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This Issue: The Blasters talk about their new 4-11-44 CD, an overview of the Dave Alvin 2004 Ashgrove Tour, also Joe Terry's Ashgrove tour diary.


The Blasters on their new album 4-11-44

The Blasters have released their first studio album in 19 years. The CD is currently only available in the UK and Europe on Evangeline Records. A US distribution deal is currently in the works for early 2005. The membership has changed quite a bit since 1985's Hardline LP was released. The quartet is led by founding members Phil Alvin on vocals and John Bazz on Bass. Jerry Angel on drums and Keith Wyatt on lead guitar have been in the band for ten years and 8 years respectively. The new album titled 4-11-44 has been in the making for 5 years.
This interview was done in two separate sessions, on the eve of the release of
4-11-44 by Evangeline records on October 4, 2004. John Bazz, Jerry Angel, and Keith Wyatt sat down together in their tour bus while riding cross-country on tour in Sweden to discuss the making of the new album. Phil Alvin was interviewed in London, England on the final date of the Blasters 2004 European tour.


Unused title ideas for the new Blasters album
-- Eight Cylinder Love -- Mommy Rollin Stone -- Daddy Rollin' Stone -- Real Rock Drive --
-- Hullabaloo -- Boneyard --  Built For Speed -- -- In Living Stereo -- Chicken Run -- Gung Ho --
-- -One Minute To Zero - -- Citizen's Arrest -- Tailwind -- Cheater Slick -- Black Ice --  Drive --
-- Sonic Boom -- Land Speed Record -- Moonshine --  Thunder Road --
-- Uncle Daddy Rollin' Stone and Other Songs About Prison, Cars and  Women -- 

AM: How did the groove change on that from the old versions the Blasters did live from 1996 - 99?
Keith: We were just jamming on it and you (John) came up with that bass line.
John: Yeah.  It was 5 years ago and we were only three Blasters strong trying to lay down tracks without Phil. We ran through everything we knew really well that we didn't need him on. We just played around with this song. When Phil came in subsequently to put the vocals on, it was a completely different song for him. It was fun to check out the expression on his face.
Keith: I can't even remember the old version now. I originally learned it off a live tape of James Intveld with the band.
John: When we originally recorded that at MI, it came time to record the solo section and I remember Jerry made a comment to Keith. He said 'Play menacingly.'
Jerry: Right! Right!
John: He said 'It's a menacing song. Play a menacing solo!'
Jerry: Keith came back and nailed it! It changed in that theme. It became a totally different flavor after I said that.
John: At one point we took a little piece of Keith's solo off because we thought it was too long. I complained bitterly to the guys that I thought Keith's solo should have been left intact. So the last thing we did on this record, was we found the missing section of Keith's solo to complete the song. All this was all over a five-year process.
Phil: I don't see this version as very different from the one on my solo record Unsung Stories (Slash records, 1986). There is a bass line difference and there is the attitudinal difference of the Blasters that are playing it.  On the solo record it was Dave Carroll, Gary Masi, and Mike Roach.
AM: What is the origin of this song?
Phil: I bought the Otis Blackwell record on the JD label. It's a very early record like '51 or '52. When I heard that thing, I said: 'Damn!' I never heard anybody else doing it, but now my friend Drac from Finland gave me a copy of Jimmy Ricks doing it. Damn! In fact that's the one I wanted to put on my top ten list - the father of doo wop. Cie la vie (Laughs). (Ed note. - Phil just got off the phone with a major UK music magazine writer telling his '10 essential important records.')

Keith: We heavy-ed that up.
John: We had been playing that for 10 years.
Keith: I learned that off the live tape starting with James's guitar parts.  I played it like him. Phil listened one day and said, 'How come you're playing it like that?' I said, 'I thought that was how it went.' Phil said, 'No.' so, we changed it some.
AM: What influenced you to write this song?
Phil: When the lottery got accepted in California, I knew that was bad. That was a regressive tax on poor people and I thought that someone sometime must have tried to wise people up to this. I didn't see any songs like that so I wrote one.
The line: 'Baby needs a new pair of shoes' came up immediately - that's the reality. People gamble because they are deficient of brain adrenaline and there are people who gamble because it is the only chance they have of getting to their dreams. 4-11-44 was a lucky number in the early 20th century- the washerwoman's number. I heard Blind Willie Mctell sing: "You got my number baby, 4-11-44." This was a live recording by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1942. Blind Willie said: 'This is an old, down in the alley, blues. Back from when the blues got original.'

