Local San Diego Musician Jim Allen Wears Three Band Hats

| December 29, 2011 | 1 Comment

By Richard Cone


With the advent of Facebook, MySpace and personal websites these days, anyone in a band can have a web presence where they can post sound samples, offer CD’s for sale and list tour dates.  In the “old days,” when San Diego musician Jim Allen first started playing in a band, one needed an agent and had to undertake a lot of work to get their name out there and draw attention to their live gigs.  Now, with the advances of online music, you can find literally thousands of bands trying to “make it,” whether through CD’s, selling I-Tunes or in live appearances, and the chances of standing out from the huge number of bands can be a mean feat.  It’s also quite a challenge separating out the wheat from the chaff.  While there are a lot of great bands, and fine music out there, finding the best of the best is not easy.

Jim Allen, though, has increased his chances by three-fold, playing in three separate bands, each playing a distinctively different style of music, and makes his living with his live appearances, a rarity for local musicians, most of whom have a day job and their music is supplemental. Allen, who started playing guitar at age 13 on his very first guitar, “a Harmony from Sears,” is a member of “The Rocksliders,” a member of “Lightning Train,” and also a member of “the CoastRiders.” Each of Allen’s bands plays gigs throughout San Diego County.

Let’s start with the Rocksliders:  “What started out several years ago as three guitar playing, song singing friends, Jim Allen, Kenny Newberry and Alex Watts getting together to make music in Alex’s living room became the Rocksliders,” says Allen.  Of the myriad of configurations a band can take, three guitars is one of the most difficult to arrange without the guitarists playing over each other, leading to confusion instead of consistency.  Arrangements are paramount; it’s not a matter of just picking up the instruments and starting to play.

From living room sessions, playing to an audience of one (Alex’s dog, “the late, great Rocket,”) the Rocksliders now perform at venues ranging from coffee houses to concert halls. They opened a show at the Belly Up for “Firefall” a rock band from Boulder, Colorado founded by Rick Roberts from the “Flying Burrito Brothers,” which also featured the late, great Gram Parsons from both the Flying Burrito Brothers, and  “”The Byrds.” At the conclusion of the gig, Jack Tempchin (Peaceful, Easy Feeling) joined the Rocksliders for a three song set of Tempchin’s hits.  “It was truly an honor for us,” recalls Allen, ‘to be playing with Jack Tempchin, and so very memorable.” They also got the chance to open a Belly Up show for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Richie Furay, who was a founding member of both Poco and Buffalo Springfield.

The Rocksliders perform what Allen calls “an eclectic blend of traditional folk, country, bluegrass, blues and original songs…..sort of Johnny Cash meets the Kingston Trio meets the Flying Burrito Brothers meets…..well, you get the idea.”  Rocksliders member Kenny Newberry writes many of the band’s songs and they perform a slew of original tunes in addition to covers.  The Rocksliders have a gig you’ll want to catch on January 21 at the Old California Coffee House, 1080 San Marcos Blvd, Suite 176 in San Marcos,   http://www.oldcalcoffee.com/index.html.   According to Allen, “Look for another show coming up at the Belly Up, it’s a tribute to Gram Parsons.  Jack (Tempchin) wanted to do it, and it looks like it will happen sometime in March.”  That one will be a show to remember, and I’ll post the date as soon as it becomes available.

Allen’s second band, “Lightning Train” came out of the Rocksliders.  Indeed, Allen, and Alex Watts play in both bands.  Watts does guitar and vocals, Allen plays bass, guitar, drums, fiddle and does vocals. “Lightning Train.” says Allen, takes its inspiration from Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons and many other old and new traditionalists.  “Lightning Train continues the legacy of the country music that can kick your honky tonk butt, and then, in the words of Hank Williams,” notes Allen, “melt your cold, cold heart.”  Lightning Train’s lineup, in addition to Allen and Watts, is rounded out with Dave Berzansky on pedal steel guitar, bass and vocals, along with Dave Hodgen on drums and vocals and Joe Hastings on bass and vocals.  “We play a lot of country nightclubs, the Renegade in El Cajon, (14335 Olde Hwy 80 El Cajon) Lacey J’s Roadhouse Saloon and Grill (formerly Mulvaney’s Wagon Wheel  at 8861 N. Magnolia Ave. in Santee,) and The Swallows in Capistrano (31786 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano). This is boot-scootin’ music, hard-core traditional country western and swing. In Allen’s words, “It don’t mean a Thang if it ain’t got that Twang!”  To hear sound samples and check their gig calendar, go to www.jimallenmusic.com and click on “Lightning Train” at the top of the page.

