25th Anniversary of Dave
Alvin's Blue BLVD

In This Issue:  Interviews from the makers of Blue BLVD and Keith Wyatt on his alternate career of guitar instruction.

By Billy Davis and Tom Wilk

     On August 19, 2016, we celebrate 25 years since the release of Dave Alvin's Blue BLVD album. It was the first of many CDs he recorded with HighTone records and the start of creative control over his own music. After a bad experience with CBS/Epic records releasing his first solo album Romeo's Escape, Dave moved to Nashville in the late eighties to start a new career as an assembly-line type songwriter. That didn't satisfy his desire to play music, so he returned to performing and recording, but for an independent label that didn't put the hit-making pressures on him that the previous label did.

Dave Alvin: I know its cliché, but it really doesn't feel like 25 years. It feels like 10. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of (Chris) Gaffney dying, and that feels like it just happened. Touring does change your perception of time. People who don't tour, live normal lives, seeing kids grow up who go to school and get married.  I guess it is 25 years! That's sobering to say the least (laughs). I know there's dead people on the record, so that's sad - and that reinforces that it was a long time ago. (Donald Lindley, Steve Young, and Lee Allen ).
American Music: How did you get signed to HighTone?
DA: I was always aware of HighTone from its formation in 1983. Bruce Bromberg, one of the owners (who co-produced Blue BLVD), has been an influence in my life long before I met him. When I was 12, I got an album called Underground Blues which had tracks cut in the 50's by Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King and Lightnin' Hopkins. The liners notes were written by this guy Bruce Bromberg. I saw his name on other blues albums through the years. More recently, I saw his name on the first Robert Cray record (Bad Influence, 1983) on HighTone as producer. So when I started thinking about putting my

her loose. Greg Leisz was playing a late 30's Rickenbacker lap steel that looks like a frying pan. On the Allnighters tour we nick-named him "Chefy" for the frying pan.

Greg Leisz later became your producer but was just a player on these sessions and knew you very well from the year-long touring with you in the Allnighters. How did his role as a 'producer in waiting' work at these sessions?
DA: He would make suggestions on Blue BLVD and Museum of Heart about keys or re-singing a part, but most of the time it would be ignored by all three of us producing. But occasionally they would be recognized as great ideas. Usually a session musician keeps their mouth shut. There were some bad vibes in the studio on Museum of Heart, so on King of California having just one guy producing, that's Greg Leisz, it was beautiful. Greg understood my voice real well and he knew what I could do. My voice wasn't being taken seriously enough before the King of California record.

6. Gospel Night   We had the soul duo of Terry Evans and Bobby King from sing on it. They also sang on SAMSON & DELILAH on the Blasters' Hardline.

7. Plastic Rose   It was another bitter sweet R&B number channeling Curtis Mayfield. I wrote this in Nashville, but finished it in L.A. It was a "sanity song" because I was really trying to write money-makers in Nashville. I have to laugh at that now. I was trying to be the guy living in Nashville who keeps saying: "Oh, I wrote that and that and that and here are my checks." It took me a while to realize, I'm not one of those. I have high respect for guys and girls who do it, but I can't. In Nashville, I showed this song to a few artists. One named Richard Bennett, a Grammy winning producer of Steve Earle and Emmy Lou Harris and many others - he also was the bass player for Neil Diamond. I played a version for him that was more of a folk song. He said: "I can hear Dolly (Parton) doing this." I said: "I doubt it" (laughs). He loved the song, so I knew it had promise. 
     It has one of my favorite Lee Allen solos on any record. When he played that solo in the studio, we all died (laughs)! The solo breaks your heart. Greg Leisz and I, our jaws dropped. It was beautiful. Lee was always after me in the Blasters days to write a ballad like this, because he loved playing ballads. So when we cut it, he said: "David this is the way you should play."

AM: What was Lee Allen's process in the studio?
DA: He would grab on to the melody of the song and play along -  then change it as he played. If you listen to I'M WALKIN' by Fats Domino, you can't imagine the song without that sax solo. His solos became important melodic parts of the songs. On PLASTIC ROSE he did in in about four passes and the last one was amazing. He creates melodies all of their own within songs. He could honk the saxophone, but he really liked to play with melodies - so that's one of the things as a guitar player that I let sink in from Lee.