Phil: The first time I heard that record was in Memphis, TN when Dave Carroll was the Blasters roadie on the very first Blasters US tour in a white van. Richard Hite, brother of Bob Hite from Canned Heat, had moved to Memphis. He handed me two tapes, which wound up being listened to on the 'Blasters road' all the time. Richard put some 45s on there. One was Bobby Lee Trammel. He was as they said: 'A white guy playing a little more old timey.' It was a record from 1959 called ALL YOUR FAULT on Shelby Singleton's Sun Records label. (Ed - Singleton purchased Sam Phillips Sun masters in the 60's and began flooding the market with re-releases.)
When I heard that recording I thought Bobby Lee Trammel was pulling a 'Jimmy Reed' so heavy on it. Jimmy Reed was extremely influential to country music. Jimmy Reed had more number one hits from 1953 through 1964 than even Chuck Berry. Marcus Johnson told me that more money


fell out of Jimmy Reed's pocket at night at the bar than Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters had made all year long. He was vulnerable and brought images to music.
Jimmy Reed did not go unnoticed to the white guys who played country music. Billy Lee Riley was very influenced by Jimmy Reed. Even the song MEMPHIS is based off of a Jimmy Reed song.
AM: Did you do any thing different than the original version?
Phil: There were a few things, anachronisms that I brought up to date in the lyrics of my version.

Keith: That one went through an evolution of a couple of arrangements before we settled on the recorded version.
AM: Did this come from the Dave Alvin version or 'The Blasters with Smokey Hormel' live version?
John:  This has very little similarity to the Smokey Hormel version. We pretty much started from scratch.
Keith: We listened to Dave's version once to rough out the structure. I remember because Phil was questioning Greg Leisz's placing of the slide guitar. To this day, I have never heard the Smokey Hormel version. Essentially, Phil said that he wanted a Stax Records type feel, showed me his idea for the intro, and we all pieced it together from there. In rehearsals we tried out some different chord arrangements before finalizing it. The middle break was originally Phil doing a horn-section type lick on the harp, but we felt that it was too out of keeping with the rest of the song and I came up with the guitar lick in its place, which is also pretty different. It sounds like an Otis Redding song - The sort of arrangement where the guitar plays the fills creating the illusion of horn parts. We kept playing with the middle part and changing the beat. A different guitar even comes in there. We cut that when Phil wasn't there. When he heard that, he thought we were kidding him. He thought it was a joke.
John: It's a strong departure from Dave's version. It was sparse - a lot of air - so we added something to it. That delayed the song a month or two.
Keith: The ending /outro was tough too. We had to piece that together - a real pro tools construction project. The outro vamp was pieced together in the studio with Phil trying out different lines, listening back, and then re-cutting it until we were all satisfied. It was a challenge to play live because it's in a high key, but Phil figured out how to phrase it and nailed it after the first few times.
Phil spent more time on that vocal than anything else to get the phrasing.
Phil: I'll never diss my brother. I always make sure to listen to every record that David makes, even though I don't listen to my own records. I listen to check in and see where my brother is at. When I heard DRY RIVER I thought he was doing a Blind Willie McTell sound. He had the guy on steel guitar.      The riverbed in our neighborhood runs from Telegraph Ave to Firestone Blvd. To this day that section is not paved. They tried to pave it and they finally gave up. There are trees, and a pond. You can even catch fish there. That was David's riverbed too.
A more beautiful song can't be written and a more meaningful song can't be written because most of the people's riverbeds in Los Angeles are paved. One of David's skills is to see the important images in a set of images that aren't linked yet. He gathers a perception into a delineation of words - but then you're left with a single perception. That's why the words are easy to remember. David writes good chorus parts too, that are anthemic - like an anthem.
I don't BS when I say that I have nothing but respect for my brother and what makes him, him. I can tell you what he's doing and he knows what I'm doing.    When I heard David sing the end of the first line, I imagined that David must have considered it as an R&B song. The first line is like the Sam Cooke song IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING. Dave did a country version of his own experience.
I rearranged the song when Greg 'Smokey' Hormel was still in the band. I had a harmonica solo on it for a while, but then Keith put a great guitar part on there. The stuff that Keith is doing on the guitar is phenomenal - in fact on every song he does on this record. He is such a good guitar player and musician. The school he works at hasn't tainted his soul. He focuses so well. When we talk music, I don't have any trouble with him at all, and I don't think him with me either. I talk in generalities and he knows exactly what I mean. His capability is just the highest - I have nothing but the greatest respect for him as a man, too - he is a remarkable character.


