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Allen Hill talks classic tunes and summer's appeal


Across the greater Houston area for more than a decade, an Allen Oldies Band performance has generally meant an instant party, thanks to the combo’s Lone Star Beer-fueled hijinks, its impressive chops — when not paying tribute to ’60s pop classics at their own headlining shows, they semi-regularly back such legends as Roy Head and Archie Bell — and its mission to keep dance floors full.

With the release of their new CD, Ride the Wild Surf (Freedom Records), Allen Hill and his expansive backing band provide a spirited — and portable — soundtrack that is tailored for a summertime bash.

The 17-track set includes a host of Allen Oldies Band live staples with an emphasis on summer-centric numbers, but the boundless energy of the performances throughout the disc makes it clear that these guys find the oldies to be a wave worth catching all year long. With that in mind, Medleyville recently caught up with Hill to chat about the new record and find out, among other things, why summer is the prime season for enjoying the oldies — and life in general. Ride the Wild Surf is chock-full of obviously summer classics like “California Sun,” as well as good-time tunes that don’t necessarily convey images of summer but make sense in the context of the CD, such as “Hanky Panky.” In your mind, what makes a favorite oldie also a bona fide summertime song?
Allen Hill: “The whole idea of this record was to create a summer soundtrack for people who love to have all sorts of fun during the finest season of the year. The beach is mandatory to summer fun, but so is playing in the sprinkler, going to a few dances, doing cannonballs at the swimming pool, cooking on the grill and having a few umbrella drinks.
“Song titles and themes created obvious choices. The gems that found me during the process were ‘Down on the Beach’ by Ernie Maresca and ‘Summertime Love’ by Roy Head and the Traits. I also did a lot of digging to find out when a lot of the songs became hits. “Hanky Panky” hit the top of the charts in July of 1966, so while it does not mention summer, the timing of the initial release was right on – plus, it features knockout lead guitar by the one and only Davey Schoenbaum!
” ‘Little Bit of Soul’ has a line about fishing so it also made the cut. The biggest stretch was if a song sounds like summer. This is where I took the most liberties, reached into the bubblegum vault and recorded ‘Yummy, Yummy,Yummy’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin.’ ”

What is your favorite all-time summertime anthem?
Hill: “With the exception of the version by the modern ‘country’ singer [who] spells my name wrong, I’m a sucker for just about any other version of ‘Summertime Blues.’ ”

What summertime non-oldie might you be tempted to take a stab at? Personally, I’d love to hear what the Allen Oldies Band could do with “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.
Hill: “We’d have to have some pretty odd circumstances on our hands to consider playing a nonoldies tune. If someone was going to stab us unless we took a stab at a nonoldies tune, we’d take the first stab with ‘Walking on Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves. This tune totally sounds like summer to me. Plus, it has tremendous
one-hit wonder credibility.

“I do love ‘School’s Out’ because it’s a perfect song — lyrics, main riff, chord changes, groove, sound of the record and vocal delivery all say the exact same thing in a different way that make for a very exciting listen. It totally captures the excitement of the final bell ring on the last day of school.”

In the CD’s liner notes, you mention how to school kids, summer is a symbol of freedom and of having free time for fun stuff. Where or when would you say the love of all things summer began for you?
Hill: “I was in a swimming pool in McGregor, Texas, watching my grandfather do a cannonball off the diving board. Just about everyone there except my grandfather and I were horrified, but the two of us laughed like crazy the whole time. It was probably the precise moment when I realized it was possible to stay a kid forever. This set the tone for a life time of really, really fun summers.

“Years later, my other grandfather pulled the same stunt at one of those old folks swimming parties where the women get in the pool but refuse to get their hair wet. I know it made a huge impact because he won’t talk about it in front of my grandmother! So it’s in my blood to celebrate juvenile behavior. Fronting an oldies band/circus is an excellent way to practice extremely juvenile behavior and play some great rock ‘n’ roll music.”

Did you have any interesting summer jobs as a kid?
Hill: “I created a pet-sitting service so neighbors could leave their pets at home and have someone water their plants, take in the mail and check on their houses while they were on vacation. It was the first of many no-budget start-up endeavors. I had the idea, made fliers on a manual typewriter, and fliered the whole neighborhood. The phone started ringing and I was in business. Anything is possible if you have a flier!”

What is your personal philosophy on maximizing one’s summer enjoyment?
Hill: “Start now.”

You are cruising to a huge summer beach party. What is your vehicle of choice to make your grand entrance in: your Oldiesmobile or your Ford Fairmont?
Hill: “The Oldiesmobile gets the call for the huge summer beach parties. [It’s] equipped with a dance floor, throne, cooler full of water-based beverages and, more often than not, the Dancing Sisters. Driving and announcements by [Hill’s “personal limo driver”] the Dazzling Pete Gray make it all the more appropriate. You can also see it from at least a mile away.

“For the record, my 1981 Ford Fairmont station wagon had a very high standard for party entrances as well. It was used to kick off the oldies experience many years ago at a show we played in an alley behind a club. The Allen Oldies Band made our appearance by speeding in behind the gear, slamming on the brakes and jumping out to run to our instruments. We had ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love’ [on cassette] blaring at top volume, and when it ended, we jumped straight in to ‘That’s Cool, That’s Trash’ since we were set up next to the trash bin.

“The Fairmont died in the line of duty. On the way to a gig [band members] David Beebe, Jim Henkel and I were in the front seat, and the gear filled the back of the car. Some chump ran a red light and nailed us. We arrived at the gig late with a wrecker pulling the Fairmont, unloaded the car for the last time much to the chagrin of the valet parking guys and proceeded to play the gig. The Fairmont always got us where we were going in style.”

With summer almost upon us, I hate to ask, but what is your least favorite season and why? It’s hard to imagine the Allen Oldies Band not having a good time all year long.
Hill: “Yes, we do have fun all year long. I’m not a big winter fan because we don’t get to play too many outdoor shows during this time of the year. The Farfisa gets even fussier than usual if the temperature drops below 40 degrees. The upside about outdoor winter gigs is that we don’t need a cooler to keep the Lone Stars cold.”

I couldn’t help but notice that “Beach Baby” by First Class did not make the cut on the CD. Does that mean we can look forward to Volume Two?
Hill: “We’ll just have to see where the wild surf takes us next.”

— Introduction and interview by George Henn

— Photo by Jay Lee

The Allen Oldies Band on tour (schedule subject to change):

* May 16: Hemlock Tavern — San Francisco
* May 31: Cactus Music — Houston
* June 20: Continental Club (record release party) — Houston
* Aug. 29: Oldies Fest @ Continental Club — Houston TX #
* Aug. 30: Oldies Fest @ Continental Club — Austin, Texas #
# featuring Roy Head, Archie Bell and Barbara Lynn