SM PIER — After several weeks of internationally flavored sounds, the 25th Annual Twilight Dance Series is bringing the music back home tonight with two artists dedicated to delivering Americana rock.
The headliner for the show is local roots musician Dave Alvin and his band, the Guilty Women.
Born and raised in Downey, Calif., Alvin remembers being awestruck when his family would drive through Santa Monica.
“Going to Santa Monica was like going to Europe,” he said. “I love Santa Monica but, to me, it’s still Europe.”
Alvin grew up listening to the music his older cousins listened to, rock ‘n’ roll, country and folk, and today describes his own musical style as a synthesis of these varied sounds.
Though he wrote his own songs from an early age, at first he didn’t consider music as a profession.
“To me, making a living playing music and writing songs, it didn’t seem like a realistic thing,” he said.
Then in 1979 he and older brother Phil Alvin started a band called The Blasters, which he played in until 1985. After a short stint with the band X, Alvin went solo with backup band the Guilty Men.
In 2000 Alvin won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, but he has dabbled in many genres of music.
“I’m a blues guitar player,” he said. “I don’t limit myself as a songwriter. I will write what the song tells me to write.”
Alvin now plays with an all-female group, the Guilty Women, which has brought him a much-needed career change after the death of close friend and band member Chris Gaffney.
After Gaffney’s death last year from cancer, Alvin was invited to play at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. When asked what performance he would give, he immediately decided to change directions and bring in a female band.
“I picked up the phone and called the various members and in two hours I had a band,” he said. “It was all women that I’d worked with over the years.”
The Guilty Women are some of the most well-respected musicians in Americana music — Cindy Cashdollar, Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis, Christy McWilson, Sarah Brown, Amy Farris and Lisa Pankratz — and Alvin said they rock as hard as any of the men he’s played with.
“When you listen to the record, it could be guys, but on the other hand, it’s the first time in my 30-year career I’m the best looking guy in the band,” he joked.
Alvin and the Guilty Women released a self-titled CD this May on the same day that Alvin released a special tribute CD in honor of Gaffney. The CD, called “Chris Gaffney Tribute: Man of Somebody’s Dreams,” showcases well-known artists, such as Los Lobos and Calexico, singing their favorite Gaffney song.
“What’s neat about it is most tribute records are to artists that people have heard of, but this is a tribute record to an artist that most people don’t know,” Alvin said. “I’m very proud to give him something he never got when he was alive.”
Opening for Alvin is Paul Thorn, an artist who can best be described as a roots rock ‘n’ roller.
“For those people who are fans of Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen can’t hold Paul Thorn’s jockstrap,” said Rene Engel, booking agent for the pier. “He’s incredible. He’s inspirational. His connection with the audience is just fantastic.”
Thorn grew up in Tupelo, Miss., the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and he credits Elvis as one of his musical influences along with the gospel music sung in his father’s church.
“My dad was a pentecostal preacher. I grew up singing in church,” Thorn said.
The songwriter has been touring since 1997, but he admits that it can be a struggle to find an audience.
“In today’s music world with record companies going out of business and top 40 radio is a wasteland, it seems like real artists who really have something they want to say, they have to do it on their own,” he said.
But Thorn hasn’t been at it for long. Before he began performing, he was a professional boxer and was ranked ninth nationally in the middleweight division.
The fight Thorn is most famous for is a fight that he lost against Roberto Duran in 1988. After eight years boxing, Thorn retired from the sport and focused on music full time.
“I stopped because in a sport like that you can get hurt unless you’re the absolute best,” he said. “Rather than stay in and get hurt, I took it as far as I could then I let it go and got back to my music.”
Thorn said he looks forward to leaving his Southern home for a few days and play in Santa Monica, adding that many West Coast listeners haven’t been introduced to his blend of Americana rock and roots blues.
“We’re building a following kind of the old fashioned way,” he said. “We haven’t actually played in this area that often so we’re kind of excited to come out and play for [everyone].”