Alan Jesperson passes

Photos of Al Jesperson by Craig Evans

Alan Jesperson, popular Minnesota bluegrass performer, died suddenly at his in Minneapolis home on December 30. He was 74 years of age.

Known as Al to his friends, Jesperson was raised in nearby Minnetonka. He came of age musically during the folk music boom of the 1950s, and started playing in the early ’60s. By 1968 he was deeply into bluegrass, and formed the band which was his calling card until the end, The Middle Spunk Creek Boys. The group was the Twin Cities’ premiere bluegrass attraction, with Al at the helm on guitar. Over the years they had included Rudy Darling, Peter Ostrushko, Ron Colby, Mark Kreitzer, Jim Tordoff, Barry St. Mane, Bruce Jaeger, Jerry Flynn, Andy Kozak, Tom Nechville, and dozens of others as members.

In addition to the band, Al functioned as a bluegrass impresario in Minneapolis, managing the Laughing Waters Bluegrass Festival in the city over Labor Day weekend for 22 years, and overseeing the booking of bluegrass music at Dulono’s Pizza in the warehouse district for 40 years. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association for some time.

Friends recall Jesperson as an unconventional man, who followed his passions wherever they led. His “day job” was as a buyer, restorer, and seller of antique radios, specializing in the Zenith brand. His Great Northern Antiques and Vintage Radios business earned him a national reputation among fans of the old wireless receivers. The shop was also the site for hundreds of memorable jam sessions.

Tom Nechville, founder of the banjo company, Nechville Musical products, played with Middle Spunk Creek Boys in the 1990s, and credits Al as an important figure in his life.

“When I auditioned for the band, I was still unclear how 3 part harmony worked. Al and the 1992 Version of MSCB mentored me with the basics of bluegrass, teaching me all about harmony and song arrangements. This was a huge eye, ear, and mind opener for me that for which I am forever grateful.

The group modeled itself in the vein of the Country Gentlemen, and prided itself on their meticulously worked out three and four part harmony vocals. Al set the tempo with his never-failing steady rhythm guitar and sweet lead tenor voice.

Personally, Al Jesperson had a gentle, kind spirit that set the stage for his amazing sense of humor and quick wit. His humor was always clever, sometimes self effacing but revealing of his high intelligence and kind persona. Al was always able to inspire creative collaboration among bandmates which did nothing but enhance the joy and appreciation for the music we were making.”

With the Spunks, Al was inducted into the Minnesota Rock & Country Hall of Fame in 2007.

Another former bandmate, Andy Kozak, remembers his friend for the good times.

“For more than two decades we spent every Memorial Day at Al’s ‘birthday’ jam session (No insulting cards allowed, but we brought ’em anyway). 

Best of all, Al was a 40 plus year friend. Artistic temperament? On occasion. After all, he was a musician. But always he was there with a big heart and a helping hand, and so much fun. He knew a million jokes and how to deliver them, and hundreds of songs and how to sing them.

Thanks for everything, Al.”

A Celebration of Life and jam session will be held over Memorial Day weekend this year in his honor.

R.I.P., Al Jesperson.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.