Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th: Dave Alvin and The Blasters

I was a big fan of the Blasters back in the early-1980s. Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin and the rest of the boys knew how to lay down a neo-rockabilly beat that was perfect for speeding down the highway. I remember one speeding ticket in Utah that was set to the tune of "Marie Marie." Phil sang most of the leads, but Dave was the better songwriter. (That's Phil’s grimacing face featured so strikingly on the cover of the band’s 1980 eponymous album).

After the Blasters faded from my playlist (never quite going away), I kept listening to Dave’s solo work. He still rocked, but his music had hint of country and blues as well. He even got a little folkie and acoustic with his album “Public Domain” (2000), on which he interpreted songs that are in … well the album title tells it.

Dave Alvin pairs a distinctive baritone voice with really sweet guitar playing. More than that, he writes songs that are great short stories. My son and I were fortunate to see him perform with his band, The Guilty Men, at a Zoo concert a few years ago. I had been teaching Chris to play the guitar and was glad to give him a chance to see a master player up close. The concert was held on a perfect summer evening much like tonight, and we found a spot close to the stage. That night, the band was one of the tightest units I’ve ever heard and Dave Alvin proved himself a masterful band leader. They played most of the classics from the Blasters songbook and many others from the “Ashgrove” album which had just been released.

That night at the zoo, they played this song, "The Fourth of July," which I dedicate to this independence day.



The next video is Dave Alvin singing “King of California.” I particularly like the way this one starts. Last year, I was playing and singing with a hobbyist band, “Bourbon Jockey.” We tried to keep it all loose, fun and not at all serious. We were serious about rehearsing once a week, but spent most of that time drinking wine and trying out new songs we were excited to play, rather than nailing down the list we already had. As the “front man,” it was my job to get us started off in the right key and playing the same song. My two compatriots were very forgiving. It’s nice to see that even Dave Alvin can start off in the wrong key sometimes.




Finally, this video of a live performance of “Out of Control” is long, but is a great example Dave Alvin’s guitar playing and storytelling. (The other guitar player is darned good too). I love the dynamics of the tune—the way the band lays back into the groove, then brings it all back up again. If you don’t listen to the whole thing, at least ff to 8:20 for a little musical surprise.

1 comment:

Mikel said...

Ross,
Just came across your log.
Nice site. Just saw Dave w/the guilty women here in dallas last week. Been a fan since the first Blaster's album.
Will be checking out your other stuff.
Mikel in dallas