An New Years Open Letter From Dave Alvin

Life was perfect until I got out of the van.
Now, I know, no matter what happens,
don't get out of the van!

Chris Gaffney --- September 1999

Dear Friends, Fans and anyone else,
Those are wise words from my soul brother, Chris. It's the dawn of the next century/millennium so they say. I'm sitting here at one in the morning, listening to old blues records by Leroy Carr, smoking too many menthols, trying to figure out how to work this computer I just bought and wishing I was back in the van with The Guilty Men somewhere on the interstate heading for another gig. The past two years have been filled with non-stop touring, with only a couple of breaks to produce CDs for The Derailers and Katy Moffat, and now I'm back home starting to write the songs for my next CD and (hopefully) finally finish the second book of poems.

Resting at home is fine and all (definitely much needed) but I'd still rather be playing in some smoky bar. There were so many great shows the past two years: The Bowery Ballroom in New York, Slim's in San Francisco, Antone's and The Continental Club in Austin, Skipper's in Tampa, Fitzgerald's in Chicago, The Strawberry Festival in Yosemite ( both electric and acoustic), The Roxy in L.A., The Off Broadway in St. Louis, The Satellite in Houston, The Tin Angel in Philadelphia, Cibolo Creek in San Antonio, The Rialto in Tucson, City Stages in Birmingham . . . too many to mention them all. In fact, just about any gig is memorable for me because I get to play with The Guilty Men (I know you're probably thinking this sounds corny but I can't help that). There were nights that I couldn't believe how lucky I am to have such an incredible band. Blues, folk, country, R+B, rock and roll, whatever I ask for, they can do it. I've been extremely fortunate to have played in two of the best bands to ever plug in guitars, The Blasters and X, and I can tell you without any hesitation that Bobby Lloyd, Gregory, Rick and Joe are just as great. When incredible artists like Buddy and Julie Miller, Robbie Fulks, Chris Gaffney and Duane Jarvis were opening for us on many of these shows. The Guilty Men backed them up, with little or no rehearsal, and sounded jaw-droppingly great. I'm proud of them and I miss them. See ya soon in the van, I hope.

So many intense things happened the past two years. I don't want to leave out the tour The Guilty Men and I did opening for Bob Dylan, or touring solo and acoustic opening for Richard Thompson, two of my songwriting heroes (Also, If you ever think that you're a hot-shot guitar player, Richard Thompson will erase that illusion very quickly! So will Buddy Miller. What guitar ego I had will never quite recover, oh well). It was also fun to reunite with my old pals, The Knitters, for a west coast tour and some benefit shows. Sometimes, between the constant touring, working on records and just getting the bills paid, it's hard to stay in touch with people you care about so it was great to be able to hang around each other again and make a righteous racket. There was even a night The Guilty Men and I were playing at The Blue Cafe in Long Beach, California, and all the original Blasters (Gene Taylor, John Bazz, my brother, Phil, everyone except current Alaska boy, Bill Bateman) got up on stage for the encore. With Bobby Lloyd filling in for Bill, we played almost a full set of Blasters songs and old blues songs we grew up with. It's hard to put into words how amazing that was. Just a bunch of old Downey guys.

Unfortunately, some dear friends, family and heroes passed away leaving some pretty large, unfillable holes in my heart. Donald Lindley was one of the best, nastiest, funkiest, wildest, greasy groove drummers in the universe. You might know him from his work over the years with Lucinda Williams, Rosie Flores, Joe Ely and Buddy and Julie Miller, but I was lucky enough to have him play on Blue Boulevard and parts of Museum of Heart and King of California. Donald was a master musician, a patient teacher (especially with me), a proud father and husband, a good friend and a true rock and roller.

I got to know Mark Sandman many years ago when his first band, Treat Her Right, opened for my old band, The Allnighters, in Boston. Over the years from that first night through his success with Morphine, Mark's bluesy voice, jagged lyrics and willingness to experiment musically (without ever losing his raw groove) always blew me away. I'll always remember one time when I was depressed about making music and all the negative crap that sometimes comes with that, Mark slapped me out of it with a few quiet words. I can never thank him enough.

Doug Sahm has been a hero of mine since I was a kid and first saw The Sir Douglas Quintet on Hullabaloo singing She's About A Mover. Doug was one of the first to seamlessly blend blues, country, norteno, cajun and rock and roll in a classic mix of American Music. He was one of the people that taught me by example that there was no difference between T-Bone Walker, Hank Williams and Flaco Jimenez. I treasure the memory of a night last year at The Continental Club when Doug, The LeRoi Brothers, Gaffney and me jammed long after closing time. (Billy Davis was smart enough to tape that night and Anita Sturgengirl was sweet enough to give me a copy, thanks. That tape means the world to me.) Doug, for all his success and all the wild legends that surrounded him, was vastly underrated and now that he's gone I think many people are realizing just how important he was. A true Texas original.

What can I say about Curtis Mayfield? I wrote a poem once about how seeing him perform one night made me want to play music again after a period of inactivity and fear. Just seeing him live changed my life, Curtis was that powerful! A songwriter equal to Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard and Chuck Berry, a guitarist of subtle complexity, a innovative record producer and a singer that the angels envy. He was the greatest. What else can you say?

Wherever you are, play on, Brothers!

Well, my rough plans for this new year/century include making a new studio album soon, followed pretty quickly with a new live album featuring all The Guilty Men singing (!) and, if he agrees, Chris Gaffney joining us for some songs. There are also some CDs I'm planning to produce in the near future, especially Mr. Gaffney's, one of the most soulfull, singing ex-boxers I've ever run across. There's talk about other stuff that's probably best left unsaid for right now, ya never know what might happen. Outside of all that, in coming year I hope to get some time for hiking, horseback riding, reading, thinking, drinking a beer or two, figuring out this computer and, even answering all the letters and questions that have been sent to the web-site! ( Unbelievable, you say! Yeah, I know I dropped the ball but have patience.) Until we meet again, I wish you all the love, happiness and music that anyone can have.

See you down the road,
Dave Alvin

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