It's pretty late on a blue night. I'm listening to records by the great blues singer Blind Willie McTell and Gypsy jazz guitar genius Django Reinhardt and thinking about my close friend, Buddy Blue, who passed away recently.
It's hard for me to write these words. I'd known Buddy over 20 years, ever since The Beat Farmers, his band at the time, opened for my old band, The Blasters. Both with the Farmers and on his later solo records, Buddy showed his great talents as a soulful singer/songwriter and a tough guitarist. He was as good as anybody. He was certainly no angel and we had some wild times back then but as the years passed I got to know the side of Buddy that was often hidden behind his gruff exterior. He was smart, always opinionated, sometimes brutally honest and forever loyal. The classic tough guy with a heart of gold (I had the honor of playing some guitar on two of his solo cds, DIPSOMANIA and GUTTERSNIPES AND ZEALOTS but I highly recommend any record he made either on his own or with The Farmers). I'll miss our weekly bull sessions on politics, old blues guitarists, affairs of the heart and the joys and hassles of trying to survive in the music business. Buddy died of heart attack at 48 years old, leaving behind his loving wife, Annie, and their beautiful 4 year old daughter, Talullah. I miss you, brother.
On other less tragic subjects, please let me sincerely apologize for not answering your questions that you've been sending to the site for the past several months. I always enjoy reading your comments and answering your questions and, even though I've got some pretty good excuses why I've been negligent, I promise I'll try my best to be more diligent in the coming future.
Some news and updates:
I have a new CD coming out on May 30th called WEST OF THE WEST. It's a collection of songs written by California songwriters (from famous writers like John Fogerty, Merle Haggard, Jackson Browne, John Stewart, Brian Wilson, Kate Wolf, Tom Russell, Tom Waits, Jerry Garcia, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez from Los Lobos, to great lesser known writers like RIchard Berry, Jim Ringer and Blackie Farrell). The music ranges from blues, folk, r+b, and psychedelia to doo-wop, country, surf and norteno. A great big collage of stuff - kind of like California. Even though I kept the song choices to mainly roots music writers there were still hundreds of deserving songwriters to choose from. Maybe in a few years I'll get around to doing a volume 2 with songs from Lowell George, Captain Beefheart, Jesse Belvin and Frank Zappa. The CD is sort of tribute not only to the songwriters who helped me define myself as a California songwriter but also to my native state and all it's crazy, mixed-up, beautiful glory.
There is also a new live CD with my band, The Guilty Men, called THE GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC GALAXY. It's only available at my gigs or on a few choice sites on the web, including YepRoc.com, the website for my record label. The CD is a recording of two shows from 2005 at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall and The Galaxy in sunny Costa Mesa. I'm very, very proud of my band and I think this CD finally captures how powerful the Guilty Men are in concert.
A couple of months ago I flew out to Boston to record with one of my heroes, Bill Morrissey, for his new CD. Bill is simply one of America's best singer/songwriters and a solid yet sly, finger picking guitarist. I'm proud that he invited me to play on his CD and very humbled to work with such a talented, soulful guy. If you're not familiar with Bill's work, check out any of his CD's. If you're a fan of great songwriting you won't be dissappointed. What made the sessions an even bigger kick was that Billy Conway was drumming and producing and Dana Colley was blowing various saxophones on the tracks. Both are former members of one of my favorite bands, Morphine.
I had a great time touring on "my vacation" last year with The Knitters. If you made it out to any of our shows, I hope that you enjoyed yourself. We had such a gas doing those shows that we're planning to do some more over the next couple of years as our various schedules permit. Very recently, I joined up with some special old friends (Bill Bateman, John Doe, Steve Berlin, DJ Bonebrake and lead vocalist, Chris D) in a long overdue reunion of our punk/voodoo/jazz/thrash-a-billy band, The Flesheaters for 3 west coast gigs. We made one record in 1981 called, A MINUTE TO PRAY - A SECOND TO DIE and then went our separate ways. Even though Chris D made many more cool Flesheater records with many great line-ups of different musicians over the years, there was something special (maybe the unique mix of marimba and sax with a real loud punk band) about the Minute To Pray group. I guess we had fans in the band Mudhoney because they invited to play with them at this years All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in England. Who knows? If the English gig in May goes good we may do some more. As Chuck Berry said, "Ya never can tell!"
Back to some sad stuff:
It seems like the last few months have been rough for us music fans. Buck Owens, Little Milton, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Bryan Harvey (from House of Freaks) and R.L. Burnside (among many others) all passed away. I was very fortunate to cross paths with all of them over the years and I treasure their memories.
I had the great pleasure of recording and jamming with Little Milton several times. Milton was an amazing blues/r+b artist who's vocal and guitar chops were as strong as ever and was on the verge of greater recognition when he passed away. He was a gentleman in the true sense of the word.
I have to be honest, though, and admit that I was scared to death the night I accompanied Gatemouth. It was just the two of us. Gatemouth on fiddle and me on acoustic guitar. We played a full set of bluegrass, cajun, blues and polka songs with no rehearsal! He wouldn't tell what song we'd play next or call out the keys, he'd just start fiddling and I had to follow him as best I could. I'll be honest again and admit I screwed up more than once but all in all I had a blast. It was sort of like jumping off the Empire State Building without a parachute and somehow landing unharmed. Gatemouth was one of America's muscial giants. Most people think he was only a blues guitarist (As if that's a bad thing!) but he could play any kind of music from jazz to, well, polkas.
A few years ago I interviewed Buck Owens for Mix Magazine between his sets at Buck's Crystal Palace club in Bakersfield. The interview was only supposed to last 20 minutes but, thanks to help from Bruce Bromberg (who went with me) and Bruce's deep knowledge of west coast country music history, Buck got so wrapped up talking with us that it lasted over 2 hours. Bruce and I had a great time with Buck talking about his early session guitarist days to his heyday as a performer/producer/songwriter to stories about famous and obscure Bakerfield singers and musicians. My favorite quote of Buck's, though, says a lot about Buck but also about musicians and music and how generic boundaries are somewhat ridiculous.. I asked him who his biggest influences were. "Well, you know, years ago I wasn't allowed to say this or it might have ended my career in country music, but my two biggest influences were Bob Wills and Little Richard. And not necessarily in that order. I couldn't tell people that I loved both rock and roll and country music"
Anyway, I've rambled on long enough. I just want to let you know that The Guilty Men and I will be out on tour across the US and Canada this summer and fall. It's been a while since the guys and I have hit the highway and I can't wait to strap on my guitar and get back to work. I sincerely hope that you can make it out to a show or two. Without sounding too damn corny, it means the world to us. Until then, see you down the road.
Dave Alvin, Spring 2006