Allen HIll’s name is synonymous with oldies; hell, some people even think it’s his last name. The Houston native has been making audiences shake their tail feathers for more than 20 years. Mostly recognized as the suit and tennis shoe sporting front man of The Allen Oldies Band, Hill wears many hats in the music industry and was listed as one of the 50 Houston Music People We Love by the Houston Press in 2017.
Hill decided to branch out with his debut solo effort, All Over The Map, out everywhere September 6 and is celebrating with a record release at The Continental Club September 14. “The Allen Oldies Band is still very much in the mix, and it’s still all about oldies forever, but it was also time to do something different,” says Hill.
“The idea started a couple of years ago. I thought, I've made my career off of cover music, I think an album of all originals would be the most radical thing that I could do. Nobody is expecting it so that seemed like an opportunity.” Hill has played in and booked Houston’s best cover bands, bands that go beyond their label with their sincere dedication and admiration for the artists they play.
“I’m a matchmaker between private party bands and private party hosts,” says Hill of his business, Allen Hill Entertainment. Hill definitely knows how to bring good vibes wherever he goes and his level of talent and experience has not dulled his enthusiasm for music or other artists.
Historically, Hill has tapped into his audiences on the spot when performing, feeding off of their reactions and selecting songs from his repertoire to suit the mood; but with All Over The Map Hill is putting himself out there like he never has before exposing a more vulnerable side as an artist.
“This is about building an identity as a songwriter and an artist that does original music,” says Hill. “It’s a rock and roll record, but no one has heard these songs before, and it was an evolution. Trail blazing is very different then driving down the highway and stopping at Buc-ee's.”
All Over The Map is exactly as the name implies, a beautiful and fun collection of songs with varied influences. Hill’s love of many genres comes across throughout the album, starting strong with the carefree, rock and roll track “2 Gigs and a 1 Way Ticket to Amsterdam” and then taking listeners down heartbreak alley with more somber ballads like “Freedom and Happiness”.
“Fanny Pack” is a natural feel good hit, with a Rock ’n’ Roll High School vibe that instantly takes you back to the days of skipping school to hang out with a friend. Hill may be branching out, but the channeling of oldies heroes like Doug Sahm, who the cover itself is a nod to, and the unmistakable sound of the Farfisa can be heard humming through his songs.
“I think the songs come first and then the labels come second. One of the best things I’ve heard about music is there’s two kinds of genres, music you like and music you don’t like and that simplifies in a beautiful way,” says Hill. “I can get just as excited about hearing Stan Getz as I can about hearing a garage punk band.”
A strong aspect of Hill’s personality and history that could not be stripped away from this album is his trademark and infectious joyous nature. Hill describes his philosophy, “Go out and have a good time and if any of the songs put a smile on someone's face and help give them support from hearing these songs, it’s worth having out there.”
Being part of the Mid Main, Continental Club carousel of talented musicians, Hill is able to pick from the best players around town, as well as some of his heroes like Archie Bell. Hill has served as a backing member to legends like Bell, Roy Head and the late Andre Williams. He even shared the stage once with the king of rock and roll, Chuck Berry.
Bell contributes on the track “Soul Travels”, a groovy tune about the inexplicable qualities of the soul. “I wrote the song with Archie in mind. I love soul music and soul is a difficult thing to find; you can’t fake it. To me, the soul is a spirit that sees no color or economic class, it’s all inclusive but not everybody taps into it,” says Hill. “Soul travels is about trying to capture the essence of what’s available to anybody if you’re paying attention and you’re living your life in a way that’s real.”
Felipe Galvan from Los Skarnales added his own Latin rude boy flare to “Road Trip” They say that babies and drunks don’t lie which proved true in the studio as Hill describes Galvan’s infant son suddenly perking up and bobbing his head to the sound of his father’s scatting voice on the mostly instrumental tune.
Hill admits to the fear that came with presenting his contemporaries with original material but describes how quickly that fear melted away to expose new layers of his old friendships. He counted on drummer Eric C. Hughes to compose around his writing, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Henkel, which Hill describes as having “a natural gift of being the glue of everything.”
“A huge part this record is that all the people that are supposed to meet each other do, and all the people that play on this record, I met them for a reason. They’ve given me things that I really appreciate and couldn't have done without them,” says Hill.
The album was recorded at Beebe Gunn Studios, owned by long time friend and collaborator Paul Beebe. Though the actual recording process wasn’t long, Hill had been forming this album in his mind for many years. “It took me 30 years to get to the point where I was ready to jump in with this level of vulnerability, excitement and new material of this is who I am. I made a record that I’ve heard in my head for a long time and shows different aspects of my personality, my loves and what I want to do with music.”
The album is dedicated to the artist in everyone and to friends and heroes that Hill has lost but that continue to inspire him. In finding the encouragement he needed to release his art, Hill invites everyone to explore and embrace their artistic side and the bravery that comes with setting it free. “It’s difficult to take a chance and I’ve had enough times in my life to know you have to take the leap, even if you don’t know if there’s a net,” he says.
“Music is everywhere. It’s not just on a record, it’s when you walk out and the birds are singing, the wind is blowing the trees a certain way, its being open and listening to that and really connecting. Music is a celebration and I’m the kind of person that loves to celebrate and loves to create celebrations for other people that like to celebrate.”
Allen Hill will hold an All Over The Map listening party Saturday September 7 at Sig's Lagoon, 3622 Main from 1-3 p.m. Free. He will perform at his CD release show with Tomar and the FC's, Saturday September 14 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 7 p.m. $14-20. There will be an in-store performance Saturday September 21 at Cactus Records, 2110 Portsmouth, 11:30 a.m. Free.
For more information visit allenhillentertainment.com
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.