A few years ago, guitarist/percussionist Robert Alvarez was probably best known in the local music scene as the son of Bobby Alvarez, one of the frontmen of popular Charleston ensemble PlaneJane. But as the co-frontman of his own funky troupe, Tidal Jive, the young son may be stepping out from his dad’s shadows and into his own spotlight.
“It’s really a very humbling experience because my dad, being who he is, I never realized just how well respected he is around town and just how special his talents are,” says Alvarez, 25. “It’s always been normal to me to be playing with him. Of course, sometimes I hated it when I was younger, because he pissed me off and told me the shit that no one else would tell me — just like working with your father in any business.
“Now, I look at it with an open mind, and I’m thankful for any chance I get to play with him. It was exciting for me to have him filling on bass early on with this band,” he adds. “For the longest time, I looked up to him so much. He was who I wanted to be — the musician and singer that everybody loves. When he books me to play gigs with him, he tells me it’s not because I’m his son, it’s because I’m a guitar player who has what he needs for that gig. That’s very special to me, to see where I was and see where I am now.”
Alvarez was born in Charleston and raised in Summerville. He felt attracted to music and playing instruments from an early age.
“I found my dad’s old Paul McCartney-style bass in the attic when I was eight. That was it. I was hooked. I still have that bass,” Alvarez says. “Shortly after that, I bought myself a guitar and a Jimi Hendrix CD, and there was no stopping me after that.”
He played snare drum and percussion in his middle school band before focusing on learning guitar in high school. After attending college in Nashville, he returned to Charleston to form his own band.
In 2008, Alvarez formed Tidal Jive as an acoustic duo with singer/guitarist/percussionist Adam Gasque. As a hippie-friendly, bar-ready groove-rock act, Tidal built a versatile setlist and learned the ins and outs of entertaining local audiences.
“When it started out, Adam and I shared guitar duties and vocal leads and harmonies,” says Alvarez. “We really had the same mindset about where we wanted the music to go.”
Last year, Alvarez and Gasque recorded and released To Want to Be Free is to Start To Be, a collection of their own tunes at Ocean Industries on James Island.
The debut disc offered a warm mix of vintage soul-rock, ’70s funk, acoustic folk-rock, reggae, and a blend of Latin influences, including samba, calypso, and Cuban. As Alvarez puts it, “It’s new-age beach-funk … a Jack Johnson-meets-James Brown thing. A fusion of surf, rock, jazz, and funk.”
The experience at Ocean Industries inspired Alvarez and Gasque. They wanted to evolve from a breezy acoustic act into a full-sized ensemble with a skillful rhythm section, intricate vocal harmonies, and a peppery stage show. They had to decide whether to find permanent players who could commit to the band or rotate various fill-ins, like drummers Markie Morant and Quentin Ravenel, or members of PlaneJane and other working bands.
“As a duo, things were becoming routine, whereas playing with these new musicians has opened things up and helped mature our sound into something more interesting,” Alvarez says. “It has opened doors for us, both on the covers scene and on the original scene.”
This winter, they connected with drummer Andrew Shaw of Big Hit and the Baby Kit. Shortly after that, they enlisted bassist Justin Harper, keyboardist Jason Griffin, and sax player Chris Shecut, all of the New Image Band.
“It’s a great group to have as we try to further ourselves musically and explore musical aspects. We’ve been building a puzzle, and the first and second pieces that we pick up have been fitting,” says Alvarez. “We’ve been lucky to have camaraderie and similar musical backgrounds. It’s really hard to get everybody on the same page, but when we work on original music, it’s easy to work with everyone in this situation.”
Tidal Jive has a full-length debut album and a nationwide tour in the works as well.
“We presented a certain sound with the first EP, but we’ve grown since then,” boasts Alvarez. “I don’t want to get too far away from the intimacy of the duo. If you take those elements away, you kind of just have a regular old funk band.”
That’s a mature and confident approach any musical father would be proud to see.
Tidal Jive also performs acoustic shows at Tasty Thai downtown on Thurs. June 23 and at Smoky Oak Taproom on James Island on Fri. June 24. They open for Concrete Jumpsuit at the Music Farm on Fri. July 1.