Ever since I first heard the song, “Lets Rock-N-Roll” on the Cruefest Compilation CD last year, I have been anxious to hear more from the band formerly known as Chosen Son. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Charm City Devils front man, John Allen about their new CD, “Lets Rock-N-Roll’, their up and coming tour with Motley Crue and more.
HRH: When did you start putting together Charm City Devils? How long have you been together now?
John Allen: This lineup has been together, we just had our two year anniversary. Prior to that I was playing with my guitar player Nick, playing guitar and signing for about six months, maybe longer than that. I had to put the guitar down and be able to run around the stage like a crazy person and engage the crowd. Playing the guitar, I could only stand in one spot on stage, and stand in front of the mic stand. That is a drag. I want to rock out.
HRH: Did you play all of the instruments on your new CD?
John Allen: I played a lot of them. The real beginning of this project was me down in my basement studio messing around. I wrote “Burn Baby Burn”. I played all of the instruments on that one initially. I had a bass player come in and track an additional bass track on there for me at one point. A lot of the songs evolved that way. I would lay a drum track down, and then play guitars and stuff. Prior to this record coming out, I had guitar players go in and recut a lot of my stuff, so they had their flavor in there. Quite frankly, there stuff was better than mine was (laughs) I started out as a drummer for years. The whole band is on there in different places. Our drummer played on the last two tracks on the record.
HRH: The song “Burn Baby Burn” is a really catchy tune, and gets in your head. That is a perfect song for a single.
John Allen: Thank You. When I wrote that, that is the whole reason for this band. When I wrote that song, I thought that I might be onto something here. I am not sure what it is. But I think I may be onto something. That is the first song that started the whole ball rolling.
HRH: There is a video on youtube for Burn Baby Burn that has been out there since 2007. Did you did this prior to the band starting out? How did this video come about?
John Allen: Yeah, my idea originally was to put a video together, before I had a band together really. My hope was I guess to get an indie label to buy the record from me. My plan for world domination was, I was going to sell it off piece mailed to different territories around the world. It never happened. I would up working out the bugs, and learning how to be a front man, here in the region, beating my head against the wall in the clubs. Finally, once I had this lineup together two years ago. I played this show, and a local radio programmer happened to be out in the audience. He said “Lets Rock-N-Roll” sounds really great tonight. I am going to try to put this into rotation next week. I have been in the business for a while, and I thought it was really cool, but I never expected it to happen. Sure enough, the next week he called me and said hey man I need you to do me a favor. I need a copy of Lets Rock -N-Roll, we are going to add it this week. I said man, you need to learn the definition of a favor. That is not me doing you a favor, that is you doing me a HUGE favor. He put the song in rotation. He called me a couple weeks later and said “Hey man, I wanted to give you a heads up, but early indications are that the song is doing really well. I don’t have the final stuff back yet, but I just wanted to let you know.” So I was all fired up. I shot off some emails to people I know in the industry, but nobody hit me back. I sent an email to Eleven Seven, and I didn’t even know anybody. I sent it to an info@ email address. The next day I get a phone call back, “Hey we really like what we heard, we want you to come to New York to meet with us.” I thought somebody was punking me, but no one knew I sent this email. Ok, its real. A couple of weeks later I went to New York and had the meeting, at the end of the meeting, they said “Ok, lets do this.” I thought “you got to be kidding me, things don’t happen that way”.
HRH: So, things went really fast once your song hit.
John Allen: They really seemed to, then the lawyers got involved and delayed it a year. (laughs)
HRH: What station was it that broke “Lets Rock-N-Roll” ?
John Allen: 98 Rock here in town.
HRH: So you met with Eleven Seven, how did you meet up with Nikki Sixx?
John Allen: He was on the west coast at the time. It wasn’t until I talked with him on the phone a while later. It has been Surreal, a month or so later, I was on the tour bus with him and the Sixx A.M. guys on the first Cruefest. He said, I really dig your record, and maybe next year you will be on Cruefest 2. I said that would be awesome!
HRH: Are you pretty excited to be playing on Cruefest 2?
