Injuns, fuzz & Wild Angels in the streets: DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS interview
[2001 email interviews with Davie Allan & PSYCHOTRONIC MAGAZINE's Michael J. Weldon previously unpublished]
Andrew:This part of Arrows prehistory is always a little vague - how did you go from high school choir in 1961 to releasing your first single on Curb’s label in 1963?
Davie:I met Curb in the Grant High School choir and we immediately started doing demos and then began writing some tunes together. “War Path” was the first release under my name and it also marked the first session with drummer Larry Brown. As you may know, those first two tracks were recently released on the Ace Records comp “Rare West Coast Surf Instrumentals”. To say the least, it’s a shame that those are the only two recordings of mine from the 60’s that he doesn’t own!
Here’s a long one: I guess surf music had already peaked after 1963 so instrumental bands were looking for a different image (I’ve got The Routers album full of football cheers!!!). Did you ever see the Arrows as a true "surf" band like The Ventures? Was the "Jan And Dean" image the kiss of death for instrumental bands in ‘64? Why did you guys come up with the "Indian" image?
I never thought about being labeled anything. After being inspired by Duane Eddy and Nokie Edwards (and somewhat by Link Wray), all I wanted to do was make instrumental music. The Indian image came about after “War Path” followed by “Apache ‘65”. Curb and I agreed on using the name “The Arrows” and went on to use that theme on a few of our first album’s song titles.
What did Curb play in those days? When did he take over as producer and manager?
Curb played piano on a few of the early tracks and was the producer from day one. Regarding managing, I think the 40 year lack of it has put me where I am today (wondering what to do when I grow up!).
"Apache ‘65" may be notable for the lack of distortion, but your distinctive lead playing and sense of melody is already there. What’s your feelings about the album now?
I’m proud of some of the tracks on the album such as “The Rebel Without A Cause”, “Commanche”, “Twine Time” and even “C’mon Do The Freddie” (that was recorded during a major recording session). Much of it was just thrown together. One of the tracks had been a vocal (“Indian Giver”) and you can even hear the vocal leaking throughout.
You list Duane Eddy and the guitarist from the Ventures as your guitar heroes. Were Link Wray and Dick Dale much of an influence? Did you have much to do with them in the 60s?
Link got me started on the road to “Grunge” but I didn’t get much into Dick’s recordings except for the classis “Misirlou”.
I got into the sound after hearing Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” and Travis Wammack’s “Scratchy”. Maybe Jeff Beck was first?
How did the job scoring "Skaterdater" happen? What can you tell me about the film?
So Corman heard your music on "Skaterdater" and went nuts. Did you ever meet Corman? Was he personally involved with the Wild Angels soundtrack or was it all through Curb?
I didn’t meet anyone back then (as a matter of fact, I didn’t meet Peter Fonda until 1994). The music was all done through Curb as were all the soundtracks. The Wild Angels was all “Arrows” but then Curb started doing the “big union session” trip with the aforementioned heavyweight types. I liked it much better before but Devil’s Angels did come out nicely with the hiring of Hal Blaine on drums and Carol Kaye on bass.
You’ve said in interviews "Blue’s Theme" was an attempt to sound like a Harley engine! Why do you think it hit such a raw nerve and became such a hit?
We definitely went for as nasty a sound as we could get. That brings to mind a show we did in 1994. We were doing a sound check when the soundman (who had no knowledge of me or my sound) asked “Can we do something about that buzzsaw effect?” Regarding it becoming a hit: I don’t know. All I know is that the film was a hit and “Blues Theme” marked Peter Fonda’s entrance. Also, “Theme From the Wild Angels” was the single until “Blues Theme” was forced from the album by popular demand.
Was Nancy EVER going to appear on the soundtrack album?
I was kept in the dark about many things but I don’t believe she was ever approached about singing the title tune. That was Barbara Pittman who did the vocal. She had gained fame in the 50’s on the Sun label. By the way, a “Wild Angels” reunion was being planned for this year to mark the 35th anniversary and the release of the DVD but the idea was dropped (no, Curb wasn’t involved).
Wild Angels Volume 2 is a weird one. Was that Curb’s first obvious attempt at recycling tracks? What was the band’s reaction?
