Thursday, 31 March 2011

Harley Allen: Rest in Peace

One of the most talented songcrafters to ever step foot in Nashville, Harley Allen, died of lung cancer at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. He was 55. Upon his request, Allen was brought home from the hospital the day before he passed away.

Born in Dayton, Ohio (a flourishing bluegrass music region at the time), Harley was the son of legendary bluegrass singer Red Allen. He performed in the Dayton area in the 1970s as part of a family band, The Allen Brothers, before forming the Allen-Lilly Band in 1982 with mandolinist Mike Lilly.

Harley moved to Nashville in 1989. Since then he has become one of the most accomplished, awarded and successful songwriters in Music City's history. Harley Allen was, and is, a well-respected song creator among his peers. He was always a favorite at the famous country music songwriter's haven, The Bluebird Cafe.

If you are a bluegrass or country musician you have more than likely played several of Harley Allen's songs which were hits for major artists. Bluegrass fans are most likely familiar with Allen's 'High Sierras' and 'Always On A Mountain' (both of which appeared on the live Strictly Country Records 1995 release "Tony Trischka & The Big Dogs" SCR-CD-24). 'High Sierras' was originally recorded by "The Trio: Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton & Emmylou Harris". Another fan favorite is Alan Jackson's chart topping version of Harley's song 'Between The Devil And Me'.

With all his contributions to the songwriting industry, let's not forget what an amazing lead and tenor voice came out of that skinny kid from Ohio. He not only wrote the songs, Harley could deliver them with the kind of emotion and sincerity most people can only dream of ever achieving.

While he could be astoundingly offensive at times, there was no mistaking his humor, honesty and straightforwardness in conversations or at appearances on a stage. It is doubtful that Harley ever held back any secrets. He always seemed to say exactly what he was thinking at the moment. That being said, Harley clearly had a sense of romance, hard times...a keen sense of how to describe life in general. Usually his own life, and the honesty and emotion just poured out with no apologies or excuses.

Jamie Johnson was quoted yesterday in The Tennessean Newspaper. His band, The Grascals, recently recorded a Harley Allen song, 'Me And John And Paul'. Jamie aptly described Harley in one simple sentence: “He was an original, who walked his way or no way at all.”

Donations in Allen's name may be made to the Chet Atkins Music Education Fund, c/o The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Harley Allen is survived by his wife, singer & bass player Debbie Nims (pictured above), two daughters and one son.