By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Making their unique mix of rockabilly, country, early rock and roll, blues and R&B for nearly four decades, SoCal roots-rock greats the Blasters bring their indelible sound to San Francisco when the band headlines the Chapel Friday night.
Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin grew up in Downey, California, and developed and early interest in rockabilly, country and other guitar-focused roots music. The pair saw performances by such six-string heroes as Chet Atkins and Leo Kottke and by their teens were regularly attending shows by legendary blues vocalist Big Joe Turner from gig to gig in Los Angeles.
Turner would become a mentor for the brothers, giving Phil tips on singing and even letting them perform onstage with him (renowned guitarist T-Bone Walker and New Orleans saxophonist Lee Allen — who their mother dated at one point — also provided invaluable lessons). By the time the Blasters came together in 1979 with drummer Bill Bateman and bassist John Bazz, the Alvin brothers were a seasoned as a pair of musicians in their 20s could be.
The new band would record it’s debut independent album American Music over two days in a living room studio, bashing out a mix of originals and songs by the likes of Billy Haley and Jimmie Rogers that wiped away the boundaries between roots-music styles. Along with country/rockabilly-influenced punk group X and East LA contemporaries Los Lobos, the Blasters brought a sense of history to the sonic stew of the Los Angeles scene. The band’s reputation as a firebrand live act led to tour dates with acts as varied as psychobilly icons the Cramps, country heroes Asleep at the Wheel and ’70s rock favorites Queen.
The band would sign to Slash/Warner Bros. for their acclaimed eponymous sophomore album in 1981, a record that established the Blasters as one of the top rising rock bands in the U.S. Two more hit records — Non Fiction in 1983 and Hard Line two years later — would follow before Dave Alvin departed for his own successful solo career. In his absence, a string of celebrated guitarists would fill his shoes, including X guitar player Billy Zoom, James Intveld and future Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel.
While Phil Alvin would also delve into solo territory with a pair of albums, the Blasters would remain his main creative outlet into the ’90s and beyond. The brothers have reunited periodically both in the band they co-founded and for a pair of more recent blues-soaked albums, but the Blasters have been touring and recording with the current line-up featuring guitarist Keith Wyatt for the last two decades with 2012’s Fun on a Saturday Night being the most recent.
For this show at the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District, the Blasters will be joined by neighborhood favorite Red Meat. A cornerstone of the SF honky-tonk scene since the early 1990s, the beloved quintet has established itself as a bona fide local treasure and legitimate torch-bearers of California country having at one point served as the backing band for the late Bakersfield legend Buck Owens.
The Blasters with Red Meat
Friday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. $22-$25