The Blasters are a roots music band who can at times be classified as rockabilly, blues, country, cajun, rock n roll, and even jazz. They are most famous for their release of a series of albums in the 1980's which was categorized as rockabilly. They like to call it simply, American Music. The Blasters are a unique breed of band, actually a dying breed. The core and leadership of the original Blasters was the Alvin brothers; Phil and Dave. The brothers continued a long time tradition in roots music by learning their music directly from legendary sources. As kids, the real training for both brothers began with frequent trips to Los Angeles blues venues like the Shrine Auditorium to see the likes of Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Albert King, or the Ash Grove where they saw Lightnin' Hopkins, Johnny Shines, Gary Davis, Johnny Guitar Watson, and T-Bone Walker.
Direct contact was first made in 1970. Phil met a blues player named Ernie Franklin in a music store. His mother was a good friend of T-Bone Walker and also dated New Orleans Sax legend Lee Allen. Ernie invited the youngsters Alvin down to the York club to see Big Joe Turner. Phil recalls: "So we went out there, scared, y'know, 17 years old, and Joe Turner was up there on stage with Lee Allen playin' sax and they told us to get up and play! I went up and sang Joe Turner's "Wee Baby Blues" right in front of him!! From then on, twice a week we'd go see these guys play." Therefore, it was from these excursions that they were able to learn first hand technique and advice from true legends in American music. It is a tradition handed down in that The Blasters learned from Big Joe Turner who himself learned from legends of the first half of the 20th century. The Blasters learned from T-Bone Walker who in turn was trained by legend Blind Lemon Jefferson. This was passed on from all the Blasters mentors like Lee Allen & Marcus Johnson. There is something very special about this handing down of an American tradition. This mix of influences is what makes the Blasters unique in their style. So in essence the Blasters have learned from the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson and that, as music historians know is, a seldom seen gift in this day and age. It's now up to the young bands of today to carry the torch so the succession will continue.
With this training in hand and the players playing in a variety of bands, they finally came together for the lineup that would bring them success called the Blasters. Phil & Dave on vocals and lead guitar respectively. John Bazz on bass and Bill Bateman on drums. The Blasters set themselves apart from other bands because they weren't specifically labeled. John Bazz: "The whole music scene was starting to explode in '79. With Phil and Dave in the band, we were able to mix and match so many different and varied styles of music that we really weren't a blues band or a rockabilly band, but we were a lot of things."
In 1980, the band approached a local rockabilly entrepreneur named Ronnie Weiser who was recording what he called "Authentic rockabilly" in his living room and distributing by mail order. The record label called Rollin' Rock already had some reputable artists like Ray Campi, Charlie Feathers, and Mac Curtis. After several tries the band finally got a hold of Weiser as he remembers: "Phil Alvin came to my house and played me a cassette of their rehearsals; I couldn't believe how great this stuff was! Finally there was a band who knew what American music was all about." The band recorded 22 songs in two days on Weiser's 16-track recorder at a budget of about $2000. The band had their first break as Dave Alvin states: "We were really excited. We knew it wasn't state of the art, but we also thought this was our beginning. Elvis made his records on Sun. And we're gonna make a Rollin Rock record. We also thought this might be the only record we'll ever make. (laughing)" The classic record, American Music was released with a pressing of only 4000 and quickly sold out. Today the price of this LP averages around $100 in collectors shops.
The band gained considerable notoriety from the album release in 1980. Shakin Stevens, a British hitmaker recorded Dave's original song "Marie Marie" and saw it hit #19 on the U.K. charts. Members of the rock group Queen caught a Blasters show and asked them to be their opening band on the western swing of their U.S. tour. Bill Bateman remembers that Queen fans weren't ready for the Blasters: "The marquee didn't reflect the fact that there was an opening band, so when the lights went down low and the M.C. screamed, 'Are you guys ready to rock!,' out came Phil and the Blasters. There were Boo's like you never heard before, mean, nasty! Beer bottles, cans, banana's, whatever would be flying at us. We played a half hour and we weren't going to be booted off that stage. In Tempe Arizona, it was 120 degrees out. 20,000 people out there waiting in line a couple of days tired, drunk and as soon as we came on, the boo's started. There were beer bottles, booze bottles, everywhere and the first bottle I saw flying in almost hit Phil in the face. But he accidentally dodged it. It missed his face, hit my tom tom, broke, and the glass cut my hand and my arm. I looked over at Johnny and Dave and they were on their hands and knees behind the bass amp, still playing but crouched down on the ground. Somebody ushered Phil off the stage and the music came to a halt. Brian May from Queen came out grabbed the microphone and scolded the crowd for being so rude and unruly. He made some wild untrue statement like Queen wouldn't play if they didn't start digging the Blasters right now! They put us on the marquee after that."
The exposure of the Queen tour brought the Blasters headlining status in the L.A. clubs, and with the generated interest got themselves a manager who would shop the Blasters to a major label record company. They signed with Slash records and soon after a distribution deal was worked out with Warner Bros. that would see their records available in record stores every where. A public feud developed with Ronny Weiser of Rollin Rock records when The Blasters jumped to a major label as Phil remembers: "I had high-powered lawyers who had done our deal with Slash and were ready to take us to Warner Bros. They called Rockin' Ronny and told his high powered lawyers that he better not put the record out any more. That began the loving feud between us. Ronny originally told me he couldn't practically issue any records unless he got all of the publishing. It wouldn't be worth it to him. I then started to learn about publishing. I was given an ethical and cryptic warning that publishing isn't as straight forward as people might make it sound." With the increased success and cash flow the band could now, as they always wanted, bring a seven-piece band on the road. They added three new members; Gene Taylor on piano, and on horns Steve Berlin and their mentor Lee Allen. Lee was one of the most recorded Sax players of the 40's and 50's and is heard on all of Little Richard's and Fats Domino's records. He was the most recorded Sax player of the 50's behind King Curtis.
This major label debut album was released in 1981 titled The Blasters on Slash Records and featured the new members. The front cover was a painting of Phil Alvin's grimacing sweating face. This album includes most of the Blaster classics like MARIE MARIE, AMERICAN MUSIC, BORDER RADIO, and SO LONG BABY GOOD-BYE. The band toured into the spring of 1982 supporting the album and making many TV appearances such as American Bandstand, Mike Douglas, and Friday's. One especially brilliant TV performance was a PBS-TV special called Soundstage where the band was joined on stage by Carl Perkins and Willie Dixon in performance and offstage in discussion of their music. In the spring of '82, they toured Europe at a time when their popularity was peaking in the US. Looking back, the band has criticized itself for leaving the U.S. at a critical time in self-promotion in their own country. They had become a big success in the U.K. getting press in all the major music publications, making it on the covers of Melody Maker and Sounds. On their last date in England, they recorded a live EP of cover songs, which was originally planned to be a BBC broadcast only. The band liked the recording so much they decided it was time for a live album.
Later that year Over There: Live at the Venue was released. The album had some great cover songs done only in a way the Blasters could do them but the EP received mixed reviews. The critics soured to the release, critiquing it as if it was a regular album release and not the spontaneous effort it was meant to be. Most importantly, the fans loved it! Another missed opportunity passed when the band was offered to do the film score for the movie 48 HOURS. Not knowing Eddie Murphy's type of comedy, the band thought that there were too many racial overtones and passed it up. In 1983, they got the chance to do two songs in a Walter Hill movie called Streets of Fire. The movie wasn't successful like 48 HOURS was but the band was seen performing in the movie. The soundtrack for that movie is still in print on CD. The songs are ONE BAD STUD and BLUE SHADOWS.
1983 also saw the release of the Blasters second long play album for Slash/Warner Bros, called Non Fiction. Dave Alvin developed the theme of this album in a serious vein, addressing the problems of the working class people in song. The song writing was, at this point Dave's best, but the record company decided to release a cover song, BAREFOOT ROCK as the single bypassing all the great originals like RED ROSE, LONG WHITE CADILLAC, and JUBILEE TRAIN. The Blasters spent all of '83 and part of '84 doing what they have always done - tour. At this point in the career of the band, the continual fighting between Phil and Dave had become public knowledge. One near fist fight could be heard on a recorded interview included in an audio magazine called NON-PLUS. The brothers start arguing about who knew more about music. They abruptly stop when they remember that they are being recorded. In Art Fein's book GREATEST ROCK n ROLL STORIES, he includes a chapter on battling brothers which cites the most famous Alvin bout, occurring on NBC-TV's morning talk show, THE TODAY SHOW.
By 1985 The Blasters manager had forbid Phil and Dave to do interviews together. This difference of opinion between the brothers might be what gave their music that magical chemistry. There was a passion for their music that they weren't going to let anyone tamper with - even each other.
The next album was to be the turning point in the band's career with Warner Bros. The record company insisted the band score the big single. The Hardline album took a year to record because of a number of problems. First, the band had recorded the whole album including six tracks featuring the Blaster horn section but the record company suddenly decided that, "Horns were not cool," so those tracks had to be discarded or redone (Some of these tracks would later be heard on the Blaster Collection CD released in 1991. Two other Dave originals called CAN'T STOP TIME and JUNGLE SOLDIER remain unreleased). Second, Jeff Eyrich was assigned by Warner as producer which caused a rift since Phil Alvin had always produced the Blasters sessions. Third and worst of all the Alvins' mom became ill with cancer. The band eventually brought in John Cougar and his producer to help write and record a single called COLORED LIGHTS, to go for the big hit. The single eventually saw release, along with a video but it did not make a dent in the charts.
