Red Allen

From Ivan M. Tribe –

Red AllenBorn in Perry County Kentucky in 1930, Red Allen had a voice that personified “the high lonesome sound,” making him an ideal Bluegrass lead singer.

Although few of his solo recordings appeared on major labels, he managed to gain considerable respect for his vocal talents and attract a wide following. Seldom based in Nashville, Red divided his most productive musical years between his adopted hometown of Dayton, Ohio and the Washington, D.C., area, both fertile territories for Bluegrass music.

WNOX Knoxville were beamed into the hollow where he was reared. As he later told an interviewer, “I just naturally fell into music.” After joining the U.S. Marine Corps, at age 17, Red served 2 years and then moved to Dayton, where he found work in a refrigerator factory.

Numerous Appalachian-born Americans settled in the Dayton area during the 40s, including several aspiring musicians, among the most talented being Red Allen, banjoist Noah Crase, mandolinist Frank Wakefield and the Osborne Brothers. They worked on such local radio stations as WPFB in nearby Middletown and formed bands which played in local bars and nightclubs. Red made his first recordings about 1954, on a small Kentucky label with a band that included Crase on banjo. When the latter left for another job, Red joined forces with the Osborne Brothers who had recently split from Jimmy Martin.

Together they developed an outstanding vocal trio with Bluegrass accompaniment. They played on the Wheeling Jamboree and signed to MGM, recording such Bluegrass classics as Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man, Once More, Wild Mountain Honey and Ho, Honey Ho. Red remained with the Osbornes until 1958 and then dropped out of music for a time.

Allen and his wife divorced in 1959 and the following year he moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where he did some of his best recordings. He and Frank Wakefield formed the Kentuckians, who over the years included such members as the Yates Brothers (Bill and Wayne), Porter Church, Bill Emerson and after Wakefield left, Dave Grisman.

The band recorded albums for Folkways, Melodeon and County, as well as scattered singles on Starday and Rebel, including Red’s acclaimed arrangements of Beautiful Blue Eyes and Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes. Red left Washington for Nashville in 1967 as a temporary replacement for Lester Flatt, who was recuperating from a heart attack.

In 1968, he and J. D. Crowe formed the Kentucky Mountain Boys, working at the Holiday Inn in Lexington, Kentucky and recording their widely hailed Bluegrass Holiday album, originally released on the Lemco label. After a year, Red Allen returned to Dayton, where he assembled a band built around his four sons who had grown to adolescence. As Red Allen and the Allen Brothers, he again affiliated with the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and recorded albums for Lemco and King Bluegrass Records.

The Allen Brothers also recorded on their own, usually in a more progressive style of Bluegrass. Red rejoined Folkways in 1979, cutting a pair of albums, one of them a tribute to the then recently deceased Lester Flatt that included instrumental support from several veterans of the Nashville Grass. Over the span of his recording career, Red Allen also had two more albums released in Japan. He continued to work, though less actively, at clubs and festivals from his home base in Dayton into the 80’s, but in 1993, he died of cancer. Red’s recorded work from the 50’s and his solo work from the 60’s represents some of the best hard-driving Traditional Bluegrass made.

Recommend Record Albums: “Bluegrass Country” (County)(1966);
“Red Allen And The Kentuckians” (County)(1967);
“Red Allen, Frank Wakefield And The Kentuckians” (Folkways)(1964);
“The Solid Bluegrass Sound Of The Kentuckians” (Melodeon)(1965);
“The Kentucky Mountain Boys: Bluegrass Holiday” (Lemco)(1969)
[Later released as (King Bluegrass) and (Rebel)].