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From early days growing up in the southeast Los Angeles suburb of Downey, California under the tutelage of T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner to their emergence as central figures in the eclectic LA punk/rock scene of the early ‘80s to their current status as internationally-renowned influences in their own right, the Blasters have spent their lives exploring and expressing the deep and diverse musical legacy that is best described by the title of their first album: American Music.
A performance by today’s Blasters––vocalist-guitarist Phil Alvin, drummer Bill Bateman, bassist John Bazz, and guitarist Keith Wyatt––reflects influences that range from George Jones and Carl Perkins to Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown and Bo Diddley. The band’s 1980 debut album American Music (Rollin’ Rock) was a powerful collection of fresh, distinctive performances that shattered the artificial boundaries between blues, rockabilly, country, R&B and rock & roll. The next three albums for Slash/Warner Bros. (The Blasters, Non-Fiction, and Hard Line) increasingly featured the unique songwriting voice of original guitarist Dave Alvin as the band’s lineup expanded to include pianist Gene Taylor plus saxophonists Steve Berlin and New Orleans legend Lee Allen (“the man who put a saxophone in rock & roll”). As the Blasters’ fame grew, they began to draw accolades from artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Queen, and in turn the band encouraged and supported still up-and-coming LA musical peers such as Dwight Yoakum and Los Lobos.
In 1986, Dave Alvin left the band to pursue a solo career, and over the next decade a series of renowned guitarists including Billy Zoom, Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann, Greg “Smokey” Hormel, and James Intveld filled the position. Phil Alvin simultaneously expanded his own musical efforts with the release of two acclaimed solo albums, Unsung Stories (Slash/Warner) in 1986 and County Fair 2000 (Hightone) in 1994.
In 1996, current guitarist Keith Wyatt joined the lineup and the Blasters continued touring steadily in the US and Europe before returning to the studio in 2004 to record 4-11-44 (Rainman). After the departure of drummer Jerry Angel, the band reunited with original member Bill Bateman and subsequently released their 2012 CD Fun on Saturday Night (Rip Cat). Meanwhile, the Blasters’ catalog was renewed with reissues of American Music along with two Slash/Warner compilations (Testament and The Blasters Collection) and the live recordings Trouble Bound and Going Home Live(Shout Factory).
Blasters shows have been described as “a cross between Creedence and the Clash,” with a display of passion and energy only deepened by decades of experience. For all of the ways in which the world has changed in the past few decades, one thing is still guaranteed: the Blasters play American Music.
It’s telling that Rosie Flores’ e-mail handle begins “chickwpick…” In a long and eclectic career of singing, songwriting and performing, no phrase has ever described the San Antonio native better or more concisely.
But now, with the release of her latest album, Flores takes square aim at a genre she has only sampled heretofore. Simple Case of the Blues showcases Flores in a new light, as a seasoned performer steeped in life’s uncompromising lessons. At once torchy, soulful, heartfelt and yearning, the songs on Simple Case of the Blues are not for the emotionally naïve—it’s the music you make when you’ve come through joy and heartbreak and back again.
Utilizing songs by Roy Brown, Wilson Pickett, Heath Wilson, and Flores herself, Simple Case of the Blues was produced by songwriter/guitarist Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan, The Arc Angels). With an assist by guitarist Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), Simple Case of the Blues was, to hear Flores tell it, a long time coming.
“I got infatuated with the blues in high school,” said Flores, who played in a band called Penelope’s Children during those years. “It was the first music I ever played. A high school friend taught me some chords and mentored me. He introduced me to the blues. He went on to play in the King Biscuit Blues Band, so I felt like I got a great early education.
“I always loved Buddy Guy—his real lyrical playing. It’s like his guitar is having its own conversation. It’s an ongoing process; I’ve mastered the life of a musician, but I’ll be working on the guitar for the rest of my life.”
In a career that spans more than four decades, Flores has proven to be a musical chameleon. She’s jumped feet first into punk rock (with her ’70-era band, the Screaming Sirens), country of both the Bakersfield and Nashville varieties, the Texas singer/songwriter scene, alt-country, straight-up rock and rockabilly. So much so the latter that her onstage moniker for years was “The Rockabilly Filly.” But always and throughout, she has been the Chick with the Pick.
Over the years, Flores has been profiled in Guitar World, Premiere Guitar and Guitar Player magazines. Venuszine cited Flores as one of the “Top 75 Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time” by Venuszine magazine. She performed at a tribute to Chuck Berry at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. She has worked with, and helped propel back in to the spotlight, pioneer female rockabilly artists Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin. In 2007, she won a Peabody Award for her narration of the rockabilly documentary, Whole Lotta Shakin’. She worked with Martin in producing the latter’s 2012 album, The Blanco Sessions, which would prove to be Martin’s last recording.
Throughout, she released her own work. To name but a few, they include her solo debut, 1987’s Rosie Flores, 1995’s Rockabilly Filly, 1999’s Dance Hall Dreams, the acoustic live set Single Rose in 2004, 2009’s Girl of the Century and, in 2012, the aptly-named, self-produced Working Girl’s Guitar. Since then, her time has been spent on her labor of love—Simple Case of the Blues.
Though she has toured around the world, Flores always returns to her adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, where she was honored with Rosie Flores day in 2006 (an honor she was accorded once again in 2017). Cover stories in the Austin Chronicle and Austin Woman magazine have codified her status as one of the city’s most celebrated musicians.
“She’s a hard-working, independently minded artist who’s well-respected for her gritty, energetic vocals and fiery guitar solos,” writes the authoritative website Allmusic.com. “Prolifically creative, Flores deserves to be numbered among the creators of the alternative country movement.” Now, with Simple Case of the Blues, Flores is making a full musical circle, back to her roots—and ours.