For their first album together in 30 years, Dave and Phil Alvin of the Blasters have turned to the blues of Big Bill Broonzy. “Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy” will be released June 3 on Yep Roc Records, and today (Feb. 19) Billboard exclusively premieres the track "All By Myself" (listen below).
The brothers from Downey, Calif., will debut their act at SXSW on March 13 and tour the U.S. and Europe throughout 2014; their hometown gig in L.A. will be June 14 at the Troubadour.
“The whole idea is to showcase the breadth of his songwriting,” says singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Alvin. “On the couple of songs I sing, I took some liberties, but I am always playing Bill Broonzy chords.
“His influence on a variety of players went from the uptown musicians to the country blues guys like Big Joe Williams. He was an influence on Muddy Waters, an influence on the folk musicians of the early 1960s and one of the first blues guys to go over to Europe where he was an influence on skiffle bands and guitarists like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.”
In the 1920s, Broonzy worked as a fiddle player in bands in Chicago until he made his first recording in 1927 and became one of the city’ most prominent blues stylists. He filled in for Robert Johnson at the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. He was one of the first musicians to use electric instruments in the very early 1940s. While he made more than 200 recordings between 1927 and 1942, his best-known work is the blues standard “Key to the Highway.” Broonzy died in 1958.
Prior to forming the Blasters in 1979, singer Phil Alvin, 60, had a blues band that covered a good number of Broonzy songs. “I felt I had a connection with him,” he says, mentioning a guest appearance once with former Broonzy associate Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson at a show that “solidified that connection.”
“He influenced how I became a singer and the kind of singer I became,” he says. “These are songs I’ve been singing for so long. I don’t think I could have done the record without doing ‘Feel So Good’ or ‘Trucking Little Woman’ - those were the natural ones for me to choose. And I always loved ‘Tomorrow’.”
The Alvins’ performances together since Dave’s departure from the Blasters in 1986 have been mostly limited to a reunion tour in 2003 and tracks on the John Mellencamp-Stephen King musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” and Dave’s last album, “Eleven Eleven.” Famous for not getting always along, they joked that doing Broonzy songs would eliminate the arguing.
The project began as an EP that Yep Roc executives encouraged the Alvins to turn into a full album. Former Blaster Gene Taylor backs the brothers on piano with bass duties split between Bob Glaub and Brad Fordham and drummers Don Heffington and Lisa Pankratz.
As they fleshed out the material, both Alvins wanted to cover every element of Broonzy's career – the guitar skills he showcased in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, his songwriting in the late ‘30s and 1940s and his versatility in the 1950s. “It’s hard to pick a peak time for him,” Phil Alvin says.
“He was denigrated because he had such a long career and he wasn’t afraid of the purists,” Dave Alvin says. “He didn’t like to be pigeon-holed. In the early ‘50s he’s playing acoustic folk shows to progressive white crowds, then playing uptown with an electric band and then heading to Europe where he’ll play (traditional folk songs) like ‘John Henry.’ It’s a lot of different styles and a lot of great songs to play around with.”
DAVE ALVIN & PHIL ALVIN RECORD FIRST ALBUM TOGETHER IN 30 YEARS: ‘COMMON GROUND: DAVE ALVIN + PHIL ALVIN PLAY AND SING THE SONGS OF BIG BILL BROONZY’ OUT JUNE 3 ON YEP ROC
“We argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,” says Dave Alvin when explaining why he and brother Phil, who haven’t made an album together in almost 30 years, were inspired to record ‘Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy’ set for June 3 release on Yep Roc. The Alvin brothers, who founded seminal early LA punk roots band The Blasters in 1979, have shared a fascination with Broonzy since childhood. After an illness nearly took Phil’s life in 2012, they resolved to return to the studio and pay tribute to the blues legend.
