There are a lot of stories about the death of Johnny Ace, the handsome and charismatic R&B singer who shot himself at the height of his career back in 1954. Some say it was Russian roulette; others, including Big Mama Thornton, who was allegedly present, say it was a gun accident. Elvis recorded Ace’s posthumous hit, “Pledging My Love”, and Paul Simon wrote a wonderful tribute to the man via the view of a young fan in the song “The Late Great Johnny Ace”. But Dave Alvin has just written and recorded the best damn Johnny Ace song one could ever imagine, “Johnny Ace Is Dead”. Alvin recreates a ‘50s honkytonk atmosphere, propulsive rhythms, country roots, and urban blues, as he notes everything from record company honcho Don Robey’s publicity schemes to evoking Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” in reference to Big Mama. It’s an impressive achievement, and Alvin does so in a frantic four-and-a-half minutes, leaving the listener exhausted and begging for more.
Songs like “Johnny Ace Is Dead” have made Alvin somewhat of a saint in the Americana community. His recordings inspire great reverence. That has stood in the way sometimes of just having fun. Alvin knows how to rock out, but sometimes he puts this secondary to some larger theme. Not here on Eleven Eleven. These songs range from the serious to the silly, and come off as an assortment rather than a collection of what he has been up to lately. And like most musicians, he makes his money playing live. These songs also bear the hallmarks of being tried and tested.
That doesn’t mean Alvin is selling out or looking to be popular in the reductive sense. I mean, on at least two songs, he praises labor unions in strong terms, a controversial position these days. Alvin sings about African American women, illegal Mexican immigrants, and other outsiders with an emphatic understanding and passionate embrace of all people as distinctly human and unique. Plus, these individuals on the edge have more compelling stories than most others. And Alvin loves to tell stories.
He even turns personal stories into songs on the two cuts that feature guest male vocalists. He and his brother Phil, who used to be bandmates in the neo-rockabilly band the Blasters, poke gentle fun at each other and those fans who ask when they are going to get back together in the mocking “What’s Up With Your Brother?”. And Alvin and his good friend Chris Gaffney, now deceased, do an acoustic duet about taking life as it comes on “Two Lucky Bums”. The sweetness of these songs is cut by the sour edge of other material on the record, such as the haunting “No Worries Mija” or the harsh world of “Harlan County Line”.
The diversity of the material reveals that Alvin is engaged with the roots and branches of country, folk, rock, and the blues in fundamental ways. The melodies resemble old ones, but have been updated, while the lyrics tell of past tales heard, but are conveyed in a fresh manner. And best of all, Alvin sounds like he is having fun, even when he’s singing a sad song. He’s a true troubadour, in the best sense of the word.
Dave Alvin sings of a grittier unspoken California where longing and greed and lust and loss all come together
PHOTO: RAUL VÉGA
You can smell it in the air
You may be rich or poor
But you know that
fire don’t care
Dave Alvin is one of the seminal figures in California music, a poet and global ambassador for the folk-blues-country amalgam known as roots rock. But on this spring morning, he is playing informal tour guide as a vintage railcar knifes through the San Fernando Valley, north past tract homes, chain stores and fields turned to asphalt.
Peering through the wraparound windows, he offers a narration, highlighting the features amid an ocean of suburban sameness: the hangar where the end of Casablanca was filmed, the craggy rocks where they made old TV westerns, the Chatsworth site of the former Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson and his cult squirreled themselves away.
Several dozen passengers have paid handsomely for the chance to ride with Alvin and other musicians, setting off from Los Angeles for a series of rolling performances en route to a show in Portland. A guide is on hand to point out wildlife and other natural features. But Alvin’s observations are not a part of the program; hidden behind dark glasses, he seems to be talking to himself as much as anyone around him. Maybe it’s habit.
Over the course of roughly three decades, Alvin has compiled one of the great, if underappreciated, California songbooks, cataloging the people and places most overlook or choose to ignore.
His is not the confectionary California of endless summers and Hollywood glitter or the kooky capital of New Age seekers and sunbaked hedonists. Alvin sings of life on the margins and between the cracks, of farm workers and illegal immigrants, of meth heads and lost souls and places like Bellflower, Fontana, the High Sierra and the 605 Freeway.
He sings in a throaty rumble of love and loss and ghosts of things past. California natives, Alvin believes, suffer an odd kind of nostalgia that comes when talk of old times refers not to generations ago but a period only a few years back. “By the time you’re 20, you’re 40 in the sense of waking up in the morning and thinking, Let’s go see the orange groves. But they’re not there anymore,” he says. “They’re just gone.”
Alvin, a fourth-generation Californian, born and raised in Downey, wrote one of his best songs, “Dry River,” about the cement channel running through his hometown. He recalls the time he bicycled to an orange grove near his home, only to find a field of stumps. The trees had been chopped down overnight to make way for apartments and commercial development.
Alvin, 55, has never been an overtly political singer, in the sense of writing protest songs or lending his name to a cause. But he is an acute observer of politics—especially California politics—and with the Golden State in seemingly perpetual crisis, with high unemployment, meat-cleaver budget cuts and a government paralyzed by partisanship, he suggests the state, as we know it, may be headed the way of those orange groves. Listen closely, and you might hear it in a song.
Red flames are growing
At the top of the hill
If the fire don’t get ya
Well, you know the
Dave Alvin marvels at Brian Wilson, who, as a young man, crafted lyrical postcards—pillowed in plush harmonies—from a land of sun and fun that defined California for a worldwide audience. When he was that age, Alvin says, “I was trying to figure out how to open a beer can.
”That’s somewhat of an exaggeration. Wilson—13 years older than Alvin—was 20 when he broke through with the Beach Boys: youthful, certainly, but no pimply faced teenager. Alvin was not that much older when he quit Long Beach State to perform full-time with the Blasters, the rockabilly/roots-rock band he cofounded with his older brother, Phil.
Unlike, say, Wilson, whose musical aptitude was evident practically from birth, Alvin was no songwriting prodigy. He had to live a little first.
Growing up, he was a decent enough student, though shy and daydreamy. “I’d do this,” he says, staring out the train window at the Cascade Mountains, “going, Hmmm, I wonder what’s out there?” He began to founder in high school, where an unstructured environment was all the incentive he needed to do what many teenagers would. “I started smoking pot,” Alvin says, “and sneaking into bars.