In February of 1985, the album was released and again the band toured extensively and gained more media attention than ever. Songs on this album included TROUBLE BOUND, DARK NIGHT, HELP YOU DREAM, and ROCK N ROLL WILL STAND. The Blasters promoted the album heavily and did a slew of radio concerts and TV appearances including their third appearance on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, a taped concert for MTV called LIVE AT THE RITZ, ROCK PALACE, SOLID GOLD, and FARM AID. In the summer a full concert was taped while on their European tour for a show called ROCKPALAST. The concert was aired only in Europe and was an outstanding performance.
The Hardline album was a turning point in the career of the band. The record company wanted them to be a pop band. Dave Alvin was losing interest in writing songs that had to relate to both he, the writer and his brother, the singer. So, in the band's off time, side projects were a welcome relief. Dave Alvin toured and recorded a folk country album with members of the band "X" calling themselves the Knitters. Phil Alvin was recording an album with Sunra and his Arkestra called Unsung Stories. Some people thought the Blasters were coming apart at the seams and they were right. Dave Alvin remembers: "The night that Gene (Taylor) left the Blasters was this gig in Montreal (Nov. 1985) and it was maybe the worst gig that I ever played. It was obvious that this wasn't working anymore. The Thunderbirds had opened up the show and Gene just walked off stage at the end of the night and went right out the back door and got on the Thunderbirds bus and left. That night I decided I'm quitting. Everybody was so pissed off at each other. I flew to New York the next morning to do a Knitters gig at Irving Plaza and when I got to the gig, John said, 'Billy's (Zoom of X) leaving the band, you want to join?' I said 'Yeah!!' without hesitation. Once I became a member of X, the Knitters became X."
Gene Taylor recalls his reasons for leaving: "It just got to the point where I didn't see us getting anywhere. The record company and radio weren't going to do anything for us. I knew Dave and Phil had a lot of friction there. There was too much stuff detracting the band from making music. We were going to have to go through some changes to move up the rung of selling records. We self produced those first few records and the radio hears it and they decide: Blasters: Great live, no radio! And it's a mindset. Pretty soon you have to sell more commercial than anybody."
They gave it one more go in early 1986. Dave had met up with Nick Lowe and they hit it off really well. Dave brought Lowe in to produce the Blasters next album. Phil didn't get along well with Nick Lowe later stating: "He wanted to turn us into a fucking rock band!!" The sessions didn't go very long but somewhere in some vault are recorded tracks of BROTHER and Dave's classic FOURTH OF JULY with Phil on the vocals. Dave's writing was definitely moving away from Phil Alvin's style and it was now time for Dave to move on. In April of 1986 Dave Alvin, the Blasters main songwriter and lead guitarist announced he had left the band. Phil immediately looked to fill the guitar slot as he recalls: "When David left the Blasters, it was important to me to establish that, with as great a contribution as David's songs are to any band, cause he's such a high level songwriter, that the sound of the Blasters had very little to do with David. The first time that David had been in a band, was with the Blasters. All these sounds had been being put down by me and the guys that I had been playing with for 15 years before that."
At that time, Warner Bros. records and the Blasters mutually agreed to terminate their recording contract. The band wouldn't miss the corporation's constant pressure to achieve "That radio sheen," while Warner Bros. cited their reason of withdrawal to losing the bands chief songwriter. In explaining Dave's sudden departure from the band, Phil immediately mentioned Warner's failure to release Dave's songs as singles: "How could they release I'M SHAKIN' when there was 'MARIE MARIE' (on the Slash album The Blasters) which has been recorded in 21 different languages? There was always pressure on Dave from the record company to write great songs, and then when he'd come up with a batch they'd release some other song."
Phil Alvin's solo album Unsung Stories recorded in 1985 finally was released in early 86. Phil took the opportunity to stray from the Blasters style and do more of a Jazz album with guests Sun Ra and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
The Blasters soon added renowned blues guitarist Michael Mann alias "Hollywood Fats" on guitar to resume touring. This part of the band's history was very interesting because Fats was known as a blues virtuoso and throughout the year the Blasters added some great blues songs to their set which really came together well. John Bazz tells a story about how highly respected and loved Fats was by other musicians: "We were doing a soundcheck and Stevie Ray Vaughan came in and he immediately ran up to Fats and gave him this big hug!" The band performed at the second annual FARM AID on national TV and toured on and off for eight months. They were making plans to record a new album when Fats passed away from a drug over- dose in December of 86.
