Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin
Receive Grammy Nomination

In This Issue:  Keith Wyatt on The Blasters East Coast tour, The 2014 Common Ground Tour, and Don Heffington's Gloryland.

Latest news:  --  Dave Alvin and Anne McCue perform a duet on DEVIL IN THE MIDDLE from her forthcoming album Blue Sky Thinkin' which will be released on Feb. 10 via Flying Machine Records. The song is described as a "darkly dramatic" and was co-written with David Olney and John Hadley. Olney will be among the guests on Dave Alvin's West of the West 2015 train trip from April 17-27. The trip starts in Los Angeles and is tentatively scheduled to travel through Los Angeles, Texas, Chicago, Denver and Emeryville before returning to Los Angeles. Other performers who will be on the train for part of the journey include Phil Alvin, Rick Shea, Christy McWilson, Peter Case, Sarah Borges and Robbie Fulks. For information, visit www.rootsontherails.com. "Tulare Dust: A Songwriters' Tribute to Merle Haggard," originally released in 1994 on HighTone Records, has been reissued in an Expanded Edition with a second CD on Frontera Records. Produced by Dave Alvin and Tom Russell, the original CD features performances by John Doe, Katy Moffatt, Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams, among others. Dave performs KERN RIVER, which he later redid in 2006 on his West of the West CD. The second CD features highlights of a "Tulare Dust Concert" in San Francisco with many of the same artists. -- Greg Leisz, who has served as a sideman and producer for Dave Alvin and was a member of the Allnighters in the late 1980s, is the subject of a 22-page illustrated profile in the latest issue of Fretboard Journal. The profile, written by musician Joe Henry, also features comments from Dave on working with Greg. Fretboard Journal is noted for its color photography and features pictures of Greg and his instruments. www.fretboardjournal.com --  Dave and Phil picked up a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album for Common Ground for the annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis. The ceremony is in May. -AM

survival challenge as a musical experience: Bill was starting to hyperventilate and my hands were so wet that my fingers kept slipping off the frets; by the end, all of us were as wet as if we had stood in the shower with our clothes on. We could only wish that the promoter would experience the same conditions - odds are that at least a stage fan and real towels would be provided by the next show.
Thursday brought us to Musica in Akron, Ohio. Akron is close to Cleveland, where the band has played several times, notably at the venerable Beachland Ballroom. Although this show was handled by the same promoter as in Columbus and the venue was similar in size, there seemed to have been problems with advertising and/or other event conflicts; either way, the turnout was very light. As in Newport, though, a smaller show feels more personal, and the enthusiastic response energized the band accordingly. Even though it was probably a loss for the promoter, for the band and audience it was a definite win.
Friday was at the familiar Magic Stick in Detroit. Aside from the 30-stair climb to load in and a sudden, intense rain/wind/hailstorm that knocked out power to a wide swath of the Detroit suburbs, it was a good show. The Magic Stick is a sizable room with a big stage, which both affect the way a performance feels - a bigger stage allows for more movement and a big room lets the sound develop more fully. It also helps to have the audience right up against the stage so you can actually see people and feel the energy they send back to you. Factors like these help bring out the best in a band, and all things considered, it was a good night.
Saturday was a long day. That night's show was in Toronto, and due to customs regulations it's difficult to bring merchandise - t-shirts, CDs etc. - across the border. As a result, instead of taking the three-hour direct route through Canada, we had to go the other way around Lake Erie via Cleveland in order to drop off the merch at the Buffalo hotel. A border crossing is always an adventure, and while the Canada/US border is "friendly," it can be more difficult for a band to enter Canada than Europe or Asia. This time, however, we got across OK and drove the last 90 miles from the border to Toronto. The city has a very active nightlife and our venue, the Horseshoe Tavern, was located on Queen Street, the epicenter. The Blasters have not played Toronto in decades, so there was plenty of pent-up demand; the show was nearly sold out and the crowd was all in from the first note. We were feeling pretty ragged after the 9-hour haul from Detroit, but as good crowds almost invariably do, this one once again revived our flagging spirits.
We spent the first part of Sunday, another sorely needed day off, driving back across the border to Buffalo via Niagara Falls. Even from the highway, the falls are spectacular and the air seems to sparkle with the energy of unleashed power. The weather simultaneously turned from the muggy heat of summer to the crisp air of fall, making our crossing back to the good old US feel that much sweeter.
Buffalo has taken its share of knocks over the years, with its economy going into decline as its long-time mainstay industries of heavy manufacturing and grain shipping moved elsewhere, but the size of the city's past wealth is still evident from the architecture. The ornately detailed stonework of monumental structures like City Hall and other downtown buildings, even if a bit worn around the edges, conveys both substance and style. There are also signs of a newly-emerging economy, and the variety of neighborhoods and broad streets lined with solid brick and stone houses provide a personality lacking in more modern cities. It seems like just the sort of place where someone can live both comfortably and inexpensively while working in the virtual economy, although

