ALLEN HILL – SATURDAY, 9/21/19 @ 11:30 AM
When Allen Hill, Houston’s Minister of Fun, enters a room, he brings the party with him — particularly with his world-renowned Allen Oldies Band, which has been covering tunes from the ’60s hit parade since 1996.
Now the unstoppable performer, whose ridiculously fun shows can run upward of five hours, is releasing his dream rock ’n’ roll record, “All Over the Map,” out Friday, September 6.
“I poured so much of myself into these tunes. It’s a radical shift,” says Hill, who sings and plays guitar, bass, piano, and surfboard on his debut solo disc. “Don’t worry, I’m still all about OLDIES FOREVER, but I am also having a blast pursuing a different artistic direction.”
Unlike the ’60s platters of The Allen Oldies Band, the new album’s 13 original tracks reflect a “1970s rock ’n’ roll roadhouse groove.” From the first single, the romping-and-rolling “2 Gigs and a 1 Way Ticket to Amsterdam,” to the dancing shoes-ready “Fanny Pack,” and the heartfelt “Fall Out of Love,” the album offers an eclectic mix honed by decades of exploring diverse styles. Given Hill’s musical history, the turn in direction makes sense.
Early on Allen, a voracious fan of The Who and other rock staples of ’70s FM radio, fronted a “super high-octane classic rock band,” whose setlist included tracks by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I learned a lot through that band — about how to treat older material,” says Hill. “It was a key part of developing The Allen Oldies Band. When you sing songs that are part of people’s lives you have to mean it.”
Recording his own songs is unfamiliar territory for Hill, who has built his career playing hits popularized by others. “I’ve always loved performing great songs that move hips, heads, and hearts — whoever wrote them,” he says. “It took 30-plus years of pursuing my craft to get to the moment of creation.”
“2 Gigs and 1 Way Ticket to Amsterdam,” the first single, out Friday, August 2, was inspired by his two-month trip to Europe in the summer 2018. “There was nothing on the schedule, other than the gigs and seeing The Rolling Stones in Berlin” he says. “It was a totally magical trip and super necessary.”
He wrote the title and hook first. “Doug Sahm was great about writing tunes about cool locations — such as ‘Mendocino’ and ‘Meet Me in Stockholm’ — so I definitely jumped in with that approach,” he says. “Once I banged out the chorus on the guitar, the rest of the sections fell into place.”
You can’t resist boogying to the exuberant “Fanny Pack,” written in NOLA after a college pal’s days-long birthday bash. “It’s a back-to-school hit!” Hill declares. “It’s preposterous and funny.” And catchy too.
When it comes to teachers, Hill counts Sahm, Tommy Roe and The Who’s John Entwistle among them, even though he never worked with any of them. “You can have people whom you don’t know as your mentors,” he says. “John was a huge influence on my playing bass. Roe sparked a love for sparkly pop songs.”
“Sahm’s influence was his spirit,” says Hill, who does an annual tribute to Doug Sahm with his musical cohort David Beebe. “He played anything — jazz, tejano music, rock and roll. He was a musician’s musician.”
Hill has worked with many of the artists he admires as a back-up band. “I’ve learned so much about songwriting as part of The Allen Oldies Band and working with greats, like Chuck Berry, Archie Bell, Andre Williams, Wanda Jackson, Barbara Lynn and Roy Head, that I was finally ready to make the leap as an original artist” says Hill. Bell makes a guest appearance on the track, “Soul Travels.” “When he was in the studio, I couldn’t believe it.”
He didn’t have to leave his own Houston neighborhood to record “All Over the Map” — his friend and David Beebe’s brother, Paul Beebe owns Beebe Gunn Studio, nearby. “It was a blast bringing in great buddies and players like Pete Gordon, aka Polish Pete, on piano, and Jason Barker from Banana Blender Surprise on lead guitar to make it a celebration of the friendships we’ve all made through rock and roll,” says Hill. Banana Blender Surprise was a post-college, food-obsessed, original rock, blues, funk band that became a Texas cult fave. Other great buddies who play on the album include Eric C. Hughes, Landis Armstrong, and Jim Henkel from The Allen Oldies Band, vocal wizard Tomas Escalante, Felipe Galvan from Los Skarnales, and Matt Graham from Swimwear Department.
For more than two decades, The Allen Oldies Band has become a South by Southwest must-see. Since 2000, it’s opened Mojo Nixon’s annual daytime fest at the Continental Club, performing as fans scarfed down jalapeño pancakes at 9:30 a.m. In 2005, The Allen Oldies Band played a 5½-hour set at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. “Allen Hill…a dervish in constant motion, working the crowd and testifying to the power of old-time rock ’n’ roll to soothe your soul,” wrote The New York Times.
For the last seven years, Hill’s tooted the tuba with Polish Pete’s Polka Band, which, during World Series fever in 2017, released the “The Altuve Polka,” to honor the Houston Astros’ MVP second baseman Jose Altuve. After the Astros won the championship, more than one million polka-loving fans partied — and polka’d — to the song as the band played it from a float in the victory parade.
Hill isn’t just flipping the switch in music. After decades of playing surf tunes, he’s actually taken up surfing, as referenced in “Surfer’s Sunset,” taking lessons in Galveston, Texas.
“What’s the feeling of surfing and catching the last wave out?” he asks. “If you do it right, you get to ride on top of the world and how awesome is that?”
~ Mary Huhn ~