Dave Alvin was gracious enough to play guitar once again for the Blasters European tour obligations in the first two months of 1987. Dave fit in perfectly of course. Dave Alvin sang lead vocals on a few songs from his then recent first solo album. The Blasters returned to Europe in July with another guitarist: ex-"X" guitarist Billy Zoom. Phil Alvin picked him to give the permanent position a go bypassing Bill Bateman's suggestion of a guitar player he knew. Billy lasted 2 weeks in the band and decided to retire from music. He claimed that, "He was rehabilitated."
Blaster drummer Bill Bateman had been playing in a Western Swing band on the side called the RADIO RANCH STRAIGHT SHOOTERS whose guitarist was Greg "Smokey" Hormel. Bill pushed Smokey to audition for the Blasters although he had limited experience playing blues and rockabilly. Smokey had been influenced by Charlie Christian and other jazz and swing players. Bill Bateman gave him a crash course in rockabilly and Smokey started attending private jam sessions with Lee Allen to learn the blues. Smokey: "He would invite me down to these jam sessions at his friend George Masons house. George was an old transplanted New Orleans musician. I would go down and Lee used to say to me, 'Greg I'm gonna relax you.' The Blasters are so close to Little Richard- just this raging band-fast fast songs one after another. Lee's whole thing was that if you think of something pretty to play, you can let the band do all the raging. Lee was trying to teach me to hold back a little bit. I think it sunk in because later on it became really handy." Smokey became a special protégé of Lee Allen through out the years of the Blasters.
Smokey joined the band but the band's activities in the late 80's were definitely slowing as Phil turned to his other passion, his dream to write a mathematical thesis. From '88 to '92, Phil would fit in small tours here and abroad to keep the Blasters in practice and to gain some extra money while teaching at Long Beach State University and writing his thesis. In December of '89, the Blasters went into the studio to record demos towards a possible new album. The recorded an early version of FOUR ELEVEN FORTY-FOUR, Johnny Paycheck's PRECIOUS MEMORIES, THE FIRE OF LOVE, and 2 Dave Alvin songs BROTHER and DRY RIVER. The band felt it was an unproductive session and nothing ever came of it. The problem remained that the Blasters didn't have a bonafide songwriter in the band.
In 1991, Warner bros. released a CD called The Blasters Collection. The record Company had an ulterior motive in the release. In order to keep the rights to the master recordings, the record company had to have some kind of release every seven years to hold the rights to the original recordings. The CD was a greatest hits package in which the band was given the choice of the included tracks. It also included three previously unreleased songs from the HARDLINE sessions; Elmore James CRY FOR ME, Dave's original TONIGHT KATHLEEN, and a Phil and John Doe duet on JUSTINE. With this release, the Blasters got many offers to tour and Gene Taylor rejoined the band. They toured the US and did a highly successful tour of Scandinavia, The UK, and Italy. In April of '92, The Blasters played a benefit for politician Barbara Boxer. Dave Alvin rejoined on guitar for an exciting performance. Even the current Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel was impressed: "I saw them play with Dave, they got together to play a benefit and that's the real band right there. That is what the Blasters are!" Many people have echoed this. Bob Dylan for one was heard at a festival concert telling Dave Alvin: "Dave when are you and Phil getting back together? Man, that stuff was magic!" That concert was a one-off, as Dave had his own direction to go in. He had just released his first HighTone album, Blue Boulevard and met with great success.
In '93, Phil Alvin achieved his goal of having his mathematical thesis recognized by the world's top theorists in the field. The time was right to move full time back to music. Lee Allen's health had deteriorated and the Blasters felt getting him to play would be the best thing for him. The band members had been dividing their time amongst other projects, so to get back in shape the band played a bunch of local gigs billed as THE PHIL ALVIN QUARTET. With plans to step up touring for the Blasters, Bill Bateman was asked to make a choice between staying in the Blasters or continuing to devote all his time to his new band the Red Devils. The Red Devils featured harmonica and vocalist Lester Butler and had just been signed to Rick Rubin's Def American record label. They were really causing a buzz around the blues scene. Whether Bill waited too long in choosing, was thrown out, or walked out, (this has been disputed by all parties) the result was that the Blasters looked for a new drummer. They brought in an old friend from Downey named Dave Carroll. Dave had played in bands with the Blaster members for many years and had also played on Phil's Unsung Stories album.
