Like most guitar players who came of age in the 80s, H Allan was an Eddie Van Halen disciple and he loved to shred. The wannabe rocker never would have imagined that one day he would release a cover version of a tune by smooth jazz sax star Richard Elliot as his debut single, but that’s what will happen on Monday when his version of “Stiletto Heels” goes for radio adds.
Allan’s first job out of college was with the LA Sax Company, the maker of color-coated saxes used by an array of artists in all genres of music, including Elliot. His duties required that he attend shows whenever the musicians played Chicago thus Allan attended all of Elliot’s local gigs in the early 90s. A dynamic, high-energy performer, Elliot plays sax aggressively with power, passion and pyrotechnics much like the way Van Halen plays guitar, which quickly impressed Allan and won his respect and admiration. One song in Elliot’s set, the funky “Stiletto Heels” from the 1991 album “On The Town,” never fails to whip audiences into a boisterous frenzy. The tune and the way Elliot attacks it – well, simply put, it’s got balls – the kind that would make a lasting impression on Allan, who had the privilege of working with the saxman for nearly a decade.
A few years ago, long after he moved on from the LA Sax Company, Allan’s own dream of being a recording artist was rekindled. He recorded a few original demos and decided to convert “Stiletto Heels” from a powerhouse sax joint into a raucous guitar-led number.
“I was always blown away by Richard’s playing skills, musicality and ability to connect with his audience. I thought it would be cool to hear a guitar version of this saxophone classic (“Stiletto Heels”),” said Allan, who was named H at birth when his parents couldn’t agree on what name beginning with the letter h to give him.
He began recording demos on which he played all the lead sax, rhythm guitar and keyboard parts on guitar. Allan decided to send the tracks to Elliot’s longtime keyboardist Ron Reinhardt who was so impressed that he offered to record the keyboard parts for the reboot. Then, after seeing a Facebook post from Elliot’s drummer, Eric Valentine Jr., offering his services as a session player, he landed a drum track from a second core member of Elliot’s band. Another prominent role on the “Stiletto Heels” rhythm track is the elastic basslines for which he recruited fellow Chicago native Mike “Funktastic” Zabrin to handle.
Piece by piece, it was coming together, but Allan struggled to find his unique guitar voice. He tried out a number of guitars and different approaches – some pure rock with lots of distortion that were true to his roots and some purposely smooth jazz. Eventually he settled on a vintage 1980s Gibson ES-175 guitar with Benedetto pickups and flat wound strings that has the type of clean electric jazz guitar sound that “Wes Montgomery himself would be proud of,” Allan said about the missing link.
A longtime Frank Zappa acolyte, Allan tapped Zappa band member Robert Martin to mix and master the single. When Elliot heard Allan’s reimagined rendition, he said, “I freaking love it!”
Allan’s hopes for “Stiletto Heels” are clear. “The goal of this project is to get the single onto the charts and try to open some doors to playing shows as a solo artist as well as gigging with other artists.” He’s begun plotting his next recording project, but is keeping the details close to the vest for now.