Saturday, September 17, 2016

40 Year Itch : 50 Million Years Ago

Alpha Band : Interviews

In late 1976 a band made up of former members of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue released its debut album on Arista. The Alpha Band consisted of Steven Soles, David Mansfield and a born again Christian named T-Bone Burnett, whose song "Interviews" sounds a lot like what Burnett would release on his key 1980s album Proof Through the Night. As a college radio DJ, I knew I had to play something from Burnett at least once every two weeks on WTUL or Tulane would withhold my diploma. So I was delighted to be one of the few people who knew about The Alpha Band.

Back in the day Arista actually tried to promote the trio as the next big thing. They reportedly paid $6 million to sign the trio and label head Clive Davis proclaimed the band the most important since The Beatles. 

"We should have quit then," Mansfield would say. "Our case was hopeless."

Davis would later pronounce The Alpha Band the biggest misfire of his career.

The songs on the debut are smart and sophisticated. They just didn't connect with listeners. 

After three albums The Alpha Band called it quits and Burnett was free to launch himself into a solo career which would bounce from Christian folk to rockabilly to art rock, to teaming up with Elvis Costello as a Coward Brother, to soundtracks like O Brother Where Art Thou and his Oscar winning contribution to Crazy Heart to producing the Counting Crows, Los Lobos, Brandi Carlile, Gillian Welch and of course the Grammy winning Robert Plant and Alison Krauss project Raising Sand.

I have interviewed Burnett once. I got four minutes to talk about Inside Llewyn Davis. And I will tell you what I told him. This conversation could go on for days and I wouldn't run out of things I'd want to discuss. Because when you think about it, Burnett is one of rock's great zeligs

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