Forty years can change a number of things; cities grow, fads come and go, people change or are no longer around and buildings can crumble. For something to sustain its strength after that long is nothing short of amazing. The Blasters debut album, American Music, is one of those special works of art that lasts.
The Blasters are out on tour for the fortieth anniversary of their debut album and will be making a stop at the Continental Club June 28. “I think it stands pretty well, it influenced a lot of people. It’s done well for us, people still buy them,” says founding member Phil Alvin of the band's celebrated album.
Brothers Dave and Phil Alvin started the Blasters in Downey, California. They grew up in a household filled with music and parents who exposed their sons to different kinds of American music. “My mother was a dancer and my father played violin and organ so we were brought up around music a lot and that had an influence. My mother was a big Blaster’s fan and would come to all the shows,” says Alvin.
Phil showed a strong voice since he was young. He was plucked out of class as a child by a nun who grabbed him by the arm and took him across the street to the house of a local piano teacher when she heard him sing. “I thought, ‘What the hell had I done?’ and she didn't say anything.” he says. “I sang in the choir for eight years and that was good. They taught me how to sing. They would stick a ruler in my stomach if it would go out when I was singing.” “Nuns are pretty hardcore,” he adds.
The brothers would play music at home and school and later bonded with local boys, John Bazz and Bill Bateman over their love of blues. The white boys were brave enough to go into LA blues clubs and make contact with their idols. All the stages and nightclubs served as classrooms for the young musicians as they learned firsthand from the likes of Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker.
The Blasters were able to learn from artists who had in turn had learned from artists before them, placing them in a unique chain of musicians tracing back to the beginning of the blues. If only someone could convince Alvin to write a book, he would have more then enough stories to tell. When asked if he embraces any young artists today the same way he was taken in by his mentors Alvin says, “Oh sure, absolutely! I was taught by great people so I feel I gotta pass it on.”
The Blasters went on to make a name for themselves after the release of their debut album, being labeled as a little bit of everything from rockabilly, punk, blues, R&B, rock and roll to country. The band themselves preferred to avoid labels and even dropped the word blues from their band name, as they had been the Blues Blasters when backing Joe Turner.
When mainstream music in the ‘80s was going in a different direction, the Blasters held on tight to their roots. They were a big part of the Los Angeles punk scene of the time alongside The Flesh Eaters, X and Los Lobos.
The band seemed to be always on the brink of bigger audiences in the United States but managed to make waves in the U.K. and even caught the attention of Queen who asked them to open a handful of shows. They have maintained a cult status throughout the years.
Brothers Dave and Phil famously feuded until Dave left the band to pursue a solo career. After Phil experienced a brush with death in 2012 the brothers reunited for the first time in decades to make the Grammy-nominated album, Common Ground and later recorded Lost Time. When asked if he and his brother will collaborate again Phil says, “Probably not but we may.”
Today’s Blasters lineup is not much different then it was 40 years ago, with the exception of Keith Wyatt on guitar. Wyatt is no newcomer though as he has been with the band for 24 years now.
The Blasters do not play many shows in their hometown of Los Angeles and to prepare for this long anniversary tour Phil admits they are just “resting up.” The band has also been working on a new album in the studio but Alvin remains tight lipped about the project.
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He says fans shouldn’t expect to hear new songs on this tour as the band will stick to the classics. When asked how their audience has changed over the years Phil says, “We see a lot of old Blasters fans but some new ones too, some young ones. It’s always good to see young people.”
Phil Alvin and the Blasters still have the same mission, “Just to play good rock and roll and entertain the people. That’s what we do.”
The Blasters will be performing with Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Supersuckers and Clownvis Presley June 28 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 8:00 p.m. $35-56