That takes us to the “CoastRiders” a band best described as “trop rock.”  This one is led by San Diego musician Gary Seiler, who has three CD’s under his belt (http://www.garyseiler.com/). “Gary is into the trop rock scene,” says Allen. “He started as a duo a few years back with Tim Flannery (the former San Diego Padre turned musician). He wanted to do Jimmy Buffet songs, beach music.  About half is country, and half is trop rock.”


Says Seiler: “CoastRiders is a melding together of Jimmy Buffett, Zac Brown, Marshal Tucker, beach music and good old American country music to make our own Southern California Coastal sound. Add in some fun instrumentals and some popular original songs and you have what makes for a fun family ride.”

For more information on this talented and multi-faceted musician, click on over to www.jimallenmusic.com.  Gigs are regularly being added, so check back frequently!

Alex Woodard and “The Sender” at La Paloma Theater, January 19

Leucadia singer/songwriter Alex Woodard, one of the 2010 Kerrville Folk Festival finalists says he wasn’t quite ready for what he was about to read as he scrolled through his email. He’d made a pledge to write a song for anyone who pre-ordered his self-titled CD, which was released last August on Woodshack Music. As he read through his email, he came across one particularly emotional message. “It came from a guy who married the widow of an Oceanside police officer who was gunned down and was helping to raise their child,” Woodard says. “He was telling me about the tragedy, and he was so honest about what he was going through, and I said ‘I’m going to write something about that.’”

Two years earlier, Woodard had lost his best friend; a black Labrador named Kona to bone cancer.  “I wrote her a letter that day, and a couple of weeks later I put it in a box with her ashes. I read it about a year later, and I’ll read it again this year.  That autumn, after Kona died, I got a letter from a fan named Emily, which told me about a deep loss she had experienced, and about a letter she had written to her soul mate that year. He passed away some years back, and now every year she writes him this letter telling him what she’s doing now and how she is. I showed the letter to my friend Sean Watkins, who for years had a band called Nickel Creek, and we wrote a song for Emily called ’For the Sender.’ She was so appreciative that I wrote another song about her letter, and then another, and got friends from the neighborhood here to sing them. That’s where it all started.”

Woodard continues, “I connected to that letter from Emily, and about how often a letter is like a prayer, in that sometimes it’s more for the sender than the receiver.  One thing led to another and before long we had written and recorded several songs about her letter, and about several more letters I received. People are letting me into their lives and trusting me to tell their story,” he says, “and I need to give these songs the time they deserve. It’s a deep part of people’s lives, real people’s stories.  I’m trying to find a connection to you, to build a bridge.  Your struggles and triumphs are unique because they come from your voice.

Over the next year Woodard received other letters as he crossed paths with people: one from a medic in Haiti, and one from the director of a homeless shelter for kids.  Woodard, and Watkins, and “our family of songwriter and musicians in North San Diego County” wrote and recorded songs about those letters, and other letters, and as they were finishing the songs Woodard remembered he had his own letter, the one to Kona, stashed away in a box. All of these various connections and letters, all of the emotion and the personal connections led Woodard to write a book around the whole journey, which accompanies the CD and is slated for release in early 2012.

Each letter writer has been asked to name a favorite charity and a portion of the proceeds from sales and tours will benefit those causes, and it all starts with you.  Join Woodard and an impressive array of musicians for a one-night only, all ages show at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas on January 19th at 7:00 pm.  On the bill will be Switchfoot, New Found Glory, Nickel Creek, Jack Tempchin, Molly Jenson, Nena Anderson, and, of course, Alex Woodard. The ensemble will present the letters and perform the songs from “For the Sender.”

This show is an advance tickets only event and you can reserve tickets for $20 at www.forthesender.eventbrite.com.  For more information on Alex Woodard, and his work, see www.alexwoodard.com.



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