by Johnny Griffith
Webster’s Dictionary defines a long shot as “a venture involving great risk but promising a great reward if successful,” but one listen is all one needs to realize the irony in the name of local band Al & The Longshots. As they are anchored on stage by soulful and raw vocals along with a powerful three piece band, their listeners run little risk of not being rewarded at one of their shows. Together since 2015, Al & The Longshots have been spinning new takes on crowd favorites ever since and continue to increase their stage time in the area as more people figure out these Longshots are a sure thing.
I sat down with the band this month to find out a little more about them:
Johnny: What is the current lineup of Al & The Longshots?
Dusty Douglas: I play drums for the band. Charles Praytor is our bassist, Preston Dotson is our guitar player, and Allison McGee is our lead singer.
Johnny: How did you all meet?
Dusty: I met Charles at TJC while we were both students studying music back in the mid-2000’s. In the summer of 2015, we were both in a production of “The Buddy Holly Story” at Tyler Civic Theatre, and that is when I met Preston. We were all playing members of Buddy’s backing band, The Crickets. I met Allison when Preston and Charles started putting this band together.
Preston: Charles was one of my teachers at TJC in the music program. During my last semester he asked if I would be interested in doing a musical which is where we became friends; this is also where I met Allison. As Dusty had mentioned, we met during “The Buddy Holly Story.”
Allison: I was driving on I-20 and this hairy man waved me down and asked me to be in a band…okay, I’m kidding. Charles pretty much brought everyone into the band. I knew him from some previous theater productions we’d worked on together. I trusted him because I knew he was talented and wouldn’t dedicate time to something he didn’t actually believe in, and he wouldn’t waste my time either. Preston had impressed me in a previous show and Dusty was the new face for me.
Charles: I met Allison in 2004 through community theatre, she was actually the first person I met after moving to Tyler. We reconnected in 2011 to do a Patsy Cline revue, and that was my first introduction to her as a vocalist. I was developing my own project at the time, but I immediately made a mental note to work with her in the future. I met Dusty as a student at Tyler Junior College in 2005. I was a classical-track pianist, but knew I wanted to get into a band eventually. I was enamored with his writing/recording abilities, even though at the time it was about as far away from my own style as I could imagine. I kept up with him when we parted ways for different colleges, occasionally picking his brain through email or a random phone call. I met Preston during my first year as a professor at TJC. I could tell we weren’t that far apart in age, and asked if he’d play for a musical I was working on that summer. He agreed, and we kept up a correspondence over text, mostly bonding over our shared gear-head traits.
Johnny: Are you all local or are there some transplants to the area?
Dusty: I moved to Tyler shortly after 9/11. I was born in Houston and lived there until I was a teen. My family moved to East Texas and I’ve been here ever since, with the exception of a brief stint where I lived in Los Angeles, California.
Allison: I’m a Tyler native with some tenure in Houston as well. Moved back with my family in middle school and been here ever since.
Charles: I was raised in the suburbs of Dallas, and moved to Tyler as a teenager.
Preston: I’m super local.
Johnny: What about the name? What’s the story behind Al & The Longshots?
Dusty: We wanted a name that had a nice ring to it, and that would also pay homage to the talent of our singer and frontwoman, Allison.
Allison: “Al” was a nickname I acquired in high school, and it’s followed me right on into my 30’s.
Dusty: We thought it would be a fun surprise for anybody hearing and seeing us for the first time. As far as The Longshots, it fits us backing boys in the band perfectly.
Charles: Fun fact, we originally were going to call ourselves “The Vanguard” but soon found out that was the name of D’Angelo’s band. I think it worked out for the best.
Preston: All my ideas got shot down so I picked the one they came up with that was ok.
Johnny: What first got you into music individually?
Dusty: I first got into music in elementary school when my mother got me a violin and enrolled me in the Suzuki Music program in Houston. I really enjoyed it while it lasted. Later on, as a young teen, I started taking an interest in rock music and my parents bought me a Colgate-green Hohner guitar and Carvin practice amp. I taught myself how to play and have been writing, recording, and performing music ever since. I started tinkering with drums a few years after that.
