Harley Lee Allen remembered

In addition to the fine memorial David Morris provided for us earlier this week, Richard Thompson has put together a career retrospective of Harley Allen.

As reported earlier, singer and song writer Harley Allen died on Wednesday, March 30 at his home in Brentwood, TN. He was 55.

He had recently been diagnosed as having Stage 4 lung cancer and had been hospitalized until he was released this past Tuesday.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, on January 23, 1956, the youngest son of Harley ‘Red’ Allen, he owed much to growing up in the Dayton bluegrass scene where from the age of 12 he began to hone his chops with brothers Greg, Neal and Ronnie.

Allen Brothers

They recorded two albums with their father, before Neal Allen passed away from pneumonia in 1974.

In 1975 Harley Allen joined J.D. Crowe’s Kentucky Mountain Boys.

Harley Allen sitting in with JD Crowe: Why Don’t You Tell Me So

For three years he was the lead singer and guitarist in the Allen-Lilly Band, a band he formed in 1982 with banjo player Mike Lilly. They released one album, Suzanne (Folkways FTS 31049).

Harley Allen-Mike Lilly Band: On My Mind

In the late 1980s he played mandolin with The Big Dogs (Tony Trischka, David Grier, Debbie Nims and Andrea Zonn). They have one album, Live At The Birchmere (Strictly Country Records SCR 24).

In 1989 Allen moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a solo artist and songwriter. Since then he wrote hundreds of great songs, satisfying  country music hit makers and  elite bluegrass artists alike. This is just a brief sample from Allen’s superb catalog of highly original songs – High Sierra [Linda Ronstadt ,Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris], Me And John And Paul [the IBMA 2005 Song of the Year Award winner recorded by the The Grascals], Keep Her While She’s There and Never Grow Up Boy [The Del McCoury Band], It Doesn’t Matter [Alison Krauss], In Your Loneliness and When Love Arrives [Rhonda Vincent],  A Simple Life [Ricky Skaggs], The Man He Was [George Jones], The Little Girl [a No 1 for John Michael Montgomery and a three-time nominee for an Academy of Country Music award], Awful, Beautiful Life [a No 1 for Darryl Worley], My Last Name [Dierks Bentley] and Between the Devil and Me [a No 1 for Alan Jackson].

Tim Stafford, a prolific songwriter himself, notes the personal connections Allen created with his music.

“Harley was one of a kind. One of the most incredible writers and bluegrass singers, period. His songs seemed to have a direct line to the heart. Easily some of the most emotional moments I’ve had listening to songs came through Harley Allen.”

Harley Allen: Between The Devil And Me

In 2005 Allen won BMI’s Songwriter of the Year award.

A strong individualistic vocalist, he released three solo albums in his career: Across the Blue Ridge Mountains (Folkways FTS 31076, 1983), Another River (Mercury Records 314-528 908-2, 1996) and Live at the Blue Bird Café (American Originals AMO 4008, 2001).

He is a Grammy award winner, singing harmony on I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album and for his participation on the tribute album Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: The Songs of the Louvin Brothers.

His widow, singer and bass player Debbie Nims, his family and friends, the Nashville music community and admirers from afar are grieving for a very special talent and learning to live without him.

Harley Allen, Learning to Live With Me

Harley Allen, The Baby, as recorded by Blake Shelton

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.