Trouble turns to fun
If you’re looking for the heart of pure rock ’n’ roll, you’ll find it in the Blasters
OK, it’s like this: Any bunch of chumps can bang out a reasonable facsimile of that beautiful noise called “rock ’n’ roll.” It ain’t rocket science, kids.
However, it takes a band with real depth to elevate the form beyond that perfunctory blast of three chords over a four-on-the-floor rhythm, which you can hear onstage at any bar that books the stuff. It takes a band such as the Blasters, which emerged in the early 1980s from Downey, a south-county suburb of Los Angeles.
What made the Blasters oh-so-special was that they combined punk-rock ferocity with having a real cool time onstage, by mixing such jukebox-tested strains as rockabilly, country, R&B and Western swing into a potent musical swagger. The band could cook like nobody’s business, and singer Phil Alvin had a perfectly tooled nervous tenor voice that cut right through the din. When you factor in the songwriting of Phil’s guitar-playing brother, Dave Alvin, who put forth a gasoline-scented vision of an America that still jumps to the kind of impulse that animated Elvis Presley’s hips in 1956—well, if you were looking for trouble, podna, you come to the right place.
Best of all is this: We’re not talking ancient history here. No, because the Blasters—who released four albums and an EP from 1980 to 1985 in their original six-year incarnation—have returned to touring with their original lineup: the occasionally contentious brothers Alvin plus pianist Gene Taylor, bassist Gene Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman.
If you need evidence of the rebirth, you can find it on Trouble Bound, a CD released by HighTone Records. It contains 17 tracks by the reconstituted Blasters and was recorded live over four dates at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, two dates apiece in March and June of 2002. As Susan Clary, who worked at Slash Records—the L.A. punk and roots-rock label that released most of the Blasters’ original output—and who saw all the recent House of Blues shows, put it: “What? The Blasters are playing Sacramento? Just go. I mean it. You don’t want to miss that show.” Clary goes way back with the band, and Dave once confessed—after a Mississippi John Hurt tribute show at the old Palms—that she whips up the best fried chicken he’s ever tasted.
Dave figured out pretty early on where the Blasters’ strengths lay. “One of the things that the Blasters had going for us,” said the songwriter, whose principal creative outlet these days is with his more acoustic-oriented Americana band the Guilty Men, “was that we got to a point pretty early on in our touring where we could tour without supporting a record. People knew we were a pretty good live band, so they would go to the show.”
That had a lot to do with the strength of Dave’s song catalog. Original tunes, such as “Marie Marie,” “Long White Cadillac,” “So Long Baby Goodbye” and “Red Rose,” mixed with well-chosen covers such as Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’ “ and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s “One Bad Stud"—which the Blasters performed for the soundtrack of the film Streets of Fire—constitute the kind of set that brings die-hard rock enthusiasts out of the woodwork.
Trouble Bound was dedicated to Lee Allen, the late master of the saxophone who teamed up with the Blasters in the 1980s after original honker Steve Berlin left to join another great Los Angeles band, Los Lobos. You remember those old 1950s black-and-white kinescopes of Little Richard banging out “Tutti Fruitti” on the piano, with that crazed sax player blasting away from the top of the piano? That was Allen. He’s gone now—he died in 1994—but his pure rock ‘n’ roll spirit lives on. You have the rare chance to witness it at the Boardwalk this Monday—perhaps an odd night for musical mayhem, but a night on which it’s guaranteed that not much else will be happening.
Don’t miss it.