Actually, that had started even earlier. “FUZ” magazine has a great feature titled “Curbside Recycling” that is really a hoot (although a little ridiculous). Even one of the tunes on “The Wild Angels, Volume 1” is recycled: “The Unknown Rider” was originally recorded as part of a Hondells session and released as “Sidewalk Surfing Scene” on the “Go Go With The Buddies” album.
"Angel With A Devil’s Heart" is one of those great 60s singles that could have been huge. What went through your mind when it was shelved? Who did the vocals?
You must have the 1997 bootleg CD “Bullseye” to know about that? I wrote that tune with Drew Bennett (bass) and I sang lead on it. We invited Curb to the studio to hear it and it was the most excited I had ever seen him get! He immediately pressed up a few copies and played it for a couple of radio stations calling the group “The Connection”. He didn’t get the reaction he had hoped for. Maybe if he had used our name it would’ve made a difference and it would have been the follow up to “Blues Theme”.
Sounds like one of the biggest career regrets is the disappearance of the Devils Angels multitrack tapes. How did the music rate, in your opinion?
Actually, all the multi-track tapes are apparently gone. Can you imagine a stereo version of “Cycle-Delic”? It makes me sick to think about it. Those cheap (expletives go here) must’ve re-used the tapes.
What’s your opinion of the Big Four biker films (Wild Angels, Devils Angels, Born Losers, Glory Stompers)?
Not a classic in the bunch but don’t get me wrong, it was a thrill to be involved in those and I’m still making new fans because of them.
I loved the whole act and we really had fun with it back then. I was just looking at some photos in “FUZ” and it’s so funny when you realize we weren’t anything like we appeared. Even funnier is the fact that my rhythm guitarist (Wayne Allwine) became the third official voice of “Mickey Mouse” 10 Years later! Even today, some of the tunes I write and record could easily fit into a biker flick.
Why did you only tour the once in the 60s? Any good war stories?
We did quite a few short trips and the one tour was almost a month. We hit a different state everyday but unfortunately, the party only had a year to go. The most positive aspect of the tour was playing “Cycle-Delic” for a month and then coming home to record it.
I always thought it was amazing that the definitive 60s "freakout" ("Cycle-Delic") was made by short-hairs NOT on drugs. How did you guys work yourselves into such a wigged-out state (long hours in the studio...)? What was it like on the non-drug side of the 60s, watching the rise of the freaks?
“Cycle-Delic” was a disaster at first but after a couple of months of “live” performances, it started coming together. It really is amazing to me that we weren’t “high” when we recorded it (and “Mind Transferral”). We were just a bunch of boring, non-drugged out guys having a ball. I didn’t think much about the drug freaks, we weren’t involved in that scene or even the biker scene except for the image.
Can you describe what it was like holed up in the studio every day during the monstrous soundtrack sessions?
I really enjoyed every minute of it. A couple of times we would do 24 hours straight. It wasn’t just the soundtracks. I worked on countless sessions for other artists that were just as exciting. I can’t look on it too fondly today because I made very little money but I was too busy to notice. Also, I was so sure my efforts would pay off.
What happened to The Trip soundtrack? It could’ve been amazing...
That was a major disappointment. I thought we would’ve been a shoo-in for that one. I even wrote tunes for it but we had nothing to do with it. I don’t know what happened.
Keeping the fuzz out of Wild In The Streets sounds like a decision made by someone in a suit, totally removed from the culture the film is aiming at. Who were the robots?
Well, I guess I was the robot. I can’t listen to that album at all, what a stupid mistake! Once I got into the “fuzz”, that’s all I wanted to use and then I found myself agreeing to do an album without it! Aaaaarrrrgh!
Did you end up friends with Casey Kasem?
Did you have much to do with The Standells and Chocolate Watchband around Riot On Sunset Strip?
Nothing with The Chocolate Watchband and all we did with The Standells was a few appearances.
Curb is listed as co-writer on a suspiciously large number of tracks. What were your feelings at the time?
Changing the band’s name to "Sidewalk Sounds" sounds like Curb elevating his position of importance by renaming it after his label/company, while deleting the "Davie Allan" part of the Arrows. You don’t have to respond, just an opinion!!!
Actually, there were other fake names such as “The Hands Of Time”, “The Visitors”, “The Back Wash Rhythm Band”, “The Streamers” and others. I felt it was ridiculous and I guess their thinking was to make it look like the roster was bigger than it really was.
