Al Shusterman, a longtime presence in the California bluegrass scene, died April 24 after a fall at his home. He was 75.
Shusterman spent more than three decades as a DJ, and was still working for KUBU in the Sacramento area at the time of his death. His show, Backwoods Bluegrass, played an eclectic mix of bluegrass, from stars to unknowns. He had earlier worked as a promoter. He also played the resonator guitar and was known as a good singer.
Al’s death was reported by his brother, Sid, a fellow picker, who started out trading cassette and reel-to-reel tapes of bands they had heard, Al from Texas, Louisiana and California, Sid from the East Coast.
“I listened to his show just last week. It’s especially tough because this is the beginning of festival season,” said Sid, who spoke with Al on the phone every week. Much of the conversation focused on bluegrass and the touring schedules of favorite bands.
In addition to the brotherly bond, the Shustermans shared a favorite band – The Dillards. Al met the band in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, with Sid remembering a wonderful detail from Al’s report to him: “They were walking down the street in their buckskin outfits!”
In addition to giving artists airtime, Al endeared himself to many of them by writing and sharing short reviews of projects that came his way. You don’t have to look very hard to find his reviews quoted or excerpted in liner notes and on the websites of appreciative bluegrass artists.
For example, here’s what he had to say a while back about Kim Robins: “I loved Kim Robins’ new project, Raining in Baltimore, from the moment it started. I was mesmerized the entire time it was playing. I just love her voice and the emotion she put into each song. I played it numerous times and found something new and exciting each time I heard it.” There are hundreds of similar reports from Al floating around.
Those reviews, interviews and various types of recordings from 33 years of radio work fill two bedrooms of the house he shared with his wife, Sandra, and their family. That’s a testament to the staying power of bluegrass music, and to one man’s enduring affinity for it.
RIP, Al Shusterman. Thanks for all you did for bluegrass.