Written by Michael Krapovicky | Photography by Brewster Burns
The L-A Harley Band has become an institution unto itself over its fifteen-year tenure, evolving, but still maintaining a foundation of quality musicianship. Its current lineup follows the goal that has been there since its inception – imparting a good time for the audience while respecting and promoting a well-known brand, Harley-Davidson.
The L-A Harley Band formed as part of a branding initiative at L-A Harley Davidson. John Story, the owner and Operating Manager of L-A Harley, was impressed with the success of “Bike Nights” in other motorcycle sales markets. A Bike Night was an invitation to Harley customers and their friends to visit various locations – enjoying each others’ company and many times, live music. So, in 2005, Story enlisted Sales Manager and guitarist Bert Asselin to start an LA Bike Night, the last Wednesday of the month, with Asselin’s band as the entertainment. Through his lifelong ties to the area, Asselin was able to entice the LA biker community to attend. Word quickly grew, and Asselin’s band assumed the designation ‘The L-A Harley Band.’
“The Bike Nights at Fast Breaks were always fun, with giveaways, trivia contests, and lots of crowd interaction,” Asselin recalls. “We outgrew our Fast Breaks origins fairly quickly because we didn’t want to exclude anyone – so we moved to Schemengees for the added capacity.”
With the success of the Bike Nights, the band sought to expand, performing at local clubs and various events in the community. Over time, musicians came and went, but Asselin remained the core member throughout the transitional period.
“The lineup of the band has changed over the years, but I’ve always been a part of the L-A Harley Band.” confirms Asselin. “As the longest-tenured employee at L-A Harley-Davidson, I am committed to this brand.”
From 2018 to present day, Dan “DJ” Johnson, his son Derek Johnson, and Dave Perlman have joined Asselin as the L-A Harley Band. Derek plays drums for the band, and Dan is the bass player and co-lead vocalist.
“I played with Dan Johnson in a band called Graffiti, that played classic rock in the late 70’s,” explains Asselin. “Derek and Dave
infused the band with some new blood – new material, as well as having a fresh take on the time-tested songs we played in Graffiti.”
Having Dan Johnson and Perlman as lead vocalists allows the band to touch on a wide range of styles and genres.
“Two lead singers is a huge luxury, gives us versatility on stage,” says Asselin. “We always need to adapt as a band to play what our audience wants us to deliver.”
The band’s forte is dance music – covering canonical tunes with familiar beats that inspire a crowd to move. The L-A Harley Band comprises their set list based on their own tastes as veteran entertainers and audience appreciation.
“We choose songs we enjoy playing, but we always have our audience in mind,” says Perlman. “When you hear us, you’ll hear a diverse selection of music that everybody knows and will want to dance to.”
Interaction with their fans is a large part of the L-A Harley Band experience. The band has been known to employ a T-Shirt gun, shooting Harley-Davidson clothing into the hands of waiting patrons.
“It’s just good fun for the audience,” comments Asselin. “Everybody wants a Harley-Davidson shirt, even if you don’t ride one.”
“Nobody goes to see a band with Harley-Davidson in the name expecting to see a calm and relaxed show,” Perlman asserts. “The energy is anticipated by the audience which makes it a lot easier to deliver.”
Memories & milestones
The L-A Harley Band averages two gigs a month, more so when Maine weather allows outside performances. The affiliation with L-A Harley afforded the band many opportunities not available to many local acts.
“We don’t play as frequently as some other bands – we like to build some anticipation between events and make each show we play a special occasion of sorts,” explains Perlman. “We also typically play events where our band is a compliment as opposed to being the entire focus.”
“The promoters in New England want to get the Harley owners,” affirms Asselin. “Due to the name recognition of L-A Harley, we’ve been able to open shows for our childhood heroes, like Greg Allman.”
For Asselin, the best experience to date for the L-A Harley Band was opening for The Doobie Brothers in Rangeley in 2011. In addition to playing for their largest crowd to date, the L-A Harley Band got to fraternize with a band they’d admired their entire lives.
“All we wanted to talk about was music; all they wanted to talk about was motorcycles,” recalls Asselin. “They were all interested in the new Harleys coming out.”
A milestone for the L-A Harley Band was supporting national country act Josh Turner at The Colisée on May 7, 2017. Turner remarked how honored and humbled he was to be playing the same venue where Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston.” L-A Harley-Davidson hosted many events featuring up-and-coming national acts that played for exposure while on tour, such as Thompson Square and Jordan Davis.
“The artists got their music played on Maine radio stations, and we got to open the shows,” says Asselin. “We have a good local following that, mixed in with the draw of the national acts, made for very successful events.”
Another notable performance was the band’s appearance at Heroes of Woodstock concert in Livermore. They shared a bill with original Woodstock alums Country Joe and the Fish and Jefferson Starship.
For the foreseeable future, the L-A Harley Band strives to perform quality music and host events that reach as many audience members as possible.
“Our aim is to keep bringing a fun and energetic performance to our fans while waving the L-A Harley banner,” states Perlman. “The L-A Harley Band wishes to pay homage to the organization and people in it that have supported and continue to support us in our musical journey.”
The L-A Harley Band wishes to note Frank Coffin, their former bassist, who recently passed after battling cancer. “Frank really left his mark on this band,” says Asselin. “Singing, playing bass, and just as a person, he was a rock.”
“We’d like to keep going with our current lineup; enjoy every gig,” concludes Asselin. “You never know what life can throw at you – while we’re doing it, we want to take time and enjoy it.”
The L-A Harley Band
839 Main Street, Lewiston • l-aharley.com