In the summer of 1999, I was amazed and intrigued to see a couple of posters announcing that Davie Allan and the Arrows were coming to Montreal. I knew the guitarist from his 1967 hit “Blues’ Theme” and that he had recorded instrumental soundtracks for biker movies, but not much else.
The interview took place July 29, 1999, sitting outdoors on the terrace of a now-defunct club called Jailhouse Rock Café, just before the band performed. It was lovely night, with a warm wind (that caused some distortion on the tape as I found out while transcribing the interview). The energetic sound of the local warm-up band, The Treblemakers, was in the background, and the conversation was briefly interrupted by fans asking for an autograph or to take a picture.
Davie Allan was calm, kind, clear-eyed, and trim, dressed all in black with a skull medallion. The set that he played with his trio, which consisted of drummer Dave Winogrond (with whom he’d recorded the Fuzz Fest CD from the year before), and bassist Lee Joseph (whose Dionysus label had released some of Allan’s recent CDs), was, as expected, all instrumental. Allan played his Fender guitar with great facility, making masterful use of effects : the whammy bar, pick slide, sustain, feedback, and occasional wah wah pedal.
The band opened with “Shape of Things to Come,” which Allan recorded in 1968, and they included some others also recorded in the 1960s : “Theme from the Unknown,” and a medley of “Blues’ Theme” and “Born Loser’s Theme.” They also played “Peter Gunn” and “Experiment in Terror” (both written by Henri Mancini), “Missing Link” (a tribute to Link Wray that included a Hendrix quote), and several songs from the Fuzz Fest CD. The club’s audience gave them a great reception. It was Allan’s first appearance in Montreal.
Craig Morrison : I’d like to hear about how you created your style. Let’s start with your early influences.
Davie Allan : Well influences go back to ’56 seeing Elvis on TV. I didn’t know at the time he wasn’t really much of a guitar player, but I saw that guitar in his hands and I said : "That’s what I want to do !" Then I got into Duane Eddy. I bought every single that came out and learned every lick. I loved them all. I loved "Forty Miles of Bad Road," "Cannonball," and a slow one : "The Lonely One" I think it was called. There was just one after another. I did get into Link Wray a little bit ; I had the one album on Epic. I didn’t have "Rumble" but I had that album.
CM : Were you influenced by surf ?
DA : No, I got into the Ventures, Nokie Edwards especially. Actually [Dick Dale and the Del-Tones’] "Miserlou" blew me away, and [the Chantays’] "Pipeline." Other than that, I did like the Lively Ones’ "Surf Rider,” but that’s about it. Then I took all those guys and tried to get my own kind of sound going. I’ve always been into the melody thing ; I call it "melodic grunge." You’re going to hear us tonight : there’s some pretty things but it’s nasty sounding at the same time.
CM : Where does that nasty sound come from ? Is it the Link Wray influence ?
DA : A little bit. What we were first doing when I first got with a couple of guys, we would have two guitar amplifiers. We’d sing too. We would plug in a couple of guitars and a couple of voices into the same amp : that’s how I first heard this kind of distortion. Plus a record by Marty Robbins, "Don’t Worry," that had a fuzz solo that just blew me away. [Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” had a fuzz bass. It was a big hit on the country charts in 1961.]
CM : I know that record. That was supposed to be an accident I think.
DA : That’s what I heard. And "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" had a fuzz solo on it too, with Phil Spector. [Phil Spector was the producer of Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ version of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which was a #8 hit in 1963. The song comes from a Walt Disney movie in 1946, but its roots go back to the “Zip Coon” song of early blackface minstrel music of the 19th century.] Then around ’64 or ’65 I began experimenting with different fuzz tones. The first one I had was a Gibson Maestro Fuzztone [pedal], then I got into the Mosrite.
CM : Had you been playing professionally at this point ?
DA : Well the first Arrows recording was "Apache ’65" and we recorded that late in ’64.
CM : You worked with Tower Records. Did you know some of the other acts on Tower ?
DA : The Standells. Ian Whitcomb, we used to do shows with him. Actually I ran into Ian three months ago.
CM : I’m trying to see if there was a musical community there. Did you know other acts, work with them ? Was it competitive ?