8. Brand New Heart    I was dating a girl who didn't like my history. I wrote this as me saying: "This is what I do. And what I am, is what I am." I was going for a modern blues feel. I wanted it to sound like a HighTone record like Robert Cray and Joe Louis Walker. The Paladins cut a great cover of it on their album (Ticket Home,

1994, Sector 2 Records)

9. Wanda and Duane    I had a '61 Cadillac that kept breaking down, so I brought it in to be serviced, and he said it was gonna take a while. They lent me an El Camino to use, but it was pretty trashed. The accelerator was rigged with a clothes hanger (laughs), but I really loved the car. I drove it for two months. Nancy Sefton, my current manager, was working for my old manager at the time and had a beat up car - like a Dodge Dart. She named the car 'Wanda.' She asked me what mine was called, and I immediately shot out: "It's Duane (laughs)." So she said: "Wanda and Duane?" I thought they were funny names together. That car didn't have a radio, so I'd drive around writing songs and singing them out loud. So I wrote the first verse driving home one day.

10. Andersonville    I was driving on the northern California coast and this melody came to me - but as I was driving. I started singing it. I had a bunch of verses by the end of the drive. I changed some later, and wrote more.  I wrote a lot of extra verses, but I threw them away. I don't keep a record of them. I'm a slow writer who writes a lot, but then cuts. I have a trunk in my music room with stray papers, but I don't have much. I had stuff in my garage, which was completely destroyed by a mud slide.

AM: This song may have defined you as a singer-songwriter. Do you think that's true?
DA: I never wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I begrudgingly became one because if I wanted to continue writing songs, I would have to sing them, because I just don't want to have to write with other singers in mind. I wrote as many songs for Phil as I could - or for anyone else. I didn't want to worry that a singer wouldn't want to sing it the way I wrote it. I didn't want to have to worry about anything.
     Usually on my records there is a song that's totally uncommercial and might be the best song on the record. Like on
Blackjack David, was KITCHEN TABLE which might be the best song. On Ashgrove, was MAN IN THE BED. ANDERSONVILLE was the one for this album. I don't think we got the ultimate version of it on Blue BLVD. I think the song was too new. If you can play a song for 5 years before you record it, then you usually find the definitive version. I've done it a few times lately in acoustic shows and I do it differently - folky and in the 'King of CA' vein. It really works. I'll pull it out if it's a real Dave Alvin-type listening audience or at a 'songwriter in the round' situation. At the 'song writer' things, the singers always throw out their best shit. I call it: "Guns on the Table." My favorite version is on an album that Vince Scelsa did called In Their Own Words of his shows at NY's The Bottom Line. Richard Thompson plays guitar on the song. I started playing it, and he just joined in. I thought it was great! I also like the live version on the Out in California CD.
     The song did have a different reaction when played in the South. I remember playing a bar in Nashville, and it wasn't a redneck bar or anything. The Skeletons were my backing band and everything was going great until midway thru my set, I played ANDERSONVILLE and about a third of the place left. After the show, the owner of the club said: "You know that ANDERSONVILLE song is a good song - but I wouldn't play it down here too often." I can laugh about it now. I mean, it wasn't a screaming indictment of the confederacy. I tried to balance it out (laughs). 150 years later - still kind of touchy.

