Outside of a couple reunions with seminal roots crew the Blasters, the brothers Alvin haven’t shared the stage much since Dave left the band in 1986. Phil nearly died while touring Spain in 2012, prompting the Downey, Calif., siblings to reconsider their relationship. Something they always agreed upon was a love for the blues, especially Big Bill Broonzy.
“In the Thirties, Big Bill was a star in the blues world,” says Dave. “Robert Johnson was a relative unknown.”
Among pre-World War II bluesmen, Broonzy still gets overlooked today, though his songs remain as potent as, if not more than, those of the better-known Johnson. “Key to the Highway” – covered on what some have already called the album of the year, the Alvins’ Broonzy tribute Common Ground – qualified as a blues standard beginning in the Sixties.
“In my opinion,” offers Dave, “there’s Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, and Big Bill Broonzy – the four pillars of the Parthenon of American roots music.”
“We had an EP,” relates Phil, “and when the people at Yep Roc listened to it, they wanted more.”
“We recorded five songs and that was the original idea,” agrees Dave. ”When the label heard it they came back and said, ‘How about a full album?’ On one hand, yes, it’s an homage to Bill Broonzy. On the other, it’s an homage to brotherly love.
“I get a lot of that at shows now. Guys have been coming up to me and saying, ‘I haven’t talked to my brother in 20 years. I got this record, and I called my brother.’”– Jim Caligiuri