John Allen: Oh My God Yeah, to put it mildly. We are jumping out of skin. We can’t wait to play for the crowds and play in the amphitheater and arenas. I have managed to do it for a little while playing the drums and there is nothing like it. I have been playing in clubs for a long time. Clubs are fine and good and everything, but when you to an arena it is awesome, and to play with such great bands like Motley Crue, and Godsmack, Theory of A Deadman and Drowning Pool. It is such an honor.
HRH: You have played in front of a couple of large crowds already this year at Rock on the Range and The Preakness.
John Allen: Yeah, those were awesome shows. For me, fronting the band, it is so much easier to play for a large crowd. People are there to rock out. They love live music and are there to party. It is a great thing. There is nothing like it in the world to play music for people and see their instantaneous response right there.
HRH: I first found out about you guys when you had “Lets Rock’N’Roll on the Cruefest compilation CD. Your song was under the name Chosen Son at the time. You went through a couple of name changes before you settled on Charm City Devils.
John Allen: That name, I am adopted so, Chosen Son, it is kind of like, well my adopted parents picked me. I am forever thankful for that. I am very fortunate that those two adopted me, and have been supportive of me throughout my life and my career. It is also happens to be a motorcycle gang here when I was kid called the “Chosen Sons”. I thought they weren’t around anywhere. Right we we decided to keep that name, there was a news item on the evening. One of the leaders of Chosen Sons was killed by police. I though aww man, this is bad. We decided that it wasn’t a good idea to keep the name so similar as a motorcyle gang. They might get offended, and might not look at it as a tribute. I was on the phone with Nikki Sixx talking about it, and brain storming names. He called me back a week or two later and said “I got it!” Charm City because that is the nickname of Baltimore, and Devils, because you guys are a rock and roll band, and are a gang. I said “done that is perfect”.
HRH: You were recently in Motley Crue’s “White Trash Circus” video. What was that experience like?
John Allen: That whole week was so surreal. It was crazy. I got the call on Monday around 10:00 A.M. from management saying congratulations you got the Motley Crue tour, Cruefest. We need you to cut the vocals for the chorus for White Trash Circus and have it back to us by 9:00 P.M. tonight or something crazy like that. That was fine I could go into the studio in my basement and cut the vocals real fast. You have to be on a plane to L.A. on Wednesday to shoot the video on Thursday. The whole week was an incredible trip.
HRH: You and Nick Kay were both in a really cool band called “Child’s Play”. Any chance you will work some Child’s Play music into your live set?
John Allen: Not right now, there is not a plan to do that. We were talking about dusting off “My Bottle” the other night. What would you like to hear?
HRH: The one song I like a lot is “Wind”.
John Allen: Yeah, that is a great tune our bass player Idzi wrote that tune. We only have a half hour to play on Cruefest. We will probably stick with the first record. If we have shows that we can break out to an hour or an hour fifteen, who knows what we will play.
HRH: Do you still keep in touch with Brian Jack (former singer from Child’s Play)?
John Allen: Yeah, he was just at our CD release party on the 29th. The night before M3.
HRH: Is there any chance you will re-release the Child’s Play CD’s Rat Race or Long Way?
John Allen: I doubt it. Rat Race was on Chrysalis Records. I am not sure of the legalities of the whole thing. I think the catalog is owned by EMI or Capital EMI. I don’t know what it would take to get that back out. I don’t know how much it would take to get that back out. Every once in a while I have people hitting me up to see if I have an extra CD, but I only have one.
HRH: You were a big part of SR-71’s CD “Tomorrow” as well as their Japanese disc “Here We Go Again”. You were the drummer, as well as the song writer and producer. How did you get involved with SR-71?
John Allen: It is a long convoluted story. I have known Mitch forever. I showcased with the band with their drummer was having some health issues, before they got a record deal. I appeared on the first album singing back up vocals on the song “Paul McCartney”, and then during the first tour, their drummer got sick again. He had mono or whatever. He couldn’t do two weeks worth of Christmas shows. I wound up filling in for him again. After that, they wanted to make a change. I joined the band right before they opened for Bon Jovi for the last couple of months. That is what I alluding to earlier, as far as getting to the arena level. Aw man, finally this is awesome!
