Allan Thomas interview
| 80ï¿½s Metalbands such as Vixen, Aloha, Hawaii, Sharx and musicians like Michael Furlong (Tom Petty clone thesedays), Michael Ruff and Allan Thomas are the only names that pop into my mind when you ask me the question if i knew any acts from the sunny Hawaii island.
Furthermore i have to honestly confess i know little or nothing when it comes down to sum up more who hail from this surfers paradise.
These days iï¿½m a little older and so much wiser, so i kinda forgot those 80ï¿½s hairmetalbands but still prefer (as so many of you) classic west coast acts like Nielsen/Pearson, Player, Sneaker, Eagles and/or the Keane bros.
Well in case you (just like me) still rate those high in your list, make sure to not overlook the recent Allan Thomas release "Making Up For Lost Time", only his third solo release throughout the years but very high class well made. It sounds a bit like the solowork of Donald Fagen meets Nielsen/Pearson with the voice of a Randall Bramblett, in fact letï¿½s put it this way ..... how much more west coast can you sound if you operate from Hawaii ?
Any questions about this guy ? With the following interview i did he revealed a lot about his past, present and future .....
|Making Up For Lost Time" is a brand new (as we call it) fantastic
West Coast album, but only your third solo release after "The Island"
and "Coconut Culture" which was released in 96. 11 years to wait and
hold on if you are a Allan Thomas fan, can you tell us fans and readers what youve been up to in those 11years ?
Allan: Well, besides working on my cutbacks and bottom-turns in my daily dawn
surf sessions, I have been writing new tunes, and delving further into the realms of alternate tunings on my guitar. I have also learned how to record and edit using Pro Tools software, and have produced and recorded several artists on Kauai.
When I started writing songs in 1967 I wrote about 12 songs a year, I guess you could say a lot of them were throwaways in todayï¿½s
standards, though each one was a ladder to the next and hopefully better song.
Nowadays it takes me months alone to write what I consider a keeper.
With this album I had around 30 songs to choose from that were written in the last 11 years or so, and out of those came these ten.
Another part of the reason for not recording on a regular basis is the kind of producer/engineer I like to work with (Stephen Barncard ï¿½ Mike
Shipley) is not always available or affordable to me for years on end, and that is why I finally decided to produce and record it myself, not because I wanted to but because I had to, or the record would not have been made at all. So itï¿½s taken a while to get to this point of release, but I feel I have learned a lot in the process of taking over the helm and getting the job done.
During this time between records I also had the great pleasure of working with one of my inspirations, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, for
two months as assistant engineer in the recording of his last solo CD ï¿½Morph The Catï¿½-
which was a dream come true, and an unparalleled learning experience.
It also afforded me the wherewithal to upgrade my recording rig and begin the process of recording my new release.
In the middle of working on ï¿½Making Up For Lost Timeï¿½ I wound up with a near fatal infection in my leg that put the album on hold for eight
months while I recuperated. After the experience of working with Fagen, followed by the whole brush with death deal I was pretty fired up about finishing the record. So the record took almost three years from start to finish.
I actually have enough material for another record right now, but Iï¿½ll have to wait until Iï¿½ve given everything I have to getting this new
record out there. In these days an artist who is unsigned and independent often has to wear the hat of the writer, artist, producer,
engineer and record promoter. It has only become possible for an artist to do this kind of thing of late. Iï¿½m glad I stuck with my
music these forty years now, to have seen a time when it is so opportunistic for an unknown artist to get his or her music heard
anywhere in the world. As I said I would rather not have to assume all these rolls, especially as my own producer and engineer, so as to have
more time for writing, recording and touring, but you do what you have to do.
Its amazing how many well-known studio musicians you have as friends, Tris Imboden, Jimmy Johnson, Graham Nash, Michael Ruff, Kirk
Smart, Ken Emerson.... Did these guys become friends throughout the years by touring and playing in clubs? Or do these guys love to visit
some days on the Island of Hawaii?
Allan: Yes I feel very fortunate to have worked and become friends with these
great players and people. These incredible musicians came into my world as a result of all of them living here on Kauai, except for
Jimmy Johnson, who flies in to record from time to time with Michael Ruff and Tris.
Graham Nash has had a place here since the seventies, and I met him and his family in ï¿½83. Half the guys on the record are surfers, and we
have that water connection as well as the music. All of us, including Graham, have gigged together in some combination or other either at
clubs, or concerts over the years. The respect we all have for each otherï¿½s talent is immense, and our friendships grew out of years of
musical contact with each other. Ruff started recording with me in 1987, so most of us go back a long while now.
How did you manage to get Mike Shipley to mix and master this recent product of yours?