Don Heffington:

Dave Alvin's studio drummer sets out on his own for Gloryland     by Tom Wilk

Lisa playing the brushes on the drums with Brad and Chris keeping their volumes low. It's a great starter song that features both brothers trading off lead vocals on the verses.
     After the opening song, Dave Alvin formally addresses the crowd: "Thank you for coming to our family reunion. That's a song from an album me and my brother recently released called Common Ground: The Alvin brothers sing and play the songs of Big Bill Broonzy. It's the first studio album we've made together in 30 years. We had so much fun, we may make another in . . . ten or twenty years."
     Dave talks often between songs and the theme of the night is how important Big Bill Broonzy was in the brothers' musical development. But other important influences are also mentioned. As Phil pulls out his harmonica for the next song, Dave explained: "When my brother was twelve years old he took harmonica lessons from blues legend Sonny Terry and on this song Phil would like to show you everything that he. . ." and Phil finished the sentence: "Forgot." That got a laugh from the crowd as they started Big Bill's most famous song KEY TO THE HIGHWAY. Of course Phil's playing was great, so Dave ended the song saying: "You didn't forget much Phil."
     Next they do SATURDAY NIGHT RUB, one of Big Bill's earliest songs. It's an instrumental that features some fun finger-style guitar picking between Phil And Dave. With no vocals, the brothers are able to face each other and play to each other bringing out quite a few smiles as they play a very challenging piece.
     Continuing the set, Dave said: "Back when I was a member of my brother's band, the Blasters, we recorded this song on our first two, first albums (the independently released
American Music on Rollin Rock Records and the Slash records major label The Blasters album) - That's a joke for you record collectors. It was originally recorded back in the 1920's by a man they called the blue yodeler, Jimmy Rodgers. I call him the father of white blues." Phil did some authentic yodeling in NEVER NO MORE BLUES. It was interesting to hear Chris Miller take on Dave's role playing the electric guitar solo, while Dave maintained the rhythm on the acoustic guitar.
     They finished out the acoustic set with KING OF CALIFORNIA. Phil takes a bit of a backseat during this song just strumming the guitar. On this one the band starts getting a little louder especially with Chris Miller's lead guitar.
     Now it was time for Dave Alvin to switch to the electric guitar and let things get loud. FEEL SO GOOD gets that going featuring the Blasters-styled electric guitar by Dave Alvin and great Phil Alvin vocals. The next Big Bill song is one that, as Dave says, "May be the first rockabilly record," called HOW YOU WANT IT DONE.
      An all out electric blues is next in SOUTHERN FLOOD BLUES, which is a Big Bill song that Dave admits he "Dave Alvin-ized" to make it sound like it fits right beside ASHGROVE or OUT OF CONTROL. On this, Phil plays harmonica, not as a lead instrument, but a backup rhythm. Following this is the Blasters classic BORDER RADIO and then the Dave Alvin original about another one of his R&B heroes - JOHNNY ACE IS DEAD.
     Dave has a really funny story which he uses to plug his merchandise table. Dave: "We did a gig with the legendary Merle Haggard. Merle has an old school merchandise guy, but he doesn't call himself that. He said to me: 'Dave your doing it wrong. You're calling it merchandise. Instead, call it souvenirs.' He demonstrated: 'Ladies and Gentleman on your way out tonight, pick yourself up a Merle Haggard souvenir.' Merle Haggard sells a lot of souvenirs." Dave Alvin pauses and looks out at the audience: "So on your way out tonight, stop by and pick up some souvenirs."
     Next from
Common Ground they do THE STUFF THEY CALL MONEY with on Phil on