times through the years. We had run into one another at clubs around town. I remember chatting at a Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs gig at the O.N. Club. I recall this because I also met (bassist) Duck Dunn that night. I saw Dave and Phil back up Big Joe Turner at the Club Lingerie. What an incredible night! A legendary show. I also bumped into the Blasters in London in '85 when I was there producing the Redskins.
     Skip ahead to 1990 or so. I was asked to help Dave record some demos. Since Dave had just started singing, I think they felt he could use some help with vocal performance. We recorded four songs at Paramount in Hollywood. Dave didn't have a label at the time, and the demo was shopped around town. This was when I heard my favorite A&R guy's excuse for passing: "We can't put this out. It's too good." (Actually, the four demos made it to the finished album.) Eventually HighTone was interested, and I was asked to co-produce the full album.
AM: How did the sessions for the album go? Do you recall if Dave gave you any specific instructions in regard to how he wanted the album to sound, such as being different from ROMEO'S ESCAPE? Do any songs stand out in your mind after 25 years?
CS: I just listened to the entire album for the first time in many years. The core band on Blue BLVD was really exceptional. The late Donald Lindley was skilled, instinctive, smart, and a pleasure to work with. A very sweet man. Don Falzone on acoustic and electric bass operates at a much higher level of musicianship than nearly anybody. Rick Solem is a very strong player. Greg Leisz is one of my favorite guitarists of all time and a great human.
     The role of producer changes by the project. Dave didn't need much help in arranging or finding musicians. I chose and booked studios and engineers and kept track of the process along with adding some guitar and percussion. There wasn't a huge budget so we recorded basic tracks at Paramount and overdubs and vocals at another place. Mixing was done at yet another studio.
     My take on producing records is, foremost, empowering musicians to do their best work, like it's their last record. I also try to give each song special treatment with regard to sounds and atmosphere. So I'm often changing snare drums and tuning, different amps and guitars. Not changing the featured artist so much, but readjusting the sounds around them and keeping everything organic. I try to imagine where the performance is coming from with regard to time, location and emotional content. It's like a frustrated film director working as a record producer.
     I had not met Bruce Bromberg previously. He's an old-school record man and I really enjoyed hearing his tales and takes on music and the business. Bruce had seen it all through the years but still had the records he bought as a kid. Sound-wise I believe Dave wanted a modern-sounding record that would get played on mainstream rock radio. That was very important at the time.
Blue BLVD did get listed in Rolling Stone's 1991 albums of the year. I consider Dave's songs 'American Literature.' He has a great gift. They seem so simple, but every word is chosen with great care and meticulously constructed. His songs touch people all over the world, and I am sure they will continue to do so.
     I am most pleased with how ANDERSONVILLE came out. It's like an old black & white movie. A journey. The atmosphere is dense. DRY RIVER is strikingly beautiful. Leisz played this amazing Weissenborn acoustic lap steel slide guitar and if I remember correctly, the record was a real-time live take of Dave and Greg. PLASTIC ROSE is great, too. Pedal steel, tenor sax and upright bass. When Lee Allen, who played on all those Little Richard and Fats Domino records, passed away, it was listed in his top 10

recorded solos. I love Dave's guitar at the end of RICH MAN'S TOWN.
Blue BLVD is a solid album and an excellent batch of songs. The title track sounds a bit dated with those huge drums and reverb. We also did a version with Katy Moffatt doing the second voice on the chorus. What a great singer, but I guess the Orbison treatment won out in the end.
AM: I saw from your entry on the All Music Guide site that you had produced two albums for The Untouchables in 1984 and 1985. Did that help prepare you for working with Dave on Blue BLVD? Were you trying to do more production after your work with the Untouchables?
CS: I was very fortunate to have worked with a wide variety of bands and styles. Reggae. Metal. Dance. Comedy. One of the things that led me to production is you get to work with a whole different set of musicians on each project as opposed to working in a band with the same guys for years. I'm not a great band guy, but I love making records.
     The Untouchables at the time hadn't had a lot of experience in the studio. Dave had been making records for 10 years by
Blue BLVD. He and the other musicians knew what they were doing and when something wasn't right. But of course, the Untouchables had a top 20 hit in the UK with FREE YOURSELF. It was great living in London and hearing the record on the radio in the shops and offices.
     Regarding trying to do more production, I possess no entrepreneurial skills or promotional sense whatsoever. I have been offered or invited virtually every project I've ever done.
AM: How is producing an album with two other people (Bruce and Dave)? Is it a matter of compromise on reaching a decision regarding the presentation of the music or did Dave have the final call?
CS:  I don't remember friction in having multiple producers on Blue BLVD. Our individual roles were clearly delineated. Dave was obviously in charge of his music. I saved Dave from having to do all the stuff that would take his focus from the music. It was his first record for HighTone and Bruce, as company co-owner, took more of an executive producer role but kept a very supportive relationship with Dave. I was always present when anything went to tape as well as in the mixing and mastering afterward.
Making records is a very collaborative process unless you happen to record a solo album in your '65 Rambler (a reference to Ben Vaughn's album of the same name.) Engineers are also very important in getting the music to tape and keeping things moving along. I don't know how some people both produce and engineer projects. This was a Dave Alvin album, so he obviously had the final word.
AM: Can you tell me about your background? Are you from California and did you grow up with playing music?
CS: I grew up in New Jersey, Atlanta, and Santa Barbara. My parents were classical musicians, so I've been playing music since I was a little kid. I also began recording music at an early age. Dr. Demento played one of my homegrown songs on his shows for a while.
     I played guitar, sang and played keys with 20/20. We made a very popular album in '79 and toured the country. The records are still in print. I began producing records full time in '82 in Los Angeles and London. This included music for TV and film, as well as arranging vocals and horns, programming synths and midi. Dave and I produced the Elvis music for the film HONEYMOON IN VEGAS in the early '90s. I changed careers after working with Dave to producing Interactive Media, as it was called in '93. I spent the

