'Border Radio' is a term for the powerful, unregulated radio station just across the Mexican border that commanded a nationwide audience from the 1930s to the 1960s. With more than 500,000 watts of AM power, these stations could be heard all across the United States. Dave was exposed to the music of border radio stations while growing up in Southern California.
Dave: "It was station XERB. That was where I first heard Howlin' Wolf." Of all his songs, BORDER RADIO has been one of Dave Alvin's most flexible compositions. The song has a timeless appeal. A single mother sits at home late at night, listening to the radio and hoping a song will connect her with a long-gone lover.
The opening lines have the feel of a haiku: One more midnight, her man is still gone, the night moves too slow.
As recorded by The Blasters on their 1981 self-titled album, BORDER RADIO was played as an up-tempo rocker with a Chuck Berry feel. On Romeo's Escape, his first solo album, Dave slowed down the tempo, performing it as a country-style duet with Katy Moffatt. On King of California, his 1994 solo album, it evolved into a stripped-down lament for a lost love.
In concert, Dave has a history of turning BORDER RADIO into a medley by including snippets of other songs.
"It makes it sound like the character is listening to a radio station. It's another way to tell a story and go a little deeper," Dave said in a 2006 interview. During a 1994 interview/concert on the Fresh Air radio show with Terry Gross, Dave included a verse of Sam Cooke's CUPID, a Top 20 hit for the soul singer in 1961.
On the same show, he played a version of HE WILL BREAK YOUR HEART, a song co-written by Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler that was a hit for Butler in 1960.
For his 2002 Outtakes in California CD, Dave performed BORDER RADIO with several lines from GOODNIGHT MY LOVE, a rhythm-and-blues hit by Jesse Belvin in the mid-1950s. GOOD NIGHT MY LOVE is a song also recorded by Los Lobos for the La Bamba soundtrack album in 1987. Today, BORDER RADIO remains a part of Dave Alvin's repertoire. "It goes in and out of the set," he said.
With the disappearance of the original border radio stations, Dave wonders if the title will lose its meaning. "It's becoming an outdated reference," he said. ~ AM