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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Heading home

  • For the past 15 years his banjo and harmonica have given downtown Hannibal soothing tunes.
    You may have heard him as you go from Java Jive to Tom and Huck Statue or on a calming dinner cruise along the Mississippi River on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
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  • For the past 15 years his banjo and harmonica have given downtown Hannibal soothing tunes.
    You may have heard him as you go from Java Jive to Tom and Huck Statue or on a calming dinner cruise along the Mississippi River on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
    But now that his house in his hometown of Galena, Ill., is all fixed up and the age of 62 becomes reality in December, L.A. Suess is taking the great river home to perform locally and be with his family.
    "Life is going by fast, I want to go enjoy my family. About seven years ago, I bought a fixer-upper in Galena and every winter since then, I've worked on it. My house is all done now, my home's there now. That's where I raised my kids. Galena has a great deal of tourist traffic. As the house got more and more done, I've plugged into a few venues and played some gigs up there, and I'm still friends with the people who have (the riverboat) and I think we might be able to iron something out for next year. And if not, I turn 62 in December; I wouldn't call it retirement, I'm not sure musicians can ever retire," Suess said. "I have two kids that are not kids anymore, they've been adults for a long time now. My daughter lives in Dubuque, Iowa and my son's in Galena. My daughter has three children and my son just had his first child. And my daughter's oldest son just had his first child. So I have four grandkids and one great-grandchild. Life has gotten so comfortable for me here that it may not be slowing down at all. It may be speeding up. I'll be involved with family more and I don't know what kind of work I'm going to do, but I'm going to keep playing. If I can play the riverboats, fine, if not I'll play gigs. I feel like I have several options and I'm grateful for that."
    Suess, which is pronounced "cease," actually got his big break when an accident put him out of work as a forestry trimmer for a power company. He injured his back and when the state of Illinois came to chat, they actually opened a wide door for the lifelong musician.
    "I was very fortunate the department of rehab for the state of Illinois came knocking on my door," Suess said. "They said because you've lost your job because of an injury, you're entitled to benefits and we need to get you back in the workforce. I said I play music."
    All he needed to provide was a signed document from someone who would employ him to play and the state benefits would kick in. The riverboats in Galena came to the rescue and Suess began entertaining crowds of river cruisers.
    Page 2 of 2 - That opportunity lead him downstream to Branson, Mo. where he played at Silver Dollar City and, as soon as it was ready, the Branson Belle for the next five years.
    But not everything lasts forever.
    "They had their ideas of what they were doing and they wanted me to be an actor and a dancer. I said, no, I came here to play music," Suess said. "I didn't even finish an entire season with them because I had my own show going on too."
    Happenstance was in his favor again though.
    "I was on my way home for Christmas at the end of my season down there. I stopped in here (Hannibal) along the way because I was kind of curious about the boat," Suess remembers. "Steve (Terry, owner of the Mark Twain Riverboat) came out and we talked and he said when you come back from Christmas and head down to Branson, I'd like to have you stop by and talk and look at the boat. The following year, he bought the boat and I came here and that's how I got here. I've been doing that thing now for 15 years."
    Eventually that job lead to employment with the Hannibal Convention and Visitor's bureau performing along Main Street.
    "I just started out with Saturdays, Sundays and it grew to Friday, Saturday, Sunday," Suess said. "Because of that it put me out on the street a lot and I got to know shop owners and locals and everything else. Really made an immense amount of friends, and when I'm on the street I got people going by, waiving all the time. It's been a really hometown experience."
    Throughout his 22 years as a professional musician, Suess has written, covered and produced many songs that flow with the culture of life along the river. He's put out nine albums which he's had for sale just about everywhere he's gone.
    "Is it going to be hard to replace him? Absolutely," Steve Terry said. "He'll be a tough act to replace, but we'll just have to see how things come down. We're doing some auditioning and some talking with different folks now. It may take three musicians to replace him, we don't know. He does such a wonderful job and has for many years with us. It'll be a transition period if you will
    "I consider L.A. one of my very good friends. I'll miss the friendship. While he was on the boat for dinner cruises, while we're doing the dining time, he'll come to the pilot house and he'll visit. I'll miss those times with him."
    Follow on Twitter: @DominicGenetti #LASuess

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