”He graduated from Pius X High School in South Gate, but his true education came elsewhere, in places like the Ash Grove on Melrose, the Parisian Room on La Brea, Vina’s on Adams and the York Club on Florence.
The Alvin brothers were avid record collectors and loved the blues. So when they learned some of their heroes were still alive and performing 15, 20 miles away, they began seeking them out, bumming rides until Phil was old enough to drive. They saw T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Willie Dixon. They befriended Big Joe Turner, who, as Alvin recounts in “Boss of the Blues,” took them on a tearful tour one night of Central Avenue, a shabby relic of the former jazz and blues hub. Another ghost song, set to a boogie-woogie beat.
The Alvins founded the Blasters, which built a following around the L.A. area. But when it came to producing their first LP in 1979, they needed original material, so at a band meeting, each member agreed to return a week later with two songs. “Nobody else brought in any,” Alvin says. “I brought in three.”
He had begun writing in college, inspired by his favorite English professor, Gerald Locklin. The two spent hours talking, drinking beer and testing each other with music and literary trivia. “He certainly had the discipline and erudition to have gone on for a PhD,” says Locklin, a writer and poet. “But he made the right choice. There are plenty of PhDs walking around.”
The Blasters brought Alvin a measure of fame and success, playing a rollicking combination of blues, country, R&B and old-time rock ’n’ roll. But tensions—over big things, like the band’s direction, and trivial ones, such as which brother knew more about music—led Dave to quit abruptly in 1985. He joined the punk band X for a brief turn, supplying the rock anthem “Fourth of July,” then set out on a solo career.
Up until then, Alvin had always played lead guitar while someone else sang. But he grew tired of writing for other people. There were things he wanted to say and portraits he wanted to paint—and California was his canvas.
There’s trouble in the
You better pack up
You better get out while
Dave Alvin could well have been Dave Czyzewski. His mother, Eleanor, was born in the Sierra foothills and knew the state was special. She bred that belief into her children, the two boys and an older sister, Mary. “Everywhere else—Phoenix, Las Vegas even—was back east,” Alvin says, “and the accent was on that word back.”
His father, Casimir Czyzewski, lived back east, next to the railroad tracks in South Bend, Indiana, until one day as a young man in the 1930s, he hopped a freight train to join his brother, Joe, out in California.
Joe, a Los Angeles newspaperman, had shed the family surname for his middle name, Albin, in a nod to his literary hero, Joseph Conrad (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski). But people kept mispronouncing Albin, so Joe changed it to Alvin. When Cas arrived, he did the same.
It is a typical story of reinvention, which makes it a typical California story. But Cas Alvin’s view of his adopted home state was more jaundiced than many. After scraping through the Depression, he saw firsthand the worst of mankind; as a member of the Army Signal Corps, he shot some of the initial photographs of the Nazi death camp at Dachau. After the war, he worked as a union organizer in steel mills across the Southwest, fighting the undertow of a dying industry. Summers, he took his sons with him, to strike rallies and furtive organizing sessions in frayed company towns.
When it comes to his songwriting, Alvin cites many influences: Locklin, John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski and, musically, performers as varied as Merle Haggard and Captain Beefheart. But perhaps the greatest influences were his parents: the pride of place, instilled by his mother; the hard-bitten worldview, acquired from his father. From both, he took away an affinity for life’s underdogs. “My dad always said there were two sides to every story,” Alvin recalls. And that is why his songs so often dwell on situations and circumstances that others neglect, and not just in the milieu of working-class whites.
“Alvin has been really good about the bumping up of whites, Latinos, African Americans on the kitchen lines, on job sites, in motels, in bars,” says Josh Kun, a USC professor who studies the social connections of popular music. “He hasn’t shied away from the cultural clash of California.”
Black clouds are rising
They’re blocking out the sun
Some folks are sayin’
The judgment day has come
Politics, however, is something altogether different: “I’m a left-leaning, meat-eating, bluecollar, independent smoker.” Which is to say Alvin doesn’t put much stock in either party, much less any politician. And that skepticism—passed down from his father—has deepened as California seems to be steadily unraveling.
Where, he asks, are the Willie Browns and Jesse Unruhs, who could cut a deal and keep things running? What kind of state lays off teachers while millionaires pay a pittance in property tax on their mansions? “This isn’t the California I grew up in,” says Alvin, who believes there’s a growing gap between rich and poor—and a shrinking in between.
He fears the trend, like so many rooted in California, is spreading nationwide and suggests nothing will change until lawmakers overhaul Proposition 13 and fix the state’s gridlock-inducing budget system.
But don’t expect Alvin to sing about reforming Sacramento. For him, topical songs rarely work. Besides, there are other ways to make a statement. His interest has always been in the life forces—hope and greed and lust and hunger—that collide and smash those caught in the middle. The closest he comes to a “finger-pointing song,” he says, is a cut on his new album, Eleven, Eleven, due out this month. On “Gary, Indiana, 1959” he sings of the nationwide steel strike that year and the slow, steady decline that followed. With howling guitar and a churning rhythm, it’s an angry song—“The factories are in ruins / decent jobs hard to find...’cause the big boys make the rules / tough luck for everyone else”—but not an “answer song.”
“I’ve always tried to write songs where there’s not an answer,” Alvin says. “I don’t have ’em—I supply questions. And what I try to do is wrap them around situations people understand.”
Granted, that has never been a formula for commercial success. Alvin has no million-seller to his name. (He did win a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Traditional Folk Album.) He tried Nashville for a brief, unhappy stretch in the late 1980s, but all that yielded was a song, “Highway 99,” about missing home.
He’s far from wealthy, but he writes what he wants and sings what he feels and makes the mortgage on his home in the hills above Silver Lake. (Alvin is unmarried with no children, the price for a life spent mostly on the road.) “I’ve been really lucky,” he says, as Oregon’s green fields fly by outside the dining car. “There’s not a day goes by, especially in the last 15 years, I don’t feel that.”
For all the darkness, that resilience shows through in Alvin’s music. In “Dry River,” the ode to a trench, he sings hopefully of the water returning and the blossoms blooming. It’s the kind of defiant optimism that marks a true Californian—and the stuff that keeps dreams from dying.
