Local (L.A.) Boy Makes Good (Music):
Rick Allen (Sutherland) is Helping Us Tonight on Keyboards

by Mitch Lopate

When Rick Allen looks back at the many shows and stages where he's performed, the booking engagements look like an alphabet soup of names and places. His greatest joy comes from the fact that music is more than a career: it literally was a doorway and a entranceway for a new dimension of living and adventure. Where would we be if we hadn't made the choices that were so monumental in our lives? Rick's story obviously has a happy ending, and getting there has been as interesting as the journey. Once again, music proves itself to be a lifeline that rescues those who need a helping hand! Reach on out for Brother Rick when you need some 'boards!

How did you meet Delaney? With whom else did you play?

I met Delaney and Bonnie at a club in Encino, Calif. called the Brass Ring in 1969. I was with "Blue Rose Band" at the time. Blue Rose was a four-piece group consisting of four talented musicians who could not manage to get along with each other. Especially after all these years that I have been in music, I know that Blue Rose could have done great things in the recording industry. The magic was all there. But, Blue Rose broke up over trivial ego-trips.

We traded sets at the Brass Ring with Delaney and Bonnie. Delaney was polishing up his band to go on the road. The original D&B Band was great. My wife and I would always watch their shows during our breaks.

After the demise of Blue Rose, I joined a group called Dalton and Dubarri, which had a new album out on CBS. We toured as opening act for Loggins and Messina, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Poco, Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop, Beach Boys and others. I got to play Madison Square Garden with the Loggins and Messina show in 1973, and Winterland in San Francisco, along with stadiums and big concert halls throughout the USA.

I have been honored in my life to have worked with some of the greatest artists in the music business, including Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Allen Toussaint, Albert King, Dr. John, Ernie K-Doe, Sonny Boy Williamson, Delaney and Bonnie, Michael Omartian, Steve Cropper, Wayne Bennett, Ringo Starr and The Dukes of Dixieland, (with whom I was Nominated for a Grammy Award this year for Best Gospel Album.) This was a long way from skinny kid in Whittier, who was told by the Whittier Police that I would spend my life in jail. I could have had the Grammy Awards published in the Whittier News, a paper I delivered as a child, but decided that I was better off remaining incogniton from the people I knew in my teens.

In 1974, I went on the road with Don Preston, formerly lead guitar player for Leon Russell and Joe Cocker. We did an album for Shelter Records in San Francisco, and played all over America, including at the Bottom Line in New York City.

Also, in 1974, I began working with Delaney. We used to rehearse long hours at his "Rock and Roll Ranch" in Sunland, Calif. I recorded five albums with Delaney. The first was "Delaney and Blue Diamond", (Giving Birth to a Song), on MGM Records, the second was a demo album, not released, the third was "Class Reunion" on Motown Records. The fourth was an album for guitar great Thumb's Carlisle and his daughter, produced by Delaney, never released to my knowledge, and the fifth album with Delaney was an unreleased album for Motown/Prodigy. So, that's about 60 songs I cut with Delaney, and he taught me a lot about studio work. Incidentally, my name on those records in Rick Sutherland. My full name is Richard Alan Sutherland, and I used my true surname for my son, Craig and daughter, Kelli.

That's a truly impressive portfolio! What shows did you like, and why? They were all hot bands and at the top of their game at that time! I know the original D&B act must have been a treat to see; many Delaney fans wish the later material would also surface.

Loggins and Messina were fun to work with. They always drew big crowds. The Doobies were very nice guys. One night in Little Rock or somewhere, we ran out of beer in our dressing room, and the Doobies shared their brew with us. The Marshall Tucker Band was great, and I enjoyed playing Winterland in San Francisco. But of all the bands in the 1970's, I think Delaney and Bonnie were the best. Soulful, almost gospel rock. We only did about three concerts with the MTB. The one that stands out in my mind was at an arena in New Haven, Conn. No real good stories, I'm afraid. Just that there was a fancy catering service near the dressing rooms, and we had dinner together, which I remember was lasagna stuffed with zucchini, and very good! After we ate, I went out into the audience to watch MTB play, and really liked their music better than Loggins and Messina's, whom I'd grown used to. MTB was great, and that's about it!

Why the B-3?—it's a tough one in the organ family.

