Allen Hill is crazy. Music compels him to run, jump, twist, fall and drag every last person in the audience into his celebration of the oldies.
Davey Schoenbaum -- Farfisa organ, guitar
Mikey Trafton -- bass, vocals
Jim Henkel -- guitar, sax, vocals
David Beebe -- drums, trumpet
Teen Idol -- sax, drums
Landis Armstrong -- guitar, vocals
James Mann -- drums, vocals
Chris Johnson -- bass, driving
Allen Hill -- leader, green tambourine
Allen Oldies Band Live and Delirious, 2005
Ride the Wild Surf, 2008
Allen Hill sees a fellow musician outside the Big Top bar on Main Street, puts a fist in the air and yells, "old-IES," like a battle cry. That's how hard-core Hill is about oldies, his oldies band and spreading the good word.
The other guy responds in kind, which tells you a little something about Hill's ability to preach.
"My first car, a '66 Volkswagen, had an AM radio and a single speaker in the middle of the dash. That's when I really got attached to oldies music, because I was driving around in the car and feeling my freedom and listening to the Kinks' You Really Got Me. It was revolutionary to me," Hill says.
Hill leads the Allen Oldies Band, which has likely played at a wedding, a fun run or a New Year's Eve party you've attended. If you haven't been privy to one of his manic performances, just know that Hill is crazy. Music compels him to run, jump, twist, fall and drag every last person in the audience into his celebration of the oldies.
"I'm trying to capture the spirit of a song more than the actual notes or the right lyrics. Sure, there are rough edges, but it stays together. It's great if the band doesn't know what's going to happen next; rock has to have adventure."
This month marks 10 years of the Allen Oldies Band, and Hill, in his mid-30s, doesn't plan on slowing down. He's tried that, it didn't work.
"Right before the Allen Oldies Band started, I decided that I was going to try not being in a band for a while," he says, referring to stints in local favorite Banana Blender Surprise and all of the other rock bands he'd been in since he was 16. "I started the band after three weeks of not playing."
The first show was at the Astrodome, entertaining at a post-race party. That show started Hill and his band of many men down a road that has led to New York, Chicago, Mexico and all over Texas. They've also backed soul legends Roy Head and Archie Bell, to name a few.
Twenty men have dutifully flanked Allen in his tux and tennies through the years. David Beebe has been there since the beginning, as have regulars David Schoenbaum and Mikey Trafton. Joe Earthman, Jim Henkel, Paul Beebe, Landis Armstrong and Steve Candelari are some of the current regulars.
"If there's a common element to all the guys that play with me, it's that they're up for having a good time, have a willingness to give in to the mayhem and are at least sort of able to play their instrument," he says.
To Hill, the oldies are not the music you hear on oldies radio. He blanches at the idea that Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, which he has heard on oldies radio, is oldies ("It's old. But it's not oldies.") The band does not play the Rolling Stones ("I guess they're all right."), nor the Beach Boys (because "they were good singers.")
"The songs that I'm much more passionate about are the ones that are getting lost because of the demise of oldies radio. Radio plays songs that have been test-marketed in front of a roomful of gerbils. It's not radio; it's Pavlovian response."
Some of Hill's favorite songs are Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen and Treat Her Right by Roy Head.
"One of my great accomplishments has been getting to know Roy; he's a friend. He's still one of the most dynamic performers out there; he will still do a flip off the stage, and he'll do it so fast.
Showmanship is surely one of the secrets to the Allen Oldies Band's tenure. Hill's ebullience is akin to a 3-year-old with a box of Popsicles, and his joy spreads to every corner of a room. He makes every party feel like the only party.
"A front man sets the tone for the room," Hill says. "My attitude is, 'What am I going to do to make sure that everyone that's not in this room wishes they could be?' "
-- Sara Cress | November 16, 2006