‘Common Ground’ includes 12 songs that capture a 30-year cross section of Broonzy’s canon, performed by the Alvins’ in their signature style of rollicking roots and stomping country blues. Billboard has the premiere of album track “All By Myself” and an exclusive Q&A here
“He looked so slick,” says Phil about the cover of his first Broonzy album, which he purchased in a department store at age 12. Dave agrees, “I remember the day Phil brought that record home. It’s a strong childhood memory – like stealing a Playboy for the first time.”
The Alvins’ interpretations of Big Bill range from faithful to loose and Dave and Phil both play guitar and sing. They are joined on some tracks by Dave's band members Lisa Pankratz (drums) and Brad Fordham (bass) as well as The Blasters’ pianist Gene Taylor. Other tracks feature noted session musicians Bob Glaub (bass) and Don Heffington (drums). All tracks were recorded at Winslow Court Studios in Los Angeles, CA.
Though this is their first album together in decades, the Alvin brothers collaborated last year on ‘Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,’ the critically acclaimed “southern gothic supernatural musical” by Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett. They also sang a duet on “What’s Up With Your Brother” for Dave’s last Yep Roc release ‘Eleven/Eleven.’
Dave and Phil will tour extensively in 2014, including dates with the popular Roots on Rails series in April. A Record Store Day exclusive release of four songs from ‘Common Ground’ cut at 45RPM on two 10-inch records packaged as a 78-style album book will also be available via Yep Roc on April 19.
1. All By Myself
2. I Feel So Good
3. How You Want It Done
4. Southern Flood Blues
5. Big Bill Blues
6. Key To The Highway
8. Just A Dream
9. You’ve Changed
10. Stuff They Call Money
11. Trucking Little Woman
12. Saturday Night Rub
The Lone Ranger: Wanted album is out TODAY and includes my song "Lonesome Whistle"! Get it now on iTunes. Preview the full album below.
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” is a collaboration between John Mellencamp and Stephen King that features an all-star cast of singers on the soundtrack album, including Dave Alvin. The musical is now available to stream via The Wall Street Journal. Dave Alvin is featured on five tracks as one of the Ghost Brothers with brother Phil Alvin and Sheryl Crow including "So Goddam Smart" and "And Your Days Are Gone" Click on the song title to listen here.
Listen to Dave Alvin on "Home Again," from Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
RollingStone.com premiered "Home Again," the first track off the upcoming Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, where Dave joins Sheryl Crow, Phil Alvin and Taj Mahal.
June 4th will see the release of the long-in-the-works Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the Southern gothic musical borne out of an unlikely collaboration between John Mellencamp and Stephen King. King wrote the play after Mellencamp told him about two brothers who had gotten into a fight over a girl at a cabin on the musician's property; one brother was killed accidentally in the scuffle, and the surviving one and the girl died in a car crash soon after.
The roots and blues-heavy soundtrack was assembled with the help of T Bone Burnett and features array of artists like Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson and Neko Case. Now you can take an exclusive first listen to "Home Again," a sparse acoustic number tinged with simple percussion and deep, chilling harmonies from Sheryl Crow, Dave Alvin, Phil Alvin and Taj Mahal.
Dave Alvin’s version of the Darrell Scott song “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” was featured in the closing moments on the 4th season's finale of the FX hit TV show Justified, (air date 4/2) marking the fourth time Dave and his music have been featured on this show. The song is now available on iTunes and at the Yep Roc Store.
Dave’s music has been featured several times on Justified and its official soundtrack, including original tracks “Harlan County Line” and “Beautiful City ‘Cross the River,” and he appeared on the show as himself. Justified music supervisor, Greg Sill, has said that Dave’s voice “was that of a voice that would be playing in [main character] Raylan’s head.”
“Harlan County Line” and “Beautiful City ‘Cross the River” are both included on the Eleven Eleven expanded edition, available now at the Yep Roc Store and on Amazon.
Listen to Dave talk about the song and its appearance on Justified
Listen to the song
JAN 8 2013 - JUSTIFIED SOUNDTRACK ALBUM RELEASED FEATURING MUSIC BY DAVE ALVIN!
