Blaster in the Flatlands: Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore at The Ark


It might seem like Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore come from very different places musically.

Alvin is best known as a core member of the roots-rock band The Blasters, often considered part of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene. Gilmore is a Texas troubadour who helped start the alt-country/Americana movement as a member of The Flatlanders. But the two came of age loving the same kinds of authentic folk and blues music -- and today, they’re both comfortable working in a laid-back singer-songwriter format.

In fact, they’ve been friends for more than 30 years. So when Alvin suggested the two start doing some shows together -- including on at The Ark on Oct. 30 -- it seemed like a natural pairing.

Speaking by phone from California recently, traveling between Flatlanders concerts, Gilmore recalled living in L.A. in the mid-'60s. Going to the famous Ash Grove music club, he got to know some blues and folk icons like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, and John Herald of The Greenbriar Boys. Around the same time, Dave Alvin was also hanging out at the club as a teenager. “Dave actually got to be close friends with some of them,” Gilmore says.

Gilmore and Alvin didn’t meet until later, eventually becoming labelmates on Hi-Tone after Alvin left The Blasters for a solo career. Gilmore credits Alvin with the idea to play some concerts together, exploring their own work as well as the older songs that they still revere.
“We turned out to have so much in common,” Gilmore says. “A lot of that folk-blues stuff was real important to both of us. ... It just turned out to be so much fun, we booked more dates after the first smaller run.”

In addition to the concerts, Gilmore and Alvin have been recording together, as what Gilmore calls “a science experiment.” They’ve been working with a full band, including Alvin on electric guitar. “It’s really looking good” that further recording might lead to an album, Gilmore says.

The basic format of the concerts, however, is simply the two old friends on stage together, swapping songs and stories. “On the tour, it’s just the two of us,” Gilmore says.

Their set lists vary widely from night to night, starting with a handful of songs they know they’ll play. “Then it can go anywhere. We take requests if we know them,” Gilmore says. “Both of us just pull things out of a hat, unexpectedly.”

“Since we have such a different fan base, I think it works out really well. The people that are my fans tend to like Dave a lot, and vice versa,” Gilmore says. “It’s introducing me to a new audience.”

In addition to working with Alvin and some dates with The Flatlanders, Gilmore has also toured with other artists this year; he was at The Ark a few months back with Ann Arbor native son Bill Kirchen.

“I had declared myself semi-retired, which turned out not to be true at all,” he says with a laugh. “I’m at a place in my career where I can just pick and choose.”

So what’s next? And he mentioned that fellow Flatlander Joe Ely has uncovered some outtakes from recording done at his home studio that could be released. “Turns out we have quite a catalog of recordings that haven’t been released, and some of them are really good quality,” he says.

And somehow, he’s also finding the time to work on some solo material: “Lately, I seem to be on an energy wave.”

Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin play The Ark, 316 S. Main St., at 8 pm on Monday, Oct. 30. Tickets are $30. Visit for tickets and more info.