​​​Rock, Roots, & Blues - Live


Allen Sloan Interview

Steve Hefter
Rock, Roots, & Blues – Live
September 5, 2017

Rock, Roots, & Blues – Live [RRB]: Hi Allen. It’s great to talk with you. I finally got all five of you [for interviews] now.

Allen Sloan [AS]: Oh my God, I have the distinction of being the very last of the Dregs?

RRB: Yes. Yes you do. I actually saw Steve [Morse] eight or nine days ago. I went to see Deep Purple here by me. We talked for just a few quick minutes, but I said to him, ‘I’m still waiting to hear back from Allen,’ and he looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘That’s good, I wasn’t even sure Allen would be on the tour.’ Then he laughed, obviously he wasn’t serious.

AS: Well that’s good. I’m glad to hear he’s not questioning the idea.

RRB: No, not at all.

AS: I just need to go to some extreme lengths to be free.

RRB: I understand. You do have a career.

AS: Yes, somewhat different than the rest of the guys.

RRB: You are an anesthesiologist, right?

AS: Yes I am. I also do pain management, which is a highly questioned sub-specialty right now.

RRB: So what have you been up to during the past, oh, forty years?

AS: Well, I’ve learned quite a lot of non-musical interesting things over the last forty years, as we already discussed. Musically, you know I did play with them [the Dregs] a little bit for about a week. We went out two times. We went up to New York in ninety something and then in ’01 we went out to California and Jerry [Goodman] was on the tour. At home I don’t play any of that sort of thing. I’ve been playing shows with the local thespian group, the Augusta Players. We’ve done lots of Broadway type shows. We did South Pacific and Annie. We did The King and I. Stuff I used to do in college. I got to be the Fiddler on the Roof a few times. For a little while during medical school I was playing with the local orchestra. I could steel away enough [time] to rehearse maybe one or two times before a concert, which was enough for me to get by. I haven’t done that [lately] because I haven’t had rehearsal time. People periodically call me to play at a wedding or a divorce. Sometimes I play at funerals for people that I knew. A lot of people know that I play. To set the mood, I’ll frequently play either inside at some sort of gathering or even at the graveside. It’s been pretty moving for me and I’ll often play something that I’ve composed myself for the solo violin and that’s been very rewarding.

RRB: I can’t think of anything more opposite to the Dixie Dregs music than that.

AS: Yeah, I can’t think of anything more opposite. It’s very strange to play for weddings and funerals. I haven’t gotten any Bat Mitzvahs lately, I’ve done a couple. Oh, and also during medical school I played a lot of strolling in a couple of restaurants. I guess this isn’t conversation you wanted to hear about.

RRB: No, I am interested.

AS: I’m just telling you about different musical things I’ve done. I have definitely missed playing with the guys. I miss it all the time. Whenever I hear any band that has a violin that’s any good I get all nostalgic and wish that I was practicing the old stuff again with Steve, Rod and Andy and Davidowski. Davidowski, I forget when he split with us, that was a while back, thirty-eight, forty years [ago] maybe. It’s been a long time. He’s coming up here in about a month to spend a long weekend. The two of us are going to play together and I’m going to scoop up as much knowledge from him as I can. He has a much broader background in jazz than I do so I’m hoping he’ll teach me some things. It’s going to be a very nice arrangement of music. I’m hoping that Steve and/or the rest of us can come up with some new material. I don’t know that it will be a lot, but that all depends on the longevity of this thing. The first bit of it will be almost entirely our originals, but the audience won’t be the original. I expect it will be about thirty percent people who don’t know us at all. Undoubtedly there will be a few people with walkers who will come up to the stage and say, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ [laughing].

RRB: Well, Steve was telling me that he has ideas for new music but that there probably isn’t time to practice and get them down before the tour starts in March.

AS: No, not right away. I’m going to have to get the dates nailed down because I have to get what’s called the locum tenons – somebody to come in and cover for me for some period of time. I’ve been able to get doctors in the area that I know well to cover for me for three or four days, five days at most, but I can’t do it l like that for a month. I have to get somebody to come in and keep the ball rolling here so when I get done with this I’ll still have my practice.

RRB: Of course.

AS: But I am looking forward the future here. Who knows?

RRB: Well, whenever I think of any of the Dregs music, it’s your violin that sets it apart. Granted, the music had its own thing. No one played anything like the Dregs music, but when you hear your violin, on top of what was happening, that makes the sound. At least that’s my opinion.

