The Blasters is a 1981 album by American rock and roll band The Blasters. Although the album was released in the US by the independent label Slash Records, its strong sales performance required a deal for wider distribution with Warner Bros. Records. The album was well-received, making Time magazine’s list of “top 10 albums” for 1981 and peaking at #36 on Billboard’s “Pop Albums”.
The album was critically well received. According to a 2002 PopMatters article, the national distribution of The Blasters was an eye-opener for listeners of “rockabilly, country, blues, and New Orleans roadhouse R&B,” who found a band capable of producing new material that “stood up well to the influences from whence they sprang”. Staff reviewer John Cruz of Sputnikmusic declared “they took all that was old and made it new again and took what was new and played it the way the cats way back when used to play it”. Trouser Press declared that the album “smokes” and that the band’s performance was “tighter than a drum”. Rolling Stone praised the “bright, raw playing, terrific taste and…full-bodied vocals”, while drawing special attention to the band’s drummer, Bill Bateman, whose playing it indicated was “[t]he real key to the Blaster’s exuberant authenticity….”
Phil Alvin – guitar, harmonica, vocals
Dave Alvin – lead guitar
John Bazz – bass
Bill Bateman – drums
Gene Taylor – piano
The following update is pulled from the LA Times:
Dave and Phil Alvin were as far from the epicenter of popular music as Downey was culturally distant from Hollywood. Soon, however, they became key players on an early ’80s underground scene in which roots music flourished with L.A.-based acts such as the Blasters, Los Lobos, Rank and File, Dwight Yoakam and Lone Justice, who generated ripples that reached the mainstream when the Stray Cats took rockabilly-infused hits to the top of the national pop charts.
Through records played for them by cousins, Phil and Dave soon became immersed in the early rock, blues, R&B and folk of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis.
They could have recorded a tribute album to any one of those early heroes but settled on Broonzy because, as Dave puts it, “Big Bill, he was the entrance drug into prewar blues. That’s the record Phil came home with that was all late-’30s recordings, and that was an eye-opening thing.”
Additionally, Broonzy didn’t play any one style of blues exclusively.
“Big Bill had such a vast quantity of songs in a vast quantity of styles, you can make a pretty varied record, it’s not just one thing,” Dave said. “He just did everything. So on this record, there’s 12 different examples of how to play the blues.”
The Alvins also might have tapped Blasters bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman, but they chose to use current members of Dave’s band, the Guilty Ones, for a couple of reasons.
“We had never made a record that focused just on the 13- and 14-year-old Alvin Brothers,” Dave said. “The kind of record like ‘Gee, if they could make a record, what kind of record would they make?’ So we made it.”
Partly it was triggered by their work together on the long-gestating John Mellencamp-Stephen King musical theater piece “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” in which the Alvins took on the part of the titular siblings.
“We did the song that I wrote, ‘What’s Up With Your Brother’ on my last album, then when I heard the stuff on the ‘Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,’ I know we have distinctly different ways of singing and I didn’t know whether they’d work together,” Dave said.
“Neither of us are harmony singers. Neither of us is Phil Everly, but between ‘What’s Up With Your Brother’ and the ‘Ghost Brothers,’ we sound like brothers, but very different, and we’d never made a record that focused on Phil and Dave.”
The Alvin brothers had not recorded together since the Blasters’ “Hard Line” album in 1985, when Dave left to pursue his solo career. He first joined punk band X as lead guitarist, filling in when founding member Billy Zoom temporarily left, then teamed again with X singers Exene Cervenka and John Doe in their country-folk side project, the Knitters, before issuing a series of solo albums widely lauded for his astute, socially conscious and character-rich songwriting.
Reconnecting with his brother has resurrected the idea that someday there could be another Blasters recording with Dave Alvin on board — something many Blasters watchers long considered about as likely as a man coming back from the dead.
“Maybe,” Dave said. “It makes it more likely than less likely. But the idea of writing 10 songs that all five Blasters can sink their teeth into at this point …” his voice trailing off into uncertainty. “We could certainly do a record of Junior Parker, or Howlin Wolf [songs]. But the answer to those kind of questions is constantly changing.”
And then the notion of something eternal crops up again.
“In some ways, this type of music doesn’t die,” Dave said. “It goes through bleak periods or droughts, but I think there’s always going to be a type of kids like us, who are looking for something else. We may not be in the majority, but there will always be a sizable minority of oddballs that find purpose in old music, find meaning in the older music, and then take it wherever they’re going to take it from there.”