No one knows when this
Well, what that fire burns
We’ll just build it back again
MARK Z. BARABAK, a native Californian, covers politics for the Los Angeles Times.
April 5, 2011 Dave Alvin has been a member of two seminal bands, the Blasters and X, penned a rock anthem, "4th of July," traveled the world as an ambassador for the folk-blues-country amalgam known as roots music, and, over nearly three decades, crafted one of the great California songbooks.
But until early Wednesday, he suffered a more dubious distinction: banned in Davis.
In 1982, Alvin and the Blasters were performing at a small venue in the college town near the California capital when, out in the sardine-packed crowd, push literally came to shove. Next thing, a riot: police, helicopters and, in the days that followed, a civic ban on all things Blaster. (Which apparently extended to its members, emeritus).
"We were innocent," Alvin protested, recalling that fated night. "We were just doing our job."
Late Tuesday, Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza -- a serious Alvin afficionado -- set out to rectify the long-ago injustice. Shortly before midnight, just outside Berkeley, he boarded a Portland, Ore.-bound train and presented Alvin a formal proclamation -- calligraphy, gold seal, much "whereas" -- absolving him of any wrongdoing and welcoming (no, practically begging) him to play again in Davis.
Twenty or so beery passengers, joining Alvin on his Kings of California Roots on the Rails tour, attended the ceremony and offered all the solemnity they could muster. (A few even offered to riot, for old-time sake.)
Krovoza rode along as far as Davis, and used the 40 minutes to coax Alvin into a discussion of several of the mayor's favorite songs. ("Abilene" was about a girl, it turns out, not the Texas city.)
A bemused Alvin declined the chance to give a speech, though he thanked the mayor several times and took time to thumb through the lengthy resolution. Despite the late hour, he whipped out his cellphone and rang his brother and Blasters cofounder, Phil, suggesting he'd never guess what just happened.
"He says, 'Oh, wow, that's great,' " a grinning Alvin related to Krovoza, who smiled in turn. "Scot free!"
Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
December 7, 2009
Dave Alvin, Harper Simon and the Living Sisters help the Beach Boys legend make Sunday's 'Songs of the Sun' concert a memorable ode to the California experience.
At the end of Sunday's "Songs of the Sun" concert, part of the L.A. Philharmonic's West Coast, Left Coast festival celebrating regional culture, headliner Brian Wilson invited the rest of the night's performers back to the stage for a multi-generational singalong on a couple of his signature hits, "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Fun, Fun, Fun."
Out trotted singer-songwriter Harper Simon, who had opened the evening, the ad hoc female harmony trio the Living Sisters -- Inara George, the daughter of Little Feat founder Lowell George; jazz-pop singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell; and Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark -- and veteran Southland roots-rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Alvin.
One bit of wishful thinking for aficionados of Southern California pop music went unrealized: that of a more substantive musical meeting between Wilson, the melodic and harmonic genius behind the Beach Boys, and Alvin, the heart and soul of the Blasters, one of the great L.A. bands of the '80s.
Yes, Alvin added his voice (off-mike) and hand claps to the two iconic Beach Boys hits of the '60s, songs born of this region's surf and car cultures. But it could have been an even more symbolically ideal collaboration had he strapped on a Fender electric guitar -- the locally produced embodiment of the sound and spirit not only of the Beach Boys but also of rock 'n' roll itself -- to handle parts originally played by Wilson's late brother Carl.
That nit officially picked, "Songs of the Sun" nevertheless was an illuminating night of appropriately casual and largely acoustic music-making rooted in the exquisite vocal harmonizing that is central to Wilson's music and that of the Andrews Sisters-cum-Roches-inspired Living Sisters. Those harmonies also can be found in the folk-country narrative storytelling tradition that Alvin has embraced over the last 30 years.
Simon started off with four songs delivered much as he would have done them in his appearances at the Silverlake Lounge, which he referenced early on. "Berkeley Girl" most directly connected with the night's geographical focal point, with its nods to those nexuses of indie-rock, Silver Lake and Echo Park.
Alvin came next with a 45-minute set that he opened with a short homage to another under-sung Southland singer-songwriter, John Stewart, whom he saluted with a verse from the title track from Stewart's paean to the Golden State, "California Bloodlines." That segued into Alvin's "California's Burning," a more caustic look at what's happened to the state once regarded by much of the nation as the Promised Land.
His sweet ode to Karen Carpenter, "Downey Girl," was complemented by steel guitar ace Greg Leisz, playing dobro. "Dry River," his unromanticized account of growing up near the concrete banks of the San Gabriel River, led nicely into "King of California."
He topped off his set with "Ashgrove," his celebration of the long-defunct folk-blues club, and a rare latter-day reading of "Fourth of July," which was reconfigured into a slower, more haunting folk-style rendition than the version he recorded after he'd left the Blasters and joined X.
George, Mandell and Stark, dressed in complementary silver, gold and blue lamé mini-dresses, warbled sweetly during their 15 minutes on stage, mostly as an interlude between the centerpiece sets by Alvin and Wilson.
Wilson stuck largely to cornerstone Beach Boys material, but did it in a relatively unfamiliar way. He placed more emphasis than usual on the vocals because of reduced instrumentation, just two acoustic guitars, bass, piano and occasional keyboards, rather than his full-scale 10-piece band.
There was an exquisite a cappella nod to one of his primary influences, the Four Freshmen, and a timely version of "Little Saint Nick." That led to an audience singalong on "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations."
It was the perfect climax to a near-perfect evening.
Brian Wilson; Dave Alvin; Living Sisters; Harper Simon
(Walt Disney Concert Hall; 2,265 seats; $35-$49.75) Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Performers: Brian Wilson and band, Dave Alvin with Greg Leisz, the Living Sisters (Inara George, Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell), Harper Simon. Reviewed Dec. 8, 2009.
Studying California almost always requires the examination of contrasts. The songwriting careers of Brian Wilson and Dave Alvin, two youths raised in the L.A. working class suburbs of Hawthorne and Downey, respectively, begin about 15 years apart, their perspectives defined by the specifics of time and place. Wilson, in the Beach Boys, captured innocence, youth and sunshine in the early '60s; Alvin, in the late '70s and '80s in the Blasters and as a solo artist, reflected on loss, specifically the promises and culture of the Golden Gate state. Played side-by-side Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Southern California sounded like two very different places.