next 15 years or so working in Online, Network, Games, Software, Web series, Film, Animation, and Training.
I've gotten drawn back to music in the past six years. I moved back to LA last year and play guitar in three bands currently.
I did a residency downtown in May with Canadian alt-country band, Three O'Clock Train. I just happened to run into Bill Bateman there. I hadn't seen him in decades and it was great chatting.
I've played with the Ex Teens, a loud, quirky pop band, since 2010 and presently have half an album recorded and some live dates coming up.
I also play with the Furys, an L.A. band that has been around since the '70s, playing the same venues as 20/20. I recorded a single with them last year and arranged a string section. Currently, I am rehearsing a Bakersfield-type band to play gigs around Southern California.

Don Falzone: BLUE BLVD Bass player

Bassist Don Falzone helped to anchor the rhythm section on Blue BLVD along with drummer Donald Lindley. Later, he also played bass on Dave Alvin's Museum Of Heart and the King Of California CDs before relocating to New York. Since then he has worked with artists across the musical spectrum, including cabaret star Ute Lemper and Madeline Peyroux. In addition, Falzone has released a series of solo albums.
In an email interview with Tom Wilk, he discussed his memories of working in the studio and on stage with Dave.

American Music: Do you recall when you met Dave and how you came to play on the sessions for Blue BLVD?
Don Falzone: The first time I remember meeting Dave was at the King King Club in Los Angeles. The King King was the hang for blues and jump swing back then, and the owners were two brothers who loved and cared about music. I used to play down there a lot with bands like King Cotton and the Swamp Coolers and Smokey Hormel and the Rhythm Kings. I remember Dave sitting in one night. I think we hit it off right from the get-go. It was obvious that he could play some guitar and he dug what I was doing. He asked me at some point after that if I was interested in being in his band. We played a bunch of gigs together before we recorded Blue BLVD.
AM: How did the sessions for the album go? Do you recall if Dave gave you any specific instructions in regard to your playing?
DF: As far as I remember, the sessions went very well. Everybody dug being around each other. Dave is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. No ego tripping. He's a great songwriter but he's also a great musician, and he knows where he came from. There are songwriters who sing and play a little guitar, you know, but Dave is a player, too. He was one of us, and it was a band. I don't remember getting much instruction from him what on what to play.
AM: Do the recordings of any songs stand out in your mind? In the CD booklet, you are credited with playing electric and stand-up bass. Do you recall on which songs you played stand-up bass?
DF: There's a lot of great songs on Blue BLVD. HALEY'S COMET and WANDA AND