harmonica and sharing vocals with Dave.
     The audiences at Dave's shows are always very vocal with comments and requests and Dave always replies with a witty comeback. When people starting yelling out for MARIE MARIE, which obviously is one he saves until the end, Dave says: "Now when you go to see Peaches and Herb, do you expect REUNITED right off the bat? No. They're gonna tease you first."
     TRUCKIN' LITTLE WOMAN is probably the most Blasterish song from the album and it got some people up on their feet. Dave said: "When we got our first Big Bill album, this is a song we took to right away because of the boogie-woogie beat and we thought it had dirty lyrics in it, and it does if it's sung right." Phil yelled over with a big grin on his face: "Do you want me to sing it right?" Dave said: "I want you to sing it right!"
     WHAT'S UP WITH YOUR BROTHER is the song that reunited the brothers for a collaborative song on Dave Alvin's
Eleven Eleven album. A funny thing happens in the middle of the song where the band brings the rhythm volume down. Phil says: "I did something stupid a few weeks ago and now I have to do that stupid thing every night." He starts playing a lead guitar solo in his unique finger picking or plucking style. Phil tried this solo idea spontaneously at a west coast show earlier in the tour and Dave Alvin liked it. So Dave coaxes Phil into doing it every night.
     Next, Phil starts SAMSON AND DELILAH by himself and the whole band joins in. This was a regular part of the set list of the Common Ground tour. Another Dave Alvin classic is played - DRY RIVER - complete with the Lisa Pankratz drum solo that she has played on the recent Guilty Ones tours. ONE BAD STUD finishes off the regular set just like at a Blasters show, but with Dave and Chris Miller trading off on the guitar solos.
    In the encore, Phil Alvin sings the James Brown song PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE from the Blasters latest album
Fun On Saturday Night. Phil's vocals are outstanding. The Guilty Ones version here adds the backing vocals heard on James Brown's original 1955 hit. Dave transitions into the last song with an explanation: "That's a record by James Brown from 1955 that me and my brother found on a hot sweltering Saturday at the Paramount swap meet for a quarter on a big thick slab of King Records vinyl. We were record geeks who would search every place for records - thrift stores, attics, junk stores, swap meets, radio and TV repair shops, and antique stores. Nowadays, kids push a button and they have everything ever recorded. Back in our day you had to go searchin' for it and you could hold it and touch it and smell it. This next song is one that I hope, somewhere on a hot Saturday, some record collector geeks find a scratchy thick vinyl copy of this on Slash Records for a quarter. Because then I know . . .we're immortal." Off they go into MARIE MARIE.
     At the end of the song the whole band sustains the last note as Dave yelled over the collective loudness and says: "I know it's late. I know it's late. But trust me, we got here as quickly as we could. . ." The surprise song they launched into is FOURTH OF JULY. It's an obvious audience favorite judging by the audience cheer. To finish the show the band plays an instrumental as Dave introduces all the band members. As the song seems to be ending, Phil Alvin pulls out a harmonica and plays Lee Allen's saxophone solo from SO LONG BABY GOODBYE. There were no vocals, they didn't play the full song, but that solo made it an incredible ending. 

AMERICAN  MUSIC: The Blasters / Dave Alvin newsletter
editor/writer: Billy Davis      copy editor: Craig Frischkorn     writer Tom Wilk