After years touring with legends like Eric Burdon and the Animals, Redondo Beach singer/songwriter Davey Allen was set to perform solo at the BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach on May 3. He would have performed the same day as the Steve Miller Band, but the novel coronavirus got in the way.
So Allen, who has also performed with Davey & the Midnight, set a different goal. He released his 11-track solo album, “May Day,” appropriately enough on May 1.
Allen said "May Day" explores the challenges of navigating a world changed, both economically and socially.
“I was hoping to finish the recording process in El Segundo, but I've been quarantining a month-plus in Indiana and the project became a Frankenstein of California and Indiana recordings,” said Allen at the end of April.
Allen sang and played all the parts on the album with the exception of the pedal steel (Brandon Conway) on the song “Amsterdam.” That song, said Allen, was written while he and Burdon were holed up in a hotel in Amsterdam.
Other songs include “Universal Basic Income,” “Abide in Me,” a British Navy hum that Burdon asked him to learn,” and “A Man in the Photo."
“'The Man In The Photo’ is about an actual photo of my father and grandfather at a rest stop in Kentucky from 1971,” Allen said. “In the background stood a mysterious figure with arms folded. I often look at the photo and think about that man. I’ve concocted many backstories for him.”
His father had a large record collection, but no one in his family played music, said Allen who grew up in Monticello, Indiana. But he did grow up attending a vibrant Pentecostal church that had lengthy worship services. There was also the Indiana Beach amusement park on Lake Shafer, that attracted tens of thousands on the weekends, near his home.
“The background noise in my childhood was people screaming on roller coasters,” Allen said.
But going to the church, Allen said he was fascinated by the instruments, especially the piano. When his parents split and his dad remarried, his stepmother had a piano and he would “pluck things out.”
“My initial experience with music was very feeling based,” Allen said.
After taking piano lessons, at around 16 years old, the music leader at his mother's church left, Allen was hired as a kind of a worship leader.
“I was conducting, I was throwing out parts to people, singers… so I put the music together and I had to quit band at school because it was taking so much time that I was getting paid for it.”
Through that experience, Allen said he gained the knowledge of how to play with other people, how a show works and how to keep people entertained, as well as “being able to feel the power that comes with that, being able to captivate people and not to take it too serious.”
Allen enrolled in Purdue University, but dropped out and moved to Phoenix. His thinking, he said, was a college education was waste of money because he knew he wanted to play music. In 2009, Allen ended up in Lafayette, Indiana where he bartended at the Knickerbocker Saloon, the oldest bar in the state.
Allen eventually made his way to California with his future wife Abigail Cortes, whom he first met in high school. She grew up in east Los Angeles, but moved to Indiana when she was a kid. Cortes is currently the art director at Erincondren.com.
“She said, ‘I gotta be up front, I’m moving to California,’” Allen recalled. “I kind of blurted out that I should go with and it happened.”
When Allen moved to California, he bought a guitar, but said he didn't intend to play music. He was burnt out after a few years traveling with a band from Memphis to Chicago, and many more cities along the way. His first job in California was delivering medical supply. His parents owned a medical supply company in Indiana so he knew the field.
But he soon returned to music and was releasing new material through a boutique label where he released some EP’s, but the label folded.
“That was a great little ride, but nothing really came from it as far as long-term traction goes,” Allen said.
In 2016, Allen connected with Burdon through a friend. He traveled to Ojai to meet Burdon, who was in need of a new band, at his studio.
“We set up, we plugged in, press record and Eric came in to the studio and we recorded two songs… it was very emotional,” he said. “I remember it being emotional for everyone, Eric included… Eric just said, ‘Do you want to go to Australia with me?’'
Burdon is an “amazing storyteller,” Allen said.
“It's like this oral history mixing with music and biographical history…. he's endless stories about the evolution of music in his time ,” said Allen.
In early 2020, before the world changed due to the COVID-19 infection, Allen was ready for his exit from Burdon’s band to focus on his own music.
“Kind of in the last year or so, started to plan for maybe subconsciously at first, an exit of sorts, or at least coming to do my own thing,” Allen said. “It's kind of like the 20 feet from stardom kind of deal. It was a blessing to be with Eric and I will miss it dearly, but… I can do things like go on tour for months at a time and plan out in advance.”
Allen, who is still riding out the virus storm in Indiana, said the “virus has forced me to take stock of my artistry.”
“Do I support and believe in myself enough to continue in what I do? Do I support and believe in my message enough to continue? Is it worth it? These are questions I try and ask myself often, but the current state of affairs has demanded a more definitive answer.”
He added, “Overall, I’ve enjoyed the re-evaluation. It’s given my body a needed rest, allowed me physical and mental space from daily demands, and reinvigorated my passion for music.”
When his album went on sale May 1, for 24 hours, 50 percent of sales were donated to the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a social justice organization that benefits low-income communities.
For more information, visit daveyallenmusic.com.