Next, Smokey Hormel decided to leave the band for many reasons: "As Lee Allen got sicker and couldn't make some of the tours, I was frustrated because I felt we should have been making records. When Bill left, I felt it shouldn't have been the Blasters anymore. I also felt that they should have called the band the Phil Alvin Quartet and not the Blasters back when Dave left the band." Smokey has gone on to play with John Doe and currently resides in the band of the Multi-platinum selling pop singer Beck.
Next, the guitarist position was filled by James Intveld in the summer of '93. The lead guitar player brought even more versatility than what was lost when Dave Alvin left the band in 1986. He is a song writing lead guitarist, vocalist, producer, and all around musician playing bass, drums, and piano. He prefers to concentrate on guitar and it shows in his intensity on stage. James cool stage presence and good looks immediately won over the Blasters fans. Bassist John Bazz proclaimed him as the closest to Dave Alvin's style that he had seen. James started out in the early 1980's rockabilly scene fronting the Rockin' Shadows and had a minor hit MY HEART IS ACHIN' FOR YOU. Through the eighties James played in backing bands for Rosie Flores, Harry Dean Stanton, Johnny Meeks, and Bobby Mizzell while finding time for solo work and some acting in movies and television. He has done extensive movie soundtrack work. Most notably, he was the singing voice of Johnny Depp in the movie CRY BABY. James came to join the Blasters by what could be called an accidental audition at one of Phil Alvin's solo gigs: "James, a long time friend of mine, came down and played lead guitar with me one night. James wasn't playin' these silly little rockabilly licks, he was sittin' right down hard on like Otis Rush and really playing good American guitar. And I thought, 'God, man this is a great lead guitarist.' So I had him come down to one rehearsal and it was just like playing with David again. Really the best."
The Blasters played a live radio show called Folkscene in Oct of '93. Phil announced that the Blasters struck a deal with Sony/CBS to release an EP on one of their subsidiaries. The Blasters had problems before with big labels but Phil stated: "The deal was so straight forward and good that I have no complaints." Some of the original songs intended for the album were played on the radio program: a tune written by Intveld called SLIP OF THE TONGUE and a reworked Phil Alvin song, FOUR ELEVEN FORTY-FOUR. Phil put the deal for this album on hold when the chance to record a solo album for HighTone came up. The Blasters weren't ready with enough new material for a full album and Phil felt a solo for HighTone would be quick business. He later found out he was wrong.
For the HighTone solo album Phil planned to work with Sunra who played on his first solo album in 1986, but Sunra passed away before it came together. In continuing the solo project, Phil wanted to explore various forms of American Music. At the same time, this included the Blasters, who would be touring with Phil to promote the album. So although the Hightone album is titled as a solo effort by Phil Alvin, there is very much a Blaster stamp on the album.
In October of '94, after a year of recording, the solo album County Fair 2000 was released. The album went way over budget but was revered by many as a brilliant piece of work. HighTone records ace producer Bruce Bromberg was one: "I have a lot of respect for Phil and he's a real talent. He did County Fair 2000 for us and some of the stuff he did on there is just genius. Phil sensibility about music is you just play it, record it, and that's it. It's done and I like that." James Intveld played a vital role in the writing and recording of the album on the tracks that were recorded in L.A. and New Orleans. He participates in six songs either playing guitar, bass, singing or co-writing.
County Fair 2000 included a few Phil Alvin originals like COUNTY FAIR, BLUE LINE, and TURNING YOUR BLUES INTO GOLD. The Blasters do a great cover tune of a very rare Petie Wheatstraw song called I'M GONNA WRECK YOUR V-8 FORD. Phil's concept for the album tells of him as a minstrel traveling the country as he encounters the many different forms of American Music. He meets other Minstrels who appear as guests on the album like Billy Boy Arnold, Mary Franklin, Fayard Nicholas, Eddie Baytos, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Top Jimmy, and Jerome Bowman. The album was originally recorded with character dialogue that would set up the theme of the songs. HighTone records didn't like the idea and omitted most of the dialogue in the final mix. Also heard is Phil Alvin's side project, Hot Jazz band THE FAULTLINE SYNCOPATORS featuring famous jazz pianist Bob Ringwald.
