Blasters shows have been described as a “cross between Creedence and the Clash.” – from their website.
In my mind, they were a great band that not enough people found out about. Bill Bateman is one of the best drummers there is, and then, of course, there are the Alvin brothers. A lot of talent for one band. – Henry Rollins.
The Blasters formed in 1979* as a band that played – per Wikipedia – roots rock, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues rock, cowpunk and Americana. Listed as an “associated act” is Los Lobos. So already, much to love.
It goes on to say, ‘Phil Alvin explained the origin of the band’s name: “I thought Joe Turner’s backup band on his Atlantic records–I had these 78s–I thought they were the Blues Blasters. That ends up it was [bluesman] Jimmy McCracklin. I just took the ‘Blues’ off and Joe finally told me, that’s Jimmy McCracklin’s name, but you tell him I gave you permission to steal it.'”
The band hails from Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. In addition to spawning this band, the city is the birthplace of the Apollo space program and the hometown of Richard and Karen Carpenter. And if that wasn’t enough for ya, it is also the home of the oldest still operational McDonald’s in the world!
The Alvin brothers, Phil and Dave, used to travel to LA to see shows by artists such as Big Joe Turner, Buddy Guy, Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker. Through a friend of a friend, they actually got to know T-Bone Walker who is one of the great, important practitioners of the blues. They soon came to realize that music was a thing they had to get into.
The initial band consisted of the Alvins, bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman. While by and large they are not a punk band, their aggressive sound (and good timing) had them being part of the same generation as bands like X and Black Flag.
The Blasters were somewhat men out of time. The rockabilly revival that would be spearheaded by the Stray Cats wouldn’t really take off until 1981. But the guys kept plugging away, eventually winding up opening for Queen who thought they were great. (Let us not forget Queen did “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a straight-up rockabilly song.)
It took Queen’s fans a little while to warm up to them but this gave the guys some much-needed exposure, eventually leading to a recording contract with Rollin’ Rock Records.
The Blasters’ debut album American Music is a shot of good old rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and, well, just good stuff. This song is a Dave Alvin original called “Marie Marie.” Buckwheat Zydeco later picked up on this song and it later became somewhat of a staple with the Louisiana crowd, much to the amusement and joy of the Alvins. Laissez les bon temps rouler:
This album did not put the Blasters on the charts but did continue to gain them a small but loyal following. They eventually found their way to the better-known Slash records. Slash is still around and has recorded artists ranging from the BoDeans to Faith No More to the Violent Femmes.
Recognizing that their first album was likely languishing in $1.99 hell in record stores, their second album, The Blasters, included a re-recording of “Marie Marie.” The guys don’t break any new ground here but do expand their sound with the addition of piano and a couple of saxes.
Here’s a cool tune originally performed by blues and R&B vocalist Little Willie John called “I’m Shakin’.” (Jack White covered this tune a few years back):
According to the band’s website, in 1986, Dave Alvin left the band to pursue a solo career, and over the next decade, a series of guitarists including Billy Zoom, Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann, Greg “Smokey” Hormel, and James Intveld filled the position. Phil Alvin simultaneously expanded his own musical efforts with the release of two acclaimed solo albums, Unsung Stories(Slash/Warner) in 1986 and County Fair 2000 (Hightone) in 1994.
In 1996, an odd little movie called From Dusk Till Dawn was released. It was directed by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Quentin Tarantino. I don’t know about Rodriquez, but Tarantino is famous for finding obscure songs and adding them to his soundtracks.
The opening – and I think closing – numbers of this (spoiler alert!) vampire movie are taken from a 1985 album by the Blasters called Hard Line. The song is “Dark Night,” and, oh yeah, it’s got that lonesome, swampy sound we love:
I’ll leave you with one more thing, which is the song that inspired this post. Phil and Dave Alvin reunited in 2015 for a bluesy album called Lost Time. Their reconciliation seems to have been inspired by Phil’s near-brush with death (flatlined twice.)
Here’s a tasty little number called “Wee Baby Blues.” This song was written by one of their heroes, Big Joe Turner and first recorded by pianist Art Tatum and his band in 1941:
Their most recent album, Fun on Saturday Night – which guest stars Exene Cervenka of X – was released in 2012. But they are very much a functioning band and are on tour right now. Current members: Phil Alvin, John Bazz, Bill Bateman and guitarist Keith Wyatt who has been with the band since 1996,
*Wikipedia lists it as 1978 but their web site says “American Music Since 1979.”