King Of The Motorcycle Guitar.
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff by Davie Allan and The Arrows. I came up with what I think is a pretty brilliant way to describe Davie Allan: He’s the Dick Dale of motorcycles. Because see, they always called Dick Dale the king of the surf guitar… You see what I’m getting at. Davie Allan originally rose to fame based on his work creating the score for Roger Corman’s notorious mid-60s biker flick, “The Wild Angels”. Allan’s “Blue’s Theme”, which had a prominent position in the movie, was a hit single at the time, and is now immortalized on the “Nuggets” box set. Apparently, a lot of other biker-movie producers and directors saw “The Wild Angels” and made note of Davie Allan’s work, because he made something like a dozen biker movie soundtracks over the two years that followed “The Wild Angels”. Recently, the reissue label Sundazed put together a double-CD compilation of Allan’s work during those mid-60s glory years, which is entitled “Devil’s Rumble.” I downloaded that entire compilation a few years ago, but when I burned it to a CD-R, I discovered that if I cut the 7 minute “Cycle-delic” (the only track longer than 3 minutes on the entire comp), I could fit the whole thing onto one CD-R. It’s that CD-R I’ve been listening to lately—39 tracks of wild motorcycle guitar, much of it complete with roaring engines in the background.
Dick Dale is the only other instrumental guitarist I’ve ever really gotten into (though I’m definitely curious about Duane Eddy and Link Wray, at the very least, I’ve never heard more than a track or two by each), and Davie Allan initially seemed to suffer in comparison to Dale. The tracks on “Devil’s Rumble” are in roughly chronological order, and the early tracks predate the wide use of guitar effects. Allan’s picking style is not as fast or as rough as Dale’s, so there’s a lot less of the crackling overdrive that passed for distortion (if anything did) on records from this era. This made a lot of his early work sound pretty tame to me, at first. But once I listened more, I started to realize that, even without distortion, Allan had his own thing going on, distinct from Dale and just as worthy. Granted, sometimes he gets a bit poppy, or a bit twangy, but even at those moments, he’s still creating an atmosphere. Sometimes the atmosphere is that of a lazy bike ride on a sunny afternoon, but that doesn’t make it less interesting. And tracks like this (see “Dance The Freddie” for an example of this on “Devil’s Rumble”) do a good job of varying moods and keeping things interesting over the course of 80 instrumental minutes of string-bending and single-note shredding.
By the same token, Allan is also much more consistent as a guitarist and songwriter. Of course, I say that having only heard a greatest hits compilation. But considering the fact that my favorite Dick Dale record is also a greatest hits compilation, one which features two lousy vocal tracks over the course of its 14-song, 35-minute length, and further considering the fact that, the one time I actually bought an original-era Dick Dale album (“Surfer’s Choice”, for those keeping track), I found that I only really enjoyed the songs from it that I’d already heard on the greatest hits album, Davie Allan’s ability to sustain my interest over the course of an 80 minute collection, and keep me coming back for more on a frequent basis, speaks really well for his talents. He’s got plenty of awesome motorcycle instrumentals up his sleeve, with varied enough riffing to make all of them completely distinct from each other, as well as completely awesome, but he’s got plenty of interesting detours that are thrown in periodically as well. Take “The Ghost Story”, which closes the first disc of the actual compilation and marks the halfway point of my own. This song is mainly based around jazzy drum fills and directionless banging on a piano. Underneath these two instruments, to the point of being buried in the mix, Allan’s guitar (which, by this point in his history, was sounding pretty fuzzed-out) snarls out strange psychedelic note clusters. Then, with only 30 seconds or so left in the song, the guitar comes sailing to the forefront of the mix on a wailing bed of feedback, which continues until the song suddenly ends with the audible sound of someone pressing stop on a tape machine.
That fuzzed-out sound which works so well for Allan on “The Ghost Story” is a hallmark of all the best songs on this disc. By track 12 or so, it’s obvious that technology had advanced to the point of Allan’s being able to acquire a fuzz box of some sort, and his previous, slightly-too-clean tone is a thing of the past. And by track 25, “The Born Loser’s Theme”, Allan has obviously grown bored with his previous fusion of surf music and proto-psych textures—to wit, this song introduces a horn section. However, even the brassy doubling of his own lead guitar lines can’t do anything to diminish the snarling fury of said riffing, and “The Born Loser’s Theme” is every bit as heavy and sinister-sounding as anything else on this compilation. Meanwhile, “Mind Transferral” leaves out any extraneous instrumentation and allows Allan to demonstrate his noisy psych chops on a track that somewhat resembles Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” (and was probably recorded around the same time, which makes it even more interesting).
I can remember talking about Dungen’s “Ta Det Lugnt” on this blog a couple of years ago, and mentioning that it sounded like the soundtrack to the best biker movie ever. And I don’t want to take anything away from Dungen, even at this late date (in fact, their new album, “Tio Bitar”, might even be better than the last one. More on that in the near future). But since Dungen’s temporal placement made them unfortunately unavailable for soundtracks during the heyday of biker movies, it’s good that filmmakers of the time stumbled onto Davie Allan And The Arrows. They did about as good a job as anyone could have asked for.
Davie Allan And The Arrows - Devil's Angels
Davie Allan And The Arrows - The Devil's Rumble
Davie Allan And The Arrows - Mind Transferral