Red Allen (bluegrass)

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Red Allen
Birth nameHarley Allen
Also known asRed Allen
Born(1930-02-12)February 12, 1930[1]
Pigeon Roost Hollow, Kentucky, United States[1]
OriginDayton, Ohio, United States
DiedApril 3, 1993(1993-04-03) (aged 63)[1]
Dayton, Ohio, United States[2]
GenresBluegrass, Country
Occupation(s)Bluegrass musician
Years active1950s1980s
LabelsFolkways, Rounder, MGM, Acoustic Disc, County, King Records, Melodeon, Patuxent Music
Associated actsThe Osborne Brothers, The Allen Brothers, The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys, Frank Wakefield (The Kentuckians), Jimmy Martin (The Sunny Mountain Boys), Harley Allen

Harley Allen (February 12, 1930 – April 3, 1993), better known as Red Allen, was an American bluegrass singer and guitarist known for his powerful tenor voice.


Allen, born in Pigeon Roost Hollow,[1] near Hazard, Kentucky, grew up in the music-rich hills of eastern Kentucky, and following a stint in the Marines, settled in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where he began performing professionally. In 1952, Allen discovered a young teenage mandolin virtuoso named Frank Wakefield, who had moved to Dayton from Harriman, Tennessee. Soon Wakefield became a member of Allen's first band, the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. The band also included the legendary Ohio 5-string banjo player Noah Crase. They worked the local bars along Dayton's Fifth Street as well as the rough blue collar taverns which made up the Ohio and Michigan bluegrass circuit at the time. Allen first came to broader public attention in 1956, when he joined the Osborne Brothers to fill out one of the most influential vocal trios in the history of country music. Allen made his first recordings with the Osborne Brothers on July 1, 1956 when they recorded four songs, including "Ruby," "Ho Honey Ho" and "Once More." "Once More" has been called a "landmark in three-part vocal harmony."[1] The Osbornes and Red Allen were now featured cast members on the World's Original Jamboree radio show over WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. Red And the Osborne's Revolutionized Bluegrass To Beautiful Harmony. Later the Beatles did the same thing for rock and roll. In 1958, Allen left the group and returned to Dayton.

Frank Wakefield, meanwhile, had also returned to Dayton, having himself garnered national exposure with the release of some hot-selling singles recorded in Detroit the year before – including the seminal mandolin instrumental "New Camptown Races," and also touring with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys. Allen and Wakefield then formed their second partnership, resulting in some single recordings made with local banjo player Red Spurlock and released under the professional name The Red Heads on the BMC label. The records were poorly marketed, and Wakefield left Ohio in late 1959 to explore better career opportunities in the bluegrass-rich DC–Baltimore area. In 1960 Allen followed suit, and the two reunited as Red Allen, and The Kentuckians. The Washington, D.C. area had a thriving bluegrass scene including such artists as Buzz Busby and the Bayou Boys, The Country Gentlemen, Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups, The Stoneman Family and Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. Allen and Wakefield were soon performing regularly at area night spots and also secured a regular Sunday afternoon broadcast over station WDON in Wheaton, Maryland. On July 4, 1961, the band was among a small handful invited to perform at Bill Clifton's first-ever one day Bluegrass Festival held at Luray, Virginia. In November 1961, Allen and Wakefield recorded six sides in Nashville that included banjo legend Don Reno, fiddle master Chubby Wise and bassist John Palmer on the Starday label including the popular "Trouble 'Round My Door" and "Beautiful Blue Eyes." By 1963 Allen, Wakefield and their band had performed at both Carnegie Hall[1] and at the trendy Gerde's Folk City club in New York City. In addition to Wakefield, at various times the touring version of The Kentuckians included Tom Morgan on bass, Pete Kuykendall, Bill Keith or Ralph Robinson on banjo and Scott Stoneman or Billy Baker on fiddle.

In 1964 Allen, Wakefield and their band made a much-admired album for Folkways, entitled simply Bluegrass, produced by young David Grisman, an admirer of Allen and mandolin student of Wakefield's. The recording showed a larger public that Allen was a true disciple of the "high lonesome sound" associated with Bill Monroe. At his best, Allen drenched his material in emotion, each song propelled by his surging rhythm-guitar playing. As he later said, "Bluegrass is sad music. It's always been sad and the people that's never lived it, it'll take them a long time to know what it is."