Phil: That's a very early Duke record by Earl Forrest. The guitar player may be Pat Hare. BAREFOOT ROCK was a Duke record also. The style of Duke records has always been prevalent in the Blasters repertoire. We did a lot of those songs over the years like YOU GOT ME WHERE YOU WANT ME by Bobby Blue Bland - which is related stylistically to this one.
AM: Didn't Lee Allen play on the Blasters early 90's live versions of this song?
Phil: That's right. Keith and I play that sax lick on the new record. You may not hear my guitar on the record, or any record (laughs), but it's there. The important thing is to have a full chord on that.
The Jimmy Reed theory of the wall of guitars says that the musician doesn't want you to know what is played - the guitars should blend and one leads into the other. That's not by studio tricks, but by arrangement. It has to happen live too. It's a blending of rhythm.

Keith: I fooled a lot around with the solos. I originally cut it with a real rockabilly thing in there. When Phil heard it and said: 'When I get to that part of the solo I feel like I gotta to help the band - like I'm trying to mentally push that solo because it doesn't go where it needs to go.' So I re-cut it with different stuff and it helped a lot.
Phil: That song was from a time when David (Alvin) was in the Blasters. It was a sun record, but we heard it on a Charly records compilation. It was sung by Cliff Gleaves. It sounded exactly like Gene Taylor to me -  a very prevalent piano - rockabilly song. He sings it just like Gene Taylor. I played it for Gene, but he didn't hear himself in it. It's essentially a very light-hearted song, but the juxtaposition of love and business is strong enough to be a little saltier than bland. Music, love, and business was an issue with me at the time. And now its just music, love, and business (laughs).   


Jerry: Actually, we had learned it in the studio and on the last verse we were supposed to play the end once but we did it twice.
John: That was my mistake. After the bridge it supposed to go for a certain length. I gave Keith a nod and he just followed me. It's an inside joke with us. We talked about fixing it, but who cares.

John: This has two great guitar solos. Keith might not want to say this, but he spent a long time on the solos. Every song has the most time of overdubs put into the solos. Some have evolved over time. We had the luxury of time. We left no stone unturned - we didn't make any mistakes or have any regrets because we had plenty of time. We are all happy with the record.
Phil: The original by George Jones was a standard Nashville arrangement - which took the balls out of the song. Ours is the Fats Domino version. When Dave Carroll came into the band, I added the song to our set after he taught it to me.

Keith: That was taken right off the original Muddy Waters record.
John: We did that completely at Bruce Witkin's studio. We didn't have any harmonica songs on the record and we all knew the song already. It's the only harp song on the record.
Phil: I like the version we had on the live radio show (KPFK's Folkscene 10/10/93). Marcus Johnson suggested the song to me, he was Muddy Water's Sax player, a friend of Lee Allen, and was the guy who really turned us into a band. Marcus said if there was ever a live powerful song that Muddy missed; it was JUST TO BE WITH YOU. There is a line that I don't sing, that Muddy sings about: "Call your mother in law honey." I left that out. I'm not dissing Muddy, but I thought it was a corny line. Marcus said: 'When they played it live, it was like I'M A MAN' -  powerful. But, he said Muddy didn't get it right on record. Based on that I started doing the song.

Phil: Shorty Bacon and the Rhythm Masters did that. It's on a crazy little label called Ozark, the only time I've ever seen that label. It was between '55 and '62. I sung the song to myself and it was very immediate to me when I decided to make a record that this was an important song. It wasn't propagated much and I like that.




    Dave recorded the San Juan Capistrano show for a possible self-released live CD like Outtakes In California, but there were technical difficulties that made it an unsuccessful recording. He may record a Santa Ana, CA show in November 2004.
The tour is continuing into the winter. Expect more Guilty Men shows in the early months of 2005.