Allan: Well all I had to do was ask him and he readily agreed. We just had to
wait a minute for Mike to find an opening in his busy schedule, which luckily didnï¿½t take that long. Mike and I go back to 1991 or so. He
has been visiting Kauai for many years now, and has been a champion of my music since the beginning of our friendship, always believing in
what I had to offer, and inspiring me to just keep writing and working on my craft. Mike produced, recorded and mixed my third and previous CD ï¿½Coconut Cultureï¿½. It was his idea to do it too. He was on a break/sabbatical after having mixed Shania Twain and the Def Leppard
projects. So he came to Hawaii for a year of rest and recuperation, but heï¿½s the kind of guy that needs a project even when heï¿½s on a
break! So he asked me if I wanted to do an album with him. Before you could blink an eye I had answered in the affirmative.
On this record nobody had heard the tracks except for the musicians involved, and about three quarters into the recording I asked Mike if
he would mix. He asked me to send him some rough mixes and after listening to them his reply was very positive. He was very excited and
told me the record had a really good vibe. Only then did I realize I might have something here. You get so deep into your thing sometimes
you donï¿½t even know if what you have is something worthy or just another artistic piece of crap. I knew I could trust Mike and his very
capable assistant Brian Wohgemuth to mix the record in LA while I remained in Kilauea. I listened to the downloaded mixes daily in my
home studio, and made suggestions through instant messaging and e-mails ï¿½ gotta love these modern times for high-speed communication.
It was pretty intense there for a little while as the mixes came in and I had to make major decisions and ask Mike and Brian to change
this or that, small tweeks, but in the end it was worth anything to have the music come out sounding as it does, with Shipley at the helm.
Besides you and Michael Furlong I know no one on Hawaii whos a brilliant musician .... any others we should remember if their name (s) pop by ?
Allan: Well of course we have the brilliant Michael Ruff, who has lived here
full-time for at least 15 years, and who is now producing himself and other artists in his home studio. Then thereï¿½s Ken Emerson, the
masterful slide, and lap-steel player who plays blues, rock and Hawaiian with amazing energy and skill. Kirk Smart is a wonderful guitarist, mandolin and lap-steel player who people will be hearing more about. He also plays in a quartet in Italy near Lake Cuomo a few months out of each year. Bryan Kessler, my long-time friend and song writing partner who lives on Oahu, one island over to the east, is a tremendously gifted guitarist with the ability to play jazz, blues and R&B equally well. He co-founded the Hawaiian Style Band, an immensely successful group in Hawaii in the early nineties. He is threatening to record a new solo album soon. The amazing harmonica player on the title track is JP Allen. JP moved here from Austin Texas a few years ago, and blew my socks off with his tasty licks. Tris Imboden the current drummer for Chicago, and past drummer for the likes of Michael McDonald and Al Jarreau lives here part time, and is a monster player, surfer and really upbeat fellow. Anjela Rose ï¿½ who sings backup vocals on the new record - is one to watch. She is a singer/ songwriter and very beautiful and warm-hearted woman with a voice full of character and soul.
Others to know about would be John Cruz, and Makana, awesome singer/songwriters and slack key guitarists from Oahu. Iï¿½m sure there are many other noteworthy players here in Hawaii on the other islands, but as I live on the north shore of Kauai, rarely leave, and havenï¿½t been traveling that much, I donï¿½t really know who else is out there, except for maybe Jake Shimabukuro, the virtuoso ukulele player from
Oahu, who is heavy indeed.
Have you actually ever heard before of Michael Furlong?
Allan: Not till now!
You are a native New Yorker, lived on the West coast for a while (Malibu), and now Hawaii, so I assume you have to leave the island all
the time to play gigs with other musicians or do you never leave and play in Hawaii all the time with your own band?
Allan: Actually I rarely leave Kauai to play gigs with bands elsewhere,
something I am hoping to change with the possibilities this new record will present.
When I do venture out to the US mainland I usually play gigs solo, unless Mike Ruff or Ken Emerson happen to be at the same place at the
same time; a rare thing indeed.
Even here in Hawaii I rarely get to gig with bands save for the occasional concert or private party. We just donï¿½t have the venues for
bands here that exist in the bigger cities. So you see you really do have to pay a price for living in paradise. On the band gigs that do
manifest I try to get Ruff, Emerson, Kessler and/or Kirk Smart, or some combo thereof to play with.
About a year and a half ago, just after the ï¿½Morph The Catï¿½ sessions, Donald Fagen invited a number of Kauai players to play in his backup band for a benefit concert. In that ensemble were Ken Emerson, Kirk Smart, Tris Imboden and myself, among others, and that was a huge blast. We also backed Todd Rundgren as well that night.
So even though I mainly gig solo here in the islands, I always record with a band when making an album, and relish the few band gigs that do
This new release of yours is heaven for music lovers who have the solo albums of Donald Fagen and Nielsen/Pearson high in their ranks, what is your musical taste from the past and in todayï¿½s world?
