Andree Scanlon


Like a fine wine, Dave Alvin gets better with age.  In 1979 Dave and his brother Phil Alvin emerged onto the L.A music scene when they formed The Blasters, a band heavily influenced by rockabilly, folk, rock & roll with a slight punk flare.  I didn’t listen to them back then, as a matter of fact, I’d never heard of Dave Alvin or the Blasters until around fourteen years ago when I met my husband.  Since then I’ve seen Dave live in a number of venues, ranging from electric full-band performances with the Guilty Men at the Claremont Folk Music Center and Festival to small intimate acoustic performances at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. He’s incredibly impressive on the guitar with fast fingers that he pairs with tremendous songwriting and a sexy, gruff voice that even after all these years is still going strong.

Dave Alvin was born November 11, 1955, in Downey, California, and grew up listening to many genres of music like the blues, rockabilly, country music, and New Orleans roadhouse R&B.  On his live performance album “Out in California” and the song “Blue Boulevard” he talks about his cousin Donna, who would let him and his brother sit in the back of her car while she cruised the streets of Los Angeles blaring old 45 records. The first concert he ever went to was at the Ashgrove in Los Angeles when he was thirteen years old, he saw Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker along with The Johnny Otis Orchestra. From that moment on he knew what he wanted to do with his life, play music and he writes and sings about the experience in his song “Ashgrove”.  He is a talented musician, songwriter, published poet, and producer who has been nominated for 3 Grammy’s and won one for his album “Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land” in the year 2000.

When the Blasters recorded and released their first album titled “American Music” it debuted in 1980 with a plethora of great songs, most of which Dave Alvin wrote.  Phil Alvin, Dave’s brother was lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Dave Alvin played lead guitar, Johnny Bazz was on Bass, and Bill Batemen on Drums. They all grew up together in Downey and had a reputation of being a rowdy bunch which fit well with the early punk scene in Los Angeles.   The Blasters produced 3 more albums and toured with bands like Queen (1980) and Los Lobos.  In an interview I recently heard, Dave stated that if he ever writes a book, he can dedicate several chapters to touring with Queen.  In 1985, after six years with The Blasters, Dave declared himself finished with the band and wanted to venture out on his own.

Only a couple of days after leaving The Blasters he joined the band X as a lead guitarist but only stayed on board for a short two years. He also played and still does with the band the Knitters which is a country-based offshoot of X.  I hadn’t listened to the Knitters but after hearing their songs “Burning House Of Love” and “Dry River” the band stays true to Dave’s style, a bluesy, rockabilly, and folkish sound which he gravitates towards.   During the mid to late ’80s, Dave continued to immerse himself with the L.A. punk scene and recorded “A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die” with the Flesh Eaters created by punk-poet Chris Desjardin and included Dave Alvin, Bill Bateman, and Steve Berlin (The Blasters) with John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake. It was quite a collaboration of gifted musicians.  The album was a success has been described by music critic Byron Coley as “wonderful bleeding collages of B-movie dementia, street crime, Mexican Catholicism and Dionysian punk spurt poetics.”

Dave’s solo career began in 1987 with the release of Romeo’s Escape, the album was not a big seller however it did hit the US Country charts at number 60.  In 1991 he released a second album Blue Blvd and a third in 1993 titled Museum of Heart.  In 1994 he released King of California which is where his hard work was discovered.  Rolling Stone contributor Paul Evans stated that “Alvin’s voice has gained the dignity his songs deserve–and as master of small-town laments, he ranks with [Bruce] Springsteen, John Hiatt, and the colloquial [Bob] Dylan. With roots music currently at a sad ebb, this collection, spare and strong, proves the enduring appeal of songs from the land of the heart.”  The King of California is a masterpiece, I have personally seen him perform this song in the most intimate of settings at the Folk Music Center in Claremont, California.  His voice combined with the mastery of his guitar playing was impressive and nearly brought me to tears. Even after years of playing this song, you can still hear the same passion and heartfelt storytelling Dave Alvin is known for.  Throughout the years he has continued to release a long list of recordings, both solo and partnered with other talented musicians. (See below for full discography and timeline)

One of Dave Alvin’s biggest musical influences is Merle Haggard, Merle was also a California Native.  The album “West of The West” released in 2006 served as a tribute to California Songwriters and Dave recorded 13 songs from various artists.  Dave plays the song “Kern River” written by Merle Haggard and listening to him play this song with the acoustic guitar is truly magical, in my opinion, his version is better than the original (see below for a link to the song).  

As Dave’s career advanced through the decades, he’s collaborated with a multitude of musicians, including his brother Phil Alvin, a collaboration with talented female musicians in “Dave Alvin and the Guilty Woman” as well as partnering up with songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore in 2018 with their release “Downey to Lubbock” referring to where each artist had grown up.  He also has produced records for Tom Russell, The Derailers, Big Sandy, and several others.  In 2014, the song “Harlan County Line” brought a new kind of fame from the TV series “Justified”, it was a pleasure to watch him perform this song live with Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones in 2016.

Dave has two published poetry books “Any Rough Times Are Now Behind You” and “Nana, Big Joe and the 4th Of July” which shows that Dave just keeps writing, no matter songs or poems, he’s a truly gifted artist.

Dave will be touring again as soon as the world starts getting “back to normal” and I’m sure that he’s written several songs relating to what the world has gone through these past 15 or so months.

Works Cited

Coley, Byron (2004), “Liner Notes” No questions asked


Lekas, Noah  Dave Alvin is still blasting: “If Charles Bukowski or Raymond Chandler had a band”

Kern River – Dave Alvin

The Working Song Writer: