Up Close with Davie Allan
Legendary Fuzz Guitarist for Davie Allan and the Arrows
Interviewer's note: Although Davie Allan has a strong surf-instro, cult following due in part to his legendary success with his powerful soundtrack offerings in a number of biker films that were a rage in the late 60s, he draws the line when referred to as a surf-rock artist. Says Davie, "Many reviewers still refer to our music as biker rock.' I don't really have a problem with that, but I cringe when they call us surf!'" What does set Allan apart from the traditional surf rockers is his passion for distortion rather than reverb. But then Davie can't deny his early rock instrumental roots; in fact, two of his favorite artists who were leaders in that early genre are Nokie Edwards (lead guitarist for the Ventures in the group's early years), and Duane Eddy. Yes, there are hints of these artists' works in Davie's instrumental expressions from the 60s to the present, but Allan is nobody's clone. His unique guitar delivery is truly as good as it gets!
[Lance Monthly] Davie, what is your age, marital status, place of birth, and where do you reside today? Are there any children, and if so, are any of them aspiring musicians?
Davie Allan Off the record, do you mind if I leave out my age? Actually, that's silly but since I haven't reached my goals, I hate announcing it. Yes, I know, this year marks the 40th year since my first record, so everyone knows I wasn't a kid then. I divorced in 1975, no children, born in Los Angeles, [and] reside in San Fernando Valley, CA.
[Lance Monthly] Were any members of your birth family musically inclined?
Davie Allan I'm really the only one, although my grandmother on my mom's side played a little piano.
[Lance Monthly] At what age did you pick up the guitar, what inspired you to do so, and who were the artists that played a major role in the development of your style?
Davie Allan I started quite late and was inspired when I first saw Elvis on TV. I didn't know that he was basically just playing rhythm, but I knew that becoming a guitar player was all I wanted to do. Once I got into it, my guitar heroes were Duane Eddy and Nokie Edwards. Later I got heavily into George Harrison, but it was Henry Mancini who became my all around musical hero.
[Lance Monthly] Do you remember your first guitar?
Davie Allan My first was an Elvis "toy" guitar with four strings. I hate to think what that might be worth now! That was followed by a Kay acoustic and then an electric Les Paul Jr. In 1965, I got a Fender Jazzmaster that I am still using today. Another guitar was in the mix in 1967. It was a Mosrite double neck (that's another one I got rid of that must be worth quite a lot of money today).
[Lance Monthly] Were your parents supportive of your music goals?
Davie Allan I basically just had my mom and she was my biggest fan.
[Lance Monthly] When did you form your first band and was it called Davie Allan and the Arrows?
Davie Allan In '62, I was part of a folk trio with a couple of high school buddies for a short time followed by a cover band doing parties. Mike Curb [of Curb Records] and I had a band called The Highlighters that featured three black vocalists doing the girl group hits. He and I did Everly Brothers' [tunes] etc., plus we got into The Beatles doing "From Me to You" and "Thank You, Girl" in 63 before the big invasion of 64.
[Lance Monthly] When guitar instrumental rock made its strong presence in the early '60s, due chiefly to TheVentures' efforts, was it your desire to play mostly instrumentals?
Davie Allan Actually, we did plenty of vocals on stage (which we are getting into again), but between the first hit "Apache 65" and the biker films, the recordings were almost all instrumental.
[Lance Monthly] You say you were a big Nokie fan. How about George Tomsco, lead guitarist for The Fireballs? Did he have any influence on you?
Davie Allan I have a couple of Fireballs' 45's ("Bulldog" and "Foot-Patter"), but I didn't get heavily into them as I did with Duane and Nokie.
[Lance Monthly] Davie, for the past 40 years of performing and recording, I, myself, have always preferred the Jazzmaster over the other high-profile guitars for a number of reasons. What's yours?
Davie Allan I made a couple of changes like pickups, switches, etc., and that guitar just works for me above all others. I really got into the tremolo bar on the Jazzmaster, [but] the other brands have never felt right, plus it is incredible as far as staying in tune.
[Lance Monthly] How tough was it trying to make a name for yourself in California during your early years of performing? Was it a real cutthroat affair?
Davie Allan The hard part came later when I realized my bank account was running on empty. I started recording with Curb in high school and the early years were a blast to say the least. I was so busy (in the studio almost daily for about five years) that I unfortunately paid no attention to the business end. It eventually bit me in the ass!
[Lance Monthly] Obviously, Mike Curb played a major role in your early success. You say you befriended him in high school. Could you elaborate on Curb's bio background from the time you met him to the present?