HRH: Is SR-71 done now?
John Allen: Yeah, we never really said hey its done. Mitch came into town for the CD release party. I pulled him in to produce two cuts on the “Lets Rock-N-Roll” record, and we co-wrote one of those songs together. His song writing and producing career is really taking off and doing well. My time is pretty eaten up by this. We tried to get SR-71 a new U.S. deal. We thought after the success of the song “1985” that would be forthcoming, but that didn’t happen.
HRH: One of the songs that Mitch Allan produced, “Almost Home” really hit home with me. What inspired the lyrics for that song?
John Allen: My mother is a breast cancer survivor. So, the song, we don’t really let you know that. The song is about when we found out that she had a lump. She didn’t want to get a mammogram. She put it off forever. My old girlfriend really, really hammered her, you really need to do this. Your cousin died from breast cancer, and your aunt had to have a mastectomy. It runs in your family, you need to do this. When she finally did, my dad got the phone call from a doctor saying hey there is something here. My father didn’t know how to tell her. I wasn’t living at home at the time. That is what the song is about. Getting that phone call and having to break the news to your mom, its pretty heavy. The rest of the record, there is a lot of fun stuff on there, but that is a pretty heavy subject on that song. It is real. When I wrote it, I played it for my girl. We just sat there. Every time we would play it back we would cry. We were real fortunate. This was in 96 or 97. She is doing real well, getting check ups and stuff. She has a great doctor. I definitely advocate mammograms for early detection, I guess that is the key.
HRH: There was talk that Mitch was going to release a singer song writer album, called “Clawing My Way To My Middle”. Is that something you were involved with?
John Allen: Yeah, most of the tracks were stuff that were cut in my basement studio. I think his song writing and producing career in Los Angeles has slowed that down quite a bit. That has made this take a back seat. He is working with Kara Dioguardia. The last track for the two co-finalists on American Idol, he wrote that with Kara. He has some really great things going. Any help he needs with that, I would be glad to do. He has been so good to me over the years. I know a lot of fans would like to hear it.
HRH: With Charm City Devils it seems like you are getting back to your hard rock roots.
John Allen: Yeah, I think you are right. With SR-71 I was trying to fit in as my role as a drummer, and then trying to help out as much as I could on the song writing end. I wasn’t the main song writer in the band, Mitch was. There was only so far I could put my imprint on what we were doing musically. I think you are right. I think I have come full circle and I am back to the blues based hard rock where I got my start. I still think there is some raw elements and energy, and a little bit of the punk energy that gives it a little bit of a different flavor, but yeah, I would have to agree with you.
HRH: How big of an influence were AC/DC and Aerosmith on you?
John Allen: HUGE. Two incredible bands, both heavily blues based. Both bands have a lot of groove elements albeit both of them have a different take on groove and how they approach it. They are both two incredible bands that I have loved for most of my life from the point when I discovered them. I wear my influences on my sleeve I guess.
HRH: I think your CD is a good mix of classic and modern hard rock. It ought to appeal to a large group of rock fans.
John Allen: I appreciate that. There are a lot of modern guys that I like a lot too. The Hives have that high kinetic energy, punk, raw stripped down ethic. Jack White, White Stripes, he really plays a huge nod towards early blues men, Delta Blues. I really love that stuff too. I dig where he comes from. That stripped down garagey version of that stuff. Hopefully like you said, we can appeal to a wide range of listeners of rock music.
HRH: So what is next for you guys, Cruefest doesn’t start up until late July right?
John Allen: July 19th. We are going to head down south, and do some regional one off shows here and there. We are going to do some shows with Red and Framing Hanley just prior to Cruefest. We are trying to keep busy, and meet as many people as we can.
HRH: Is there anything you would like to tell your fans out there?
John Allen: Hit us up on myspace or facebook or whatever. Come up and say hello to us at the shows. We are very approachable, and we like to meet as many people as possible. Check out the record. We are getting a lot of positive feedback from people who have bought the record. Please pass the message along to others!