Biker fuzz

First commercially available in the mid-‘60s, the fuzzbox was the earliest mass-produced means for distorting your guitar tone. The unassuming device was heard memorably on the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and the countless American garage bands who styled themselves on the Stones seized upon the noisy, harmonic sustain of fuzztone distortion and its ability to smooth over the inadequacies of cheap guitars, and the inadequacies of the guitarists who played cheap guitars.

Possibly because it bore some analogy to the sound of a rasping exhaust pipe, fuzz also became, thanks to one musician – Davie Allan – officially identified with biker movies, an fleeting B-movie sub-genre which briefly captured the late ‘60s adolescent American male imagination. Marauding gangs of outlaw bikers might outrun The Man, but they could never shake the fuzztone guitars that followed them from exploit to sleazeball exploit.

Only “Cycle-Delic,” the first of this week’s selections, is biker music proper in that it was deliberately produced to cash in on the biker phenomenon. The other selections, however, conform to the basic aesthetic: big, brimming with testosterone, and guaranteed to lower your IQ by a point or two.

1. The Arrows featuring Davie Allan, Cycle-Delic (Tower)
He got his start in the ‘60s as a for-hire session guitarist but, after an odd 45 or two and a fairly straightforward album of surf-ish guitar instrumentals, Davie Allan, along with his group the Arrows, transformed himself into the undisputed king of ‘60s biker soundtracks, single-handedly defining the genre with anthemic, fuzzed-out contributions to film classics like Devil’s Angels, Born Losers, The Glory Stompers, and The Wild Angels.

Featured famously on “Blue’s Theme” a bona fide hit from the soundtrack to Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels, Davie Allan’s guitar sound – a rich, searing fuzztone – was instantly identifiable. It’s the mutated psychedelia of 1968’s “Cycle-Delic,” however, with its especially strident form of fuzz, which stands out amongst Allan’s work.

Cycle-Delic (excerpt one)
A funny thing starts to happen if you examine “Cycle-Delic” more closely: let’s just slow that record down a bit. Does Davie Allan control the fuzztone or does the fuzztone control Davie Allan? Man vs. Machine!

Cycle-Delic (excerpt two)
Get really close and “Cycle-delic” confirms what you’ve always suspected.  With enough magnification, you can actually hear fuzz breaking apart into its individual molecular components, proving incontrovertibly that fuzztone distortion is a living, breathing organism.

Davie Allan is still active today. Do check out his website, especially its excellent and exhaustive discography, including Allan’s own annotations.

2. Flower Power, Stop! Check It! (Tune-Kel)
From 1969, “Stop! Check It!” is the last of five releases by the group known as Flower Power. Their name suggests peace, love, and understanding, but the energy levels and agitation of “Stop! Check It!” suggest something more along the lines of meth lab. This is just one of those transcendent records that defies description.

The Flower Power hailed from Gulfport, Mississippi. Tune-Kel, their record label, was a New Orleans based operation better known for its soul and R&B releases.

3. Collision, I Gotta Know (Side Three)
I still have yet to turn up anything conclusive on Collision, or the Brothers Lopez. The best thing about “I Gotta Know,” though, is that it’s one of those records that could have been released anywhere between 1969 and 1982. This has something to do with the fact that it originated in San Antonio, but just as much to do with the eternally satisfying combination of big amplifiers, Harley choppers, and that deep-seated, eternal urge to plow through a case of Pearl brew on a Saturday night.

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11 Responses to Biker fuzz

  1. Yo, I don’t know where you come up with all these tunes. It’s absolutely mindboggling! Viva la FUZZ! The pinoy tracks were CRAZY too. keep on keepin on.

  2. Phil says:

    Great post as usual. thanks for directing me to Davie Allans site. I found out that he actually sang once, on the title to biker flick Glory Stompers, which I have. His voice aint half bad. Everything he recorded is worthy, Im partial to the Skaterdancer Lp, just beautiful in its simplicity.

    the Flower Power side is heavy man, great fuzz, freakout solo’s, bongos, staccato yelling, great feedback and disarray.

    the ridiculously weak vocals on the last song only serve to highlight the fuzz and mayhem. GREAT SONG!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Stop! Check it! is the kind of cut that makes you want to buy a fuzz box, a cheap strat and start a band called “the monkeys” and work like hell to NEVER get a gig..

    seriously – that cut is unstoppable

    Flower Power vs. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto

    flower power in a first round knock out.. mel – take a permanent vacation dude

    sorry getting off topic


  4. Anonymous says:

    Holy shit, that Flower Power track is bananas! My head nearly hit the ceiling on that one. Also enjoyed your slowed-down analysis of Davie Allan’s fuzz; it still sounded ferocious! Great post, as always.

    – Mr. Attention

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m just waiting for the week you post 3 Hawaiian 45s played at 16 rpm and the people finally *hear* psychedelic music.

  6. I know what you mean about slowing down Hawaiian music; things get pretty psychedelic when you slow down the right kind of bluegrass breakdown, too. Velvet Underground’s first album? GREAT pitched down. So is the Flamingo’s “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

    These are just things to ponder on your next lonely, lonely night.

  7. Glad to see that these appeal to some of you delinquent personality types out there. And I personally dedicate the drums in “Stop! Check It!” to you, Speedy.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I remember reading about John Cale saying that one of his roles in the Velvet Underground was to make the songs slower, lower, and sexier (or something to that effect), for instance moving songs from E down to D…if you play the instrumental break in The Byrds’ song “CTA 102” at a slower speed, it sounds a lot like the VU.

    (AK in CLE)

  9. Okay, I finally got around to pitching down “CTA 102,” and, though it’s maybe a bit of stretch, I totally see what you mean about the VU resemblance, maybe with a dash of the Five American’s “Western Union.”

    God, I love this sort of thing.

  10. God says:

    You're welcome.

  11. Muggyjo says:

    The first few seconds of track 1 sound like the opening of The Moody Blue’s Im Just a Singer track.

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