Davie Allan Curb and I almost immediately started writing and recording when we met in the choir at Grant High School in Van Nuys, CA. Along with our "Top 40" band, we did countless sessions, mostly instrumental at first. My first record as an artist was called War Path b/w Beyond the Blue on Curb, and Mary Dean's label, Cude in 1963. It was picked up by the Marc label and was re-released in 2001 by Ace Records, Ltd on [its] Rare West Coast Surf Instrumentals compilation CD. Curb began working at Mercury Records in 1964 and had a hand in many Hondells recordings. Later that year, we did "Apache "65" on his Sidewalk label and it was picked up by Capitol Records' subsidiary, Tower Records. It was the first hit for us, Curb, and for the label.
Curb went on to produce all our singles and albums along with many other artists. Then came the big break: "The Wild Angels." Curb went on to the MGM label that brought some of his biggest successes--most notably, The Osmonds. The nineties saw him enter the country-music field that is still a factor [for him] today.
[Lance Monthly] To how many Curb films did you provide soundtracks and which one(s) stood out over the rest?
Davie Allan I was on about two dozen "B" movie soundtracks, [but] "The Wild Angels" was and still is the one that gets all the accolades. On our albums and live shows we do quite a lot of my material that I call "Melodic Grunge." Many reviewers still refer to our music as "biker rock." I don't really have a problem with that, but I cringe when they call us "surf!"
[Lance Monthly] Did you develop a fan base first with some vinyl releases or did that come about by way of the films? In addition, how many singles and albums did you release during that time and what labels were involved?
Davie Allan The fan base started about a year and a half before the soundtracks with "Apache 65" (45 and LP), "Moondawg '65," and others. Before The Arrows, I had around six singles on various labels. Under the name, The Arrows (later Davie Allan & The Arrows) [there] were nine 45's and six album releases on the Tower Records' label.
[Lance Monthly] Many of the '60s bands and artists were just too young in making good business decisions with their production companies and ended up giving their material away just to get a record deal. Did you fall into that same trap?
Davie Allan Unfortunately, I had no business sense whatsoever and just went along with allowing my high school buddy to handle it. As I said in an interview in December 2001 when asked about my relationship with Curb, "I will say that I wish I had followed his lead as far as the business end goes. If I had, maybe I wouldn't be broke today."
[Lance Monthly] There are other high-profile guitarists that had their beginnings in the early '60s who have made the same comment as you about not wanting to be referred to as a surf-rock artist. Since surf-instrumental fans of modern day are growing respectfully well, why wouldn't you want their support by jumping on the surf bandwagon? Do you feel the title "surf" yields a stereotypical negativity?
Davie Allan In the early stages of my 94 comeback, we did countless shows with surf bands. Most of them captured the spirit quite well, but they all sounded like Dick Dale clones. "Surf" is "reverb." We are "fuzz" and "melodic grunge." You may have noticed some surf titles on our albums. They were basically done as spoofs and were "surf" in name only. (Two of those are "Surf Trek" and "Invasion of the Body Surfers.") We even did another one for the new album called "On the Surface." In the liner notes I said, "All too often, we've been given the surf-music label, but this is as close to the beach as we get."
[Lance Monthly] Does Mike Curb own the publishing rights to your '60s catalog, and did you have to give away any of your writer's credits for these tracks in order to get them released?
Davie Allan He owns the publishing rights to all the originals but not for the movie tunes. I get paid directly from MGM who administrates the Donna Dijon Music Publications catalog for tunes in "The Wild Angels," etc. Regarding the tunes of mine that Curb owns (only around two dozen), part of the new deal I've been offered is to get one-half publishing on those.
[Lance Monthly] If you could do it over again, what would you do differently in regards to the control of your '60s catalog?
Davie Allan Simply have a lawyer looking out for my interests. I had no representation whatsoever. I was naοve and way too trusting.
[Lance Monthly] You say Duane Eddy and Nokie Edwards were some of your greatest influences. Have you ever toured with these legends?
Davie Allan I met them both, but we have never been on the same stage together. My dream show would be Duane Eddy, Nokie Edwards, The Ventures, Link Wray, Dick Dale, and us! I did appear on an interview show one time for Armed Forces Radio with Duane and two of The Ventures (Bob Bogle and Don Wilson).
[Lance Monthly] What are the names of the Arrows' original members and what are they doing today?
Davie Allan Drew Bennett (bass - Fender and later Mosrite when we had an endorsement deal) is in Las Vegas spending most of his time watching the Weather Channel and golf. I've asked him to come back to the group many times but no luck.
Larry Brown (drums) is quite successful doing TV movie soundtracks and cartoons.
Russ Viot (rhythm guitar, vocals) quit the group early on and eventually drank himself to death in 1987. He was an Elvis fanatic who did a takeoff on him in "The Wild Angels" soundtrack, and it's so strange that he also died at the age of 42.
