Andrew Hardin made his mark in music serving as Tom Russell's guitarist in the studio and on the road for about a quarter of a century. Hardin lifted the song to another level with his distinctive acoustic playing on a live version of THE ANGEL OF LYON from Russell's The Long Way Around CD in 1997. On the same album he also contributed guitar and backing vocals to Alvin / Russell duets on BLUE WING and HALEY'S COMET. Hardin credits Dave with serving as the inspiration for his own Blue Acoustic album , a CD of Hardin instrumentals, featuring two collaborations with Dave.
In August, Hardin discussed working with Dave in an email interview with Tom Wilk:
American Music: Could you share your memories of how you came to work with Dave on Blue Acoustic and how you came to record EL CAJON and MEXICALI CHINATOWN?
Andrew Hardin: I had known Dave for a while. He and Greg Leisz had produced an album for Tom Russell entitled The Rose Of The San Joaquin. Tom and Dave also produced the songwriters' tribute to Merle Haggard: Tulare Dust, which featured artists Iris Dement, Peter Case, Dwight Yoakum, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Rosie Flores, Steve Young, Marshall Crenshaw, Barrence Whitfield, Lucinda Williams, Billy Joe Shaver, Katy Moffatt, John Doe, and Dave Alvin, and Tom Russell. Both these projects were around 1994 as was Dave's classic album King of California. Tom Russell and I were invited to the session for the song KING OF CALIFORNIA at a studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. It was a memorable session -- lots of people in the control room. Greg Leisz was producing, and he had to ask everyone to hold it down. (Dave usually has some sort of entourage with himů) Anyway, the actual take was AMAZING. Bobby Lloyd Hicks (of the Skeletons, and also Dave's longtime drummer) on snare drum and Dave on guitar and vocal. Greg Leisz's dobro was overdubbed right away, if I remember correctly.
At some point I got to play Dave's National resonator guitar and said, "Man, I would love to play this on a recording." This particular guitar, from the 1930's was very easy to play all the way up the neck, and it was, in fact, very resonant! I think that was the seed of the idea I had to record guitar duets with singer-songwriter-guitarists, except with no singing or songwriting.
My job was often accompanying these otherwise self-contained entities in live performance or in the studio, and I knew a bunch of them. They usually played guitar simply, leaving me room to color the chords or embellish the rhythm patterns with solos or flourishes. So my idea was to improvise with some of these folks - all of whom I enjoyed playing with and admired - and record simply and organically on locations (not in a studio). The listener would get to experience an intimate jam session as if they were sitting right there. I had a portable Sony DAT recorder and battery-powered RODE stereo condenser microphone. I planned a trip from my home near Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles to record with Dave at his home in Silver Lake. I had my girlfriend GiGi Benno with me -- we loved West Texas and the Southwest -- and we had an adventure together. Dave was gracious and generous when we arrived. We just played 2 or 3 improvisations, traded guitars back and forth, and I sorted it all out later in the studio with Mark Hallman (at Congress House Studio in Austin, which is the recent subject of the excellent documentary film The Shopkeeper ).
I titled the tunes with vaguely Spanish/Southwestern names. On the tune EL CAJON, Dave played the resonator guitar and I played my 1945 Gibson LG-2. On Mexicali Chinatown, I played the coveted resonator guitar and Dave played one of his other acoustics, a Martin or a Gibson. Dave later gave the song its title when we were talking on the phone and he told me the story of Mexicali Chinatown, an underground settlement near the US-Mexico border around the turn of the century where Chinese immigrants in Mexico were imported to the US to build railroads, and the underground part housed "dens of iniquity": opium dens and brothels, among other things. I had never heard of this, of course, but Dave knows his history, and the title fit the vaguely "Oriental" feel of the music.
AM: I know you recorded the songs with Dave at his California home rather than at a recording studio. Do you think that made it easier to collaborate?
AH: Yes. That was the idea. I also recorded at Eliza Gilkyson's home in Austin and Tom Russell's home in El Paso. Ray Wylie Hubbard is my neighbor -- he came over to our house. We recorded Washtub Jerry at the McDonald Observatory