DA : No, not competitive like it seems to be today. No, everybody was so kind to each other, it was a totally different world. I really miss that. One of the things I miss the most is we would go in and record an album and it would be out in a couple of weeks. Now you finish it and it’s out in three or four months if you’re lucky.
CM : It was much more immediate. I think that everything was more immediate in the sense that things were changing very rapidly : sounds, technology. Now it’s more of a sense of retro or references. It doesn’t have that “maybe I’m going to change my sound” or “maybe somebody’s going to play something that’s going to make me rethink what I’m doing.”
DA : Have you heard any of our Dionysus stuff ?
CM : I have not.
DA : That’s a shame. In the ’90s I did an album with the Phantom Surfers, and we’ve had two albums out. All in the ’90s.
CM : Do you know about the Delerium website ? [This mammoth online archive, with short biographies and detailed discographies of thousands of acts, was connected to a UK mail order record distributor called The Freak Emporium. Neither the business nor their archive are in operation now.]
DA : No.
CM : I printed this off tonight just before I came. It’s what they have on you guys. You can have it.
DA : Oh really ? Oh wow. They spelt my name totally wrong [Davey Allen] : it’s “ie” [Davie] and “an” [Allan]. I’d say it’s misspelled half the time. I think when people hear it they spell it the other way.
CM : They list the albums here and the 45s and then a blurb about you and the musicians.
DA : That’s great.
CM : Larry Brown played with The Moon it says here. Did you know that band ? It had one of the ex-Beach Boys in it, David Marks.
DA : Oh, I knew that. My bass player, Drew Bennett, was in that too for awhile. Tony Allwine uses the name Wayne now and does the voice of Mickey Mouse. Paul Johnson wasn’t really in the band but was grabbed to fill out a publicity shot, it was already recorded
CM : Did you play live much ?
DA : I did a little but not a lot. I was basically in a recording studio for five years, from ’64 to ’69, something like that.
CM : Was it in Los Angeles ?
DA : Yeah.
CM : Any road work ?
DA : We did one tour in ’67. We crossed the States, for a month in August. It was great. It was mostly the Teenage Fairs they had back then.
CM : Yes, I went to some. I saw the Standells at one of those when I was a teenager.
DA : We did a lot of those shows with some great groups : the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Van Morrison, the Turtles, the Leaves, the Music Machine, and the Grass Roots. It was pretty exciting times.
CM : Is it accurate to say your style is blues based ?
DA : I know [why you say that], because of “Blues’ Theme” ! No. I actually never really got into any particular kind of music. I just started doing it.
CM : Now you call your style melodic grunge. What did you call it at the time ?
DA : Well, I never used the word surf. We were a little bit after that got going. You know, I should have some great lines for this but I don’t.
CM : Well, what did people call you at the time ?
DA : Oh, I can’t repeat that ! [We laugh.]
CM : Were there comparisons with Dick Dale particularly because you were doing instrumentals and you were in the same town ?
DA : With the Ventures. I know when I signed with Tower Records, their plan was for us to take over the Ventures’ throne. But it didn’t happen and then Tower closed up. Then I was out of a label for three or four years.
CM : Is most of your output original compositions ?
DA : Now it is. In those days, there were so many people that were writing for the company I was with. If you really saw all the credits on these albums, there’s a lot of names. There [Mike] Curb and Charlie Hatcher and Jerry Steiner and all kinds of great writers.
CM : And they probably wanted you to do their stuff because they owned the publishing.
Henry Mancini, composer of "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Pink Panther Theme," "Peter Gunn," and many more classic songs for films.
DA : Well unfortunately Curb owns it all to this day, but on my last two albums I’ve written or co-written everything except for a couple of Mancini songs. Most of our set tonight is tunes from those two CDs. But on the CDs, I do in some cases three and four guitar parts and we’re just a trio tonight. And there’s some keyboards on some of the recordings too.
CM : How is it being on tour now ?
DA : This is only my third tour in my entire career. I did the one in ’67, we went to Europe in ’96, and now this one. This is great. We did New York Tuesday night and it was just amazing. I had no thoughts that people would go this crazy. They were just roaring after every tune.
CM : That’s great ! Did you continue playing through all these years or was there a break ?
