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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Happy Birthday Alan Merrill


Alan Merrill was born Allan Preston Sachs on February 19, 1951 in The Bronx, New York City, the son of two jazz musicians, singer Helen Merrill, and saxophone/clarinet player Aaron Sachs.  He started his semi-pro career in his mid-teens when he began playing in Greenwich Village’s “Cafe Wha?” with the bands The Kaleidoscope, The Rayne, and Watertower West. The groups played the club during the 1966-1968 period. Alan Merrill is a multi-instrumentalist, but is known best for his singing ability. He is a vocalist who also plays the guitar, bass guitar, harmonica and keyboards.

In 1968, Merrill auditioned for the New York band, the Left Banke. The audition was successful, but the band dissolved. Shortly thereafter, he left to reside in Japan, and started his professional career there with the band The Lead, on RCA Victor Records. The band was a foreign Tokyo based act. The Lead had one hit single, “Aoi Bara” (Blue Rose), but the project soon fell apart when two American members of the group were deported.

In 1969 Merrill signed a solo management deal with Watanabe Productions, who contracted him to Atlantic Records, and changed his professional surname from Sachs ( pronounced sax) to Merrill because “Merrill” sounded less lascivious and was more commercially viable when spoken by young Japanese pop music fans. He recorded one album with Atlantic Records, “Alone In Tokyo”, which yielded one hit single, “Namida” (Teardrops), and he became the first foreign domestic market pop star in the Japanese Group Sounds.

Merrill acted on the popular TV soap opera “Ji Kan Desu Yo”, and had his own corner as a regular on the TBS “Young 720,” a morning show for teens. He also was the featured principal as a model in ads for Nissan cars, Jun clothing, and GT Jeans.

In 1971 he released an LP of his own compositions titled “Merrill 1”, in Japan for Denon/Columbia (a company not affiliated with the Columbia Records labels outside Japan.) He then formed the band Vodka Collins, who became Japan’s top glam rock act. The band included Japanese superstars Hiroshi “Monsieur” Kamayatsu and Hiroshi Oguchi. Vodka Collins recorded one LP in 1972-1973 titled “Tokyo-New York”, on the EMI Toshiba label, which is still available today in CD re-issues.

In 1974 in London Alan Merrill formed the band Arrows (as lead singer and bass guitarist), with drummer Paul Varley and guitarist Jake Hooker. Peter Meaden was the Arrows’ first manager, but later they signed with Mickie Most’s RAK Records. March 1974 the Arrows were in the top 10 in the UK charts with the song “Touch Too Much,”. Arrows became a popular band with teens, and once again Merrill had slid back into the teen market he had fought hard to get out of in Japan. The Arrows had another hit single with “My Last Night With You” which made the UK top 30 in 1975, but the band’s single releases were few and far between as a result of their producer Mickie Most’s winding down his own career momentum.

They made one more single that would be an important one. “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1975), a song that started out as a b-side to the 45 rpm Arrows single “Broken Down Heart”. The song “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” was composed by Alan Merrill and Arrows bandmate Jake Hooker. The record was later flipped to a-side status, and the band got only one TV performance with the song. The show’s producer Muriel Young was so impressed with Arrows that she made a pitch to Granada ITV for them to have their own television series. The Arrows got their own weekly TV series Arrows in 1976, taking over the Bay City Rollers Granada TV series Shang-a-Lang. The band Arrows signed with MAM Management. Their producer Mickie Most was so angry at the band for signing the management deal, that he vowed to never release another Arrows record. So it came to pass that Arrows had their own weekly TV series and no records released during that time. Their ratings were so good that they got a second weekly series, but they released no new recordings. The Arrows disbanded shortly after the end of the second series. In 1977, Merrill married fashion model Cathee Dahmen, and formed a new group, the album-oriented rock act Runner, with Steve Gould (Rare Bird), Mick Feat (Van Morrison band), and Dave Dowle (Whitesnake). The Runner album charted in the Billboard top 100 in the United States.