After a week of California classical perspectives in the West Coast, Left Coast series, Disney Concert Hall played host to the pop flip side in "Songs of the Sun" with Alvin taking the theme to heart and personalizing his statement. Wilson, backed by most of his band on acoustic instruments, gave a shortened version of his standard show.
Wilson's 11-song set was filled with glorious, raise-the-roof harmonies, a celebration of girls, cars, teen angst, surfing, an a cappella cover of the Four Freshmen's "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" and, for one pensive five-minute stretch, the Wilson-Van Dyke Parks masterpiece "Heroes and Villains."
Alvin's eight-song set, which included an impromptu "Surfer Girl," was more stark and reflective, the sounds of sighs and pain rising from Greg Leisz' slide work on an assortment of stringed instruments. In Alvin's world, the waterway is a dry river, the radio plays oldies for separated friends and lovers, and the great hangout is but a memory, having burned down years ago. And in "Downey Girl," his recent tribute to his hometown's first celebrity, Karen Carpenter, Alvin uses biography to pose personal questions about pride and character, the sort of soul-searching Wilson and Tony Asher achieved on "God Only Knows" that Wilson sang with his usual crack-in-the-mettle persona.
Memory, more than the here and now that made Wilson a champion teen chronicler, supplies the depth in Alvin's folk and blues-based tunes.
Where Wilson succeeded by taking the Hollywood dream and applying it to the local landscape and rock 'n' roll, Alvin stays inland and assumes the roots of the Southern refugees who made their way west a generation before his birth. One side of the California dream Wilson and Alvin describe is freedom in all its manifestations. On the other side, it's a steady paycheck.
The Living Sisters -- native Angelenos Inara George and Eleni Mandell with Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark -- play light folk with angelic three-part vocals, a reminder of the debut album of the Roches from 30 years ago. "You Make Me Blue," a song by George, daughter of the late Little Feat leader Lowell, shared the alchemy used by Wilson and Alvin, mixing doo-wop with folk music for glorious effect.
Opener Harper Simon shares considerable musical DNA with his father Paul, a resolutely non-California sound. His winsome personality, combined with deft finger-picking guitar style, strong wordplay and engaging melodies, made for an impressive four-song set. The reason for his inclusion on the bill, though, is a mystery.
On the rails with Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Dave Alvin
The roots rockers head out of L.A.'s Union Station with about 70 fans
in tow for a musical tour of the American Southwest.
Butch Hancock, from left, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin make their way to board a train
at Union Station. (Christina House / For The Times)
By Randy Lewis September 29, 2009
Reporting from Albuquerque -
Texas singer-songwriter Joe Ely has been in love with trains his whole life. In 1977, he recorded one of the great train songs -- "Boxcars," which his longtime pal Butch Hancock wrote -- laying out exactly what had hooked him over the course of countless rides in open freight cars journeying to and from his hometown of Lubbock.
If you ever heard the whistle on a fast freight train
Beatin' out a beautiful tune
If you ever seen the cold blue railroad tracks
Shinin' by the light of the moon
If you ever felt a locomotive shake the ground
I know you don't have to be told
Why I'm going down to the railroad tracks
And watch them lonesome boxcars roll
"My grandfather worked the Rock Island line, and my father worked on the Santa Fe line," Ely, 62, said Sunday night following his performance at Burt's Tiki Lounge, about two blocks from the Albuquerque train station. Ely was accompanied by fellow singer-songwriters Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, his partners in the revered Texas trio the Flatlanders, on a bill they shared with California roots-rocker Dave Alvin.
"I grew up with trains," Ely said. "I couldn't miss this."
Ely had joined up Sunday afternoon with Gilmore, Hancock and Alvin for an opening-night show that's part of a five-day train trek through the Southwestern U.S., part of what organizers like to call North America's Moving Music Festival.
It got rolling a day earlier, out of Los Angeles' Union Station, where about 70 roots-music enthusiasts had boarded four restored 50- and 60-year-old coaches on a train dubbed the Kachina Express, a landlubbers' alternative to the numerous music cruises that have proliferated in the last decade.
Ely, in fact, did miss the first leg of the trip from L.A. to Albuquerque on the old Santa Fe route that roughly parallels Route 66. He'd had a gig in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and couldn't make it to L.A. by departure time. So he caught up with the group in Albuquerque, much to the delight of the train travelers who took over Burt's Tiki Lounge for a private performance.
"Because these guys haven't been that commercially successful, it's hard to explain just how iconic they are," said Peter O'Brien, a retired physical education teacher who came from London to be on board.
Others drove or flew to L.A. from as far away as Vermont, Maryland, Florida, England, Ireland, Scotland and Finland, only too happy to endure last weekend's heat wave to travel with these champions of Americana music.
The excursion is the brainchild of Charlie Hunter and Sarah Ovenden, founders of the Bellows Falls, Vt.-based Flying Under Radar travel service, which since 2003 has put together more than a dozen music-based Roots on the Rail train trips.
For the passengers it's an irresistible combination of musical talent and mode of travel. "It's so civilized," said Atwater Village resident Claire Chandler, who like many on board has become an enthusiastic repeat customer of Roots on the Rails trips. She'd taken one that went from Texas to Mexico's Copper Canyon. Alvin and Hancock were also on that trip, along with Tom Russell, Terry Allen and others.
"To do it in Europe wouldn't be impossible, but because it would involve crossing through several countries and would require approval of several governments, it would be very difficult," Jens Koch, a former literature and English teacher from Denmark, said Sunday morning over breakfast in the 1949 dining car, watching the rust-colored hills and scrub brush blur by outside. "Anyway, you couldn't do a trip like this just in Denmark. It would be over in one day."
Besides, there's nothing in Denmark analogous to the red clay mesas that rise up above the countless dry creek beds that snake across the pale green floor of the New Mexico desert. Weather-beaten split-rail livestock pens and the occasional water trough stand next to deeply rutted dirt trails.
