Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rant #1,203: Freeborn Man

Today, I am going to bring up a name from the past that some of you will know, others will have never heard of, and some of us will know this name, but haven't heard a thing about him in years.

Do you know the name of Keith Allison?

Allison was one of rock's greatest guitarists from the 1960s, playing on hits by everyone from Paul Revere and the Raiders--the band he was a member of for several years--and the Monkees, and he also played on his own records.

He was one of the stars of "Where the Action Is," Dick Clark's daily afternoon program which featured the top rock and pop acts of the day.

Kids, this was our MTV. You would come home from school, turn on the ABC network outlet in your area, and watch "Dark Shadows" and "Where the Action Is." You got your cultural mindset working with those two shows.

"Action" was pretty much an amalgam of everything that was hot in music at the time. Acts lip synced to their hits on the beach, running and jumping around, and simply having fun.

The show was geared to kids from about seven to 15, and it was all done in black and white.

Allison was the pretty boy on the show, along with Paul Revere and the Raiders' lead singer Mark Lindsay. He kind of resembled, in a funny way, Paul McCartney, and he was featured in numerous segments singing his own songs or the songs of the day.

He put out one album as a solo artist during this time, "Keith Allison in Action," and although the album flopped, one of the tunes on that LP, "Freeborn Man," became something of a classic in the then emerging pop/rock/country field, an area pioneered by artists like Michael Nesmith.

He was also often featured with the Raiders, and he became friendly with them, recording with Lindsay as part of a group called the Unknowns, who had one chart hit, "Melody For An Unknown Girl," and was made up of him, Lindsay, and Steve Alaimo, another star from "Action."

When that show ended, he joined the Raiders, and was on most of their hit records from about 1968 to the end of their chart run in the mid 1970s. He was featured on their "Happening" shows, a spinoff from "Action" which continued the same type of vibe, but before a studio audience this time. The show ran on Saturdays after "American Bandstand."

When all of that ended, Allison--who never stopped recording his own music as a solo--kind of faded from view, although he has appeared as a sideman on many recordings up to the present day.

Well, almost out of the blue, has come a new compilation CD of his one album and other various recordings, called "Keith Allison in Action, the Complete Columbia Sides Plus!" For those who haven't heard about him and his music for years, this CD really is a nice thing to listen to and to own.

The album features all the tracks from his one solo album plus various singles he recorded afterwards. It has just about everything on it that you need to know musically about this guy, plus a booklet that brings you through his career and to the present time.

And this is just one of a few recently released Raiders-connected album compilations on the market. If you are a fan of the Raiders, like I am, not only do you want to have all of their own LPs, but you are also interested in the spinoffs, like the Brotherhood, and Mark Lindsay's moribund but vaguely interesting solo career, and this music is all out on CD.

Anyway, back to Allison.

This guy was one of the first guitar heroes, but is virtually forgotten today. He still plays, still records, but he will always be remembered as that guy on "Where the Action Is" who gave Mark Lindsay a run for his money as the chief pretty boy of the show.

This obscured the fact that both Allison and Lindsay were fine musicians, but their legacies are both etched in the faded bootlegs of the show, the only evidence that the show even existed.

It is high time that Dick Clark Productions, or whoever owns the rights to this show, gets out the many episodes on legitimate DVD. I have some of the bootlegs, and they are faded memories of what that show was.

Word was that prior to Clark's death, he was actively trying to get this material out, but ran into many rights issues, since each episode featured about six or seven songs. Hopefully, sometime in the near future, this will all be worked out, and the legacies of Allison and the others will be fully celebrated in a proper way.

Right now, it's the bootlegs and the existing recordings, and this recent Keith Allison CD is a must for those who cherish that era, or for those who are just discovering it.


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