By MATT MUNOZ, Californian columnist
Bakersfield will be in full "vroom" this weekend when two seriously high-octane shows roll into town just in time for some post-March Meet rockin'.
Let's start with Friday's appearance by Los Angeles roots rock legends The Blasters at Narducci's Cafe.
Win Blasters tickets today
Tune in to "Californian Radio" from 9 to 10 a.m. this morning for a chance to win tickets to Friday's show at Narducci's. Listen for your cue to call and dial 842-KERN. The program airs on KERN-AM, 1180.
Still led by original vocalist Phil Alvin, who founded the group in 1979 with brother and singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Alvin, the self-described purveyors of "American music" have every intention of showing the locals a sweaty good time.
"I've always performed with full energy," said Phil Alvin, 60, during a phone interview. "There's never been any other direction for me to go since we started. The Blasters play hard."
That's been the group's MO since breaking into the Hollywood punk rock scene more than three decades ago with their distinct blend of blues, rockabilly, early rock 'n' roll, and rhythm and blues. Originally formed in East Los Angeles as a backup band for visiting blues legends, the brothers Alvin decided it was time to test the Hollywood waters and join the revolution against the grasp of disco.
"I wasn't playing much music because I had gotten tired of all the stuff that was everywhere, but in the middle to late '70s, the punk rock thing came on strong. I went to see a group called the Screamers at a club called The Masque in Hollywood where everyone was hanging out. They were so good and had so much energy, I knew it was time to touch music again and get going again."
Alvin said the spiky-haired crowd embraced the group after their first shows opening for bands like Agent Orange that were changing the city's soundscape.
"We grew up playing in black bars, Chicano bars, some rough places, so the punk crowd was nothing new to us. Some of The Blasters music has elements of punk, but I didn't see the difference between what we were doing and what the other bands were doing. We just had a spiritual kinship with punk."
The Blasters have toured alongside everyone from psychobilly icons The Cramps, country swingers Asleep at the Wheel, and Queen. Many of the group's songs, including "Marie Marie," "So Long Baby, Goodbye" and "Dark Night" have been featured in a number of movie soundtracks. Along the way, they gave a career boost to country singer Dwight Yoakam by inviting him on tour. Yoakam returned the favor by covering Dave Alvin's "Long White Cadillac," helping introduce the band to country fans.
Today, they continue as a traveling room-shaking outfit, with original members Bill Bateman, drums; John Bazz, bass; and guitarist Keith Wyatt, who joined the group in the late '90s. Dave Alvin, who left for a solo career in 1986, still makes appearances when time permits.
"Dave can show up and play with us whenever he wants to. He obviously provided The Blasters with a wealth of great material. He's one of the best songwriters in the world, in my opinion. I love him dearly."
But even a charmed life isn't devoid of the occasional rough spot. Last year, Phil Alvin nearly lost his life during a performance in Spain after being struck by an illness that swelled his throat shut, cutting off his breathing. Within moments of arriving to the emergency room, the singer flat-lined, forcing an emergency tracheotomy.
Alvin has since recovered, but not without a massive medical bill. In a show of support, a group of veteran acts whom The Blasters helped early on, including Los Lobos, X and Big Sandy -- along with Dave Alvin -- joined together to organize a benefit in January to help pay off the debt.
"It was great to be shown so much love. It's a little humbling to be so broke that I couldn't pay my Spanish medical bills. I was honored. I'm healthy now. Now that it's over, it's time to get back on the horse. We should be blowin' the roof off the place."
Friday's show kicks off at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18. All ages admitted. Also appearing are Dreadful Selfish Crime, The Fruit Tramps. Narducci's Cafe is located at 622 E 21st St. For more information, call 324-2961 or visit tpgtix.com.
Reverend Horton Heat at B Ryder's
If The Blasters haven't worn you down, be prepared to lose what's left of your sanity when punkabilly hero Reverend Horton Heat returns to B Ryder's on Saturday.
Guitarist Jim Heath, aka "The Rev" -- credited with helping take the basic shuffle of rockabilly purity and mixing it with gunpowder and Texas chili -- prides himself on being a tried-and-true Texas road dog.
Heath and crew trod a similar path to The Blasters when the trio was signed along with Nirvana to Seattle record label Sub Pop at the height of the grunge music era. Taking a break from his latest endless nationwide trek for a phone chat, Heath recalls the signing as peculiar, given the nature of his group's music, which at that time leaned much more toward the country side of rockabilly.
"Our first shows caught on a lot with the alternative and punk rock venues. We were actually able to play all sorts of different types of places, but I started making a little bit of an effort to be a little more turned up and more aggressive as time went on. Nirvana was playing all the same rooms as we were, but they were really on their way up and taking off about that time pretty fast. They kind of thrust way far up in the pinnacle of rockdom there when we signed."
Heath said that while he never had a chance to meet Kurt Cobain prior to the Nirvana frontman's death, his group was always treated like family within the Seattle scene.
"We did a great tour with Soundgarden. We also hung out with the other guys in Mudhoney. We were almost the anti-Sub Pop group because they were supposed to be about Seattle grunge bands and here they sign a Dallas rockabilly band. But really, the Seattle scene has really been an important cornerstone for our career. We still love going up there."
Heath's influence as a guitarist is still felt after 10 full-length releases, along with a mammoth collection, "25 to Life," that includes a live concert CD/DVD, greatest hits collection and rarities galore.
Recently signed with Victory Records, Heath plans to return with a new batch of material and stay on the road until he's reached every soul in his musical congregation.
"It's kind of cool that we were able to get in and do this thing with Victory, because it's more of a punk label. That's kind of where I'm headed, and I've got a bunch of new song ideas that I'm working on and finishing them out."
Heath added he'd also like to bring some Bakersfield spirit into the studio, if it's available.
"I'd really like to save up some money and buy me a Mosrite guitar when I'm in Bakersfield."
Saturday's show kicks off at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. All ages. Also appearing is guitar extraordinaire Deke Dickerson. B Ryder's is located at 7401 White Lane. For more information, call 397-7304 or visit numbskullshows.com.
Eli and the Sound Cult at NX Arthouse, 2995 North Baker St., 9:30 p.m., Friday, free, all ages, 301-1362.
Former Catastrophist/Mission Tonight vocalist Elijah Jenkins brings his new band for a visit to showcase his latest foray into the realm of alternative and low-fi indie music. Some familiarity in their sound, but for an early start, it's quite catchy. For a peek, visit eliandthesoundcult.com.
Velorio at On the Rocks, 1517 18th St., 9 p.m., Saturday, $7, 327-7625.
Bakersfield bilingual Latin rockers' Velorio celebrate six years together with a festive show made for the weekend. Make plans to arrive early and find a spot on the dance floor because chances are it will be jumping before downbeat. Opening the show is SoCal roc en Espanol quartet, Sonsoles Musica. Congratulations, hermanos.