After Frank Wakefield's departure from the band in 1965 to join the Greenbriar Boys, Allen replaced him with Wakefield protégé David Grisman and later recorded for County Records and King Records with noted banjo player J.D. Crowe. The collaboration with Crowe, entitled Bluegrass Holiday, featured some of Allen's strongest vocal performances. Allen's prominence on the record resulted in a sound quite distinct from the material made by Crowe and his Kentucky Mountain Boys. Grisman, who would go on to pioneer a contemporary style of acoustic music called DAWG music, later said that by hiring him for the Kentuckians, Allen gave the younger man "a college education in bluegrass music."

Allen's sons Ronnie, Greg, Neal and Harley performed and recorded as the Allen Brothers, both with and without their father, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Death and legacy[edit]

Allen died on April 3, 1993 in Dayton, Ohio.[2] He is buried at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Miamisburg, Ohio.

Allen was inducted into the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America hall of fame in 1995.[3] In 2005, Red Allen was inducted into the IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame.[2]

Vocal arrangements[edit]

Until the Osbornes' 1958 hit "Once More", the typical arrangement called for a "lead" singer to provide the melody with a tenor singing a higher part, and a baritone below. "Once More", which reached No. 13 on the charts, comprised a lead sung by the highest voice of the group, mandolinist Bobby Osborne. Allen sang the baritone just below the melody and banjo player Sonny Osborne provided the tenor a full octave below its place in a traditional arrangement. The result, as the Osbornes themselves observed, allowed singers to mimic the sliding tonal effects of the pedal steel guitar. Contemporary singers using this device include Rhonda Vincent.

Selected discography[edit]


Year Title Label Catalog number Notes
1959 Country Pickin' And Hillside Singin' MGM E-3734 With the Osborne Brothers, also MGM SL 5069 (Japan)
1964 Bluegrass Folkways FTS-02408 With Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians[4]
1965 Solid Bluegrass Sound of the Kentuckians Melodeon MLP-7325
1966 Bluegrass Country, Vol. 1 County 704
1967 Bluegrass Country, Vol. 2 County 710
1972 Allengrass Lemco LLP-612 also on King Records
1973 My Old Kentucky Home King Records 523 With the Allen Brothers
1973 Favorites King Records 542 With the Allen Brothers
1976 Red Allen & Frank Wakefield Red Clay RC-104 With the Allen Brothers (Japan)
1979 Live and Let Live Folkways FTS-31065 [5]
197? Red Allen Live Storyville SRYP-1211 1960s radio transcriptions (Denmark/Japan)
1980 In Memory of the Man: Dedicated to Lester Flatt Folkways FTS-31073 [6]
1981 Red Allen and Friends Folkways FTS-31088 [7]
1983 The Red Allen Tradition Folkways FTS-31097 [8]
198? Bluegrass & County Fundamental SAVE 29 (UK)
1992 Bluegrass Reunion Acoustic Disc ACD-4 with Jerry Garcia as guest
1994 The Kitchen Tapes Acoustic Disc ACD-11 Recorded 1963[9]

[10] [11] [12]


Year Title Label Catalog number Notes
1984 Classic Recordings, 1954–69 Collector's Classics CC LP 21 (Germany)
2001 The Folkways Years, 1964–1983 Smithsonian Folkways SFW-40127 Compilation plus 6 unreleased tracks[13]
2004 Keep On Going: The Rebel & Melodeon Recordings Rebel 1127
2004 Lonesome and Blue: The Complete County Recordings Rebel 1128

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Oxford University Press. February 1, 2012. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-19-992083-9.
  2. ^ a b c "Harley "Red" Allen". Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  3. ^ "Preservation Hall of Greats Inductees". SPGBMA. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  4. ^ "Red Allen, Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  5. ^ "Live and Let Live". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  6. ^ "In Memory of the Man: Dedicated to Lester Flatt". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  7. ^ "Red Allen and Friends". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  8. ^ "The Red Allen Tradition". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  9. ^ "The Kitchen Tapes". AllMusic. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  10. ^ "Red Allen". Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
  11. ^ "Red Allen". Discography of Bluegrass Sound Recordings, 1942 –. ibiblio. Retrieved January 9, 2010.
  12. ^ "Red Allen". Discographie Rock 'N' Country (in French). Gerard 'Rocky' Lambert. June 27, 2005. Retrieved January 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "The Folkways Years, 1964–1983". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2010.

External links[edit]