Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dave Alvin - Perdido Street Blues

A few years ago a photographer friend of mine named Regis Lefebure turned me on to this wonderfully different song. And this week, it's our SoTW. The song is called Perdido Street Blues, a song first performed by Louis Armstrong back in 1926. In fact, the song is credited to Satchmo's then wife, Lil' Hardin Armstrong. But the version we are looking at today is by Dave Alvin.

Hipsters (and perhaps even you) may know Dave Alvin from his stint with his brother Phil Alvin in the rockabilly/Americana group, The Blasters who roamed this earth starting back in the early 80's. Or maybe you know him from his association with members of the punk band, X, in a loose affiliation band they called The Knitters. Or maybe you know him from that afternoon paper route you had in Downey, California back in the early 70's when he and his brother would throw water balloons at you as you rode by on your Schwinn Stingray. (Probably not. Now that I think about it, that would be real unlikely.) Or maybe you just know him. Whatever. Let's get to the song.

Dave Alvin's version of Perdido Street Blues really caught my attention for a number of reasons. First, it has a killer little stutter stop riff played on a National steel bodied guitar. Second, it has a peculiar sort of Russian flavored martial back beat. Third, it switches between major and minor chords more often than a frat boy downs a cheap beer. Last, the musicianship is knock your socks off. Well, heck, let's hear about from the artist himself:

I was 14 when I first heard his version and, besides being blown away by Dodds' clarinet virtuosity, what captivated me was the minor/major key modulations that make up the song structure. With its low down almost spooky groove and melody, "Perdido Street Blues" is definitely some old time, back-in-the-alley viper music.

To read more about Dave Alvin's take on recording this song, please click here to be taken to the Yep Roc site. In the meantime, sit back and listen to this wonderfully arranged and recorded song. And if that is not enough, Mr. Flippy is giving you a chance to see a Blasters video from back in the unforgiving 80's.


  1. This really is a fantastic song and arrangement. As you noted it switches between minor (rooted in Em) and major (rooted in G) blues progressions, which had a kind of disorienting affect on this listener, until i picked up a guitar to ground my ear. I grabbed the guitar mainly to understand what was going on as the tune switched from minor to major, and basically it's a walk down from Em to D before it lands on the G, a really wonderful idea. And through the leads are superb, its the perky, inventive drums that really drive this arrangement for me. Thanks for the post!

  2. Construction wise, I agree, the song is a bit hard to get the head around. I need to do the same...sit down and figure out the song.

  3. If I were to hear this song first anywhere else besides SoTW, I would have thunk, 'this is down Morgon's alley'. I know you roll down many alleys but......this song has a western-style story behind. It is slightly tense at first but then loosens up, a lot like a lady on a barstool.

  4. "It is slightly tense at first but then loosens up, a lot like a lady on a barstool."

    Oh, I've got to use this one someday.