Guilty Man Keyboard Player Joe Terry's Ashgrove Tour memories

     Well, it was the first date really for the Ashgrove mega-touring that lasted all summer and into some of the fall was in Springfield, MO. (home town to Bobby Lloyd and me). It was a Wednesday night that had most of my hometown friends out. It was also our new guitarist Chris Miller's first night with the band. We have come a long way since that first night. Arrangements have changed, songs have been added and dropped. Many miles have been put on the van, which sits in my driveway as I write (having just gotten back from getting some recall work done on the van which could have killed us I'm sure, had I not gotten it done). Chris Gaffney has kept us laughing all the way, and Bobby Lloyd is drummin' like a mad man. Somewhere along the way, Dave managed to take guitar lessons from the great Esteban, Gregory keeps layin' it down, and Chris Miller is now comfortably snaking his way through every song.
     This first part of summer touring took us through KC, St. Louis, Nashville and Birmingham - then on east. On June 22nd we played a gig in Raleigh, NC, at the Pour House. This was a li'l record release with the folks from Yep Roc in attendance. My pal PJ O'Connell from up east showed up with Terry Adams in tow. I think Terry is one of the greats, so it was a thrill having him there. June 25th and 26th had us two nights at The Iota in DC. Just love playing that place. Saw Billy Davis there along with Steve (formerly Big Steve) Buschell. After that month of touring, I got to go home for about 4 days and waited to start up again on July 2nd in Indy.
      While on this leg of the tour, I got to see Tito Jackson and band play the blues at the American Music festival over the July 4th weekend at Fitzgerald's in Chicago. Who knew Tito could sing the blues? At one point he donned a large Afro and did a short medley of Jackson 5 hits. We then went straight to Green Bay to play a tiny little stage at the Oneida Bingo and Casino. Rockin' the house, man, just ask the little old lady lookin' over her shoulder at us like a cow lookin' at a new gate while pullin' on the slot machine. This tour took us through the Midwest and up east and north. Some really nice shows through the likes of Cleveland and then Ann Arbor -- where I discovered Chris Miller to be a coffee addict. I like coffee and am somewhat a coffee snob (I've taken to bringing my own coffee and filters with me for the hotel rooms since so many now have coffee makers--what a find that was). But Chris Miller was outta my league. The man regularly orders a quad espresso. Seen him do it on countless occasions.
     On to New Jersey, Rochester and such. In Englewood, NJ, Steve Buschel showed up and gave me a three CD set of 70's hits because we'd been talking about Hurricane Smith's hit WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? Now my son is suddenly a Bread fan. Gotta speak to that boy. In Ottawa, Canada, we played at the Ottawa Blues festival with a substitute drummer. Some guy named DJ Bonebrake or somethin'. This guy oughta be in a band 'cause he was pretty good. Now...that night when returning to the Lord Elgin Hotel from the gig about a half mile away, I pulled into the hotel portico area around midnight. The band piled out. I handed the green valet stub to the man in attendance. Done. I sleep soundly. Next morning I sent for the van. The valet asked me how the show went before he went on his way, 'cause somehow I'd gotten chummy with the guy or something. "Fine, fine the gig was good, oh, um, by the way I lost my half of the green valet ticket..."  He says no problem - he knows the big van, and he'll be right back. By now the band is in the lobby and out the front doors. The big silver van pulls up, and he hands me the keys. Problem is, these aren't our van keys. "How did you do that?" I ask. We now think that it is one of those rare instances when a set of keys matches another car somewhere else in the world, or so that legend goes. Gregory (Boaz), our bass player, gets in and starts it, then looks around and discovers that it's not our van. Valet boy now says that that was the only big silver van back there (what were the chances of that too?). There is only one space they have available for a van that size. I get pretty nervous about then because a little earlier Chris Miller and I had been out gettin' quad espressos and walkin' the dangerous Sunday morning streets of Ottawa. I kept my cigarettes in my back pocket along with the green stub that I had seen that morning in my possession. Well, of course I'm now thinkin' it fell out while reaching back for one of the thirty of forty cigs I had on our 1/4 mile walk, and somebody has now come and claimed the van. This is REALLY going through my head while everyone, including some tourist couple who is drawn to this drama, is eyeing me. I throw open my suitcase right there on the sidewalk and tear through it for last night's clothes, and I produce the green ticket. Saved. Dave hugs me. But wait - not so fast - wrong ticket. It's for the second car we have on tour with us. I haven't cried for a very long time (except when Boston beat up on my Cardinals in the World Series -Johnny Damon..puleeze....gimme a break). I came close.