The Kachina Express trip, a new addition to the Roots on the Rail menu, continued Monday with a side trip by bus to the Painted Desert in Arizona, which was to be followed by a concert in Winslow. ("A corner in Winslow, Arizona," famously mentioned in the Eagles' hit "Take It Easy," was to be highlighted as a point of interest to this group.) It would move on to stops at the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff before its scheduled return to Union Station on Wednesday morning.
Others have explored the territory between Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and Vancouver and Winnipeg, and, just before the Kachina Express trip, a "Cowboy Train" took participants through the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. Another trip along the Santa Fe route with Stan Ridgway, Jill Sobule and the Handsome Family takes place Nov. 14-18.
But the combination of the Flatlanders and Alvin represented something special even to the connoisseurs of this strain of American music.
"I had been booked on another trip with them, but when I saw this lineup I told Charlie, 'I have to switch my booking,' " said John Sweather, who works for one of Britain's largest telecommunications and cable companies and was making his third such train trip.
Alvin, Ely, Gilmore and Hancock consistently have written songs deeply infused with a sense of place, rooted in the geography and mythology of the American Southwest. At Sunday's concert, Alvin sang songs that invoked California locales including San Bernardino, Riverside and El Cajon in addition to sites in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.
The Flatlanders' music frequently examines the freedom and solitude that come with life in West Texas.
"I see a lot of musicians come down from Michigan and Wisconsin, and they get to Texas and start writing songs about drinking beer and playing guitar," Ely said. "But that's not it. It's something about all the openness, all the emptiness."
The private concerts, late-night jam sessions and the chance to rub elbows with these musicians while on board made the price tag of a couple thousand dollars well worth it to several passengers interviewed.
On the first day out, Hancock worked his way through the dining car, chatting with passengers, welcoming first-timers and getting reacquainted with returnees. Alvin spoke quietly with a passenger about touring with his new band, the Guilty Women, and the joys and challenges of playing with other musicians compared with going solo, as he was on this outing.
The first jam session began modestly in the dining car around midnight on the first night out, somewhere past Laughlin, Nev. Dan Weber from Vancouver, Wash., Tommi Mattila from Helsinki and Domenic Cicala of Rockville, Md., cracked open guitar cases while on-board naturalist Elsabe Kloppers brought out her fiddle and rosined up the bow.
They took turns, "guitar pull" style. Mattila, who doesn't write songs -- "Not yet," he said optimistically -- offered such American country and western chestnuts as Marty Robbins' "El Paso" and, fittingly, Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." He sang, "I hear that train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend," in his light Finnish accent.
Weber and Cicala spun out some original compositions while also gamely tackling a few John Prine and Kasey Chambers songs requested by Dublin tour guest Shonagh Hurley. Alvin leaned against the curved bar and looked on with a smile.
CD Review: Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women: The California Report
Last year, Grammy winner Dave Alvin lost a close friend and a key member of his band, "The Guilty Men," with the death of Chris Gaffney. Alvin worked out some of his grief by producing a tribute album to his old friend. Now, he's put together a new team of musicians with another tribute of sorts to his old band. Reporter: Steve Hochman
A celebration marking a half century since the opening of the
seminal Los Angeles folk/blues/world club the Ash Grove brought
something home: The roots of American roots music is in rootlessness.
night long, in the first of two evening concerts marking this
milestone, artists who in more recent years shaped modern American
roots music -- Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Dave Alvin -- reminisced
warmly on the stage at UCLA's Royce Hall about teenage journeys
to the Melrose Ave. music spot to worship and learn at the feet
of the masters: bluesmen including Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance
Lipscomb, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Rev. Gary Davis,
such mountain music mainstays as the Stanley Brothers, plains
balladeers such as Ramblin' Jack Elliott, even Eastern European
folk music revived under the direction of musicologist Mike
Ash Grove," noted Alvin this night in a scorching electric
blues song he wrote in tribute to the old club he and his brother
Phil made regular pilgrimages to from nearby Downey, "that's
where I come from."
not for Ash Grove founder Ed Pearl, Alvin stressed, most of
those blues greats would never have even come out to play in
California. Folkie Arlo Guthrie, who as an unannounced guest
opened the evening with a fine rendition of his dad Woody's
anthem 'This Land Is Your Land,' said that his first West Coast
trip was a 1965 gig at the club, when he was just a teen himself.
Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and fellow Rolling Stones mate Bill Wyman
were among those who would stop by when they were in town, not
as performers but as fans.
music the youngsters heard in the late '50s and through the
'60s, though, was the music of the displaced, the refugees,
the kidnapped, those forced to leave their homes: Africans stolen
into slavery, Jews fleeing poverty and pogroms, Irish escaping
famine and oppression, English and Scottish crushed under the
Industrial Revolution. The people playing the original Ash Grove
were direct descendants of these immigrants, just a generation
or two removed, if not immigrants themselves, caught between
two worlds, not exactly as welcomed here as some myths would
have it, but with no "home" to which they could even
think of returning.
for the wide-eyed kids, coming of age in a postwar, consumer-driven
suburbia, arguably the most stable and comfortable situation
in the history of the non-upper-classes, the yearning of the
rootless somehow resonated. And it wove a thematic thread through
this show, with Ramblin' Jack doing Woody Guthrie's satirical
Dust Bowl migrant ballad 'Do Re Me' and Cooder singing Agnes
Cunningham's comparable 'How Can You Keep On Moving (Unless
You Migrate Too),' a song he learned at the Ash Grove.
it's pretty much a social anthropological cliche by now: the
combo of Eisenhower-years blandness, the true establishment
of a middle class and the mass-media explosion that opens up
windows to other cultures and ideas sparks a new consciousness,
music helps fuel awareness of civil-rights issues, a generation
comes of age questioning the values of the power structure and,
well, the '60s happened. Don't sell it short. The Ash Grove
alone was perceived as enough of a threat to someone that it
suffered three arson fires, the last closing it for good in
the highlights of this concert, though, the tone turned personal
more than political. Alvin's short set held a particularly deep
note for the death a few days before of long-time musical saddle
pal Chris Gaffney, with a line tossed into 'Ash Grove' and a
dedication of a moving 'Shenandoah' to "my best friend."