I grew up in the days before amplified keyboards. Piano players beat on old uprights in the corners of stages, and no one could hear them. This seemed like a bleak future to me as a young teenager. Then, I heard Ray Charles play Wurlitzer electric piano on "Wha'd I say?" So, when I went on the road at age 18, I played a Wurlitzer. Around that same time, I noticed that a band from the East called Joey Dee and the Starlighters used a Hammond B3 in their band. I bought a little Hammond M3, and began playing it with a group called The Bonnevilles, from Milwaukee. Then, I became aware of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. Their music was more than a little M3 could handle, and, in 1962, jazz tenor sax player Tom Fabre rented me a B3 for a gig in Milwaukee. I've been with the B3 ever since.

How long have you been in the industry?

I played my first professional gig with Don Preston at Laguna Park Ballroom in East Los Angeles in 1958. I was fifteen years old. I went on the road as a full-time musician in 1961, when I was eighteen. I cut my first record with Sonny Boy Williamson and the Skunks, at Chess records in Chicago, in 1964. I had just turned 21.

Are you originally from the California area?

I was born in southern California, and grew up in Whittier. My 17 years in Whittier were not nice years. I was a tall, skinny boy, and couldn't fight. The popular kids were the street fighters. These were the days of movies like, "Rebel Without a Cause", and Whittier was much like the scenes in that film.

For protection, I ran with a tough crowd. Most of my "friends" wound up in prison. I have no fond memories of Whittier, and am only grateful that the cruelty of that town forced me to learn music. It was my only escape. In his autobiography, Richard Nixon states that the mean kids in Whittier also drove him to become a politician.

What kind of music do you also play—styles, influences?

I am a blues musician with just a touch of jazz. My roots are with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. My organ influences are Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff and Groove Holmes. My organ solos are really a mix of Jimmy Smith and blues guitar lines. Maybe it's unique. I always wanted to play guitar, but had to translate it to keyboards.

What's up for now—anything good in the studio that we should know? You had mentioned a website with additional information…

My web site address is http://www.rickallenmusic.com/

I have been doing studio work here in New Orleans for quite some time. Most of my sessions are at Allen Toussaint's Sea Saint Studios. I also do sessions for Carlo Ditta, owner of Orleans Records. At Sea Saint, we are currently doing albums on Robert Parker, (Barefootin'), Freddie Fender and Solomon Burke.

What's a razorcat? I noted that on your email…

"Razorcat" is a combination of my wife's and my nicknames.

Now for something totally different: You can go back in time or stay contemporary and play with any group or individual of your choice WHOM YOU DID NOT PERFORM WITH IN YOUR CAREER. Whom? Why? Where? What?—whom would you like to hook up with for something in the future?

I would have loved to play with Muddy Waters. My son, Craig, and I were with him in his dressing room at the Roxy in L.A., and Muddy said that he would let me play a set with him. But, one of the Rolling Stones musicians (I think it was Ron Wood) wanted to play piano. Muddy said that the Stones were helping him sell records in Europe, and that he had to "be nice" to them.

As for musicians who are still alive today, I'd like to work with Buddy Guy. I've loved his music since I was in the ninth grade. His early recording of, "First Time I Met The Blues" was so powerful that I begged a friend to drive me to South Central L.A. so I could buy it. I was too young to drive.

You can go back in time to any single event in human history as an impartial viewer—where? What? Why? and of course, when?

I would like to walk into a cathedral in 18th century Germany, and hear Bach play the Pasacaglia and Fugue in C Minor on the pipe organ. That would be hearing the greatest composer of all time playing my favorite musical composition.

And thirdly, do this same idea—for one single performance—what would you like to have seen, or go back and see one more time? (Personal favorite of mine: the Fillmore East and the Allmans!! -Mitch)

In contemporary terms, I would like to see Hendrix perform at Woodstock. I can't imagine any musical performance in my lifetime that would equal that! It might seem strange that I mention Bach and Hendrix in the same breath, but genius continues in different means of expression.

I think Jimi would have been more comfortable with J.S. than vice versa, and I honestly could see him with Mozart or Beethoven, too. I'd bet he'd have given something extra to their material. Thanks, Rick!!

Please Visit: http://www.rickallenmusic.com/