Photograph by Beth Herzhaft
In Chicago recently, brothers Phil and Dave Alvin had the chance to handle and play blues forefather Big Bill Broonzy’s guitar in the wake of recording Common Ground: Dave & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. “It was like holding Billie Holliday’s voice in your hand. Or old Big Bill’s voice in your hand,” says Dave.
Common Ground marks the first time since 1985 the Alvins have recorded together. In capsule: They came from Downey, California, to form the legendary Blasters. Somewhere in the mix, the brothers disagreed. They stopped speaking, and stopped making music together. Dave played with the L.A. punk band X and pursued a solo career. Phil got a master’s in math and artificial intelligence from California State University–Long Beach, taught at UCLA, and continued with the Blasters.
In 2012, Phil collapsed during a performance in Spain and nearly died. Dave took that as a sign: it was time to record an album—together. Broonzy was an artist they could agree on. Says Phil: “Big Bill is a longtime favorite of both of ours from back when we were teenagers. There’s newfound respect between us on that album.” Common ground turned into Common Ground, a critical success, something we can all dance to—and celebrate.
The Alvin brothers play July 23 at the Southgate House Revival in Newport. Tickets: $25, southgatehouse.com
Originally published in the July 2014 issue