Allan: Growing up in New York afforded me the wonderful opportunity to hear a
lot of different kinds of music live and on radio. At first when I began singing with doo-wop vocal groups in Brooklyn, I was way into
the black R&B groups like the Drifters, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. When I ventured out
and became a solo vocalist my heroï¿½s were Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and lesser-known NYC cats like Chuck Jackson and Freddy Scott. All these guys were soulful singers that I resonated with and sang along to their records till I had every lick and nuance down, though
at that young age I for sure didnï¿½t have the grit and soul of their voices, but at least I learned something about breathing and phrasing,
singing from your gut, and being believable in your portrayal of the words.
Later, when I became a songwriter and guitarist I was greatly inspired by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne. Later still it was artists like Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, and the jazz masters Cannonball
Adderley, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Though I had opened for some key elder bluesmen in the seventies like Arthur ï¿½Big Boyï¿½ Cruddup and
Bukka White, it wasnï¿½t till I was a DJ for Kauai Commuinity Radio - from ï¿½98 to
2004 - that I really got into some of the seminal bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlinï¿½ Wolf. There I also discovered African musicians
like King Sunny Ade and Ali Farka Toure. Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, and songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim have long been big influences on me in the melody and rhythm department since the late sixties as well.
Today I still find great inspiration from artists like Donald Fagen, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, as well as jazz players like Michael
Brecker, Pat Metheny and the Yellowjackets.
You wrote most songs by yourself with the exception of one song
with guitar player Bryan Kessler, does this mean to say that you
prefer to write on your own instead with someone else?
Allan: Actually I love to write with a co-writer but due to my being on one
island and my main co-writer living on another, itï¿½s not often we get the chance to write together. Even with Mike Ruff who I have written
several songs with, and lives close by, itï¿½s difficult to get together as he has a very busy life with raising children and writing and
recording his own and others music. So I manly just write by myself. I always have written mainly by myself. It takes a lot longer to write
solo, but thatï¿½s just the way it is.
Whats your favorite song that you wrote on this new album and why?
Also whats the best song, according to you, that you ever wrote in the past?
Allan: That is a very rough question. I have no one favorite. But I can tell
you that Iï¿½ve gotten chills listening to ï¿½Rapture In The Rainï¿½, and ï¿½The Real Thingï¿½, and that I canï¿½t stop my foot from tapping when I hear ï¿½Old Dog New Trickï¿½ or ï¿½Making Up For Lost Timeï¿½.
As far as best song I have ever written - out of three hundred or so - who knows? I certainly donï¿½t. I can say that the song ï¿½The Navigatorï¿½
from the ï¿½Coconut Cultureï¿½ CD with Graham Nash singing backups is pretty high up there on my own personal favorite compositions list, as well as ï¿½Ray Of Hopeï¿½ on this album also with Nash.
Can you make a good living out of living in Hawaii releasing one album every once in a while and being a studio musician?
Allan: Well the short answer is no. But I solo gig at least three nights a
week, and teach guitar to a few students also on a weekly basis to keep things rolling. There is also income from my recording studio, CD
sales, which continue to grow, and the dribs and drabs of radio songwriter royalties, which also help. So as you can tell I am not buying land or taking over the financial world here on Kauai, but I am making enough of a living to reside here in this heaven on earth and
pursue my dream as a working songwriter/recording artist, gigster and
rabid surfer and windsurfer. Iï¿½ve learned how to tighten my belt when times are tough and money is lean; as long as I can be creative in the world of music and play in the Pacific I am pretty darn happy. There is a lot of fruit you can pick right off the trees here, and I know a
lot of fishermen as well so food is never really an issue, but finding suitable housing for a recording artist is, and the search goes on. Money has never been a big issue for me ï¿½ though I would like to attract a lot more of it ï¿½it is the pursuit of art that in the end
gets me through the day.
Your voice makes me remind on Randall Bramblett, the guitarplayer who toured with Steve Winwood for a while and released several
terrific solo albums, are you familiar with his work ?
Allan: No Iï¿½m not, but now I will check him out. Some people say my voice is reminiscent of Steve Winwood however. There is some air in our voices for sure.
What is the best and easiest way for our readers to obtain your new
Allan: I have no distribution for the record in Europe as yet so one can
go to www.novatunes.com - www.cdbaby.com - www.amazon.com and
they can get a CD directly from my record company Black Bamboo Recordings
firstname.lastname@example.org . They can also listen to whole tracks
record at - www.myspace.com/allanthomas2 .
Thanks Rick for the opportunity to let your readers know about the new
record, and I promise it wonï¿½t be ten years before the next one!
over and out. AT