Confessions From the King of Fuzz

Cult soundtrack composer Davie Allan at the Alamo Ritz

"A former bass player said I should never admit that I was never on a motorcycle," Davie Allan jokes.

That's the first confession from the cult composer whose signature sound was a technique called "fuzz" guitar. Allan used the grungy effect in the teen and biker exploitation films he scored, including the Top 40 hit "Blues Theme" from 1966's The Wild Angels.

The California-based guitarist composed for more than two dozen B-films, American International Pictures titles such as Devil's Angels (1967), The Born Losers (1967), Wild in the Streets (1968), The Glory Stompers (1968), and other period slices of exploitation cheese so bad they're a joy to watch. Despite creating rip-roaring soundtracks for those films, the "King of Fuzz" offers another confession.

"I'm sorry to say that I have no clue about writing for films. If I'm told the mood – in most cases, it was for biker films – I just go with the 'grunge,' and a tune usually pops into my head. Today, I just submit my CDs and hope that one of my tunes gets picked."

That's a blunt answer to tarnish silver-screen dreams, but Allan's not one to rue the status quo. His musical vision created classic instrumental soundtracks that often aged better than the films and are still getting mileage.

The relationship between songwriter and soundtrack varies wildly, especially between high- and low-budget films. Henry Mancini, one of Allan's heroes, may have worked closely with directors, but Allan's experience was quite different.

"I was never in on the prerecording phase, but I worked with the music producer, who had all the cues timed, and I was lucky enough to get writing credit on many of the tunes," Allan recalls, on the process of creating aural moods to cinematic images. "I was only on the set [for] the two worst films of the two dozen on which I worked, Wild Wheels and Jennie, Wife/Child. I can only imagine how it would've been to be on the set of The Wild Angels. I didn't even meet Nancy Sinatra until 2003 at the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas."

Biker films first gained popularity in 1953 with Marlon Brando in The Wild One, but they really took off in the Sixties. Future stars such as Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Peter Fonda, and John Cassavetes all took leading roles in biker films before going on to respectable careers. Still, respectability wasn't what these films were about. They reflected the counterculture, and to do so accurately, they needed an edge. A rock music soundtrack provided it.

The Sixties were also the heyday of instrumental bands such as the Ventures, Dick Dale, and Link Wray and numerous one-hit wonders such as "Sleepwalk," "Telstar," and "Wipe Out." Allan, who also charted with "Apache '65," often found himself lumped in with surf music. Soundtracks were a way to distinguish himself from the beach bands, and the sessions, as with Devil's Angels, sometimes placed him in league with heavyweight Hollywood players like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, and Larry Knechtel.

"When I graduated from the 'surf' sound – which may not be the correct term, since I was doing things like 'Apache' and 'Ghost Riders in the Sky' – the big change was the soundtrack of The Wild Angels. I loved what Duane Eddy had been doing with 'low' notes, and I tried to take them to another plateau with the added distortion and my attempt to sound like I felt a motorcycle might sound if it was a musical instrument."

Allan's instincts paid off richly. Although his sound fell out of fashion after the Sixties, early punk rockers appreciated his gritty roar, and he soon found himself a cult figure once again. He stopped writing for films but continued to record with his band, the Arrows, throughout the Eighties and Nineties, while reissues on vinyl, cassette, and finally CD kept his catalog in circulation. In 2005, he was rewarded with a box set from Sundazed, an effort as critically acclaimed as his 2003 studio album, Restless in L.A.

Moving Right Along is the title of Davie Allan's current unfinished recording, something he works into a busy schedule that includes a tour of Texas with current Arrows Dusty Watson and Sam Bolle. While Allan is looking forward to the new release, he takes pride in the way his music is still used, noting that "Jim Jarmusch used about 30 seconds of 'Cycle-Delic' for his Night on Earth, and more recently my tune 'The Loud, the Loose, and the Savage' was in one episode of The Sopranos."

Not bad for a guy who was never on a motorcycle.  

Davie Allan & the Arrows appear live at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz with Devil's Angels, Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 9pm. See for more information.

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Davie Allan, American International Pictures, Devil's Angels, The Wild Angels

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