In the early '80s, when most of my friends were busy discovering MTV and new-wave music, I was busy entrenching myself in the resurgence of the European and American rockabilly and roots scenes. The Blasters' members made their presence known with stunning, energetic shows up and down the West Coast. Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin left crazed sold-out crowds screaming for more wherever they played.
The Blasters' lineup has changed many times since it first formed in 1979 in Downey, Calif.; the fiery relationship between the Alvin brothers compelled Dave to cycle in and out of the band, as did his desire for a solo career. Throughout the last 20 years, I found myself hoping to replicate the sound and energy of the early-'80s Blasters, only to walk away from many shows feeling like something was missing.
When I was asked to have The Blasters appear live on KEXP's Shake the Shack, I was both excited to have my favorite band play live, and hesitant, because I didn't know which group was going to show up. Was I going to be the crazed, awestruck fan I was back in the early '80s, or would I wind up feeling nostalgic for something lost?
I stepped into the studio and quickly noticed that the nucleus of The Blasters was all in the room, with the exception of Dave — Keith Wyatt had stepped in as his replacement. Phil informed me right before I introduced them that he wasn't feeling well and hoped his voice would hold. I thought, "Great... here we go." But as I sat waiting for musical disaster, the next 30 minutes turned into roots-music genius. The band spun its own blend of blues, rock 'n' roll, Americana and roots music into one of the energy-fueled performances I remembered from my youth. When Phil broke into his story song "Bipolar Lover," he had me hanging on every word.
The Blasters closed with the classic anthem "Marie Marie," but with a Phil Alvin twist — in Spanish — as "Maria Maria." When the set was over, I found myself transported back to one of those old shows in Seattle — I was awestruck again, but instead of screaming, stamping my feet and pointing at The Blasters, I shook Phil Alvin's hand politely and thanked him. I love this job.