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Vodka Collins
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=Living Legend

Alan Merrill

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Alan Merrill was literally born into the world of music. Named Allan Sachs at birth, his parents, Helen Merrill, and sax/clarinetist Aaron Sachs of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines Band, are world-renowned musicians. 

After starting to play music in semi-pro bands in Greenwich Village, Alan eventually moved to Japan in his late teens. Starting his professional career in music with the RCA-Victor Tokyo-based recording group, The Lead, in 1968, Alan replaced Mark Elder as guitarist in the band. They had one hit single, titled “Blue Rose”. It was also then that his management changed his professional name to Alan Merrill.

When The Lead broke up, Merrill went solo, recording two albums - Merrill 1 and Alone in Tokyo in 1970 -’71. He became the biggest foreign pop star in Japan’s domestic market, hosting his own segment on the popular TV show, “Young 720”, acting in the soap opera, “Ji Kan Desu-yo”, and being featured in commercials, including major campaigns for Nissan cars and Jun clothing. He was signed to the most powerful agency in Japan, Watanabe Productions. Alan soon grew tired of being a “teen pop idol” and left the agency, forming the hard-edged glam rock group, Vodka Collins (as lead singer and guitarist) in 1972, with Hiroshi Oguchi.

The charismatic Oguchi was already a well-known drummer and media celebrity who had been with the chart hit popular band, The Tempters. Vodka Collins recorded one album, Tokyo-New York, for EMI Records, and it’s proved their most-enduring work. Now available on CD, it remains a consistent seller. Vodka Collins had three hit singles from the album - “Sands of Time”, “Automatic Pilot”, and “Billy Mars”. The song, “Scratchin’”, was used as the theme for a gangster TV show. All these songs were Merrill compositions, with Japanese lyrics added on a couple (which then became domestic market hits) by drummer Hiroshi Oguchi. After a dispute with their manager in 1974, Alan Merrill left Tokyo altogether.

Once in London, Alan formed his next band, The Arrows. As lead singer/bassist of that group, he had hits with “Touch Too Much”, “My Last Night with You” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. (Alan was the lead singer and songwriter of the first and original 1975 version of “I Love Rock N Roll” with his band, The Arrows. The song has become an enduring international rock anthem, recorded by Joan Jett, Britney Spears, and many others. Joan Jett saw Merrill perform the song on a British television pop show in 1976, while on tour with her band, The Runaways, and she was deeply inspired. Her 1982 version of the song was Number One for eight weeks in the USA.)

When the new wave of punk rock swept the UK in 1977, the Arrows became suddenly unfashionable, and disbanded. Merrill then set his sights on the USA, and formed Runner with British musicians Steve Gould (Rare Bird) on guitar, Mick Feat (Van Morrison Band) on bass, and Dave Dowle (Whitesnake) on drums. They recorded an album titled Runner for Island Records in late 1978, which charted in the USA. When the group broke up in 1980 (due to the legendary “musical differences”), Merrill moved back from the UK to New York.

From 1980 to 1983, Merrill toured and recorded with Rick Derringer, contributing to his Good Dirty Fun and Rick Derringer and Friends albums, writing songs, singing, and playing guitar on these projects. This Derringer lineup also made a concert film for Sony, “The Rick Derringer Rock Spectacular”, which featured all-star guests like Ted Nugent, Southside Johnny, and Edgar Winter. In 1985, Alan released a self-titled solo album for Polydor Records, a collection of all self-composed tracks. Some heavyweight friends contributing to this album were Steve Winwood, Mick Taylor, and Dallas Taylor. The album was a critical success with great reviews, but wasn’t a chart hit.

In 1986, Alan joined Meat Loaf for the remainder of the 1980s and recorded the Live at Wembley and Prime Cuts albums with the band. In 1990, Alan Merrill got a part in the HBO television series “Encyclopedia Brown” playing rocker Casey Sparks. He also wrote the theme song of the show, which was titled “Who Done It?”. This was followed in the 1990s with his involvement as a vocalist in the Christmas album, Holiday Heroes, with producer Jon Tiven. Two albums followed - Blue Guru and Yes I Ram. Merrill did all the lead singing on these two discs, except for one vocal duet on each CD, with Arthur Alexander and Jim “Basketball Diaries” Carroll, respectively.

Meanwhile public demand in Japan for a Vodka Collins reunion was overwhelming, and the band reformed in 1995 to record the album, Chemical Reaction. The band also recorded two more CDs, Pink Soup and Boy’s Life in 1997-98, all featuring Merrill’s lead vocals, guitar, and compositions.

In this millennium, Alan has released a new 21-song solo album, titled Cupid Deranged. The CD is a recorded look-back-over-the-shoulder at his career repertoire, spanning the years, mixed in with some newer Merrill compositions as well. More recently, he has released the seasonal solo album, A Merrilly Christmas. In the spring of 2003, his double-album tribute to songwriters Arthur Alexander and Otis Blackwell, Double Shot Rocks, was released to fantastic reviews. In the year 2004 Alan Merrill released two new albums, one solo – Aleecat (MEC Records) - and one band – a Vodka Collins’ reunion reissue (a 3-disc compilation) titled Boys in the Band . In September 2006 Alan Merrill released a new solo album titled At the Candy Shop which followed a reissue of his early career album, Merrill 1.

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