Wayne Allwine (Mosrite rhythm guitar, vocals) took over for Russ and got the job of a lifetime in 1977. He became the third official voice of Mickey Mouse. The greatest part of that story is that he married voice-over actress, Russi Taylor who is the voice of Minnie Mouse!
Don Manning (drums) took over for Larry who wanted to concentrate on recording. I heard that he is in Alaska, but I don't know what he's doing.
[Lance Monthly] How high did "Apache '65" chart and approximately how many units were sold?
Davie Allan Tower Records was just beginning and "Apache 65" was [its] first hit. It did well in many markets. It went top five in cities like Phoenix, Arizona where we were treated like stars (there was a limo waiting for us at the airport). [But] the [overall] promotion wasn't great and it only went to #64 on Billboard's chart. I was never told how many it had sold.
[Lance Monthly] Are you still receiving royalties on your film soundtracks?
Davie Allan I receive money from the publisher on the tunes I wrote and co-wrote, plus BMI airplay money, but nothing as an artist. More fodder for the book!
[Lance Monthly] Davie, here are some questions from a friend of yours, Stretch Riedle: "What's your viewpoint on the instro surf-rock scene from the 1960's to the present, what current instro-surf bands do you listen to, what is the most favorite guitar you have ever played, and do you still perform with it?"
Davie Allan Hi Stretch, thanks for being a part of this interview. I don't mean to sound egotistical, but regarding instro artists that have come since Duane's and Nokie's recordings of the 50s and 60s, I really only like what we do (as far as rock instrumentals are concerned). I basically learned my craft from those guys, and their early classics still knock me out. Since then, there have been no other [instrumental] recordings that have moved me as much. As you know from seeing and working with us a number of times, I'm still using the 1965 Fender Jazzmaster. I've only had a few guitars, but that's the one I used on "Apache 65" and "The Wild Angels" soundtrack. After "Blues Theme" became a hit, we had an endorsement deal with Mosrite, but I eventually went back to the Fender.
[Actually] my music is NOT my favorite music. In alphabetical order: The Beatles, Bobby Darin, ELO, Mancini, Glenn Miller, Elvis, Linda Ronstadt, and Sinatra [perform my favorite music]. Regarding guitarists, my favorite is George Harrison.
[Lance Monthly] Who are the present members of Davie Allan and the Arrows, ages, occupations etc.? [Davie notes, "Dick, no one seems to want his age printed."]
Davie Allan David Winogrond has been my drummer for going on nine years. At Warner Bros., his job description is "Photo Restoration and Archivist." Bruce Wagner, the newest "Arrow," is our bassist and vocalist. He works in a hospital as an "Operating Room Technician." Jobs of which to be proud for sure, but their love is music. Let me add that these guys are a blast to work with. We rehearsed the other night and Bruce mutilated one of the tunes. Afterwards he said, Well, I played some of the right notes." We couldn't stop laughing. I guess you would've had to be there!
[Lance Monthly] Lee Joseph of Dionysus Records was your bass player on your East Coast tour a few years ago. Does he occasionally help you out?
Davie Allan Lee is a great guy, and we were sorry that he had to leave. He has his hands full with his label and his part time DJ gig. Maybe he'll show up some evening and play on a couple of tunes at one of our shows.
[Lance Monthly] Mel Spinella at Golly Gee Records wanted me to pass this question on to you: "Davie, to what would you attribute your success and longevity in instrumental music?"
Davie Allan At first, I thought, "I can't answer this one," but then it came to me. Music is all I've ever wanted to do and unlike so many former Arrows, I never got into drugs or alcohol. Even today, I don't try to mask the frustrations with mind-altering substances. Another reason is my drive to not let certain individuals bring me down. I suppose I haven't allowed myself to say, "Ok, you win!" Also, I've stayed true to my 60s roots. I've done a few "slick" recordings but even then I have incorporated the "grunge."
[Lance Monthly] How active have you been with live performances lately and do you have some tours in the works?
Davie Allan We've done very little performing during the last six months while we concentrated on recording the new album. If all goes well with getting it and the proposed 60s retrospective released, we will be back on the road again!
[Lance Monthly] This issue's "Lance Monthly's Album Pick of the Month" is a tribute compilation to Morricone's Spaghetti Western Themes, For a Few Guitars," which features some top surf instrumental bands. You have the last track, The Loud, the Loose, and the Savage, inspired by Ennio Morricone. What are your comments about that contribution?
Davie Allan I was really flattered when asked to be a part of that tribute and especially thrilled that an original tune of mine was used as a bonus track. Along with Mancini, I've been a big fan of Morricone and I've written and recorded five tunes in the spaghetti-western genre. An alternate version of "The Loud, The Loose and The Savage" (the obvious reference and tribute to "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly") appears on my new Restless In L.A. album along with another tune in the same vein called "The Stranger."