I was now back in the dog house. Valet dogboy (might I add right here that, Microsoft Word is having real trouble with "dogboy") - he says: "I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what to tell you." I stare in horror. Then he says that he might know one…other...place...it ...might...be... Ahh, whatd'ya know? It was there. But he still did not have the keys that I gave the night valet. I went back to the "valet key hanging board" (that's hotel speak) and found them under a Camry listing. The valet thought I should complain to the hotel but I just wanted to get outta there and we did. Out of Canada passing up all the Tim Horton's-Canada's Stuckeys. 
     The very next date on the tour after Ottawa was Lexington, KY. On July, 21 we started a series of dates with the great guys from Los Straitjackets. We co-billed a bunch of shows together and had great times in Pittsburgh, Columbus, DC, and Philly. The show in Boston was one night after the Democratic Convention ended. Los Straitjackets' last song of the night was usually TELSTAR by the Tornadoes. If you've seen Los Straitjackets, you know they perform in wrestling masks, black t-shirts, black jeans, and black Converse All Stars. Well, Lloyd and I have all these things already with us (what can I say? Over-used de rigueur rock clothes) sans the masks, which weren't hard to acquire. We ended up joining the boys for TELSTAR at the end of most shows just to sing the "ahhs" at the end. This tour ended with a great show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC. Look for us doing some more shows together in January.
    August had us out in the wilds of the American West with a kickoff date at The Troubador in Los Angeles. I had never played the storied club. In attendance was one of Gregory's good pals, director Gore Verbinski, who directed
The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean among others. My daughter Sally is gaga over Johnny Depp. She actually had a slumber party on his birthday in his honor with a cake and such...so I got Gore's autograph for Sally. It's the connection here that counts.
     On to Reno. Reno. Reno. Picture a man with his shirt half tucked in-half out. Eyes blurry and bulging, hair tousled, mumbling to himself. That's me after a night in a Casino. 'nuff said. It's a good thing I don't live near one of these hell-holes. Chris Miller and Bobby Lloyd had to drag me out to the Sierra foothills west of Reno for a day of trail walking just to wash the gambling stink off of me. In Portland, OR they have a summer concert series at the Washington Park Zoo Amphitheatre. The elephants sway to the music in the background in some kind of two-ton elephant dance. With some time to kill after soundcheck, Gaffney and I strolled through some of the zoo. He confided that in his 50 something years, he had never been to a zoo. I think he liked the monkeys.
     The tour took us to beautiful Vancouver.  Opening the show was a Rockabilly trio (go figure) with a name like Johnny and the Rockin' 88's (again, go figure). But they had a twist. Burlesque. Trust me, if you're ever having trouble getting your frantic, poorly played rockabilly over to the audience, rest assured they won't think a thing about it if you just put a coupla girls up there in pasties. Good trick. I think somebody got a picture of me and a few band mates in full wolf leer. We headed back into California with a nice diversion to the Coastal Redwood forests. Played two nights at the new Palms Playhouse. Label-mate,  Amy Farris joined up with us there for a few dates. Somewhere in there was Seattle, Portland, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz. We ended up at Slim's in San Francisco - One of my favorite clubs on earth. It was a great way to end the tour.
     Most recently we've been through the mid-south, into New Orleans where we played the famous Mid-City Bowl. One of the great banes to bands is stairs. It seemed everywhere on this tour we were loading up 30 flights of stairs at a time. Played some great Texas dates and on through the southwest ending up in Los Angeles.  A bunch of great shows all summer long with many more highlights I'm missing I'm sure. Like Dave backing over his guitars in Cleveland…….
     We have a new arrangement of DRY RIVER that I and the band love with a rockin' back beat and some rockin' steel guitar. I think that all the new songs are received very well with a few standouts. OUT OF CONTROL seems to get a real rise outta the audience every night. It's got a sinewy back beat from Gregory on bass and Lloyd on drums. We've turned SOMEWHERE IN TIME into a kind of real musical emotion. All the songs get slightly different treatments on any given night. Fine tuning, takin' it apart, puttin' it back together, maybe sometimes as if by a monkey with a staple gun (which can be a great and luminous perspective). All in all, not too many cuts and bruises, no accidents, no arrests, (if you don't count….nevermind) a lot of fun…and Chris Miller plays just a wee bit different than he did that first night back in Springfield, MO.) - My home town. My wife just came in the room in a Cocoanut bra , I gotta go…….. See ya -    Joe


Dave Alvin Ashgrove Tour Photos  by Kurt Mahoney

Dave Alvin Ashgrove Tour Photos  by Billy Davis