ALAN MERRILL INTERVIEW
Interview by Darren Paltrowitz, for Long Island Entertainment Magazine, Nov. Issue '03
Photo by Mick Rock

-"There's Life Beyond Rock 'N Roll" by Darren Paltrowitz-

    - If you're not a record store geek, chances are that you do not know the name "Alan Merrill," but I would go in to convulsions if you had never heard any of his music. Alan wrote and sang the original 1975 Arrows version of "I love rock n roll," which music industry bible Billboard magazine calls one of the top 100 songs of the last century. While most people would consider writing a generation crossing anthem as a "claim to fame," Alan has thus far experienced a nearly 40 year career that includes his beginnings as an overseas teen idol, starring roles in a television series, and later working as a touring and recording guitar player for the likes of Meat Loaf and Rick Derringer. Needless to say, Alan has signed more than a handful of record deals through his time as a solo recording artist and with bands The Arrows, Vodka Collins, Runner, The Lead, and The Jon Tiven Group.

    Alan Merrill has not slowed down over the past few years, however, as he's released a steady stream of studio output since 1998's "Never Pet A Burning Dog." Through assorted recordings, he has also collaborated with Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones, Blondie's Jimmy Destri, Mark Knopfler, Gary "US" Bonds, and John Waite- many of whom were on Merrill's "Double Shot Rocks," a 2002 two disc tribute to songwriters Arthur Alexander and Otis Blackwell. Although he is already planning a new album for 2004, this year he has seen the timely re-issues of "A Merrilly Christmas" and the 30th anniversary re-release of "Tokyo-New York," the Vodka Collins' influential glam rock classic. "Cupid Deranged" has also recently hit the shelves, with memebers of Slade and Gary Glitter's band helping to hammer out new recordings of Alan's favorites.

    More information on the man himself - from concert dates and other releases, to interviews and recollections of his earlier days amongst Bruce Springsteen and others getting their start in Greenwich Village, can be found at alanmerrill.com - (click link below) -

    The Official Alan Merrilll Website

    ~(editor's note: We love this site, and recommend the Journal section in the Forum.)~

    The Interview-

    Darren : Is there something you wish people knew more about you ?

    Alan : That I sang the original version of "I love rock n roll." That's a good start. I think that the majority of rock music fans are not aware of this fact. Carl Perkins got his due for writing and singing the first version of the rock classic "Blue Suede Shoes." This particular sort of critical recognition has eluded me. I was also the first foreign pop star to break into the domestic pop scene in Japan. I wrote a 1983 album title track for Lou Rawls ("When The Night Comes") that was the first recording to be taken into and played in outer space; it was taken up by Gulon Bluford, the first black astronaut in history.

    Darren : I've read a lot about you, but there are a few gaps in the story of Alan Merrill. How exactly did you go from Allan Sachs moving to Japan as a teenager to the biggest foreign pop star living there ?

    Alan : When I moved to Japan in 1968, my Japanese management said that my legal name, Allan Sachs (pronounced Sax) sounded like "Alien Sex" when spoken by Japanese people. In their wisdom, they changed it for purposes of a less risque association, to Alan Merrill. My mother is the jazz singer Helen Merrill,and they felt that would be a plus, since she's been very popular in Japan since the 1950's. So my name was changed to Alan Merrill. Yes, it was a better and not at all lascivious name for the young teen market that my management was targeting. I just wanted to make a record, so they could have called me Bread Box for all I cared, and I would have been happy. I got signed to Atlantic Records (Warner Pioneer) for my debut solo album "Alone In Tokyo" in Japan. I was the second signing to the Japanese branch of the Atlantic record label. I sang the entire record in Japanese. I didn't speak the language at all either at the time. I read the lyrics phoenetically as I sang. Personally I think the Alien Sex name would have been very marketable in, for example, the UK punk scene of 1977. However, in 1968 it was still a clean pop scene and such outrageous names were not yet fashionable.

