bruno – A Living Legend
Al Bruno was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, one of eight siblings of Roseanne and Phil Bruneau. When he was five years old, his parents moved to the small town of Parry Sound. It was at this time Al played at a wedding, his first professional gig.
He attended a bilingual kindergarten in Parry Sound, but because there were no French schools to continue his education, he moved back to Sudbury where he lived with his grandparents for two years.
In 1945 Al moved from Parry Sound to Toronto to be with his family after his father got a job with Goodyear Tire in Toronto. While attending school in Toronto, he met two brothers, Bucky and Maurice LeBlonde and together they formed Al’s first band called the “French Trio.” They became the youngest country music band to open for major acts.
At sixteen he worked with the Wes Chapman’s “Prairie Dawgs”, consisting of Wes Chapman acoustic guitar/singer/yodeler; Billy Bartlett, drummer/singer; and Jody Wilson, bass player/singer. At 18 Al went to work for Jack Kingston and performed on Jack’s TV show, Main Street Jamboree in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. During this time he continued studio work.
He joined the Terry Roberts Band, performing in several nightclubs around Toronto. The band consisted of Terry, who sang and played rhythm guitar, Wally Dean on bass/fiddle and Gordy Glass on drums. Al recorded and arranged one of Terry’s songs which became a hit in Canada entitled, “Oh, Lonesome Me.”
Al was married in 1957. In 1958 he met Conway Twitty and was hired by him in 1959 as his lead guitar player. At that time Al moved his family from Canada to Newport, Arkansas.
He played with Conway during his rock and roll years. The band included Conway, Denny Rice on keyboards, Joe Lewis on bass and Jack Nance on drums. For 4 ½ years they played in every major city in the US, including Carnegie Hall in New York City. In addition to touring, Al played lead guitar on Conway’s recording sessions.
In 1963 he moved to Philadelphia where he worked for Dick Clark. During this time Al did session work with Apple and Swan Records.
Then in 1964 when Dick Clark moved his offices to California, he offered Al the position of Musical Director for “The Caravan of Stars” and he was billed as “Little Al Guitar.” He traveled with the caravan all over the US, playing in every major city. There were about 40 major acts with the tour, which included the Supremes, Shirells, Dixie Cups, Gene Pitney and many others.
In September 1964 Al went to work for Duane Eddy’s publishing company, playing guitar on his independent productions. Then in January 1965 he went back to nightclub work in Southern California. In June, 1965 he joined Jerry Inman and the Individuals, which included Jay Dee Maness on steel, Dale Bennett on bass, Archie Francis on drums and Clyde Griffin on keyboard.
Appearing regularly on a Dick Clark TV Show in 1966 on NBC called “Swinging Country” he continued doing studio work. In 1967 he recorded for such greats as Buck Owens, Ricky Nelson and Bobby Gentry. Later that year Al began recording for Merle Haggard.
In 1968 he went work at the Palomino Club with Tony Booth, lead singer/rhythm guitar, Larry Booth, singer/bass player, Jay Dee Maness on steel, and Archie Francis on drums.
During this time he also recorded for several hit TV shows including, Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Alias Smith & Jones with the Henry Mancini Orchestra.
He also played on several other TV show themes such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Fantasy Island and the Smothers Brothers. In addition, he recorded on a Ray Charles album, entitled “Volcanic Action of my Soul,” and several movie tracks, which included “Sometimes a Great Notion” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
In 1970 Al moved his family to Nashville, TN where he recorded with Capitol, United, and RCA records. He also recorded for Billy Sherrill producer at Columbia and Epic records working with such greats as George Jones, Barbara Mandrell, Del Reeves, Lefty Frizzell, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Lynn Anderson and Sammie Smith.
While in Nashville he toured with Sammie Smith. He also worked at a nightclub called the “Carousel” where he worked with Boots Randolph, Larry Gatlin, Diane Sherrill and Sandy Rucker. He also played on the Grand Ole Opry on numerous occasions (which was then the Ryman Auditorium).
In 1973 he moved back to LA where he continued to do nightclubs and recording sessions. It was during this time he recorded Debbie Boone’s, “You Light Up My Life,” Suzie Allison’s, “Looking For Love” and Hank Williams Jr’s, “Family Tradition” album.
In February of 1973 Al was asked to do a session for a gospel group called “The Sky Pilot Singers,” which was backed by Elvis Presley. Besides playing on the album, he arranged the songs. In appreciation, he was presented with a TCB necklace and the other musician was given a gold leaf bible. Using two of Elvis’s tour buses he went “on the road” with the singers along with The Master’s Quartet. They played at several venues across the U.S. ending at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK.
In 1981-85 he owned a club in LA called, “The Blue Bayou” which featured local live country bands. Al was nominated 28 times for Lead Guitar by the Academy of Country Music and won that prestigious honor ten times and two band awards with Tony Booth in 1970 and 1971.
In 1991 he was awarded the CCMA Living Legend Award. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Academy of Country Music for several years.
In 1999 Al’s first wife passed away and in 2002 he remarried and moved to Las Vegas, where he continued working with local bands for 4-5 years.
In addition, Al did a great deal of traveling while living in Las Vegas, working with Stephanie Davis, singer/songwriter at the Elko, NV Cowboy Poet Festival. He was also a featured solo guitarist at the Elko, NV Cowboy Poet Festival. He worked again with Stephanie in Montana. He continued playing local gigs, including one in Lone Pine, CA.
He worked with the Chaparrals, consisting of John Blankenship, Harvey Walker, Don Richardson at the Trail Ride in Santa Ynez, CA. He recorded with Waylon Payne, Sammie Smith’s/Jody Payne’s son in Nashville, was staff guitarist at the steel guitar convention in Phoenix, AZ, played at a church concert for Joan & Tommy Atwater and several gigs in California, Las Vegas & Parump, Nevada and was the staff guitarist with Paul Bowman’s Colgate Palmolive Talent Contest in Las Vegas.
He released his first CD in 2007, entitled, “Bear Country.”
For more about Al Bruno, read LA Weekly’s article