Dylan at the Hop Farm Festival, Springsteen and Paul Simon in Hyde Park, the Great Escape Festival in Brighton, as mentioned last week, a ton of great bands at the No Direction Home and End Of The Road festivals, which have line-ups straight out of the pages of Uncut. There’s certainly no shortage of great gigs on the horizon, looming and inviting. There’s one among them, though, that I may actually be looking forward to more than anything else coming up: Dave Alvin at the London Jazz Café on April 20.
Dave’s a successful solo artist these days and won a Grammy in 2000, for his album Public Domain: Songs From The Wild Land, which drew on a rich heritage of traditional American music in a manner that anticipated Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions, released six years later.
When I first met him, almost exactly thirty years ago, however, Dave was the lead guitarist and songwriter in The Blasters, American roots legends now, unknown then, the band he’d formed the band in the East Los Angeles suburb of Downey, with his vocalist brother Phil. The Blasters played a sensational mix of blues, rockabilly, R’n’B, rock’n’roll and as I’ve probably mentioned before they did as much as, say, REM, The Replacements or Husker Du to revitalise American music in the early 80s, before splitting prematurely in 1985, after just four albums.
I first read about them in a paper I picked up at the airport in Dallas, where I was waiting for a flight back to London after an eventful few days on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, during which time he’d managed to get himself arrested for urinating on The Alamo. As the heavily-armed police who apprehended him at gunpoint grimly reminded the hugely-plastered Ozzy, The Alamo is “the shrine of Texas liberty” and not something in any circumstances you would be encouraged to piss on, even if it was on fire.
Anyway, the newspaper article tells me The Blasters had released an album the previous October on the LA-based Slash label that after being picked up by Warner Bros became a surprise break-out hit and was even then climbing the Billboard chart. The record sounded like it might be fantastic and when I got back to London I managed to track it down and it was. Not much later, I was on a flight back to Texas to write about the band for what used to be Melody Maker.
I met them a motel in somewhere called Mesquite, in the drab boondocks outside Dallas, walking into a room full of quiffs, bandanas, motorcycle boots, leather jackets and hardnosed attitude. For the week I went on to spend with them, I had one of the best times of my life, tearing across Texas, the band playing fantastic shows in Dallas and Austin, where they supported Joe Ely at the Austin Coliseum and blew even that seasoned campaigner off stage.
The last night I’m with them, they were at a club called Fitzgerald’s, an old Polish dance hall on the outskirts of Houston, where they played one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, the band augmented by the roaring horns of Steve Berlin, who went on to play with and produce Los Lobos, and the legendary Lee Allen, who had played sax with Little Richard and Fats Domino on their early hits.
I remember sitting with Dave on a rickety staircase outside the venue after the show, Dave still pumped-up. “Like I told you earlier, man,” he said, a beer in either hand, “when we’re hot, you better stand back. And when we’re really hot, with the horns and everything, man, I’d defy anyone to follow us. Maybe Springsteen could, maybe the Stones. Anyone else, I think we could handle,” he added, and he wasn’t bluffing. The Blasters in their prime were so good, there was no need. He was just telling it like it was.
Have a good week.
Dave Alvin pic by Beth Hertzhaff