A sense of self-importance or even entitlement often develops as a musician becomes globally recognized, but this is not so in the case of lakecity musician Don Alder.
Alder is a well-known name and face locally in Williams Lake, as well as on an international scale as master guitarist specializing in fingerstyle picking on acoustic guitars. Despite all the fame and praise he has accrued over the years, Alder is still a humble man at heart and is simply content to be doing what makes him happy.
Originally born in Vancouver, Alder said he spent some time growing up in Montreal from the young ages of two to 10 before his father passed, and Alder moved to live with his grandmother in Williams Lake. Shortly after he arrived, she fed him ice cream and bought him an 18-speed bicycle, making him decide there was “no way I’m leaving this town.” He went on to make many lifelong friends growing up in the lakecity, whom he still returns to visit frequently.
“At that age, you opened the door and everything was a big adventure right in the outdoors,” Alder said.
While in the lakecity, Alder also joined his first band, Arsis Myth, a rock band of local boys whose breakup story, looking back, is quite amusing to him. Back then, thanks to the freedom they enjoyed, they had access to shotguns for hunting and so, during a brainstorming session, they decided they would shoot their guitars, not with pellets but with confetti.
Testing it in a garage at daytime seemed fine, so they decided to go ahead and do so while playing Megalomania by Black Sabbath with a fog machine and strobe light running. As Alder and the bass player grabbed their shotguns and shot their guitars he noticed flames from the gun he couldn’t have seen during the day but decided to fire his second shot at the drummer’s drums. Rather than come out like confetti, Alder said a wad of paper came out and knocked the drummer off his stool and gave him burns from both burning confetti and gunpowder, giving him a “triple wound.”
“It was a very stupid idea and we were very lucky no one got hurt. I guess the first shot had gone through the bass drum skins though and he didn’t care about his wounds. It was like ‘You can shoot me man but you can’t shoot my drums’ so the band was done,” Alder said.
At the age of 15, however, Alder was with longtime childhood friend Rick Hansen when Hansen was paralyzed in a vehicle crash.
The two were hitchhiking back from a fishing trip in Bella Coola while riding in the back of a truck when the driver went into a fishtail near Riske Creek and flipped the truck into a ravine.
While Alder was lucky enough to be thrown clear and not be crushed, Hansen ended up breaking his back. Rather than let such a life-changing injury keep him down, Alder said Hansen went on to become a wheelchair athlete and compete in a variety of marathons and sporting events.
In 1985, Alder put his own life plans on hold after learning Hansen wished to travel around the world in his wheelchair and make a difference in the lives of people, like him, who live with disabilities during his famous Man in Motion World Tour. The young musician asked if there was a “straightjacket program” doctors could put Hansen in but, when push came to shove, Alder travelled with his childhood friend for two and a half years across the world to 34 countries. For almost two decades after that, he worked with the Rick Hansen Foundation before leaving around eight years ago to pursue his forgotten passion for music.
He began by attending international fingerstyle guitar competitions where at first he got his butt kicked, but quickly learned what was required and went on to become International Fingerstyle Champion in 2007. From there, Alder went on to win a range of titles and awards at competitions, including being featured in Guitar Player magazine, a lifelong dream of his.
Despite his obvious talent and skill, Alder still feels a lot of his success has just been down to luck and momentum and is based off the early guitar skills he learned in Williams Lake.
“(I was) basically just a shy boy in his bedroom, trying to make music with people telling me you can’t do this, you can’t do that, same as they told Rick: you can’t go around the world,” Alder said. “But I just didn’t care about that. I was happy making music on my own.”
While Alder is not musically illiterate by any means, he still primarily plays off of instinct and feeling rather than a sheet of music. If Disney should ever ask him to do music for a movie, for example, he’d have to be able to go home for a week and come up with something on his own, rather than play a pre-written song. When he does that, Alder says he kills it.
“That’s kind of been my journey, I still have no theory, I’m not theory-based. Artists, we get to break all the rules, but the trick is can we get people to like our music to have a sustainable career,” Alder said.
Read More: Don Alder’s journey comes full circle
To this day he loves just getting the chance to play various different guitars and write his own music, rather than doing covers, as he greatly enjoys the process of “birthing” a new song. Just playing a few chords together can set him off on a whole journey to create a new song as he sits in his house watching TV with his guitar.
Alder views both music and his career as a never-ending journey he’s happy to be on. If you don’t have or lose your fear of failure, Alder said there is little one cannot achieve if they are passionate about and believe in what they’re doing.
The key to success, in his eyes, is to be fierce in whatever you do and own it and win the audience over to his side. On nights he felt he did good, he’ll get applause, but on nights he feel he did terribly, he’ll get standing ovations. He feels the more energy you put out and the more you connect with your audience, that is the ticket to success.
“If I have to end up playing in the bedroom, if this journey ends with not playing live, I’ll still be a happy camper because some of my best moments have been playing in the bedroom,” Alder said. “If you play the guitar, it’s the easiest instrument to learn three chords on but then to go on a deep journey with it there’s no end to it.”