DA : No, I’ve never stopped. I put the Arrows to bed for awhile and did some other things, like some bar band things just to pay the bills. But I’ve always kept recording and writing. I’ve actually written more tunes in ’90s than previous three decades put together. I don’t know what happened all of a sudden, it’s really weird ! Well you’ll be the judge if the tunes are any good when you hear the CDs. We’ve got a new one coming out in fall, on vinyl in September and then CD in October. And we have a website that just went up, I believe, yesterday.
CM : You said your first recording was ’64, with “Apache ‘65” your first song, and then your hit song was…
DA : “Blues’ Theme” from Wild Angels, right, that was the big one.
CM : This seems influenced by ’50s style. There are others, Creedence is a great example, of people who were still carrying a strong core root influence of ’50s, but there’s a lot of other things that had come in with a different flavor : the psychedelic style had come up out of the folk revival and there was a lot of white rhythm and blues going on. How did you feel about fitting in or being around all those other styles ?
DA : I never seemed to have a problem with it. Is it that different today ? I guess it is.
CM : The “Blues’ Theme” is what I know best and it fits quite happily in its period, mostly because of the fuzz tone.
DA : Yeah, and it was a basic blues pattern.
CM : But I know a lot of other people that were working in the ’50s, and that was their sound, they felt left behind. So here you are in that same period with a strong influence of that, but maybe it was the fuzz thing that put it right in keeping with what else that was going around.
DA : I guess it was. My Apache ‘65 album, even though it had an Indian theme to it because of the Arrows name, Indian [song] titles, it sounded surf-y. But once I did something with the fuzz-tone, I never wanted to turn it off.
CM : And that became your signature.
DA : Yeah. Like I did a session recently with the group Phantom Surfers and I did a couple of things without the fuzz and it was almost impossible. It hasn’t been released, but it was rough. I’m just so used to that guitar to be sustaining.
CM : Is it the sustain aspect of the fuzz that you find appealing ?
DA : That is really the main thing. I do like the grungey aspect of it too. You’ll hear a couple of things tonight that are really melodic but nasty sounding at the same time.
CM : When you first discovered the fuzz, did it have that quality at the time or was it more just sustain ? Did it sound grungey ?
Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and Davie Allan, 2003 - photo courtesy of Davie Allan
DA : Yeah, "Blues’ Theme" was kind of a fluke. That was recorded just for that movie. It was some magical moment, how we got that sound in the studio, because I’ve never been able to duplicate that. I’m happy with what I’ve done since, but my favorite things I’ve ever done are the things I’m doing today. But there are cult fans that all they live for is that ’60s sound. I did an album with the Phantom Surfers that came out last year called Skaterhater, which is a take-off on a movie I had done called Skater Dater, and they insisted that I bring out the old fuzz-tone from the ’60s, which I hate. But I did it, I used it on there, and it was a pretty fun session.
CM : How did you find the fuzz. Were you in a shop and somebody said, “You gotta hear this” ?
DA : When I heard that Marty Robbins thing, then I looked into it and found out the Gibson company had this fuzz-tone, so I bought one of those.
CM : Had you heard it before you bought or just, “It says ‘fuzz’ so I’m getting it” ?
DA : I probably tried it out in the store. I wished I’d kept it, just for the heck of it. I didn’t keep anything that I had back then, even the double-neck guitar, you’ve seen pictures of that. I sold it and now it’s worth thousands of dollars.
CM : We all have a few of those. This sound you got in the studio : what was different that you can’t find again ?
DA : I think it had something to do with the fact that we weren’t really recording this for an album, we were doing it for the movie, so there were microphones and everything, but I was playing so loud that it was leaking into every microphone in the room. I think it made the sound so monstrous.
CM : Saturated.
DA : Yeah, I think that’s what did it.
CM : But you weren’t able to actually hear that as you were playing it, so how did it feel when you were playing it ?
DA : It was pretty great.
CM : Did you often record very loud ?
DA : Yeah, we did. Not so much today, they insist on separating the things. You’ve got an amp in this room and an amp over here, and you’ve got headphones on so you can hear everybody. I don’t feel it quite as well.
