When Dave Alvin recorded his solo album “King of California” in 1994, the songwriter and guitarist was already a fully road-tested veteran of two seminal L.A. bands: the Blasters, which he’d formed with his brother, lead singer Phil, and X, the Exene Cervenka-John Doe-fronted punk band into which he stepped to take over for lead guitarist Billy Zoom.
Despite all that experience under his belt, Alvin considers “King of California,” his fourth solo collection, to be the one on which he finally, fully found his true voice, as a singer and a songwriter.
The album is being reissued on June 28 in a 25th anniversary edition with three bonus tracks, including the instrumental “Riverbed Rag” which The Times is premiering.
The track is a duet between Alvin and his longtime friend and collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz. Alvin says the bouncy folk-rooted excursion was inspired by the usually dry San Gabriel River near which both grew up.
“Greg was already a respected, multi-instrumentalist veteran of the West Coast folk and country-rock scenes, while I was a loud, primitive blues guitar basher and songwriter from the raw edges of the rock ’n’ roll world,” Alvin writes in the set’s new liner notes.
“That didn’t stop us from bonding quickly over our favorite songwriters,” he continues, “our similar dark senses of humor, our interest in history and love of the wilderness, as well as our memories of growing up on opposite sides of the dry San Gabriel riverbed and playing in long-gone orange groves.”
Immersed in the blues, primal rock and R&B growing up in Downey, Alvin also writes that “Ironically, for a wild blues blaster best known for beating up innocent electric guitars, this acoustic album became the best-selling solo album of my career.”
He rearranged some of his songs the Blasters had recorded in rocked-up electric versions — “Bus Station” and “Leaving” — and the elegiac “Fourth of July” that he’d brought to X for the group’s “See How We Are” album, plus versions of Whistlin’ Alex Moore’s “East Texas Blues,” retitled “West Texas Woman,” Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth” and a duet rendition with Syd Straw of George Jones’ 1956 hit “What Am I Worth.”
“King of California” was recorded the day after the Southland was hit by the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake, which didn’t deter Alvin from proceeding, and on some level parallels the impact the album had on his understanding of his own music.
“‘King of California’ is when I decided, ‘This is when I let the song tell me what it sounds like’,” he writes. “Ever since then, that’s been my rule. It sounds ridiculous, but it was something I had to learn.”
Alvin starts a new tour June 1 in Iowa City, Iowa, and reaches Southern California for stops June 14 and 16 at McCabe’s in Santa Monica and June 15 at the Sweetwater Community Church in Bonita in San Diego Country. Leisz will accompany Alvin on several of the dates, including the McCabe’s shows, while Texas singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore will join him at several others.