    Darren : While in Japan on your first bout of fame, you were a model in major commercials, and also did some acting on the soap opera "Ji Kan Desu Yo", as you also have done on HBO's "Encyclopedia Brown" in the US, and "The Arrows Show" in the UK. Generally musicians do not make for great actors, and vice versa, but was this a pleasurable experience for you? Did you like being a teen idol ?

    Alan : I got a great review in People magazine for my performance in the HBO series "Encyclopedia Brown." Mind you, I had a truly amazing director, and I think that's the key to good acting. Savage Steve Holland ("Better Off Dead", One Crazy Summer") was the director, and he makes acting a very natural experience. It was actually a lot of fun because of Steve. The late Muriel Young, a wonderful woman, produced "The Arrows Show". She also made it a great experience.... The teen idol phase of my career was exciting, and I got to do it in several career incarnations on two different continents. Japan in '68-'73, and also in the UK/Europe 1974-'77. I really did enjoy many aspects of it, but the downside of it is that the critics are always suspicious of teen stars. One interesting fact about The Arrows' TV show. We were the only band in the entire history of pop music to have two full seasons ('76-'77) of our own weekly television series and have no records released during the series. Nothing. Our ratings were top for the time slot. which is why we got picked up for a second series. We had hit singles before our first series, but no records released to capitalize on either of the two weekly series.

    Darren : Why was that ?

    Alan : There was a severe rift between the band's management and our record label about the band's direction. People assumed that we had record releases with the TV series, and that they were failing. It wasn't the case. You can't have hit records unless you release them.

    Dareen : That must have been hard to live through.

    Alan : One band member never recovered from the frustration and self destructed after the band split up. We couldn't stay together after that mess. The band imploded under the pressure. It's every band's nightmare to get a golden opportunity like a TV series, and then to have the record company let the side down. Yes, my career has been unusual. I'm not bitter. I bounce back like a cat, with nine lives. -(editor's note - Alan Merrill's nickname is "Aleecat" for this reason) - I'm just amused at the way things have panned out over time. The most consistant factor is that nothing concentric or normal has transpired in terms of my musical career, or my life for that matter. Sometimes my career feels like a wonderful "too good to be true" dream, other times it's like a full on nightmare. It's much better to dwell on the good times. The past is gone, and nothing can change it, so it's important to move on.

    Darren : You've had much success in Japan in various phases (solo, The Lead, Vodka Collins), what is it that drew you to the country in the first place? Are there any myths you'd like to clear up about being "big in Japan."

    Alan : The reason that I moved to Japan initially was that my mother re-married and her new husband was an American based in Tokyo, the UPI Bureau Chief for Asia. I started to date a go-go girl named Michi Nakao from the disco Mugen almost as soon as I got off the plane, within days. She put me together with the band The Lead. It all started right there. I hit the ground running in Japan, and it didn't take long for me to assimilate into the local scene at the top level. I had already been playing semi-pro at the "Cafe Wha?" in New York's Greenwich Village in '65-'68, so I had lots of live stage experience. When I think back, I was so young starting out in New York City. I was 14 years old, dragging my guitar and amp down the subway to get to Greenwich Village downtown. I played three or four sets of music for seven dollars a show. After that, my band would go home and I stayed and played solo guitar next door at The Underground for another 25 dollars. I loved to play, and I did, all day and night...

    Japan ? Well, you can be "big in Japan" and nowhere else. The domestic market is huge, insular, and very healthy. You can sell over half a million singles there. I acted in "Jikan Desuyo," which is the longest running soap opera in Japanese history. I was the first, maybe the only foreigner ever on the show. There was a film called "Living on Tokyo time" that I've been told was loosely based on my young foreigner in Japan rock 'n roll experience.

    Darren : Obviously your main claim to fame is having written "I love rock n roll," which undoubtedly made the career of Joan Jett. When you first played the song with The Arrows in rehearsal, did you have any idea that it would be a hit ?

