Charm City Devils' John Allen talks finding success without much rock on radio

Charm City Devils perform at Pier Six Pavilion on Saturday.
Charm City Devils perform at Pier Six Pavilion on Saturday. (Handout)

98 Rock's Autumn Equinox Festival featuring Seether, Sick Puppies and Baltimore's own Charm City Devils takes place at Pier Six Pavilion on Saturday night. Compared with the pop, electronic and retro acts that typically fill the amphitheater and arena tour schedule, the festival stands out for its hard-leaning, modern-rock bill. 

Charm City Devils singer John Allen, a veteran Baltimore musician with a pedigree that includes stints as a drummer for Child's Play and SR71, credits the station with a lot of the band's success but recognizes that finding a wide audience for new rock music is harder to do in an era in which terrestrial radio seems to be moving away from guitar-based rock.

The live show, along with radio airplay, are paramount to growing Charm City Devils' fan base, he says. 

"If people don't come out and support the bands that are writing their own songs, playing their own songs, there is no scene," Allen said. "Baltimore, for a long time, really supported live music but it was really cover -oriented."

While Allen believes events such as Noise in the Basement have established a vibrant scene for original rock music, Charm City Devils owe some of its recent success to a cover song.  

The group's take on "Man of Constant Sorrow" made it to No. 20 on the active rock chart and enabled the band to sign with national label eOne Entertainment, thus distributing the new album, "Sins," through national retailers. Though it's been available locally since April, "Sins" hit the national market in July. 

Allen expressed surprise over the success of "Man of Constant Sorrow," a traditionally folk song first performed by fiddler Dick Burnett. In retrospect, he credits the timelessness of the song for its popularity: 

"The song is over 100 years old," he said. "It's survived the test of time. It really connects with people on an emotional level. " 

While recording, Allen was unaware of the number of iconic artists who have released versions of the song, including Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Jackson Browne:

"If had I known so many great artists had covered it, I may have thought twice," Allen said. 

More good news followed when World Wrestling Entertainment picked up the Devils' "Unstoppable" for its No Way Out pay-per-view in June, news the band found out about second-hand.

"I was in touch with the people in WWE and they told me it was between us and Shinedown for this one thing," he said. "Then a few months go by. We were on tour and our phones started blowing up. They were playing 'Unstoppable' during a promo. We found out from fans."

These types of cross-promotional opportunities are increasingly important in an era Allen refers to as "the worst of the down part of the cycle." Today, Allen estimates that singles on the active rock chart get half of the spins of comparably charting pop songs. 

He says, eventually, guitar-based rock will cycle back up in popularity. ("It always does.") Until then, bands such as Charm City Devils must connect with fans as much as possible through opportunities such as No Way Out and social-media outlets.

"If Twitter were around when I was a kid, I would love to connect with my favorite bands that way," Allen said.

Still, nothing beats face-to-face meetings and the connection built through all-out performances, which Charm City Devils pride themselves on. 

After putting on a show for the hometown crowd Saturday, they'll be on the road with bands such as Buckcherry, Saving Abel and Theory of a Deadman for a touring schedule that runs through November and will likely stretch into the new year. 

Jay Trucker is a frequent contributor to Midnight Sun. He teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk and blogs occasionally at WNST.net. He last reviewed Kiss and Motley Crue at Jiffy Lube Live.

If you go

Charm City Devils perform Saturday at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Seether, Sick Puppies and others will also perform. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call 410-783-4189 or go to piersixpavilion.com.

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