St. Helena’s Fred Lessman didn’t choose rock ‘n’ roll. It chose him – and he’s certainly not complaining.
The Great Recession put an end to Lessman’s career in Las Vegas real estate development, but a love of music and a few lucky connections ushered in the rewarding second act of his life, complete with a professional backing band, recording sessions and radio airplay.
Fred Lessman & The Backroad Warriors will perform a benefit concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Grace Episcopal Church’s Newton Hall, 1314 Spring St. in St. Helena. Tickets ($25 in advance or $30 at the door) include the band’s new CD “Give It On Back” and refreshments from sponsors Sutter Home Winery and Johnny Doughnuts.
Proceeds from the show will benefit victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise. Lessman drove through the burned area on his way to a recording session in Oregon and was struck by the devastation. Lessman’s memories of the Wine Country fires of 2017 made the experience even more impactful.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” he said.
In addition to Lessman and his band, the show will feature Craig Bond’s Jazz@7 vocal ensemble and comedian Mark Lundholm.
The concert celebrates the release of “Give It On Back.” A politically charged video for the album’s title song, available on Youtube, has gotten good feedback, Lessman said, but most of his songs are about love and relationships.
“My wife (Cheryl) is typically my muse,” said Lessman, whose musical influences include Van Morrison, the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty.
Lessman had a career in real estate development, including 16 years in Las Vegas. When the Great Recession hit, Lessman found himself “involuntarily retired,” and he and Cheryl exchanged their second home in San Francisco for one in St. Helena, where they now live full time.
Lessman has been playing guitar and harmonica since his teens, but he didn’t get serious about songwriting until 2015, when he recorded a few tunes on his iPad and played them for a golfing buddy, Andrew Emer, who plays bass.
Lessman asked Emer to transfer the songs from iPad to CD so Lessman could give them to his kids. That led to a recording session with Bret Levick, whom Lessman had known years before, and ultimately to the album “3 AM” and the current collaboration with the Backroad Warriors.
The Backroad Warriors are made up of Bret Levick, guitar and vocals; Jeff Pevar, guitar and mandolin; Matthew Kriemelman, drums; Nick Kirby, bass; Don Harriss, keyboards; and Inger Jorgensen, vocals.
The band members live in Oregon and typically work with Lessman via videochat. Lessman said he’s always thrilled to send them rough demos of his songs and then hear them fleshed out with full rock arrangements by the Backroad Warriors, who, unlike Lessman, are professional musicians.
Pevar has performed with various acts including Ray Charles, Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor. Kriemelman was a member of the famous Las Vegas act the Blue Man Group from 2000 to 2012. Levick, who also co-writes and produces, has had his own songs appear in commercials and TV shows like “Sons of Anarchy.”
For tickets go to fredlessman.bpt.me or call 1-800-838-3006.