In the land of rock & roll guitar, Davie Allan reigns as the High Sheriff of Fuzz. Allan specializes in an almost schizophrenic mixture of elegant expression and raw-knuckled six-string face-pummeling. It’s a sublime balancing act that he began cultivating as a kid, banging away on a toy guitar before quickly graduating to unrivaled studio alchemist.
Allan’s music permeated 1960s American culture, not only via hit records such as his classic “Blues' Theme” (which haunted the Billboard chart for 17 weeks) but also with critical work scoring some of the raunchiest low-budget exploitation films of the era. Working at Hollywood’s most glorious schlock factory, American International Pictures, Allan’s delirious, distorted ax pushed biker flicks like Wild Angels, Born Losers, The Glory Stompers and the LSD-fueled teen revolt epic Wild in the Streets into an intoxicating state of revved-up rock & roll overdrive.
Growing up in the post-WWII San Fernando Valley, Allan was just a standard-issue juvenile until he got struck by the musical lightning bolt that was altering lives coast to coast.
“I had seen Elvis on TV, probably in '56, and was totally blown away.” Allan says. “It didn't even dawn on me that he was only playing rhythm, all I knew is I wanted to play the guitar. We had very little money and my mom bought me a four-string Emenee guitar with pictures of Elvis all over it.”
Allan’s teen years were spent mastering the instrument and coincided with the fast-moving evolution of rock guitar. He gorged on all of it.
“I didn't have a clue what I would do about making it as a guitarist, but all I could think about was Elvis, then Scotty Moore, Duane Eddy, [The Ventures'] Nokie Edwards, plus of course that Link Wray distortion.”
While Dick Dale had spectacularly exploded the limits of electric guitar with his brawny, hard-charging surf instrumentals in the early 1960s, the British Invasion ushered in a period of regressive, pop-tinged timidity and a penchant for recycled R&B that stunted the electric guitar’s growth, creating a void that was begging to be filled. Allan immediately plunged into it.
His band, The Arrows, first roared into life in a Van Nuys garage circa 1963, and his keyboard-playing buddy, Mike Curb, an infamously ambitious hustler, cooked up a deal resulting in Allan’s first long-player, Apache '65.
“My first recording with fuzz was my version of [Travis Wammack's 1962 hit] 'Scratchy' on the Apache '65 LP,” Allan said. “I always went nuts over Duane's low notes, and when I got into the fuzz, those low notes took me to a whole new world. A reviewer many years ago said my sound was like ‘Duane Eddy with dirty fingernails.’"
Allan’s evocative, wild playing effectively rendered Eddy’s twang shtick obsolete, and with a series of mind-bendingly creative and aggressive recordings, Allan established himself as a crucial and influential figure, sort of the missing link between Link Wray’s old-school menace and the limitless genius of Jimi Hendrix.
After Curb brought him to AIP, Allan worked relentlessly. “I was in the studio almost daily for five years, but we also did many live shows, gigs with The Grass Roots, Jewel Akens, Freddy Cannon, The Standells and Bobby 'Boris' Pickett. One major tour took us across the country in ‘67; it was basically a Teenage Fair tour with The Seeds, Van Morrison and The Strawberry Alarm Clock.“
Allan’s hard-hitting biker rock, as featured on his audaciously apocalyptic Cycle-Delic Sounds album, wasn’t exactly suited to the Summer of Love crowd. “We had a two-night gig at the Hullabaloo in Hollywood and the first night, all those flower children booed us. I went out the next day to a toy store and bought four sets of bows and rubber-tipped arrows. How fitting, right? That night when they started harassing us again, we shot the arrows into the audience. We didn't know what to expect, but we were a bit surprised because many of them got a kick out of it.”
Fifty years later, Allan remains as peerless and exciting a player as ever. Lean, lithe and able to hold his own with the best of them, his recent shows have been uniformly excellent. And he’s marking his golden jubilee with two upcoming releases, one all-new and one retrospective.
“I have two CDs coming out: King of Fuzz Guitar, on a small indie in Austin, and the official 50th-anniversary album on Curb Records,” Allan says. “They said they will use the Sidewalk label because that's the label the 'Apache '65' single was on! Mike Curb and I started The Arrows and it seemed like a no-brainer to go that way — but it took six months to negotiate the contract. I just signed the deal last week.”
At Cafe NELA on Sunday, expect a barrage of vintage, buzzing Allan instrumentals. “In ‘66, when we did The Wild Angels, I knew I had found my niche,” Allan says. “I never wanted to turn off the fuzz!”
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Davie Allan and the Arrows play Cafe NELA on Sunday, June 28.