Preston: My family on my mom’s side was musical, my grandfather played with Elvis a few times while they were in the army and my uncle has played with several large country acts. My parents surprised me with my first guitar when I was in the third grade, and later on when I outgrew it, my grandparents on my dads side got me my first nice acoustic guitar, a Martin which I carried everywhere and played anytime I could. Soon I moved on to electrics and somehow wound up in the music program at TJC playing classical during the day and in country bands at night.
Allison: We’re all singers in my family. My parents raised me on everything good from Al Green to Aerosmith to Whitney Houston to CCR, and I got into musical theater at seven years old. We didn’t have the money for voice lessons, so I just listened and imitated what I heard until my own until my sound started to develop.
Charles: I had an art teacher in Dallas that would do these “performance nights” at her house with her student’s families. There were some incredible artists and musicians in that group. This one family that played violin and cello told my parents to get us in music lessons, even if it was just on recorder. So recorder it was for about 6 months, then we added piano. As a kid I always loved the attention playing a piano brought, so I stuck with it and it’s turned into a career.
Johnny: What was the first show as a band?
Allison: The first Al & The Longshots show was at Click’s in Tyler. The guys were all pretty much pros at performing in bands, but this was my first band gig ever. I’d been on stage almost my whole life, but that show was different than anything I’d done. I don’t think I moved more than three times in 2 hours.
Dusty: Real talk, Al rocked the house that night harder than the three of us combined.
Allison: The set went well and we started a small following that’s gradually grown into a pretty fantastic crowd.
Johnny: How would you describe your musical style? Has it evolved since the band formed?
Allison: We always struggle with this question, because we cover such a wide range of music from jazz to rock to r&b…we kind of do it all. That’s also what I love about our “sound” – you can’t really pin it down to just one thing. I think it reflects us really well – we’re an eclectic group and so is our music.
Johnny: You all have done some fantastic covers in your shows, are there any that seem to have become crowd favorites? Is that the same as the band favorite?
Dusty: There definitely seem to be a few that always deliver. Off the top of my head, I’d say “Kiss” by Prince, “Mainstream Kid” by Brandi Carlile, and “Feel It Still” by Portugal. “The Man” always get the crowd moving.
Preston: I may be biased but I tend to see a large reaction on the guitar heavy songs, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Pride and Joy,” etc.
Charles: I feel like people never get tired of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Dusty: So true. You can’t go wrong with Johnny Cash.
Johnny: What about originals? Is the band doing any writing at this point?
Allison: We have a few in the works. Between gigs and rehearsals and our “day” jobs, it’s hard to find time to really sit down and write, but we work well together and I’m blessed with a group of talented guys who can easily take something that starts in my head and give it legs.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently performing?
Dusty: Generally, we play about 2-3 shows a month. Typically, these vary from venue gigs to private events.
Johnny: What does Al & The Longshots have on the radar for the rest of the year we should be aware of?
Allison: We really want to get writing. It’s finding the time between gigs, which is a good problem to have, but that’s where we want to go.
Dusty: Agreed. We’re also playing more and more private gigs, which is really fun. Venue gigs are great too, but being able to provide the soundtrack for someone’s special event can be a really rewarding and intimate experience.
Johnny: How would you describe your show to a first timer?
Dusty: Pure fun. Our goal has always been to use our band and musical abilities to lift spirits and provide an outlet for folks to come out and have a good time. Nothing satisfies us more than playing in front of an energetic crowd that is letting the music carry them away for a few hours.
Allison: We like to play with our crowds. That can mean getting someone to sing with me, or Chuck and Preston mingling with the crowd while they’re playing. More than half of our shows end up as a dance party anyway so we figure, why not go with it? Make it fun. Make it interactive. We’re goofy people, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. People respond to that.
Johnny: Thanks for taking the time with us.
Band: Thank you!
Keep track of where Al & The Longshots are online at facebook.com/longshotsmusic/.