Calling him the “label musician’s musician” doesn’t do Dave Alvin justice.
His three-decade tour of duty in the music business has seen him move from co-founder of the Blasters to sideman with seminal cowpunks X to a successful solo career. However, Alvin was almost as well-known for his ongoing feud with brother Phil, the blues shouter frontman of the Blasters, as he was for his effortless fretwork and candid songwriting.
It took a near tragedy to reunite the brothers, but their newfound harmony has borne inspired fruit in the form of 2014’s Grammy-nominated “Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy” and the newly released “Lost Time.”
Ahead of the pair’s two Dakota Jazz Club shows, Alvin took time to talk about reuniting with Phil, playing old classics and finding a role model in the Grateful Dead.
Q: So, impressions of the tour so far?
A: It’s cranking up the machine, you know, but we’re starting to make sense.
Q: So who are the Guilty Ones on this tour?
A: We have a drummer named Lisa Pankratz, who was in the Guilty Women. And her husband is a guy named Brad Fordham, and he’s playing bass. I’ve known Brad for years — he’s played with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Jerry Jeff Walker. The guitar player is a guy named Chris Miller, who was in the Guilty Men. It’s a great band.
Q: Did you consider doing a “two guys in the truck” tour?
A: No, no, no, no. It never crossed my mind. I think people want to hear us do something similar to the Blasters.
Q: You’ve been releasing a solo record every two or three years, but it’s been four since “Eleven Eleven.” Obviously you’ve done “Common Ground” and “Lost Time.” Don’t you think fans are clamoring for a new solo record?
A: Oh, I’m sure they are, but ever since my brother got sick, that’s been the focus. I mean, my brother died for anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour before I found out that he was alive again. He was in Spain and I was in California and blah, blah, blah, but in that insane period of time when I thought my brother was dead, well. … Well, for lack of a better term, I was pretty bummed.
So then when they said, “Your brother’s back,” then it was kind of like, “We’re going to do something and that’s going to be the focus here. Getting the things done we should have done in the past.”
Q: When you see Phil, ask him why fans can’t find a copy of his first solo album [“Un ‘Sung Stories’ ”] for less than $32.
A: The thing is, it’s a great album.
Q: It’s got Sun Ra on it!
A: Yeah, it’s got Sun Ra on it. [Laughing.] Come on, whattaya want? But it’s market forces. If somebody thought they could make a buck reissuing it, I’m sure they would’ve.
Q: So, should we expect sets at the Dakota that draw heavily on the last two records?
A: A little bit, but there are songs from my solo career. And Blasters songs; three or four of those.
Q: What’s it like when you want to play the songs and there’s some clown in the audience yelling all night for “Marie, Marie” or “4th of July”?
A: And oftentimes I’m that clown. I may be the rare artist who doesn’t get tired of playing songs that he wrote. Part of it is that I’m always startled that I wrote them in the first place.
Q: Do you feel like you get your due as a songwriter?
A: A lot of times it boils down to name recognition. It’s frustrating at times because, yeah, I’ve written some good songs. I’ll stack my best against anybody’s, just about. [Laughing.] Just about. But for me, I just look at that I’ve managed to have a career in the music business for 30-plus years and survived. A lot of my friends haven’t. Maybe they had different priorities, you know, like a family or a wife or something. [Laughing.]
I’m very lucky. I mean, I was a fry cook, so what happens to me in the business. … I wouldn’t say it’s frosting, but there’s a lot of frosting in what I get to do.
Q: So when the U.S. leg of the tour ends, is it “See ya later”?
A: For me, touring is never-ending. My role model, believe it or not, has always been the Grateful Dead. The Blasters were really lucky because we always put on a good show. Well, most of the time. So people would go to a Blasters show whether there was a new album or not. To me, that was always the goal. You know, the Grateful Dead could tour for eight years telling people, “Oh, we’re going to make a record one of these days.”
Richard Morgan is a Twin Cities-based writer.