We are very pleased to announce that the FX show JUSTIFIED will present the season premier Jan 8, 2013. At the same time, the first JUSTIFIED SOUNDTRACK album will be released featuring "Harlan County Line" and "Beautiful City 'Cross the River"!
Comedian/social commentator/satirist Marc Maron interviewed me a few months back for his very popular podcast WTF and it is now available to be downloaded. We discussed childhood, my folks, my influences, old blues musicians, the 80s LA music scene and various poets, troublemakers and visionaries I known, etc. He even talked me into singing an vintage song of mine called Help You Dream and, like a polite guest, I let him play lead guitar. He wasn't bad at it either. - Dave Alvin
"Starting in May 2011, my great band, The Guilty Ones and I hit the highways blasting and rocking our blues in every bar, theatre and joint that we could get into across America. Some of 'em we even hit twice! As you might guess, I love playing with this band and I think it shows in the live performance that was recorded last summer (2011) at The Ark in Ann Arbor. We were in Cincinnati the night before we taped this show, and we were in Chicago the night after, so this is a document of one night (mistakes, sweat and all) traveling down the endless interstate. I'm happy to be able to release this to you on DVD in a new swanky package of Eleven Eleven (expanded edition), complete with three previously unreleased songs from that album's sessions. I hope you enjoy the music and I look forward to seeing you soon somewhere down the road."
- Dave Alvin
Along with Dave, we too at the Yep Roc Store are happy to announce the release of Eleven Eleven Expanded Edition. "But what could be better than Eleven Eleven?" you may ask. Well, try on these boots.
*A unique slip-case hardcover box containing all three CDs and the DVD
*The original Eleven Eleven album on digipak CD
*A second CD featuring 9 songs recorded live on the official Eleven Eleven US Tour at the Ark in Ann Arbor, MI on July 2, 2011 including Dave's classic songs "Fourth of July," "Out Of Control" (see full tracklisting HERE)
*A bonus CD including 3 unreleased bonus tracks from the original Eleven Eleven recording session, including "Never Trust A Woman," "Signal Hill," and "Beautiful City 'Cross the River" featured in FX's hit television show "Justified".
*A DVD [NTSC] of live performance footage featuring Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones live at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI including a live performance of "Abilene" (see full tracklisting HERE)
Every pre-order of the Eleven Eleven Expanded Edition will include instant digital download of the bonus song "Beautiful City 'Cross the River" and the full Eleven Eleven digital album instantly in your Stash to start enjoying right away!
Click the player below to watch the live performance of "Johnny Ace Is Dead" taken from the Eleven Eleven Expanded Edtion DVD. The performance was filmed at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI during last year's Eleven Eleven tour.
Alvin's song "Beautiful City 'Cross the River" will be featured on FX's critically-acclaimed series Justified on Tuesday February 21 at 10:00 PM EST. The song, which was recorded in late January, was written specifically for the scene, highlighting a Tex Mex feel.
This is the third time Alvin's music has been featured on Justified; his song "Harlan County Line," which was also written and recorded for the program, premiered last season and "Every Night About This Time" was featured on this season's premiere.
You can get an instant download of "Beautiful City 'Cross the River" now when you pre-order the Eleven Eleven Expanded Edition.
"Dave Alvin's music speaks to our show, both melodically and lyrically. We were fortunate enough to have him perform on the show last season, and it was a song that he felt spoke to our characters and the overall attitude of Justified," said Greg Sill, music supervisor for the show. "He was absolutely spot on. It is a rarity to find an artist who speaks the visceral 'language' of a character as well as Dave's music does with Raylan Givens. Graham Yost (creator/executive producer), Michael Dinner (director/executive producer) and myself decided that Dave's voice was that of a voice that would be playing in Raylan's head. Especially when you consider the breadth of our story lines this season. The poignancy is scary, because it's so real and kind of haunting, but amazingly good. We love you, Dave Alvin."