Friday, May 21, 2010

“Unsung Hero”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: One of the benefits of writing a weekly column is the ability to address day-to-day events from my own realm of experience in print. Finding a freshly-published book in my mailbox is a joy I cherish. What follows here is a review of the latest volume to appear in that space.

Friends of this column have often heard about my personal connection with legendary California guitarist Davie Allan. For ten years, we have shared a long-distance friendship that has spanned the vast geographic divide between Ohio and the West Coast. It is something I could never have imagined as a teenager listening to his seminal instrumental 45, ‘Blues Theme.’ Yet this connection with King Fuzz himself has endured.

Recently, Allan’s life story helped inspire a new book called “Eleven Unsung Heroes Of Early Rock & Roll.” Written by entrepreneur, music journalist and performer Dick Stewart, the volume offers a portrait of compelling, if overlooked figures from popular music.

Stewart is Editor of ‘The Lance Monthly’ which is an online Rock newsletter that originally appeared in print form during the 1960’s. The careful regard he offers for those who are portrayed is authentic – particularly because of his own lengthy career in the business.

Stewart’s evergreen combo ‘King Richard and The Knights’ were born in the all-too-brief era of instrumental compositions that predated The Beatles. He provides a connection between yesterday and today that is rare and valuable for anyone seeking a closer look at the cultural phenomenon of popular music.

His story about Allan is the ninth chapter of ‘Unsung Heroes.’ Yet it is undeniably the one most likely to leave readers breathless with the power of insightful prose:

“Davie Allan is one of the thousands of guitarists who got caught up in the great rock-and-roll instrumental guitar explosion during the early 60’s. But out of this tidal pool of wild, raw energy, there were only a handful that impacted the era’s vibrant zeitgeist. Although most were one-hit wonders, who carved a notch on their belts and a spot on the charts before they abruptly disappeared, there were others who had hits that suddenly stalled in their climb to the top because of waning support from their record producers. Davie Allan and The Arrows was, sadly, one such band.”

Reading Stewart’s text made me ponder stories shared by my erstwhile New York mentor Paul Race. During the same period, he had formed an Empire State combo named ‘The Savoys’ with friends from school in Corning. Their toneful adventure became the stuff of fantasy as he wielded his Silvertone guitar in the style of Nokie Edwards. But then, John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived.

The seismic shift in pop culture that they sired overwhelmed everything. Race, like Stewart, followed other paths toward creative success.

But Allan used fleeting fortune and adversity to hone his skills as an axeman of consequence. First, this found him assuming the mantle of a stylistic outlaw through cycle-movie soundtracks like ‘The Wild Angels.’ Then, his brilliant artistic statement ‘The Cycle-delic Sounds of Davie Allan and The Arrows’ sealed this position as the genuine ‘Fuzzmaster General’ of guitar fame.

The meaningful slab of vintage vinyl was still reverberating with energy when, many years later, the genre reappeared:

“Early 60’s instrumentals did make a brief but significant comeback in 1994 thanks to Dick Dale and The Del-Tones’ 1962 surf instrumental hit, ‘Miserlou,’ which played a principal role in the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction, the action-filled and dialogue-packed Quentin Tarantino crime flick, mixing brutality and dark humor. Dale’s track contributed to the rise of a second wave of instrumental surf-guitar bands that patterned their delivery after him. Dale was (and some say still is) the King of Surf Guitar and rapid-fire double picking, bathed in dripping reverb was his signature. But there were other early 60’s first-wave bands that they held in high esteem: the whammy-bar specialists The Ventures, the palm-muted guitar master, George Tomsco of The Fireballs, and Arrows’ lead guitarist Davie Allan, now referred to as the Fuzz King.”

Allan observed that interviews were conducted over several months before Stewart had the proper foundation for his chapter of the book. One thing is for certain – the end result made it worth whatever time was invested.

Other little-known artists included in ‘Unsung Heroes’ include Jack Ely, vocalist on ‘Louie, Louie’ by The Kingsmen; Keith McCormack, co-author of the hit song ‘Sugar Shack’ with his aunt; Sonny Curtis, member of The Crickets and writer of ‘I Fought The Law’ which is best known as performed by The Bobby Fuller Four; Jimmy Torres of The String-A-Longs; Robert Kelly, a former Disneyland Caribbean pirate who encountered everyone from Eddie Cochran to the infamous Jack Ruby; Sonny West, author of ‘Rave On’ made famous by Buddy Holly; George Tomsco of The Fireballs; Clyde Hankins, forever connected to both Buddy Holly and the Fender Stratocaster guitar; Larry Knechtel, prolific studio musician; and Carl Bunch, who once played drums for The Crickets but is now an ordained minister.

Stewart has published the modern e-format Lance Monthly since 1998. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico.

To reserve an autographed 5 x 8 paperback copy of Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll by postal mail, send $25.00 by check, money order, or well-concealed cash to: Mexia Enterprises Inc., Attn: The Lance Monthly Press, P.O. Box 613, Sandia Park, NM 87047

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