But then he couldn't wipe a big grin off his face as he and
band accompanied elder statesman Ramblin' Jack through his digression-filled
tales of the drifting life. Cooder, teaming with veterans Mike
Seeger and Roland White for a tribute to "old timey"
music, remembered nights during high school accosting Elliot
and Carter Stanley as they came off stage to show him licks
they'd played, and also imitating Pearl decrying any sense of
commercialism even in performers mentioning albums they were
promoting. Emcee Dr. Demento told of when he was simply young
Barry Hansen working as a ticket taker, stage manager and everything
else at the club. Unannounced surprised guest Ben Harper brought
a real sense of currency and continuity by being joined by his
mother, Southern California folk maven Ellen Chase, for an entrancing
unplugged set with his band, including a sweet mother-son duet
on Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is a Long Time.' (Word is Ben and Mom are
going to make an album together, which, based on this little
taste, will be a treasure.)
inspiration took many forms: Holly Near, another graduate of
the Ash Grove school, showed in her segment with East Coast
duo Emma's Revolution how she channeled the lessons learned
into a career of women's rights, civil rights and environmental
activism. Culture Clash offered up political theater in the
Ash Grove spirit with an excerpt from their 'Chavez Ravine,'
another work about cultural and physical displacement in its
pointed satire of the destruction of a multicultural community
for the building of Dodger Stadium around the time the Ash Grove
was founded. And younger musical artists Laura Love and Ashley
Maher brought the Ash Grove aesthetic into newer contexts with,
respectively, a distinctive brand of funk folk rooted in old
spirituals and civil-rights anthems and a hybrid world music/dance
bridging modern America and traditional Africa. And closing
this first night, a motley Eastern European jam session blasted
spiritedly into the wee hours.
musical pinnacle came in the Cooder/Seeger/White set on a number
in which Seeger played harmonica and fiddle simultaneously (a
neat trick) on a mournful, haunting lick, singing lyrics about
slaves being transported, with Cooder coming in for an electric
slide solo that echoed Blind Willie Johnson's ghostly, despairing
'Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.' This performance
at once captured that intersection of generations at the founding
of the Ash Grove, that passing of rootless displacement into
the realm of folklore roots, though the song itself shows that's
nothing new. It was 'Stolen Souls From Africa,' a piece associated
with white abolitionists more than a century before the Ash
Grove even existed.
himself, in a brief address to the crowd, made a call for a
new Ash Grove, something he said is needed in a time of complacency
he likened to that of when he started the original club. The
case can be made. Punk is by and large toothless, rap is becoming
a caricature. There would seem not just a need but untapped
demand for something really of substance, a unifying, galvanizing
musical force that would bring in stray youth in search of,
well, something. But is that even possible in the blogosphere
era, when every music, every opinion, every thought is instantly
accessible? No kid has to go to a club to learn about folk music
or blues or anything today. Never mind creating something so
threatening to the power structure that someone would burn it
down once, let alone three times.
16, 2007 10:10 AM
By Tjames Madison
Venerable pop/punk/ roots-rockers The Knitters [ tickets ],
whose lineup features former members of X and The Blasters,
"dust off the acoustics" this winter for a short club
band, featuring three-fourths of the original lineup of X (Exene
Cervenka, John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake), guitarist Dave Alvin
from The Blasters and bassist Jonny Ray Bartel, will kick off
an 11-city tour Nov. 30 in Chicago. The trek hits locations
in the Midwest, Texas and Southwest before landing back in California.
All dates are listed below.
band's most recent album, 2005's "The Modern Sounds of
The Knitters," picks up where the group's previous and
only other recording, 1985's "Poor Little Critter in the
Road," left off, offering the group's acoustic-driven interpretations
of American roots music classics, with covers of songs by Flatt
& Scruggs and Porter Waggoner, among others, as well as
providing fresh takes on old X favorites like "Burning
House of Love" and "In This House That I Call Home."
we first met Porter, he was singing in a plain brown suit and
working solo," Cervenka said in the band's tounge-in-cheek
online bio. "I told him, 'Boy, you could probably go far
if you worked on your wardrobe a little and got yourself a partner--maybe
a good-lookin', well-put-together woman.' Happily, he took my
Zoe/Rounder Records asked us to make another record in our original
style," added drummer Bonebrake, "we jumped at the
chance. It took us back to the old days, when we used to sit
around the fire in Glendale, a-pickin' out the great tunes.
We just dusted off the old acoustics and got to it!"
The heart beats a little faster at the thought of The Blasters in their prime, that brief moment when they were by some distance the flat-out most exciting rock’n’roll band a lot of us have ever seen.
Dave Alvin was their incendiary lead guitarist and songwriter, his vocalist brother Phil, who formed the band with Dave in the blue-collar East Los Angeles suburb of Downey, their grandstanding front man. The chemistry between them was often as dangerously volatile as their music – a sensational mix of blues, rockabilly, R’n’B and rock’n’roll – and their increasingly fractious relationship meant the band’s career was incredibly lively when it lasted, but woefully short-lived. They did as much as, say, REM, The Replacements and Hüsker Dü to revitalise American music in the early ’80s. They split, though, in 1985, after just four albums.
For a while after he quit his own band, Alvin played guitar with X, hooked up briefly with The Gun Club and recorded some still-unreleased sessions with Bob Dylan before making his solo debut with 1987’s admittedly tentative Romeo’s Escape (re-titled Every Night About This Time in the UK). He really hit his stride, however, with 1994’s King Of America and the mostly acoustic folk-blues of 1998’s Blackjack David, for which he should probably have won the Grammy he got for 2000’s Public Domain: Songs From The Wild Land, which drew on a rich heritage of traditional American music in a manner that anticipated Springsteen’s 2006 album The Seeger Sessions.
Eleven Eleven is Alvin’s first album of original new material since Ashgrove, seven years ago, and mixes to great effect the rowdy road-house blues of his work with regular touring band The Guilty Men and the more poised and reflective Blackjack David, revisiting along the way many of the themes he’s remained constant to over the years. “The songs are all about life, love, death, loss, money, justice, labour, faith, doubt, family and friendship. The usual stuff,” he says of Eleven Eleven, which unfolds like a series of road movies, vivid vignettes, episodes from distressed lives, real and imagined. Among the former is a song called “Johnny Ace Is Dead”, a dramatic re-telling of the death of the eponymous young R’n’B singer, who drunkenly put a bullet in his own head, backstage at Houston’s City Auditorium on Christmas Night, 1954 – an event also evoked on Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace” from his 1983 album, Hearts And Bones.