Take it Or Leave it    by Tom Wilk

     Dave Alvin has a long history of songwriting collaboration, starting with his brother, Phil, on SHE AIN'T GOT THE BEAT on the Blasters'
American Music album in 1980. Since then, he has continued collaborating onto his solo albums and recordings with many other artists, including Amy Farris and Christy McWilson.
     One collaboration with an air of mystery is TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT, a song Dave co-wrote with the duo Foster and Lloyd between the releases of
Romeo's Escape and Blue BLVD. Copyrighted in 1989, the song remains unrecorded after more than a quarter of century.
     Radney Foster has enjoyed a productive solo career with 10 solo albums. His most recent album,
Everything I Should Have Said, is available at www.radneyfoster.com. Bill Lloyd is now a successful solo artist whose latest album is Lloyder-ing, featuring his versions of some of his favorite songs by the Beatles (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), the Bobby Fuller Four (LET HER DANCE), and Harry Nilsson (THE LOTTERY SONG). Lloyder-ing is available at CD Baby or www.billlloyd.net.
     Lloyd discussed his musical career and memories of TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT in a pair of email messages earlier this year.  "Radney and I had a brief run as a duo between 1986 through 1990. During that time we had three albums on RCA and an "Essentials" package after the fact. We charted nine singles on the country charts with our first single (CRAZY OVER YOU) going to #1 on Radio and Records and Cashbox and Top 5 in Billboard," Lloyd recalls. "Dave was in Nashville, and I think he was represented by Bug Music (a publishing company that manages song copywrites for artist) at the time," he says. "I eventually signed with Bug myself, and I always thought they had an amazingly cool roster of writers," adds Lloyd, who has co-written songs with fellow Bug writers Marshall Crenshaw, Steve Wynn and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
     "We were a little on the outside of most of what was going on in country, but there was a period there where our roots-rock vibe seemed to fit," Lloyd recounts.
     "Getting back to the song, I remember a morning meeting with Dave in a studio that went for a few hours stretching into an afternoon and eventually a lunch at a taco place," Lloyd says. "I think we were recording our third album for RCA at the time." 
      "I also remember the three of us sitting on chairs in the big room of the studio (not sure which one) and trying to make up a song," Lloyd continues: "I remember Dave being impressed with our quick work ethic. I don't know if he spent much time doing the co-write thing, but it was all Radney and I did in those days for better or worse. We were quick, and it only took a couple of hours until we all sang it down and called it a song."
     Copyrighted on June 19, 1989, according to www.copyrightencyclopedia.com, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT now remains a mystery. Lloyd couldn't recall if the song was up-tempo or a ballad.
     "Songs can be good one day and OK the next, amazing another day, and unusable on another," Lloyd reflects. "I don't have a digital recording of that song. It's on a cassette somewhere in a box. I don't remember much else about it except that Dave didn't cut the song and neither did we, but we did turn it in to our publishers as we were under contract to do so.
     "I wish I knew where the recording of the song was as I would like to hear it again," Lloyd says. "I would have to upend my life for a day to even begin looking for it, but maybe I'll run across it at some point."
-- AM

what you did with your newly-acquired skills was up to you. For me, it was right back to playing blues, but with a whole different level of awareness.
     When I graduated in 1978, GIT was already growing fast and needed teachers, so I began teaching there part-time while playing around L.A. in different bands. I also started working under Howard's guidance to develop new curriculum, which was a priceless opportunity to learn directly from him about organizing complex ideas and writing clear, concise prose (turns out my Humanities degree came in handy after all). I got my first on-camera experience in an educational TV series on guitar produced by Howard and bassist Ray Brown; unfortunately, it never aired, but publishers started coming around to GIT looking for experienced player/teachers and before too long, I wrote my first book (actually more of a booklet),
Hot Lines: Blues, which led to a book/cassette collection called Pro Licks: Blues, and in 1989, my first video, Rockin' the Blues.
     Being at MI gave me the chance to play with some of my early idols, including both Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and meanwhile I was working regularly around LA with James Intveld, Juke Logan, the Dime Bags and others in the decade before I joined the Blasters in 1996. In the early '90s, the instructional video market took off, and I also started directing videos for other players, which mostly involved making sure the cameras were aimed properly and the teacher was making sense. My most memorable experience from that time was interviewing and performing with Albert Collins, who was one of the most original and powerful guitarists of his generation. Off stage he was warm and casual, but the minute he strapped on his guitar he was absolutely focused, and he played with unrelenting energy and intensity right up to the end of his life. He was a personal and professional role model, and the brief time I spent with him remains one of the highlights of my own life.
     Throughout the '90s I kept writing and teaching instructional videos and eventually did more than a dozen on subjects from blues to rock to beginning guitar. My last full-length video was a beginning guitar DVD for Fender in 2000, just before "file sharing," i.e. piracy, began "disrupting," i.e. destroying, the video industry. For several years after that I wrote a monthly blues guitar column for
Guitar World magazine that evolved to include short videos and even smart-phone, app-based mini-lessons. Ironically, old-school books on paper also survived, and MI Press/Hal Leonard published books based on courses that I had co-written for the school (Harmony and Theory and Ear Training) along with Blues Rhythm Guitar and most recently, Blues Guitar Soloing.
     In 2014, I finally left MI and right around then, by lucky coincidence Paul Gilbert, a former GIT colleague and genuine rock guitar hero, hooked