Alan Merrill – Singer, guitarist, song-writer, actor, model
Born February 19, 1951; died March 29, 2020
Alan Merrill, who has died aged 69 of Covid-19, was already a rock veteran by the time he made the pop charts with Arrows in 1974 and 1975. Caught in the limbo between glam and punk, Arrows were marketed as teeny bopper idols, and recorded for producer Mickie Most’s RAK label. It was an image heightened when the trio were given their own teatime TV series in the UK after scoring a couple of hit singles. While the band didn’t release any records during the programme’s two 14-week runs, a performance of the band’s fourth single, co-written by Merrill and guitarist Jake Hooker, would outlive them all.
Initially released as the B-side of Broken Down Heart, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was upgraded for the re-release that followed. The song caught the ear of Joan Jett, who saw Arrows perform it on TV while she was on tour in the UK with her band, The Runaways. Six years later, Jett released her own version, immortalising I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll as a stadium-sized anthem. The song’s appeal spanned several generations. Britney Spears infused it with reinvigorated sass in 2001, while in 2017 Eminem sampled it on Remind Me.
Allan Preston Sachs was born in The Bronx, New York, to jazz singer Helen Merrill and saxophone and clarinet player, Aaron Sachs. From ages nine to thirteen he attended a British boarding school in Switzerland, before attending various schools in New York and Los Angeles and Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.
As a teenager, he played with various groups, and auditioned successfully for baroque psych-pop band The Left Bank just before they split up. In Japan he played with The Lead, and signed a solo record deal that necessitated him changing his surname from the potentially misunderstood Sachs to the easier on the Japanese tongue Merrill. He released the Alone in Tokyo album, acted in TV soap, Jikan Desu Yo and modelled for Nissan cars. In 1971 he released Merrill 1, an album of his own compositions, one of which, Movies, was covered by Tiny Tim.
Merrill formed Vodka Collins, which became Japan’s biggest glam act, releasing the Tokyo-New York album before moving to London and forming Arrows with Hooker and drummer Paul Varley. By March 1974 the band was in the charts with Touch Too Much, following it up in 1975 with Toughen Up and My Last Night With You prior to I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll. Arrows’ only album, First Hit, was released in 1976.
In 1977, Merrill married model Cathee Dahmen, and formed Runner, releasing three albums before becoming guitarist for Rick Derringer in 1980. Three years later, he recorded an eponymous solo album that featured contributions from the likes of Steve Winwood and Mick Taylor. Merrill spent time in Meat Loaf’s band, took part in Vodka Collins reunions and recorded several solo records. He continued to act, tour and record, and in 2017 released a solo album, On a Blue Avenue. In 2019 he released a Valentine’s Day single, Your Love song.
Latterly he took part in The Last Glam in Town, a forthcoming album by John Rossall of Arrows’ 1970s contemporaries The Glitter Band, which looks set to feature members of post-punk bands The Membranes and The Nightingales. One of the tracks will be the Merrill-penned Equaliser, showing again the breadth of one of rock music’s great unsung heroes.
The Herald, April 10th 2020