“Murrieta’s Head” is another song here based on fact, in this instance the story of Joaquin Murrieta – a rebel idol to the hard-pressed Mexican communities of 1850s’ California, a savage bandit according to the state’s legislature who put a bounty on his head and unleashed a small army against him. Bob Frank and John Murry told the same tale on “Joaquin Muriette, 1853”, from their 2007 album of murder ballads, World Without End, casting him in their version as a beleaguered hero, oppressed, brutalised, hounded down and butchered by grim authority. In his own simmering version, Alvin approaches the story from the compromised perspective of one of Murrieta’s executioners, a poor white farmer who needs the bounty to pay off his debts, save his farm and keep his family together even if it costs someone else their life, the song’s bitter fatalism angrily expressed by Alvin’s scorching guitar.
The characters we meet in many of the album’s other fine songs are just as vividly rendered. They include the weary road dog drifter of “Harlan County Line”, a swaggering blues written for the TV series Justified, in which Alvin recently made a guest appearance; the ruined boxer in the Bo Diddley-fuelled “Run Conejo Run” and the ageing union man in “Gary, Indiana 1959”. The latter, incidentally, features great barrel-house piano from former Blasters’ pianist Gene Taylor, back in the studio with Alvin for the first time since 1985. Eleven Eleven also reunites Dave with brother Phil, now a professor in mathematical semantics, on the very funny “What’s Up With Your Brother?” – a question asked of each of the Alvins down the years by Blasters fans fascinated by the rivalry between them that drove the band into a ditch. It ends up, hilariously, in squabbling.
Best of all, perhaps, are two songs that recall the melancholic drift of Blackjack David and songs on it like “Evening Blues” and “California Snow”. The first is the beautifully wrought “Black Rose Of Texas”, in which the song’s narrator reflects on the lonely death of a former lover. “No Worries Mija”, meanwhile, is a first-person border ballad set to lilting cantina accordion, in which the singer reassures his young wife that he’ll be back in no time from the job he’s doing as a favour for a friend – a drugs run, driving a getaway car, something dangerous anyway. The song’s sombre lilt, however, anticipates a less than happy ending, everything going wrong and his shoes filling with blood. Brilliant stuff.
After one listen to "Eleven Eleven" (Yep Roc), Dave Alvin's new studio album, it's evident that death is a recurring theme.
From the fiery blues of "Johnny Ace is Dead," to the Creedence-style tale of a vengeful bounty hunter in "Murietta's Head," Alvin admits he was drawn to life's final act.
"Mortality was a factor in making this record," said Alvin, 55, who performs Saturday with the Guilty Ones at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
"Since finishing "Ashgrove' (his 2004 album), I lost some great friends -- Chris Gaffney, Amy Farris and Buddy Blue of the Beat Farmers. That weighed on me."
Like many artists, Alvin found catharsis in his music.
Farris, 40, a violinist in Alvin's band the Guilty Women, committed suicide in 2009 and is the subject of "Black Rose of Texas."
"You either write about it or you don't. The song came very quickly," said Alvin, who produced her 2004 album "Anyway."
"If George Harrison made a country record, it would sound like this," Alvin said of the wistful lament.
The jaunty "Two Lucky Bums," is Alvin's final collaboration with his best friend Gaffney, who died of liver cancer in 2008. The song is a celebration of their friendship and features some of Alvin's jazzier licks on guitar.
"Eleven Eleven" -- the title is a reference to Alvin's birthday (Nov. 11) and the number of songs on the CD -- found him teaming up with his older brother, Phil, and Gene Taylor, his band mates with the Blasters in the 1980s, best known for such songs as "Marie Marie" and "Long White Cadillac."
Taylor contributes barrelhouse piano to "Gary, Indiana 1959," Alvin's spirited look at the American labor movement through the eyes of a retired steelworker.
The bluesy "What's Up With Your Brother" marks the first time the Alvin brothers have sung together on record. Known for their occasionally contentious relationship in their younger days, Alvin said things have changed as they got older. "Life's too short to hold grudges," he observed.
"It went pretty easy in the studio. Parts of it were like being back in the Blasters," Alvin said.
The song ends in a mock argument with Dave Alvin walking away.
"The dialogue at the end was all ad libbed," Alvin said. "Phil came up with the best line ("See you at Thanksgiving.')
Spoken like an older brother who gets the last word.
Dave Alvin is steeped in Americana – not just the genre but a deep river of American myth that keeps giving him characters to write about. Former guitarist for roots heroes the Blasters, Alvin fills his 11th album with small towns, highways and losers we imagine he’s encountered on countless tours. Though Alvin has often switched between electric and acoustic, almost everything here is plugged in – above all Alvin, an underrecognized guitar hero. Two songs are addictive: the tear-jerker "Black Rose of Texas" and "Johnny Ace Is Dead," a tragicomedy powered by Steve Mugalian's backbeat and Alvins' burning Strat.
Dave Alvin is the first musical performer written into a script on the FX network. Alvin will appear in Wednesday's episode of "Justified," performing his new single "Harlan County Line." The song will be on his next album, which Yep Roc will release in June.
In the scene, which opens the third episode of the show's second season, two locals travel on a date to a bar to see Alvin perform. His name is mentioned four times before the first commercial break and more than minute of "Harlan County Line" is played on the show.
Though it's not the first time a musician has appeared on the Fox-owned cable network -Alanis Morissette acted in three episodes of "Nip/Tuck" - it is the first time Alvin has been cast in a TV show.
"I got a call out of the blue asking me do I have anything that might fit," says Alvin, who was putting the finishing touches on his 11th solo album since leaving the Blasters. "I thought I had something that would fit, nudged it lyrically and gave it to the director."
With the song "Harlan County Line" in their hands, the script was rewritten to have Alvin appear on camera performing the tune in a bar located in Harlan County, KY.
That "out-of-the-blue" phone call has its roots in backstage incident more than a decade ago. Alvin had performed at Jack's Sugar Shack in Hollywood and was asked after the show to autography a CD for Graham Yost, a television writer and producer who was a fan. Yost is executive producer and writer for "Justified," having developed the show from an Elmore Leonard short story. It stars Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins and Nick Searcy.
