Blasters, The, first recognized for their authentic, original re-creations of the sound and spirit of vintage rockabilly and rhythm and blues; formed in 1979 in Downey, Calif. Membership: Phil Alvin, lead voc, rhythm gtr. (b. Los Angeles, March 6, 1953); Dave Alvin, rhythm gtr. (b. Los Angeles, Nov. 11, 1955); John Bazz, bs. (b. July 6, 1952); Bill Bateman, drms. (b. Orange, Calif., Dec. 16, 1951). Later members include Gene Taylor, pno. (b. Tyler, Tex., July 2, 1952); Lee Allen, tenor sax.; Steve Berlin, bar. sax. (b. Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 14, 1955).
The Blasters soon expanded their repertoire into the realm of socially conscious songs concerned with the plight of common people, leading to comparisons with Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. Centered around lead vocalist Phil Alvin and songwriter Dave Alvin, one of the most talented brother duos of the 1980s, the group were a fixture in the Los Angeles alternative-rock scene. The group endured after Dave Alvin departed in 1985 to join X and that band’s folk-and country-style spinoff the Knitters before launching his own career as one of America’s most compelling songwriters.
The Blasters were initially comprised of brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, bassist John Bazz, and drummer Bill Bateman. Developing a local reputation during the waning days of punk music, the Blasters toured the United States as opening act for Queen in 1980. Rockabilly singer Shakin’ Stevens scored a major British hit with Dave Alvin’s “Marie Marie.” The group recorded their debut album, American Music, for the small independent label Rollin’ Rock. They added pianist Gene Taylor to rerecord the album for another Los Angeles independent label, Slash. Released as simply The Blasters, the album sold remarkably well after Warner Bros, picked up distribution of the label. The album featured the celebratory classic “American Music,” the nostalgic but rocking “Border Radio,” and “Marie Marie,” all written by Dave Alvin and performed in an exciting, bare-bones style. The Blasters toured tirelessly to establish themselves as one of this country’s most engaging live bands, and next recorded the EP Over There live in London.
The Blasters won their greatest critical acclaim with 1983’s Non Fiction, recorded with short-time members Lee Allen (tenor saxophone) and Steve Berlin (baritone saxophone). Songs such as “Boomtown,” “Fool’s Paradise,” and “Jubilee Train” revealed a concern for the plight of the common man; the album also included “Long White Cadillac” (later covered by Dwight Yoakam) and the ballad “Leaving.” Returning to the basic quintet of the Alvins, Taylor, Bazz, and Bateman, the Blasters recorded Hard Line, which included the rocking “Trouble Bound,” the ominous “Dark Night,” the blatantly political “Common Man,” John Mellen-camp’s “Colored Lights,” and “Just Another Saturday Night,” cowritten by Dave Alvin and John Doe of X.
During his free time Dave Alvin had been playing with John Doe, Exene Cervenka, and D. J. Bonebrake of X in an acoustic folk and country group called the Knitters. The group toured and then recorded Poor Little Critter on the Road for Slash. Alvin quit the Blasters in 1985, and the remaining quartet added guitarist Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann, but he died of a heart attack soon after at age 32. Dave rejoined the group for their 1987 European tour, after which the group added guitarist Greg Hormel. In 1986 Phil Alvin recorded the eclectic Un’ Sung Stories for Slash.
Dave Alvin joined X in 1985, staying on through the recording of See How We Are, which included his “Fourth of July.” He left X in 1987 to pursue a solo career, recording Every Night about This Time in England. The album was picked up by Epic in the United States and released as Romeo’s Escape. In the 1990s Alvin recorded for the Oakland-based independent label Hightone, but his albums were sorely neglected despite his excellent songwriting. In 1994, with singer-songwriter Tom Russell, Alvin coproduced the Merle Haggard tribute album Talare Dust, featuring artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Marshall Crenshaw, Iris DeMent, and Katy Moffatt. Touring with Russell and Peter Case under the Tulare Dust banner, Alvin concluded the tour in April 1995 with a live version of the album performed by many of the artists at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium; Haggard himself closed the show.
THE BLASTERS: American Music (1980); The B. (1981); Over There (1982); Non Fiction (1983); Hard Line (1985); Collection (1991). philalvin:Un’ Sung Stories (1986). THE KNITTERS: Poor Little Critter on the Road (1985). X (WITH DAVE ALVIN): See How We Are (1987). DAVE ALVIN: Romeo’s Escape (1987); Blue Blvd (1991); Museum of the Heart (1993); King of California (1994). VARIOUS ARTISTS: Tulare Dust: A Song-Writer’s Tribute to Merle Haggard (1994).