In 1980 Alan Merrill joined forces with Rick Derringer as a guitarist/vocalist in New York City. They recorded three albums, “Good Dirty Fun”, “Live At The Ritz”, “Rick Derringer and Friends”, and a film, “The Rick Derringer Rock Spectacular”. In 1982 Joan Jett released the Arrows song “I Love Rock ‘N Roll, ” and it went to number one in the US charts for 8 weeks. Lou Rawls recorded Alan Merrill’s song “When The Night Comes” as the title track of his 1983 Epic Records album. The Rawls version of the song was taken into space by astronaut Guion Bluford, the first music taken to and played in outer space.

In 1983 Merrill recorded a solo album for Polydor Records, simply titled “Alan Merrill”, a collection of self-composed tracks. Some friends contributing to this record were Steve Winwood, Mick Taylor and Dallas Taylor. It was released in 1985 and received critical acclaim. In 1986 Alan Merrill joined the Meat Loaf band for the promotional tour of his “Blind Before I Stop” album, and stayed for several years, recording Meat Loaf’s 1987 Live at Wembley album for Arista Records. In 1989 Alan Merrill was offered a role in the television series Encyclopedia Brown on HBO, and was a part of the successful series in his role as principal character Casey Sparkz.

In 1990, a Vodka Collins reunion tour was organized due to popular demand as a result of the successful CD reissue of their debut vinyl LP “Tokyo-New York.” The Tokyo based band toured Japan, then several years later recorded the first in a series of reunion albums, “Chemical Reaction” (1996) which was followed by “Pink Soup” (1997) “Boy’s Life” (1998) and “Boys In The Band” (2004). The Vodka Collins “Tokyo-New York” album has been reissued again as recently as October of 2011 on EMI Japan.
While working in Japan with his main project Vodka Collins, Merrill also had a side project in New York, starting with a tribute to Don Covay he began recording with R&B producer Jon Tiven. This led to the “Yes I Ram” and “Blue Guru” albums in the mid-1990s featuring Alan Merrill on lead vocals. Many R&B greats later recorded cover versions of material from these two albums.

In recent years, Alan Merrill has released solo albums Never Pet A Burning Dog (1998), Cupid Deranged (2002), A Merrilly Christmas (2001), Double Shot Rocks (2003) - a tribute to songwriters Otis Blackwell and Arthur Alexander, Aleecat (2004), At The Candy Shop (2006), Rive Gauche (2007) - a tribute to The Left Banke. The reissue Alien In Tokyo, EP single Hard Road, and an in concert album The Aleecat, Live In Japan were all released in 2008. New albums by Mr. Merrill titled The Face Of 69 (2010), Numbers (2011), Snakes and Ladders (2012) and Songer Singerwriter (2013) were recently released.

Alan Merrill does live solo concerts internationally, both with backing bands and solo acoustic. He currently resides in New York City.

 









Photo 1: Alan and mum at Bronx in the 50s
Photo 2: Alan Merrill and Akikara Lisa in AnAn magazine, Tokyo Japan 1970.
Photo 3: The ballad of Alan & Yoshiko Mandai - 1971 Tokyo. “My muse and goddess in my peak years.” Photo by Annette Borromeo Dorfman.
Photo 4: Kimono advert in a Japanese magazine, 1971.
Photo 5: The Arrows- 1974 - L-R: Paul Varley, Alan Merrill, Jake Hooker. London ,England.
Photo 6: The Arrows in 1975.
Photo 7: L-R: Wife Cathee Dahmen (left) son “Junior”, Alan, daughter Laura. London January 1980. Photo by Vanessa Yamauchi.
Photo 8: Alan Merrill solo album, 1985 Polydor records. Photo Deborah Feingold.
Photo 9: “Me and the lovely Hoki Miller, author Henry Miller’s widow. She’s my surrogate mum (her concept) when I’m in Japan. This photo from 2005 at bar Amrta,Tokyo.”
Photo 10: Photo by Steve Mann. November 4th, 2011, on stage at the Talking Heads club, Southampton, England.

ALL THE PICS ARE FROM ALAN MERRILL’S FACEBOOK PROFILE.