During the preparation for the solo album in the summer of '94, drummer Dave Carroll left the band after they felt he wasn't really the right choice. Enter Jerry Angel, the rock solid drummer the Blasters had been searching for. He came to the Blasters with high credentials touring and recording with artists as diverse as Brian Setzer, Carole King, Dwight Yoakam, The Divinyls, The Dickies, and Dave Alvin's Allnighters. When he joined the Blasters, his professionalism was really put to the test. He was asked to come in on last minute notice and play his first Blasters gig without a single rehearsal at the House of Blues in L.A. Jerry remembers it well: "Ha, Ha! It was the night of the tragic freeway drive of O.J. Simpson on June 17, 1994. I had been called about 4 days earlier from James Intveld. I knew him long before the Blasters. I knew the Blasters were an institution. After that first night Phil was very happy with me. He said, 'A plus!' Then I knew I was in." The Blasters needed someone who could fit in right away, as they had a weeklong touring commitment in the U.K. opening for Dwight Yoakam. Jerry was it! By reputation, they knew Jerry could do it. While in the U.K. the Blasters headlined a few of their own shows and recorded some tracks for the BBC. The band was very happy with the way they came out but it has yet to see release. They also taped a segment for MTV which aired on a show Called TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE performing AMERICAN MUSIC and COUNTY FAIR.
In November of '94, long time Blaster Sax player and legend Lee Allen passed away. The band lost a great friend, teacher, and a great musician. Some people say a certain fire went out in the Blasters when Lee died. He is more than just missed. In the years before Lee's passing, Smokey Hormel had been putting together a Lee Allen album. Six or eight tracks were completely finished and there is strong possibility it may see release.
In March of '95, the Blasters recording plans changed when a special guest showed up at a Blasters show. Phil: "We played this gig at the House of Blues and Bruce Springsteen was there. I didn't know much about how he could play guitar, but Man! He knew all the Blaster tunes! Springsteen was playin' great! The show was already sold out when Springsteen got there, the management was excited, and all the buzz was going on. Later, the House of Blues guys called and said they wanted us back by popular demand. So we got the idea to make a live record and call it THE BLASTERS LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES." So, Springsteen was kind of a catalyst for the live record idea. Later in the N.Y. Times, Bruce Springsteen cited the Blasters as a major influence stating that, 'The thrill of playing blues guitar with the roots-rock band Blasters at a recent concert of theirs, he said has led him to start "toying around with the idea of making a record that is centered around loud guitars." They recorded the album on July 8 At the House of Blues in Los Angeles for the Private Music label, a division of BMG records, but they weren't satisfied with the recording. Making the recording sound to their liking would require many overdubs. Most of the band didn't want to ruin the integrity of the live album with so much studio fixing, so plans were being made to re-record the album. Since it was to be the first Blasters record in 10 years, they wanted it to be an outstanding showing of the band. In August, the Blasters recorded three separate Los Angeles shows with the intention of combining the best tracks into a live album. This is a common practice for many live albums. The LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES idea was scrapped and now they would call it THE BLASTERS: AT HOME then set for release in early 1996.
The Blasters did a highly anticipated tour with the Beat Farmers in the fall of 1995, spanning the US from coast to coast. These memorable live shows showed the Blasters in masterful form. The bands' switched off headlining but in the bigger cities, the Blasters headlined. They played their classics and some songs never heard on any Blasters albums. DADDY ROLLIN STONE featured great guitar work from James and was one of the highlights of the set. In the middle of the set Phil would put down the guitar and pull out the harmonica for two songs; COME ON IN THIS HOUSE was the first and then the Blasters classic SO LONG BABY GOOD-BYE in which Phil points out, in tribute, that the solo he plays "is Lee Allen's entirely, I take no credit for the notes." On this tour, only three songs were played from the County Fair 2000 album: BLUE LINE, COUNTY FAIR, and OH DOCTOR. A comical point came nightly when Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers joins the Blasters on stage for a beer spilling vocal trade off with Phil on I'M SHAKIN. With much clowning, Country Dick spent the first half of the tour remembering the lyrics off paper and spent the rest of the tour forgetting them. The tour closed in San Jose on November 5, as the Beat Farmers went on to tour in Canada. The San Jose show with the Blasters would be the last full show the Beat Farmers would ever play. In Vancouver, Country Dick Montana drummer and leader of the Beat Farmers died on stage. Another friend passed on.
The Blasters spent the rest of November touring Norway. December came and the band was excitedly anticipating the January release of THE AT HOME album. The art work had been put together and Private Music had given the album a catalog number and had sent out notices to record stores, requesting pre-orders of the album. Everything was all set for the big Blasters release. But suddenly guitarist James Intveld resigned from the band and the choice was made to hold up the album release. In August of '95, Germany's Bear Family records released James first solo album called Introducing James Intveld. Bear Family was a re-issue label and wasn't known for new artists but James was held in high regard. The album was very successful in the last quarter of 1995 and Intveld was offered the chance to tour Europe in support of it. In the past, James sacrificed a lot for the privilege of playing with the Blasters. He turned down many acting jobs (yes, he is an actor too.). James: "I left the Blasters to pursue my own career. I need to hit now while my solo record is just out. The Blasters have the new live album coming out and I figured it wouldn't be fair to the band if I was on the new record and my pictures were on there and I'm leaving. It's better to have the new guy on there. I dig those guys because they're my friends and I want the best for them too, but I have to move on."