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
What started as a one-off performance at last fall’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival has now become a full fledged act with an album due out shortly. With all the superlatives I used to talk about The Lee Boys and the McCourys, it may seem hard to believe that Dave Alvin and his all-female band of virtuosos was my favorite act of the festival. I suppose it’s because beneath the iconoclastic reputation of Alvin and the all-star talent, camera-friendly cast of the Guilty Women, there lurks the heart of Americana and roots music. Alvin’s lyrics tell stories that evoke a time, a place, a person that we’ve all known. Add to that the layers and harmonies and experience of the rest of the group and their set on Saturday night was why I love going to see live music.
preeminent venue for roots music rises from the ashes
DAVID KRONKE >LA.COM
Alvin vividly recalls the night in 1970 when he, at the age
of 14, first stepped into the Ash Grove - and discovered what
he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
his brother and some older friends trekked the 25 miles from
their home in Downey to the seminal nightclub on Melrose (where
the Improv is today).
was into people like Little Walter and Muddy Waters, and my
brother's friends said, `You gotta go to the Ash Grove,' "
recalls the Grammy-winning roots rocker, who even titled a solo
album "Ashgrove" in tribute to the club.
we did. I remember my first show: Big Joe Turner and T-Bone
Walker. I can even tell you the names of all the guys in the
orchestra. For us junior record collectors, to go to a place
where the people you listened to on old 78s really were - was
adds, "I thought, `Oh my God. This is amazing; this is
what I want to do.' It was sort of a personal crossroads, where
everything came together. That combination of the music, the
sensuality of music and the historical political aspect - you
could dance and think at the same time. From there on, I was
there constantly, by hook or by crook. I'd hitchhike, whatever
it took to get there. It was Mecca."
From 1958 until its demise at the hands of arsonists in 1973,
the Ash Grove was L.A.’s preeminent venue for roots music
— folk, country, the blues and world music — in
their raw, unfettered forms. Bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta,
and country crooners and gospel singers from the rural South
performed there. Politics and poetry were discussed there. Photo
exhibits examining the black struggle of the ’60s were
displayed in the lobby. Icons of ’60s and ’70s folk
rock hung out and hooked up there. Had there been no Ash Grove,
there may never have been a band called the Byrds, as one example.
of things that made it so unique was, it was the kind of place
where everybody rubbed shoulders with everybody,” Alvin
notes. “Today, there’s such a stratification to
clubs. That wasn’t the case there. People would come from
South Central, from Beverly Hills, from the Valley — it
was a melting pot.” The club’s legacy is so enduring
that UCLA Live is devoting a weekend to celebrating its 50th
anniversary, with two all-star concerts at Royce Hall, and three
afternoons of workshops and free concerts throughout the campus.
Friday’s show features Alvin, Ry Cooder, Ramblin’
Jack Elliott, Bob Neuwirth, Culture Clash and Holly Near; Saturday’s
includes Taj Mahal, John Hammond, Michelle Shocked and the
set it apart was the quality of the music — its trueness
to theform, to the culture,” says Taj Mahal, who worked
as a doorman, met his first wife and even lived at the club
for a while before his own career as a blues musician took off.
“All of the other places had room for the commercial stuff,”
he continues. “That alone made it unique — the level
of music was incredible. You didn’t need to hype it. The
audience was well-informed.”
Ash Grove was the brainchild of Ed Pearl, now 79, who managed
the club, booked its acts, organized political events, fended
off death threats and in general tried to shape order from chaos.
He has spent three years organizing the weekend event. “Ed
was eccentric,” says Taj Mahal. “He was a political
guy who had an incredibly great heart, just had a big heart.
He really loved to put the music out there where it belonged.
He saw to it that people ate, because they could work at the
Ash Grove. Take Clifton Chenier — not that he was destitute,
but there were not many places in Los Angeles where he could
play zydeco. But he could spend a week at theAsh Grove and make
decent money and be exposed to a good audience.”
in an Echo Park coffee shop in a navy turtleneck and jeans,
Pearl relates the history of his labor of love in long stories
that name-drop (Bob Dylan never returned a harmonica rack he
borrowed for a performance), traverse years, arc back upon themselves
and improbably blend culture, politics and conspiracy theories.
(Was it mere coincidence that such a hotbed of liberal activism
was struck by arsonists three times during the Nixon administration?)
floundered around at first a little,” Pearl remembers.
“I had people who were really good, but more developed
from the Kingston Trio than from the Mississippi Delta. When
I changed the character of the music, I drew a younger group
that was really passionate about
Pearl — and his club — found their voice, the Ash
Grove became “a home for and a reflection of the movement
of the ’60s in Los Angeles,” Pearl says. “We
attracted people who were in favor of change. We had this combination
of presenting and teaching the art of the great masters of black
and country music almost from the
course, it was still a nightclub, so not everything that occurred
there was so high-minded. Alvin remembers dice games in the
alley. Pearl and Taj Mahal both have fond memories of the club’s
testy cook — Pearl recalls a hammer hurled through the
venue when a Canned Heat soundcheck woke the guy from a nap;
Taj remembers, “He was really cool, then at some point
he’d snap, and spaghetti pots would go flying and he’d
storm out during a performance.”
were more serious moments, as well, including the three incidents
of arson. The first came two days before a film and
discussion about Cuba was scheduled; it shut the place down
for several months. The second wasn’t as damaging, but
it was more terrifying — anti-Castro Cubans stormed in
and terrorized employees preparing for the evening’s show.
Some were captured when a father of one of the club’s
waitresses, a retired fireman, chased them down and pinned their
car against the curb on Crescent Heights as, conveniently, a
police cruiser happened to be motoring by.
the time of the third fire, in 1973, Pearl was too burned out
to rebuild again, and the Ash Grove became but a fond memory
for a generation of music-loving Angelenos. By his own admission,
he spent a decade drinking heavily; he cleaned up in 1983. An
attempt to resurrect the Ash Grove in Santa Monica in the late
’90s lasted only a year. Still, Pearl’s memories
of running an influential club during a pivotal time in American
history seem reward enough.“It was a maelstrom behind
the scenes constantly,” he says. “Money was never
in abundance; it was always scarce. People were paid
modestly, but they were loyal. But for the audience, it was
a great experience.”