CM : I agree. I play too and some of the best recordings we have are from live shows, ’cause everybody’s right there and everything’s happening. I love that sense that you don’t have a second chance.
DA : Right. Did you ever hear about the Del-Fi compilation from 1996 called Shots in the Dark ? It was a tribute to Henry Mancini, who is my hero. For that particular CD we did Mancini’s tune “Experiment in Terror." There was a movie called Experiment in Terror in ’61. It was a murder mystery. Glenn Ford was a cop, and Lee Remick, but the tune just blew me away, so when they wanted to do a tribute I said I want to do that tune. It’s also on our Fuzz Fest CD. I got into Mancini back in ’59. Before I was even recording, I was into Mancini.
CM : You were playing guitar though.
DA : I had just started. I heard “Peter Gunn” in ’59. I was into [watching] the [television] show, and it just blew me away. Then I got really heavily into movie music, which is kind of funny because I did two dozen B movie soundtracks in the ’60s. Nothing compared to anything he did, but then I was so into him that in ’85 I did a version of "Peter Gunn." Then we did his song “The Party,” from the Peter Sellers movie. When I did “Peter Gunn,” I sent him a copy of the album and he sent me back an autographed letter thanking me. I wrote something like “I know this isn’t your kind of music but I wanted you to hear what I did with your song anyway.” He wrote back and said, “You’re right, it’s not my kind of music but I appreciate when something is done well and your album is well done.” I took that and I put it in a frame and it’s on my music room wall to this day.
CM : That’s very sweet.
DA : But that’s why I’m really into melodies, because of him.
CM : Did he influence your choice of chords too, or did you get some other ideas from him ?
DA : We have a new song on our upcoming album that I actually took a couple of his chords from “Experiment in Terror” and reworked them a little. It’s called "Corridor of Fear." He’s my hero, even though Elvis and Nokie got me into it.
CM : How did you get from being a guitar player in ’59, excited by music, to a record contract in 1964 ? What happened in the intervening years ?
DA : Well, I met somebody in high school who was going to go all the way to the top, Mike Curb, and we hit it off. That’s the only positive thing I can say. Sorry, I can’t go into it. But he’s the one that got all that stuff.
CM : He knew he was going somewhere at that point.
DA : I knew he was going to be a major influence in the music business and sure enough, he’s worth 30 million dollars today, and I’m worth three cents. So, there you go ! No, I’m just kidding. But that’s what did it.
CM : You were close in those days ?
DA : Yeah, we went to high school together, we were best friends. As soon as he started recording, I was on everything he did, for years.
CM : What did he start with ?
DA : The Hondells.
CM : “Little Honda” ?
DA : Yeah. Now, he didn’t have that one. He got in a little bit after that and did some album cuts and a few singles. Then we got the Arrows going and played on a few things on record, not any of the major hits. There was one that was very popular because it was a commercial : "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda." It was on the radio all across the country and I played on that. That’s the one that was the most known.
CM : And that’s before you had your own stuff out ?
DA : I think just before.
CM : So you were getting studio experience through the commercials and the session stuff.
DA : Right. Once I started the Arrows, boy, that took up a lot of time. I almost lived in the studio.
CM : Did you like that aspect of it ?
DA : I loved it. I mean 24 hours would go by and we didn’t even really notice it.
CM : Were you rehearsing, writing, laying down tracks, the whole thing ?
DA : Oh, yeah. There’s a magazine that a friend, a big fan, put out a couple of years ago, called Fuz. It’s on my ’60s career and it’s amazing when you see the discography and see all the things that I was on in four or five years. It shocked me when I saw it all written out.
CM : Did you know Steve Barri who worked with PF Sloan ?
DA : Oh sure, Sloan and Barri. I loved their songs back then. The Grass Roots, yeah. I actually recorded—I don’t know if they both wrote it—a tune called "What Am I Doing Here with You." I know one of them wrote that. But it never came out, it’s an unreleased track that I did, a vocal thing that I did. I did very few vocals.
CM : Why was that ? You weren’t happy singing ?
DA : Yeah, I’m not a real strong vocalist.
CM : Do you sing at all in your shows ?
DA : No, not a note. We talk a little but that’s about it !
I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.
you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5