An Interview with David Allen, The Drifting Outlaw
By Johnny Griffith
Mainstream country music these days is designed to trick your senses as a consumer. The artist who lay out multiple tracks of autotune, stage show songs, have likely never seen a tractor in real-life. It’s easy to get disillusioned with the product, especially if you want a touch of genuine in your life.
Luckily here in East Texas, we’ve got plenty of local musicians who are the real deal; David Allen might be one of the most authentic of the “Outlaw” country artists. Originally from the central valley of California, Allen moved to Texas at an early age and has been working the stages in this area for years. With a sense of authenticity and respect for where country music came from, David carries on that outlaw spirit with the likes of Waylon, Merle, and Cash.
We caught up to him recently in between dates and got to know him a little better:
Johnny: Your bio says you picked up the guitar for the first time at age 17. What caused you to grab one for the first time and how long did it take you to figure out this was something you wanted to do as more than just a hobby?
David: A good friend of mine (Darin Justice) was taking some guitar lessons and asked me if I wanted to start a band with him. I said yes and either I could play the bass or the drums. I couldn’t afford a $1200 drum set, so I bought a used bass for $150.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
David: I was a huge Kiss fan, we both were! He had introduced me to Kiss and from there I was a “hair band” fan. It wasn’t until I graduated and started dating a barrel racer that I started listening to country music. She introduced me to Sawyer Brown and from there I fell in love with the “story” and meanings of the country music.
Johnny: At what point did you decide to start writing your own material and where do you draw your inspiration from?
David: When I finally got an acoustic guitar and started learning chords, I started writing songs. I just thought that was what a musician was supposed to do. So I learned to play “C, F, G” chords first. I must have written 20 songs with those three notes. Forward, backwards, sideways. When I got bored, I would learn a new key. I am still learning today to play progressions, and I will write three or more songs to every new chord I learn.
Johnny: Your music definitely has a component of the old “outlaw” country of the late 70’s early 80’s and one can definitely pick up threads of “Willie, Waylon, and the boys.” How would you describe your sound?
David: I’m embarrassed to say that I am new to the Waylon sound. That being said, I think he was the greatest writer, singer, and survivor of Nashville. I discovered Waylon about four years ago and he has become my greatest influence. There is an honesty and energy in every song he sang.
Johnny: Where did the nickname “The Drifting Outlaw” come from?
David: From Waylon’s “Outlaw” movement together with his mentor Hank Williams, who in my opinion was the first to change Nashville and move them into a more honest direction. Hank’s “Drifting” Cowboy Band.
Johnny: What would you say your percentage of originals to covers are in one of your shows? Or does it depend on the crowd?
David: It depends hugely on the crowd. The bigger the crowd, the more covers. Maybe I’m doing it backwards, but my original songs are so personal that I will do a lot more of them in an acoustic setting than with the full band behind me.
Johnny: What is the current lineup of you stage band and do you primarily play with a full band or do you do some solo shows as well?
David: Both, and I love both in their own way. The acoustic is personal and I will talk a lot more and do many of my originals. Mostly, we are a full band, and I love the band I have now and I like them to show off!
My lead guitarist, Jimmy Piatt, is the best I’ve ever played with, professional, modest, and always prepared. On bass I just lost the Rockabilly Hall of Famer Neil Sheckles for a better offer as a house band leader, but I have Super Dave Visniski now and we are as powerful as ever. Last, but certainly not least is my drummer Mark Wynn, who I’ve known for almost 40 years. I learn something from all of them every time we play. They are all great men and fantastic musicians!
Johnny: You’ve been playing music in this area for a while now, do you have a favorite memory so far?
David: A couple. Not sure if I should name the venue, but one night a drunk feller was dancing with my wife and decided to pick her up to spin her. He underestimated his strength and she is small, but all muscle. So about half way up they fell backward, he hit his head on the corner of the stage step and started to bleed pretty good. I start my show now with “We are the band that doesn’t stop playing till there is blood on the floor!” A few songs later another, more sober, young man asked her to dance and as they crossed in front of the stage I yelled down to him, “You’re taking your life into your own hands”. I was speaking about the accident earlier but it scared him pretty badly because he thought I meant he shouldn’t be dancing with my wife. The second memory was more ironic. I had just finished a Waylon tribute show and as I was packing up, five police came busting through the door and arrested me! Made me feel like I was in Nashville recording with Waylon.
Johnny: Any shows coming up that stick out as “must see” events?
David: Anything with the full band! Everybody is surprised at how good the show is the first time they come. We are consistent with every show. The more people, the higher the energy on stage and in the audience.
Johnny: What’s on the horizon for The Drifting Outlaw through the rest of the year?
David: I really want to finish my album. This is my second, but really the first because I didn’t like some of the sound on the first and wouldn’t release it.
Johnny: What can a first timer expect to see at a David Allen show?
David: You will be surprised!! We are the best country band in East Texas! You will get a four hour show of honest country music.