12 February 2020

Red Allen

Harley 'Red' Allen was born ninety years ago today (12 Feb. 1930) in eastern Kentucky, and in his twenties and thirties established an enduring reputation as (in the words of Jon Hartley Fox) '... one of the most intense, hard-edged, and soulful lead singers in the annals of bluegrass'. He and the Osborne Brothers together developed the high-lead trio style that became their trademark and widely influential. He was modest about his guitar playing: nearing fifty, he recalled:

I guess I was eight or nine when I learned G and C and D, and that's about all I know now. That and a few runs and a good right arm.

Nevertheless, everything he played was exactly where and when it needed to be played. County Sales, highly respected for judgments on recorded bluegrass and old-time music, had this to say of two CDs of his reissued classics:

There's no doubt that Red Allen was among the very best bluegrass vocalists ever. Sadly, he was in his prime at a time when the music was at its lowest ebb. [...] This is tough, magnificent traditional bluegrass, with our highest recommendation!

Red Allen died in 1993, and was inducted into the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats in 1995 and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2005. There is a substantial bio article on Wikipedia. A biography by Dennis Satterlee, Teardrops in my eyes: the music of Harley 'Red' Allen (2007), appears regrettably to be out of print.



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