Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ALLEN, Terry

(b 7 May 1943, Wichita KS) Singer-songwriter, pianist; also sculptor and painter. He grew up in Lubbock TX and started art school in Los Angeles '62. His first album Juarez '75 is a very spare production, a concept album of story songs recorded in San Francisco; more albums were made on trips to Lubbock (where a lot of great music has been made: 'There must be something in the water,' said Butch Hancock.) Terry's Lubbock (On Everything) '78 was a two-disc set of keenly observed songs with recitations, strings here and saxes there, about loneliness, memories of the 1950s ('Pink And Black Song'), being an art teacher etc; 'Cocktails For Three' (with a cabaret/Latin beat) is about two people trying to meet after work, always joined by a lonely salesman; 'Thirty Years War Waltz' is about meeting Jo Harvey Allen at a high school dance, the combination of iconoclastic humour, irony and sentimentality impossible to describe. 'New Delhi Freight Train' and 'Amarillo Highway' were covered respectively by Little Feat and Bobby Bare.

Smokin' The Dummy '80 featured a band with Lloyd, Kenny and Donnie Maines, guests Ponty Bone, Joe Ely and others now called the Panhandle Mystery Band: a tough, driving delivery of a superb set of songs about places, coming and going in the USA: a highway song 'The Heart Of California' was dedicated to Lowell George, 'Whatever Happened To Jesus (And Maybelline)?' was partly a good cover of the Chuck Berry classic, also 'Cajun Roll', 'Cocaine Cowboy', 'The Night Cafe', 'Texas Tears', more. Bloodlines '83 was more of the same, with 'Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy', sarcastically anti-terrorist 'Ourland', useful revivals of 'Cantina Carlotta' and 'There Oughta Be A Law Against Sunny Southern California' from Juarez. A rare appearance in London '86 covered by TV's Whistle Test included 'Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy'. (Smokin' The Dummy and Bloodlines were on one CD from Sugar Hill '97.)

Pedal Steal/Rollback combines soundtracks/music dramas commissioned by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Co. ('Pedal Steal' is the first track on the CD, 35 minutes not listed on the label in the first edition) and another for a Bruce Nauman film/Jenkins dance (Allen songs plus 'Home On The Range'), premiered '85 and '88 respectively. The Silent Majority is a 68-minute compilation of 'out-takes, in-takes, mis-takes' etc: 'High Horse Momma', left off a CD edition of Lubbock; 'Cocktail Desperado' from David Byrne's film True Stories; a version of 'New Delhi Freight Train' (and other tracks) made in Madras with Indian sidemen, and tracks from other productions incl. Rollback, Pedal Steal, Paul Dresher's Pioneer, JoAnne Akalaitis's production of Georg Buchner's Leon And Lena (And Lenz), Wolf-Eckart Buhler's film Amerasia '84 etc. An Amerasia CD '87 was a fuller selection of songs for the film, which has disappeared; the elegaic note is by David Byrne (the disappearance of the film is perhaps appropriate: what did we think we were doing in Asia?) The first CD edition of Lubbock was on Sugar Hill USA, Special Delivery UK, squeezed onto one disc minus the one song; other CDs were on Fate.

Human Remains '96 on Sugar Hill was Allen's first studio set since '83, songs with tough words and lineups including Byrne, Maines Bros etc. The musical play Chippy premiered '94 has songs by Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Wayne Hancock, Robert Earl Keen and Jo Carol Pierce, on Hollywood Records. The title of Salivation '99 on Sugar Hill was a sardonic reference to the concept of salvation. There was a compilation Best of the Sugar Hill Years 2007. Bottom of the World 2013 on Redeye was the first new studio set in 14 years. Lubbock (On Everything) had its finest reissue on a Paradise of Batchelors label in 2016, excellent new transfers restored to two discs on both CD and vinyl.

Terry Allen appeared at the Harwood Art Museum in Taos, New Mexico, in August 2018, the occasion being an exhibit of work by his old art school chum Larry Bell. (There had been a windstorm that afternoon and the the power was out at the museum; we thought there would be a cancellation, but the power miraculously came back on at exactly 7 PM.) Terry's son Bukka played some lovely obbligato to Terry's keyboard. A song new to us was 'The Last Stripper': the small town is turning to dust, the club has closed and the last stripper passed away. They found a phone number among her effects; they keep calling the number, but nobody answers, and 'We're the only ones who even know she died.'
      In conversation, Larry brought up the subject of the artist's blank canvas: What do you do in your studio? Terry answered, 'I might read...or listen to music...or just sit. But if something happens, I want to be there!'