AS: Well that’s extremely nice of you to say, I’ll try not to have trouble getting my head through the door [laughing]. I must say that in spite of what you’re saying I couldn’t be where you hear me without Steve’s extraordinary ear and heart. He’s quite a bright fellow and musically unsurpassed with all the people I’ve known, and I’ve bumped into a lot of real heavyweights in my time, and honestly no one comes close to his level of natural synthesis of all the things that he’s been through. That’s what I think makes the music, I’ll stand outside and say, as outstanding and beautiful as it really is, it’s because of what Steve’s been through. He’s been able to put a bit of the liturgical stuff that he learned. He’s put a lot of classical guitar and therefore classical influence in. It’s been his primary influence and his choice of chord changes and a lot of melodies, and Rod being one of the most amazing drummers. I have to tell you as an individual that grew up just playing violin in an orchestra in Miami, I almost have to pinch myself occasionally just to think that I had the extraordinary luck to run into those guys in Miami. There was a movie about [a character named] Mr. Buttons. When the time went backwards, there was a segment in there where they went tangential to the actual movie and they were showing how just a very small change in the event that occurs, in a small piece of time, down the road makes extreme changes in the events that occur. It’s amazing to me that all the things in my life happened in just the right way so that I could have been there when Rod and Steve were playing and then Andy joined us. It’s just been great because I didn’t know them in high school or any of that. I got to know them in college at the University of Miami.

RRB: It’s funny, you just said the same thing that everyone I’ve talked to, including Steve, every one of you guys, and you are the fifth one, has said to me: that not only is it the set of circumstances but that you all appreciate and understand how lucky you all were or at least that circumstances put you all in the right place to allow all this to happen, and that it could have been so much different. You all realize it and appreciate it and it’s just nice to hear.

AS: Yeah. Well, when you see me playing on stage with them and you see the ridiculous grin on my face you’ll know what I’m thinking. If I had another hand I’d pinch myself […]. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.

RRB: Oh Yes! I know there are a lot of people looking forward to it. I was curious, I know it’s been a long time, what you’re first impressions were when you met Steve and Rod?

AS: You mean way back when?

RRB: Yes. Way back.

AS: Well, they were actually working up one of Mahivishnus songs, might have been “Birds of Fire” or one of those [songs] and I had been crazy about that stuff myself. When I heard them playing it I just took my violin and burst into the room with them and said, ‘You guys need me in your band’, and they looked at each other and said, ‘Ok, what can you do?’ My first impression was that this is what I needed to be doing now. I moved down to Miami to see what I could do musically. I played with the Miami Philharmonic, that’s kind of already written up. I was taking jazz improv and playing a couple of different kinds of musical things at the music school. One day, once again, the flash of a moment in time and of the place all came together again and I just happened to be in the building and heard them playing and I just dashed in and said, ‘Hey I’ve got to play with you’ and they said, ‘Ok, let’s do it’ and so we kind of got off on it from then on. I was quite excited when I heard them playing, I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing’, I opened the door literally and figuratively.

RRB: And the rest is sort of history as they say?

AS: I think you’d say that. That was late seventy-five I believe. All that time ago.

RRB: So what do you remember about recording Freefall?

AS: Hmm […] Well, our producer was quite an exciting guy to work with. He had done Beatles and lots of interesting things. I think we did that one in California. They took some photos of us at the airport in front of a jet [laughing]. We put a duet on there. That was wonderful. Incidentally, Steve and I have done duets; you’ve probably heard them on the album. I know we are going to do two of them anyway.

RRB: Which ones are those?

AS: Probably “Little Kids” and “Sleep”. Those are the two he wanted to work up. Those are two of my favorites. He may pull something else out, I don’t know. What else do I remember? I think we met Ringo…he walked in and was standing on the other side of the glass [of the recording studio].

RRB: Rod told that story to me.

AS: Rod told you about Ringo, huh? It was clearly him. We all looked through the window and then looked at each other and thought, ‘Is that really him?’ We all got to shake his hand and say hello and that was quite a nice moment, and he said that we sounded good. I think we played out there a bit. We stayed in an apartment complex in the hills right near the Hollywood sign.

RRB: Steve told me that he stayed to help do the final mixing of the album and his impression was that he wasn’t crazy about the final mix […] and in the end he wasn’t that thrilled with the overall sound of the album.

AS: That’s probably accurate. I think his impression and ours as well, was that it was a bit of dry. There wasn’t nearly enough ambience to it. If you listen to it now, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It doesn’t meet the criteria of modern recording. It was more like from the fifties or sixties. It didn’t have that resonance and wide spectrum of sound. I don’t know why [the producer] did that. I’m quite sure Steve would have, on his own, done a much better mix than the way it came out, but he was compelled by the record company, they, for whatever reason, thought Steve was too much of a novice to do it. Since then, I think he’s proven himself. He’s mastered the recording as well as his guitar playing. That’s good to know. I sure wouldn’t want somebody at the center of the band to not be able to pull the sound out of the recording equipment. Then again, it’s all changed since then, in several gargantuan steps. We had sixteen tracks of three inch tape. Now tape is out the window, it’s all digital, and you don’t have all those bulky machines.

We continue our interview with Allen in the next edition of Rock, Roots, & Blues - Live.

Photo credit: Janine Morse

A ​Conversation with Allen Sloan