    Alan : I think that all the Arrows band members felt it would be a hit. Our producer, the late Mickie Most, put it on a b-side though. This would not be Mickie's best year for hearing and picking the hits. He also put Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" on a b-side the same week. By the time our single was flipped and "I love rock n roll was made the a-side on the second pressing, it was too late. There was no promotion plan for it, and it floundered around the top 50. We did do one ( only one ! ) TV appearance with the song in 1975 that got us our own weekly TV series the following year, and as luck would have it Joan Jett was watching the show while on tour with the Runaways and fell in love with the song.... The Arrows RAK Records version of the song was done in only 45 minutes of studio time at Morgan Studio in London. We did another better version at London's Abbey Road studios for the TV appearance, union rules, and we took a couple of hours on this later version which was used as the a-side version. It was better produced and performed. We'd been playing it live and the song had changed from the original quick recording. That TV track was the version Joan Jett heard us do on the show, and it's a good thing, as it was a better version than the RAK 45 minute b-side.

    Darren : What do you think of Britney Spears' version, her take on the song, and the inclusion of such in her film debut "Crossroads?"

    Alan : I loved Britney's version. Her A&R man Steve Lunt told me she listened to The Arrows' version in the studio just before she did her version. She didn't want to do it like Joan Jett, but she wanted to hear what Joan Jett initially liked about the song, so she went and listened to the source, my 1975 Arrows version.

    Darren : I recall Britney mentioning in an interview that she wanted to record the song because she was a huge Pat Benetar fan. Did you ever get to meet Britney ? What did you think about Weird Al Yankovic following his reworking of your classic?

    Alan : Britney was being sarcastic with the Benetar quip. The press don't give her enough credit for having verbal claws and being bitingly clever. From what I've heard, she was tired of answering Joan Jett questions vis an vis here doing a version of the song, and Britney just threw out a sarcastic comment that the press jumped all over. I haven't met Britney, although she did invite me to a party once, but I have met Joan Jett a number of times and I adore her. But I loved her with the Runaways before we had any connection through the song. I actually had a huge crush on Runaways Joan and Cherie Currie when I was with The Arrows, long before Joan did the song . They're both my friends now. We're the 70s rock n roll gang, for life.... Oh and I almost forgot the last part of the question. The Weird Al version "I love rocky road" was funny. It's always flattering when he parodies a song.

    Darren : For the last "I love rock 'n roll" related question, what was it like hearing the song reworked by the Japanese hip-hop group Dragon Ash, as " I Love Hip Hop?"

    Alan : It sold half a million copies, and that works for me. There's been a French version by Johnny Hallyday, and also German and Italian versions.

    Darren : Aside from recording, what exactly is going n for you for the rest of 2003 ?

    Alan : Well, I'm writing a book, which is nearly finished, about my unusual life and career. It will be a very different sort of rock n roll autobiographical book. I'm also planning to record a new album in London, around February of 2004. Hoping for a summer release if I can get it done on time.

    Darren : Is there anything you're looking to accomplish that you haven't yet done ? Will you be wearing the hat of record producer soon ?

    Alan : Yes, I'm speaking to a few artists about producing them. It's a hard thing to get involved in someone else's creative process and music though. It requires a delicate balance. Producers can destroy the essence of an artist of they're too heavy handed, or egocentric.

    Darren : And finally Alan, any last words to the kids ?

    Alan : Sure, to the young rock 'n rollers, follow your dreams and live them ! Don't let anyone tell you what you're doing is wrong, and never, ever let the bastards get to you.

    -------------------------------

    Photo by Yuji Hashimoto

    Click here to go back to the main page

    -----

    Alan Merrill live at the South Street Seaport, New York City 2006

    --------

    We welcome your comments! Contact the moderator at email-merrillentertainmentcompany@gmail.com

    --

    --

    This page was checked and updated Jan. 9, 2017.