The High Priest Speaketh
Allen Hill celebrates a decade of Oldies worship
Ten years ago, Allen Hill's Allen Oldies Band played their very first show — at the finish line of the Houston Press Fun Run inside the Astrodome. Since then, his band has backed up Chuck Berry, Roy Head, Archie Bell, Barbara Mason, and Andre Williams; been picked as one of the top ten club shows in New York City, and performed 14 unsanctioned South By Southwest shows, many on the sidewalk in front of South Congress's Rues Antiques.
Tomorrow, the Allen Oldies Band will celebrate the past decade with "a romp and stomp" at the Continental Club, featuring a Green Tambourine birthday cake. We caught up with Hill and conducted the following short Q&A. -- John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax: With the disappearing of Oldies radio, it seems like bands like yours have become more important.
Allen Hill: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up. Oldies radio has some kind of deal where they get rid of one year from the past with every year that passes, so now the '70s have replaced the '50s, so what you hear now is stuff from the '60s and '70s. The only place you ever hear Elvis now is on classic country radio, and now the Oldies station is playing stuff that I would never called Oldies, like the Eagles. So now it's up to bands like mine to keep this stuff alive. Right before he died, I talked to John Fred from John Fred and the Playboys — that band that did 'Judy in Disguise.' I called him up in Louisiana and left a message and he called me back in three minutes, and was very excited when I offered to have him come play a gig here at the Continental. He also said how much he liked my band's name and told me to 'Keep the music alive!' That was really cool.
So, how do you decide if a song is an oldie or classic rock or something else?
AH: Man, that conversation has been going on in the band for ten years. The short answer is that oldies have a certain innocence and naivete to them that classic rock doesn't have — like the Hollies' "Bus Stop.' That's a song about a guy who offers to share his umbrella and go shopping with a girl. The fear they were selling is a different one than the one that came later. Musically, classic rock is all about virtuosity, and oldies aren't, and I think virtuosity is a bad thing. Oldies are more about some guy in a recording studio saying 'We have four minutes of tape left — start playing.' And that's how you get songs like 'Wooly Bully' and 'Louie Louie.'
As you look back over the past ten years, what are some of the highest of the highlights?
AH: Sometimes it's just as simple as the drummer hitting his crash cymbal right when I'm at the peak of a jump, but other times it's whole night. Like when we played H'bocken. (Hill's unique pronunciation of the New Jersey city of 'Hoboken.') Some guy had seen us at South By Southwest at one of our Rue's Antiques gigs and booked us to play up there. We played at Maxwell's, a historic Northeastern club that's owned by Sonic Youth's drummer and where Yo La Tengo played some of their first gigs, and here we were, a cover band from Texas.
So we get up there and we did a radio concert on WFMU and got a good write-up in the New York Post, so by the time we got to the club there were 200 people in there. And we did a set that lasted for five and a half hours without a break, and at the end, all the people who stayed through the marathon got up on stage with us and sang 'Land of 1000 Dances.' Some nights are magic and stay that way all night.