In the year of 1984, I watched, with my children, a very average movie called “Streets of Fire”. I am not a Michael Pare fan so I may be a little prejudiced. The one item I really enjoyed was the movie’s soundtrack. The soundtrack was written by Ry Cooder, whom I really enjoy, so again I may have been prejudiced.
So let’s take a look at a group that started in 1979 in Downey California and who are still rocking today.
The Alvin brothers had an early interest in blues, and attended concerts by T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and others, sometimes jamming and reminiscing with the musicians. Phil Alvin remembers that his mother would take him backstage to get harmonica lessons from Sonny Terry when Phil was still a boy. R&B saxophone legend Lee Allen joined the Blasters for two albums and toured with the original line-up until his death in 1994, and Gene Taylor joined as well, performing boogie woogie-style piano. Later on the band were joined by Steve Berlin (later of Los Lobos), who played baritone sax.
The Blasters’ energetic live performances gained a local following, and they became fixtures of the early 1980s Los Angeles punk rock scene, performing alongside X, Black Flag, The Gun Club, the Screamers and others. In 1986, members of the Blasters appeared with Screamers front-man Tomata du Plenty in the punk rock musical Population: 1. Former Black Flag singer and current Rollins Band leader Henry Rollins wrote of the Blasters, “In my mind, they were a great band that not enough people found out about. Bill Bateman is one of the best drummers there is, and then of course, there are the Alvin brothers. A lot of talent for one band.” (Rollins, 36)
In 1980, the song “Marie, Marie”, from the album American Music, became a minor hit for Shakin’ Stevens, see This Ole House. Matchbox also recorded the song for their 1980 album Midnite Dynamos.
The Blasters toured almost continuously for much of their existence. The notes for The Blasters Collection report that in one particular month, they toured with psychobilly pioneers the Cramps, with western swing revivalists Asleep at the Wheel and on a leg of Queen’s west coast tour. The Blasters gave boosts to both Los Lobos and Dwight Yoakam by inviting them on tour; Yoakam would later score a modest hit with his version of Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac”.
Their song “Dark Night” was featured in a 1985 episode of Miami Vice, and they gained more exposure in the Walter Hill film Streets of Fire,(1984) performing two songs for the soundtrack as well as appearing as themselves in the film. In 1987 “Marie, Marie” was featured in the Ridley Scott film “Someone To Watch Over Me” starring Tom Berenger. In 1988 “So Long Baby, Goodbye” was featured in the film Bull Durham starting Kevin Costner and in 1996 they also appeared in the Quentin Tarantino–Robert Rodriguez collaboration From Dusk Till Dawn. In 2001, the song “So Long Baby, Goodbye” was featured on the second episode of the HBO series Six Feet Under as the song chosen by the widow of the founder of a pyramid scheme for her late husband’s viewing. “So Long Baby, Goodbye” is also featured in the 2004 PlayStation 2 video game Gran Turismo 4.
Dave Alvin, the group’s primary songwriter, left the band in 1986 for a critically acclaimed solo career. He was initially replaced on guitar by Hollywood Fats (birth name: Michael L. Mann) who appeared with them at Farm Aid. Phil Alvin has led various incarnations of the Blasters intermittently since then, including a few reunion tours and live albums of the original line up. Dave Alvin has occasionally performed with the band, and recently replaced his brother due to an illness. Personnel as of 2011 is Phil Alvin together with John Bazz, Keith Wyatt, and Bill Bateman.
On July 3, 2012, the Blasters returned with a new studio album, “Fun On Saturday Night”. The album includes a duet with Exene Cervenka of X and the Knitters, track number 2 called “Jackson”.