Phil Alvin comments: "James is one of the best musicians I ever played with. It was an honor to play with him and to contribute anything to him. It was clear that ultimately James was going to sing his songs and I was going to sing mine. I wish he would have waited to put the live record out because it would have put him in higher visibility. James is my good friend and will be for the rest of my life." The Blasters decided they would look for a new guitarist, work him into the band, and then record a new live album. James Intveld played his last show with the Blasters on Dec. 26 at Jack's Sugar Shack in Los Angeles. It's a annual Memorial concert held in Los Angeles for Ricky Nelson and his band, who lost their lives in a 1985 New Years Eve plane accident. James brother Rickey Intveld was playing drums for Nelson and died in the accident. Understandably, James has vowed never to fly on that day. This prevented him from playing the last Blasters show of 1995 in Golden Colorado on New Years Eve. Not being able to make that show was another reason to announce his departure. A quick replacement was needed. Jerry Angel brought a friend in named Ian Espinoza to fill in on guitar. He learned the whole Blasters set on short notice but wasn't exactly what they were looking for as a permanent member. He was more of a hard rock guitar player.
In January 1996 Phil Alvin played at an annual Elvis tribute show he was joined by a few potential new Blasters guitarists like Mike Eldred of Lee Rockers Big Blue band. Also sitting in was a local blues player Matt Samea. The band wasn't all in agreement on any particular player yet. Next, Tommy Kay of the King Cotton Band and Roomful of Blues played with the band for a few gigs. Phil Alvin felt that he "Noodled" too much on guitar so he was out. With no luck finding a replacement and a string of gigs coming in April, Smokey Hormel returned on a temporary basis. He played five shows as he recalls: "I played with the Blasters again and it was a lot of fun. All the old songs came right back to me." Quentin Tarantino's new movie FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was released featuring very prominently the Blasters' DARK NIGHT. The song played over the credits and was first on the soundtrack CD. The master used was from the Blasters 1985 recording off the Hardline album but more recently from the greatest hits CD, The Blaster Collection. There has been some indications by Phil Alvin that the release of DARK NIGHT may have something to do with record company politics in the same vein of the The Blaster Collection release. The revitalized popularity in the song convinced the Blasters to add it back in their set list.
In May of '96, The Blasters guitar slot was filled. Keith Wyatt was brought into the fold. Jerry Angel had played with him in a band called the Dimebags with Tony Gilkyson and Gil T.Keith and suggested they try him. Keith is a teacher at the Musicians Institute in California and publishes many books on guitar technique. He travels all over the world giving seminars on guitar playing and has a large following in Japan. He had a monthly column for a few years called "Blues Power" in Guitar School magazine. He continues to write articles for magazines and put out instructional videos. He's a technically great player who also puts a lot of feel into being a blues guitarist. John Bazz: "He brings a lot to the band in his musicality. He probably knows more about the guitar than all of the other guitarists we've had in the Blasters put together. He knows more about how notes fit together and knows what wavelength the Blasters are on. He's helped define the structure of our songs." Keith's first Blasters gig was in San Jose on May 16 as Phil recalls: "The rules in the Blasters are that you have to be able to play really well. I didn't know Keith Wyatt by name but I'd seen the Dime Bags. Keith Wyatt came down, played a rehearsal (actually an audition), and did it good. So we went up to San Jose to play a gig with him. I hadn't slept all night, can you imagine that. (laughs) I thought this was going to be real difficult. Because when you play a Blaster gig with a guy the first time he doesn't really quite have the 'ummf' to do it. I thought I was going to have to give all the extra, but Man! We hit the first song and Keith just gave me it all! I was so happy that day!!"
Keith started playing gigs without any rehearsals and had to develop the arrangements of Blaster songs on stage. Some early reviewers of the band's shows thought Keith was not moving with the rest of the band on stage. We later found out that he was working hard during the shows to figure his style into the arrangements. He had crammed all the songs in a short period to prepare for his first gig. Meanwhile the run of bad luck continued. The Blasters record label, Private Music went out of business. Ron Goldstien was the head of Private Music and had initiated the deal. He left the business, along with his support for the Blasters. The labels top artists such as Taj Mahal and Dan Hicks were absorbed by Windham Hill records, leaving all others out in the cold. Now the Blasters had to search for a new deal. It had been so long since the original Sony/CBS EP deal had been offered, that by now it had been forgotten. The Blasters spent most of '97 doing West Coast gigs with sporadic dates across the U.S. Finally A Blasters CD would emerge but in an unexpected way. On September 14, 1997, a piece of music history was released. HighTone records released a CD of the Blasters first album originally put out in 1980 by Rollin Rock records called American Music. HighTone's resident producer number one, Bruce Bromberg was in charge of getting the project going with Ronny Weiser. The mastering from the original tapes happened in the nick of time, as the deterioration of the original magnetic tape was reaching critical stages. Ronny Weiser remembers being nervous: "The Ampex 456 tapes on which this stuff was originally recorded in the late seventies was shedding oxide-not just on the Blasters but a lot of other Rollin' Rock tapes from the 70's. In mixing you're under the gun wondering whether you're going to make it or not. Whether the tape is going to completely fall apart."
