Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz was pretty much born with a nickname, but he remembers when searched for an identity. He was in seventh grade when he and three friends decided to start a band, and that was it. Lebo, Steve Adams and Zach Gill have kept the band together ever since.
The group, ALO, is a Bay Area-based rock and jam band with pop tendencies. While ALO often plays at North Shore’s Crystal Bay Casino, it debuted on July 28 at South Shore’s Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys, opening for longtime friend and Brushfire Records label mate Jack Johnson. On Saturday, Lebo, Adams and ALO drummer Dave Brogan performed as a trio at the Kirkwood Bikes & Brews.
Lebo had a couple of guitar lessons in fifth grade, and he dusted it off after getting together in 1989 with his buddies at Redwood Valley Middle School in Saratoga.
“Zach already played piano and we had a drummer friend (Matt West) whose dad had a drum kit in his garage.” But what about Adams?
“We would watch MTV and he said, ‘There’s a four-string guitar that all the bands seem to have, so you guys could probably use one of those,’” Lebo recalled. “We went to music store, and they said, ‘Oh, you mean a bass?’”
The four played their first gig in the school’s gym. Lebo remembers the setlist: “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures; “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band; R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” by John Cougar Mellencamp; “Get Off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones.
“Finding music was such a positive force for me in terms of finding an identity and how I was going to function and contribute to this community,” Lebo said. “It’s an intense time. What am I? Who am I? Music, I can get behind that. For me and Zach and Steve, by the time we got to high school, we knew that’s what we wanted to do.”
In high school, the band, named Django at the time, had its first paying show at One Step Beyond in San Jose.
They dreamed of following in the footsteps of alumni of their high school, members of dada. Each of the Django players owned the record with dada’s big hit song “Dizz Knee Land.”
Lebo applied and was accepted to the renowned Berklee College of Music. However, he ultimately decided to attend UC Santa Barbara, where all his friends had been accepted. They lived in the same dorm as a freshman classmate, Jack Johnson.
The future ALO shared the stage several times with Johnson’s band Soil, which broke up in their sophomore year. Johnson was more focused on cinema than music, but he often joined his friends onstage at shows. West left school that year, and the band changed its name every time it changed drummers or added players.
“ALO was just the band name we had when the music got good, I guess.,” Lebo said. “We started getting good gigs and it started to turn into something.
“We all move to Bay Area but stayed in touch with Jack. His band just took off like a wildfire. We always knew he’d make it big because he had such great songs and was such a good guy. Then he got his own record label and we were always in touch and did shows with him. He signed us in 2004.”
Jack Johnson have gone on to share stages in New Zealand, Japan, all across Europe and, now, Lake Tahoe.
When he plays in a three piece, his band is sometimes called Trio Lebo, but it recently played at Kirkwood the name was Lebo & Friends.
“A quartet is my comfortable, well-travelled road but, I really enjoy the space in a trio too because you can turn on a dime,” he said. “There’s always things that can happen in that space. So more and more, I am experimenting with trios and really digging it.”