FUZ describes your music as "surf fused with psychedelic garage punk". Were you aware of all of those bands around in the mid 60s, playing primitive caveman rock, that ended up on the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations?
I knew very little about the “garage” bands from that era. Besides Elvis, I was really into the English groups, especially “The Beatles”. Speaking of “Nuggets”, thanks to Rhino Records for including “Blues Theme”. I’ve actually made some money as the co-writer but all my artist royalties for it and all the other comps in which “Blues Theme” appeared have gone to the producer.
At what point did Curb lose interest in promoting the bands and records, and start concentrating on promoting his own career?
It was basically all Curb from the beginning. I elaborate on that in the book I’m trying to put together. I was there from the start but by ’68, things had changed drastically. I did sign with Curb again when he was at MGM but after a few unpromoted singles I was dropped from the roster.
How did your guitar survive all these years?
I just couldn’t give up as frustrating as it has been at times. I guess the main thing that kept me on track is the fact that the bulk of my writing has come since 1993. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of having a producer who was able to get a lot of my product out there. The guitar is my Fender “Jazzmaster” from 1965 (with a few changes).
Did you ever need to hack up an amp to get the sound you needed?
A number of times I’ve used various distortion boxes with the distortion setting on a particular amp or as in the case of “Blues Theme”, the amp was on “10” and filled the room and all the other mics.
How long did you have the double-necker? What was the sound like?
We had been given a supply of Mosrite guitars in 1967 and that double-neck was such a great showpiece. A major mistake was selling it in 1970. It was too heavy and the sound was a little thin but I would loved to have used it once in awhile during my latest so-called comeback.
Interview with MICHAEL J WELDON (PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO MAGAZINE)
Andrew: How old were you when you first heard the Arrows on the big screen? Can you describe the feeling?
Michael: I NEVER heard The Arrows on the big screen. The movies he worked on did not play at the neighborhood theaters I attended as a kid and I didn't attend a drive in until around 1970 when I was in high school and some friends had cars. By then his movies were pretty much gone from the screens. I first heard Allan on top 40 radio (Blues' Theme) when it made the charts then on local drag strip commercials - but that was ALL I heard at the time. That hit seemed to fit in with the garage/"punk" rock scene at the time. It was up there with Louie Louie, Wipeout, Hey Joe and Gloria. Those movies (bikers, teen rebellion...) also usually did NOT play on TV often or at all. I think I saw cut versions of BORN LOSERS and DEVILS ANGELS on TV but I didn't see most of them until video in the 80s. As far as the LPs go - during the 60s, I was scraping together hard earned cash to buy the latest releases by the many top rock acts of the day - not soundtracks or instrumental albums! The only instrumental albums I had back then were The Ventures from the earlier 60s. I started buying Davie Allan LPs in the 70s when they started showing up (real cheap) in cut out bins - in drug stores and what they used to call five and dime stores. I still had to imagine what most of the movie were like then.
How would you describe the "Davie Allan sound" to the uninitiated?
Some of it was fairly tame and lame music for hire but the best tracks were an untamed grungy mixture of mind bending guitar techniques, many new at the time - like twang, wah wah, sustain, echo, and feedback. I'd compare some of his prime stuff with Dick Dale, Link Wray, Jeff Beck, Lou Reed and John Cippolina and his music was perfect for biker, drug and teen rebellion movie scenes. You should remember that when people were freaking out over the great but more blues based paying of Hendrix and Clapton and the more psychedelic guitar sounds of SF - Allan was hardly noticed or taken seriously. Even today some people seem to consider him a surf guitarist for some reason.
What's your opinion these days of the "Big Four" biker flicks that Davie scored?
I think THE WILD ANGELS is an important movie in many ways. It started the whole biker movie trend, made more people notice Roger Corman and led to EASY RIDER. Parts of it are still kind of shocking and ahead of its time when you consider when it was made.
I like DEVILS ANGELS and BORN LOSERS (which led to the whole BILLY JACK phenomena) both almost as much, but both are more "normal' movies than THE WILD ANGELS. All three are very different movies. THE GLORY STOMPERS is complete trash but you gotta love seeing Dennis Hopper in it. What do you see is Davie's contribution to psychotronic culture?
What do you see is Davie's contribution to psychotronic culture?
He helped make some important movies much better than they would have been and he made some great music without much recognition at the time. And like Dale and Wray, he's still out there making great music. - Michael J. Weldon