[ Lance Monthly] Davie, give our readers a little more information about what you have out now including that of Restless in L.A. and where your product can be found. In addition, what other projects do you have in the works?
Davie Allan Checking the website's discography would be a great place to start (www.davieallan.com). All the CDs, vinyl albums, and singles are listed. In case the newer CDs can't be found in the stores, they can be ordered from the website (I autograph, package, and send them myself). As of this writing, we don't have a label for the new album. Since it's the best of my career, we've got to get it released somehow. The only other project at the moment hinges on negotiations with Curb to re-release all my recordings from the 60s. Some great, unreleased tracks would be included, and I even have some rare and unreleased recordings from the 70s and 80s.
[Lance Monthly] I understand that you are doing a show with Dusty Watson and his group, Slacktone on February 7. Can you give your fans some details of this event?
Davie Allan Dusty is putting this together for the fans that are coming ashore from a cruise with "The Ventures" and "Los Straightjackets." It's called "Back From Baja" and it will be at The Lava Lounge in Hollywood. There are around 500 instro friendly people on the cruise and it could be quite interesting if they all show up, since it's a very small room.
[Lance Monthly] What's the best and worst venue at which you and the Arrows performed and why?
Davie Allan The best is an easy one. On our 1999 tour, we played an event called "Sleazefest" in Chapel Hill, N.C. It was amazing! I don't remember a reception like that in the 60s. They really made us feel like stars. Coming in second would be the "Las Vegas Grind" in 1998. The worst? There was one in Germany on our 1996 European tour that was both great and awful. The crowd was incredible, but it was in a basement with no ventilation and just about everyone was smoking. David and I are non-smokers so the tears were really flowing that night!
[Lance Monthly] Although you don't consider your band as a surf-instrumental group, the fans of this genre appear to be growing at a steady pace. What do you think the future holds for surf-instrumental rock?
Davie Allan [Because] there are so many instrumental bands, we've added vocals to our recordings and shows. There hadn't been an Arrows' vocal since I did one on my Arrow Dynamic LP in 1985. We have three on the latest album and our live set will now be one-third vocals. Regarding instrumental rock, I just can't [refer to] what we do [as] "surf rock," [and] I don't see it becoming big as it did in the 50s and 60s or even doing what it did after "Pulp Fiction" in the mid 90s. Regarding my chances, I feel (as I did throughout the 90s) that it's all about getting tunes into films.
[Lance Monthly] I agree with your statement " . . . that it's all about getting tunes into films." Nowadays, mainstream broadcasting companies really don't have a place for surf or other instrumental guitar groups on their playlists. In fact, gone are the days when record producers were on the hunt for that special indie garage band. Now it's all about producers manufacturing their own acts. On the other hand, good instrumentals are high on the list for licensing to films, T.V. and radio advertisers, etc. Is it your recommendation that aspiring instrumental groups should concentrate their efforts more along these lines?
Davie Allan No doubt about it! I don't feel like I can add to your summation. You've stated it quite well.
[Lance Monthly] In the first part of this interview, you stated that you still haven't reached your goals. Can you elaborate on what these are?
Davie Allan I could complain about this person or that person doing me wrong, but I have to blame myself for not being where I would like to be. I realize that this isn't the answer to your question, but many wrong turns such as not-reading-the-fine-print have brought me to this state of underachievement.
As you know, I've had tunes in a couple dozen films in the 60s and a few in the 90s but the big money has never been there. I've been writing instrumentals for forty years and some of my best work is on the new album, but no one is beating down my door to release it. If I have to, I'll release it myself and submit it to every film company I can come up with. Frustrated for sure, but I'm not throwing in the towel.
If I had it to do over again, I would have learned a second profession to fall back on. At the same time, I've been lucky having made a living doing music for forty years. It wasn't always the music I wanted to play, but it paid the bills. Recently, a teenager asked for advice as he embarked on a musical career. I told him how I'd had a hit record before I knew enough about the guitar. I never finished studying music and it has definitely hurt. Anyway, I simply suggested, "don't just play it, learn it!"
[Lance Monthly] Davie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with The Lance Monthly. You're a good man, and I believe that your enduring expressions of pure guitar mastery will never go unnoticed. I wish you continued success and great days ahead. Any final thoughts?
Davie Allan Dick, thank you so much for what I can honestly say was the best interview I've had. Your questions were way above the norm and really challenged me to come up with meaningful answers. I applaud you! In closing, I want to say that the new album is dedicated to my mom who passed away on December 15, 2001. Not a good year for any of us (9/11) that also saw the passing of my stepfather and ex-wife. I'm still reeling, but with the incredible support of friends and fans, I got off the floor and recorded the best Arrows album ever!
[Lance Monthly] Thanks again, Davie.