Al-Saadi - Ann Arbor's Soul, Blues & Rock Sensation
Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn
First it was the church choir at four years old, next it was theater productions
at The Michigan Theater at eight, then it was the piano, followed by the French
grade. At thirteen, he became interested in guitar. What was next for Ann Arbor
native Laith Al-Saadi was decades of guitar playing, sharing stages with some of
blues and rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest names, national exposure on a hit NBC
television show and an ever-growing fan base.
Laith reminisces when he first became interested in guitar. Though he’d learned
many other instruments before, he didn’t really dedicate time to practicing. His
mom wouldn’t even pay for lessons.
“I bought a method book and a Beatles book and taught myself how to play
guitar,” Laith said.
Over winter break of his eighth grade year, Laith taught himself just enough
chords to pass the audition for his school’s jazz band. Fast-forward to the end
of high school, and Laith was spending his whole afternoon in the band room
after lunch. He was playing piano, bass, formed his own jazz fusion band and had
a blues band, Blue Vinyl.
Blue Vinyl went on to be the first Ann Arbor high school band to release a CD
and also got to open up for blues big names Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Tommy
Castro, and play blues and jazz festivals in Michigan.
College continued to fuel Laith’s passion for guitar and instrumental study.
Having attended Western Michigan and the University of Michigan for bass, guitar
and vocal classes, Southern blues were never far from the Northerner. He began
playing gigs six nights a week, three shows each night, performing both solo and
later on, with his band, in Traverse City and Bellaire.
Perhaps the phrase – “Look ma” is best applicable for the little kid who never
wanted to practice his instruments, who now, was playing three shows a night.
Laith’s music began to take him even more places to make mom proud.
In 2006, he opened up for B.B. King at the House of Blues in Chicago, and again
in 2014 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
up for B.B. King probably was one of the biggest deals of my life,” he said. “I
was incredibly influenced by B.B. as a singer and guitar player. I kind of think
of him as like the most well-known blues player that has ever been.”
Aside from the Delta blues and moody Muddy Waters music, other influences for
Laith include classic rock bands ranging from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Eric
Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Band and the Grateful Dead.
“I love music and I like whatever touches my soul,” he said. “The blues is just
a common thread through so much music that I like. The blues is a truly American
art form that kind of weaved its way into almost every facet of American music.
So for me, I think a lot of the music that I personally gravitated towards just
had a bluesy edge to it. Whether it was rock ‘n’ roll or Ray Charles or Louis
Armstrong, or whether it was country stuff, I like the stuff that seemed to be a
little more soulful and maybe had a bit more of a bluesy influence,” Laith said.
What followed for Laith was a risky move in his musical career. He decided,
after much contemplation, to pause his steady, full-time music career in
Michigan to audition for NBC’s hit singing-competition T.V. show, “The Voice.”
Being authentic and remaining true to himself were constant thoughts in the
singer’s mind during time spent in Los Angeles.
Also inspired by fellow Michigan musician Joshua Davis (and former M897 artist),
Laith realized the show didn’t make him an automatic sellout. Laith spoke about
Josh’s time on “The Voice,” which took the Traverse City singer all the way to
the finale – finishing third.
“He represented himself really well, and picked wonderful music that I think he
really liked, in fact, loved. That showed me that doing the show could be done
with plenty of class and plenty of authenticity and that that would actually be
the best thing to do,” Laith said of Josh.
Being a blues guitar player and singer, Laith brought a new kind of artist to
the forefront, on a national stage. And with that brought some apprehension.
Week after week performing for the celebrity judges and on the screens of
thousands of people, he never felt like he’s the type of musician America would
choose. Instead, he focused on picking songs that were representative his
musical career and who he was as both an artist and person.
a surprise to Laith, American audiences were far more in-tune and in touch with
their bluesy selves and continued to vote the Ann Arbor native through, all the
way to the finale.
“I picked music I loved and even further, they embraced stuff I didn’t think
they would,” Laith said. After singing an Albert King standard, “Born Under a
Bad Sign,” the show’s producers asked him to play even more blues music,
including B.B. King.
With these meaningful songs, there was an evident contrast from pop ballads and
country songs that his competition was playing. With this new style also came
“I know, even from the producer’s reactions, that I definitely brought a
different demographic to the show,” Laith said. “I didn’t expect to win, but
it’s just cool that I knew I brought a different type of viewership.”
Happy with the outcome, coming in fourth place, the classic rocker was grateful
to not be tied into a winner’s contract. Since the show, he has been able to cut
the bar gigs and play theaters full of concertgoers specifically there to see
his music. For now, he’s just trying to keep the momentum that was built during
“We’ve played some fantastic shows in some very iconic places and it’s really
cool the doors that it’s opened and how much it kind of permeated through
America,” Laith said. “When you think about it, that’s 16 million people that
have watched you for a whole season. I have gone to places that I had never set
foot in before, and sol out pretty good-sized venues and that’s amazing. I’m
During the celebrity duet performance, Laith sang with Joe Walsh (James Gang,
Eagles) and after the show wrapped, Joe’s management reached out and invited him
to play with his band’s and Bad Company’s concert on the stage with country star
Keith Urban and guitar session player Waddy Watchel for “Rocky Mountain Way” at
DTE on June 22.
The 39-year-old singer calls the experience “one of the highlights” of his life.
“The fact that he liked me enough to extend that after the show, and that
actually is a real relationship that will continue; it wasn’t just a one-off
that I got to play with him on NBC, and then it was done… it’s very, very cool,”
home as a full-time musician in Michigan is never something Laith takes for
granted. Some of his favorite venues to play include the Blind Pig and Ark in
Ann Arbor, Blissfest up north, and Bluesfest in Old Town Lansing.
“We do have a great, great state,” he said. “And there’s so much that I love
about being a musician in Michigan. There’s just great people around, great
talent, and it’s really diverse.”
Up next for the blues rocker is opening up for Lynyrd Skynryd at 20 Monroe Live,
Grand Rapids’ newest art deco venue, on Feb. 3. He’s also busy recording and
writing music and assessing whether the indie route or a label is the right
choice for that release. He’s also got plenty of Michigan dates on the list for
a great summer of gigs. Be on the lookout for more soulful renditions from this
Ann Arbor singer songwriter.
FREE LOCAL LUNCH SAMPLE
Laith Al-Saadi - Chains To download the M897 song:
Right click on the link above and choose"Save Link As" or "Save