Pamela Des Barres' Guitar Gods: Dave Alvin

The legendary rock and roll scenester picks her latest guitar hero.

Even though Austin's Continental Club was seething with jacked-up, crammed-in, stomping, slamming, sweaty humanity, hopped up on SXSW, I was allowed to sneak in through the back door—compliments of a heroine of mine, and squeezed my way down front just in time. The Brothers Alvin—Dave and Phil—were tearing through a wicked Big Bill Broonzy song off their Grammy-nominated album, Common Ground, and I stood there awestruck for the rest of the set. I’ve always known Dave as a stellar songwriter, gravelly sexy singer, and an L.A. legend since his heady days as a founder of the seminal Blasters, but, yowza, that night he also became one of my Top Ten favorite guitar players. Bluesy, bright, naughty and nice, he held the thing low and tough like he was in the middle of his honeymoon and just couldn’t get enough. I got that thrumming sensation, reminding me of a lyric my ex-hubby, Michael came out with: I was feeling “hot and sticky down south.” Yum.

Back in L.A., I asked Dave out for a drink so I could ask a few questions about his relationship with his guitar—knowing full well he’s in love with that sleek beauty. We met at a dark, funky bar on Venice Blvd, and after I proceeded to spill my entire martini into my cowboy boot (oops!), we got down to it.

How does it feel to create sounds like that—stirring people up?

I get into arguments with people who try to deny that sex is a part of music. That's the reason Elvis was Elvis, and Same Cooke was Sam Cooke. It's the same basic roots and three chords, and overloaded with sexuality. When you’re trying to be fearless, and break the rules—that’s sexual.

Rock and roll is about rule-breaking.

Yeah, you break out of them. That was one of the reasons I left the Blasters. We had these strict "rules," and it worked for a while, but after a while you get to where, yeah, this is cool, certainly, you spread your legs and sweat, you're jumping through the air and that kinda jazz. And it was fun…

And sexy...

Yeah, it was sexy. When you're 24 or whatever, it's one thing. Then, as you mature, you have to redefine your sexuality.

But it still comes from the same place [laughs]...

You know, we're just channeling. I'm like channeling Johnny "Guitar" Watson, T-Bone Walker, Hendrix—all those guys are kind of floating around inside me.

You hold your guitar like it’s a woman.

I wear 'em down, I wear 'em out [laughs]. I just retired my one big love—my ’64 Strat. She was “Billie,” and my amp was “Bessie.” I certainly wore them out. I f**king played it everyday from 1983 until last year. I had a friend build me basically the same exact guitar. Guitar geeks went nuts over her, and I was standing there like a proud husband. And I’m like, “That's mine. That's the one I'm doing. Yep, that one right there.”

So there's an actual love, there—almost like a romantic love?
Oh yeah, but we do have an open relationship. To get back to the sexual, or physical aspect of it, my Strat felt right. It always had the feel. And it would just move right with my body. The new one is pretty close, so it's like I retired my first wife, and I'm working on my second now.

I love that you refer to your guitars as girls.

Doesn’t everybody?

Watch Dave and his Brother Phil Rock Out the Troubadour in Los Angeles