The CD was released in controversy. Phil Alvin did not approve of the release, but there were many factions involved and none that a side could clearly be pointed to as correct. Ronny Weiser had made a deal with Hightone to re-release his catalog of classic rockabilly recordings from his defunct 1970's label Rollin Rock. Hightone wanted Weiser's most famous recording - The Blasters. The Blaster members past and present were divided in voting whether to release the album. The three original Blasters who played on those sessions were very proud of their contributions on the original Rollin' Rock album and felt that the public needed to hear the recordings in the historical context they have been praised for. The opposing faction was the fourth original Blaster, Phil Alvin, who felt the time was wrong for release due to his increasing efforts to give his 1997 Blasters lineup an identity. Each party has an understandable reason for their stand. Everything was done in what is believed to be within the legal bounds of releasing a reissue album. Phil Alvin is the leader of the Blasters and has been trying to reaffirm and reacquaint the public with his 90's incarnation of the Blasters. In the last three years, the band has lost a drummer and a guitarist. The band had 2 separate live recordings slated for an album, but they were halted when the lead guitarist, James Intveld departed and then when the record company went out of business. Phil Alvin states that he "was all for the re-release of American Music but not until the new album with the current line up was released." He feels this reissue of the American Music album can only add to the confusion of who is in the band. After the release of the CD, Phil Alvin addressed the fans about the controversy in November '97 issue of the Blasters official newsletter. Phil: "Just to clear some things up: The contract that Ronny had to release the record in 1980 was the same contract that bound us as exclusive artists and that was only for a year. I figured after that, that would be it. HighTone thought they were doing a favor by putting the record out, and that is their malicious innocence. I don't think it should have been put out until we put out a new Blaster album. One of the most difficult things for me to say today is, 'who is in the Blasters right now?' I would like to make this thing right. I told HighTone I would call them back with a settlement agreement and the necessity to release a new Blaster record and to link the promotion with the Rollin' Rock record and to try and get the names in of who the Blasters really are. We are in negotiations right now. In trying to be objective, I don't see any difference in direction for the Blasters now than in 1967 when I was 14 and we were backing up Joe Turner. In a sense, the direction of the Blasters is the same: no nostalgia. There is a certain mythology in the Blasters of 1980. I have to go out of my way to make sure I know what people are thinking who are the Blasters? The Blasters are the best band that Johnny Bazz and I can find and usually that constitutes the best players that I know."
The new Blasters are in negotiations now to release a new studio album of material. In January of 1998 the band got together at a rehearsal to prepare material for a HighTone album. It's a major step seeing the band get together for a rehearsal. The problem still exists that they don't have new material to record. That is their next hurdle. The Blasters recorded a concert at The Musicians Institute in Los Angeles back in July of '97 on 16 track digital recording. The students at the school engineered the recording. With the live album idea out of the picture, the band decided to release this concert in a limited pressing to be sold at their shows. It's also being made available on their official web site. So finally we have a new Blasters live album.
Throughout the first half of 1998, the Blasters have slowed their touring and album talks. Phil Alvin has been preoccupied with a dream he has to save his music. Phil feels that in the future of recorded music, we the listeners, will be able to acquire recordings directly from the artist, cutting out the middle man - the record companies. The theory is based on being able to download music over the Internet along with printable artwork for a charge by credit card. Phil Alvin can see the day when he can have a jam session at his house and the next day, make it available on the Internet. He has taken steps in this direction lately spending time with a new super computer and a CD recorder. The process may be some time away but this has taken up most of his interest of late. I am told that the technology of this is still years away. Supposedly, the computer data for music takes up considerable space and a transfer over the Internet could take hours to download. Computer technology continues to grow each year so hopefully the day comes soon when we can hear regularly recorded Blaster albums through Phil's grand idea. Phil still intends to put out the HighTone album via traditional distribution methods sometime in 1998. He has just transferred some Blaster rehearsals onto disc, which says he will give to each of the Blasters to prepare for the album.
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Last modified 15Oct98.