It’s curious, how you never picture musicians doing anything but playing music. One imagines Dave Alvin playing a guitar or twiddling knobs in a studio—hell, anything but a painting his house. But if the guitarist-songwriter-producer-Blasters founder-solo artist is doing that—and he was, the night before this interview—he simply must be doing it cool.
“Yeah, we were up very late last night and we’re still not done,” he says, audibly weary the morning after. “I didn’t realize it was gonna take that long.”
Come on, now: That’s a regular guy’s answer. Mr. Dave Alvin, who has also worked or rubbed elbows with the likes of the late great Country Dick Montana, Mojo Nixon, Rosie Flores, X, Bob Dylan, T-Bone Walker, John Mellencamp, Buddy Blue and Ry Cooder would have some interesting helping hands, right?
Not so, he says. It’s the same as any old guy; he’ll take help from anybody. “Whoever will do it. We’re doin’ a pretty large room where I have all my guitars, my records and CDs, photographs, that kind of stuff. It’s pretty big, but me and a couple pals of mine, we did the job.”
But no one notable?
“Yeah,” he chuckles. “We got Exene [Cervenka, the ex-X and current Original Sinners vocalist] and Bob Dylan over here painting.”
Not that painting and associations are all Alvin has to talk about. Truth is, he’s the busiest of the Blasters, the beloved rockabilly (emphasis on rock) band he helped found—and which has continued to exist without him, in diminished quality, since 1987. Since leaving the band, Alvin has released a string of lauded solo discs and produced albums for a slew of roots music illuminati including Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, the Derailers and Candye Kane. That’s not enough, though, to keep Blasters devotees from wishing for a reunion, especially since it came true for a brief period last March.
The band regrouped for five California shows celebrating Rhino Records’ release of Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings, every tune the band recorded for Slash/Warner Bros., plus the obligatory bonus nuggets. As a result, appetites where whetted, and the question has been posed more frequently. There is good news and bad news, however.
“We recorded the reunion shows and it came out pretty good, so that’s gonna come out, I think, in October. And we’re gonna do some shows around December or maybe after Christmas, maybe New York and Chicago and L.A., and things like that.”
As for not staging a cross-country, cash-cow reunion, Alvin hints it’s just better to just keep it to the occasional handful of shows. “We were five guys that literally grew up together. The bass player [John Bazz] has known my brother [guitarist-vocalist Phil] longer than I have. All of our parents are gone and a lot of things have changed. For us, reunion gigs are kinda like goin’ home for Thanksgiving.”
But wouldn’t there be money in it? Alvin doesn’t seem to care and speculates the Blasters’ draw wouldn’t compare to bands from the same period that “actually had hits” like The Romantics or Missing Persons. The demand, he says, comes more from an old-home feeling. “I think the reason people cared about the band, and still care, is we had some kind of … integrity, for lack of a better word. People tend to like the Blasters for what we were. And they tend to view the Blasters as family, like their crazy cousins [laughs].”
And Alvin’s doing just fine on his own. His last studio album, a collection of folk and blues standards aptly titled Public Domain, brought him a Grammy and his production work becomes increasingly desirable. “When I go in to produce, I go in with the idea to not make the same mistakes the Blasters made and the ones I made on my own records. I try to help people not to fuck up the way we fucked up.”
Alvin’s latest offering, which brings him to the Zephyr Club on Tuesday, is Out In California (HighTone), his second live set with his longtime band, the Guilty Men. The disc, recorded over on a hot August night in Santa Barbara and a cool one in Pasadena, checks each period of Alvin’s career. There’s a souped-up version of the Blasters’ trademark tune, “American Music” and the rarity “Little Honey;” Alvin’s famed contribution to X, the cinematic breakup-make-up tune “Fourth of July,” solo selections and smart covers. You’re likely to hear a similar mix at the show.
“Rootsy music, in some ways, works better live. Something happens on stage that could never be duplicated in the recording studio, just the intensity of playing and the aggressiveness, the freedom. You get to forget you’re recording and just play.”
That is, until some doofus yells out “Freebird!” as on Out In California. But, hit with the Most Unoriginal Heckle, Alvin and the Guilty Men promptly tear into a confident—and cool—rendition, shutting him up but good.
“You get it everywhere, so I finally decided, ‘OK, if you’re gonna yell it, you’re gonna hear it.’ But ever since this live record came out, I’ve noticed a sizeable decrease in that, ’cause they know we have that bullet in our gun.”