Jeff Allen always thought it was funny to hear people refer to him as a legend. He would assume the role of one of his favorite comic book characters, Zippy The Pinhead, and in a dry voice, ask “am I famous yet?” Well maybe Allen wasn’t famous, but to those of us who love raw, primal 60s garage band pounders, the man surely was a legend.
Jeff Allen passed away on August 3, 2010. He’d been living in a nursing home for most of the past decade, after years of diabetes took its toll.
Allen’s role model as a young teen was Ronnie Luke, a fellow Southwest High student, and guitarist with the Catalinas. In Allen’s words, it was Luke – who would later die in Viet Nam – who showed him that, quote, “not just sissies play music”. We would often joke that Allen was a Montevil -- one of only two men who can claim to have been a member of both the Montells and Evil, two of South Florida’s best-remembered local bands of the ‘60s. It was Allen’s treks to England in the mid-60s that would enable the Montells to discover British-released records by still unknown bands. Very few people in Miami had actually heard bands such as the Pretty Things, Poets, and Fairies, but after Allen returned with their 45s in hand, that situation would soon change. The Montells became the first band in town to perform “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds, “I Can’t Explain” by the Who, “Gloria” by Them, and countless others that were brought in from England. Those trips would also produce the songs that would make up the A-sides of both Montells records – the Pretty Things’ “Don’t Bring Me Down”, and the Who’s interpretation of “Daddy Rolling Stone”.
(Jeff Allen on the drums, in a very early pic of the Montells)
After the Montells, Allen hooked up with the band Evil, and beat the skins on their local top ten hit, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”. He was also part of a short-lived trio that was known both as the Flowers and the Faces. As 1967 wore down, Allen got tired of what he called “a world of action without meaning”. He gave up his drum kit, and decided to become a police officer.
When I first met Allen in 1981, he was working as an Indian Creek Village officer. Our running gag was “Help, I’m A Cop”, a nod to one of Allen’s favorite Mothers of Invention tunes. It was clear that Allen not only wanted to play the drums again – he needed to play the drums again. There would be a few one-off Montells reunions that would end with everyone, once again, going their separate ways. But Jeff Allen needed to play. It’s what kept him sane, as his personal life deteriorated along with his health.
After moving to Baltimore, Allen hooked up with two other musicians (including the former bass player of the UK Subs) and attempted to form a new version of The Evil. The band played at Churchill’s Hideaway in Miami in April 1995, but didn’t last very long. One year later Allen came down for the debut of my garage punk band, the Hivebuzzers. He joined us on stage for a rendition of the Montells’ “You Can’t Make Me”, and I have to say it was very cool to have the guy who played on the original record joining us. The only one who enjoyed it more than me was Jeff Allen. He was playing music again, and getting applause. There might be no greater therapy.
(I had the pleasure of singing "Daddy Rolling Stone" with Jeff Allen's 1995 version of the Evil. That's him in the back, on drums. If this picture is not showing up, please hit "refresh".)
Allen took part in a few Montells-Evil reunions just before the turn of the century, but that would be the end of his playing days. His diabetes made it tough to play, and soon it made it tough simply to care for himself. Allen’s death, while not surprising, still comes as a shock. Jeff Allen was a true original. I won’t forget his enthusiasm for the wilder bands of the British Invasion. I will also remember him as one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. Jeff, I’m going to miss you.