‘Word of mouth’ is still the best 'free' marketing via social media, but there was a time when we actually used OUR MOUTHS to tell friends and family about what was cool and happening! Picture High School kids with haircuts equally bad as today’s styles, except that flash drives were not exchanged and iPods were not being shuffled!! We dubbed cassette tapes and used the glorious Sony Walkman! And that is not to be confused with Dubstep!? We we’re like the first cavemen scripting onto walls and translating dinosaur escapades, as we recorded generation to generation of albums and store bought cassettes, passing them to each other at soccer practices and sleepovers; the sound quality degrading with every pass. I first heard and got into some of my favorite bands this way, and at the time; there was no digital studio recording, auto-tune or Pro-Tools to make everything sound pretty- so a .49 Maxell cassette would do just fine. Some of my favorite bands were discovered in this way: Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, Black Flag, Metallica (take that Napster!) and U2.
One of the favorite bands circulating during my senior year (the year I started to really devote time to the bass); was the band ALL. Formed at the end of pop-punk band The Descendents successful run in the eighties, the band continued on under a different name with the departure of singer Milo Aukerman. The band remained essentially the same, with the core of guitarist Sephen Egerton, drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez. They released a handful of recordings with a few different singers eventually settling on gruff and tumble vocalist Chad Price. But only two of their “dubbed” cassette masterpieces made it into our hands that final year in High School: Allroy’s Revenge and Allroy for Prez.
With songs like “She’s My Ex”, “I Hate to Love” and lyrics that professed a bygone lover who “chewed me up, and spit me out like bubblegum”; ALL countered there stumble’s with love by playing some of the most upbeat and engaging pop-punk to creep from the Valleys of California, sweep across the Midwest and blast me and my Pennsylvanian buds into a blissful cauldron of sun and sand we couldn’t possibly reach. These songs literally helped some of my close friends “get over” High School crushes and anchoring the whole thing musically without remaining stagnant was the fluid and pulsating bass of Karl Alvarez.
Sitting in between the concise and hyper drumming of ex-Black Flag drummer Bill Stevenson and the wiry and strained power chords of Stephen Egerton, Alvarez had a knack for moving the bassline and song into an almost danceable groove complete with plummeting eighth notes and pentatonic runs at any interval. “Wrong Again” off Allroy for Prez is a perfect example of his largely open but well-constructed lines that move all around Egerton’s straight forward chord strum. It pulls and shifts the melody along and doesn’t mind if you follow- in fact the bass invites you to the warmth and depth that Karl creates. “Daveage” at the close of Allroy for Prez has a swinging bass part in the verse with liberal use of major fifths (and really the whole arpeggio of the major & pentatonic scale in varying patterns) and the 7 chord while not stepping on the open chord guitar part. The tone is warm with a mild punch and he draws the progression out until the songs' close. The album “Allroys Revenge” follows similar patterns and again you here the driving use of the major chords; root to octave and it never sounds forced. Every bass part sounded well-conceived and executed and as a burgeoning musician- I was eager to soak up new and foreign concepts (I didn't see much use past the eighth fret at the time!).
The thrill of my life came to me some fifteen years or so later when I was fortunate enough to be on The Warped Tour for a week with the band I was playing in. We got to see so many great bands daily like ALL, The Deftones and Bad Religion, and on the first day of the tour; Frank (the singer of the band I was in) and I happened on Karl Alvarez trolling the merchandise alcove looking over the wares being sold. Frank immediately struck up a conversation with him as I stood there clueless and maybe a little awe struck. He was a genuine guy and I held off on the “Hey man, do you know how important you were to my development, blah, blah…” The significance of the moment was that nothing needed to be said at the time- he had unknowingly assisted in helping me pursue a dream. Even this blog can’t thank him enough, although I hope you check out these releases and ALL’s later releases where Karl progressed even more with his tenacious style abusing a G&L ASAT bass. Word of mouth hasn’t gone away; the exchange from hand to hand just needs a Wi-Fi connection, IPod and an iTunes account.
Often unheralded, but no longer overlooked…