Friday, October 9, 2009
A to Z : The Allen Brothers
The Allen Brothers - Bow Wow Blues (buy) (1927)
The Allen Brothers - Jake Walk Blues (buy) (1930)
Ever since the beginnings of the country industry, singers and musicians were fascinated by the blues. Although the most famous of them was Jimmie Rodgers and his blue yodels, others like Darbie & Tarlton, Dick Justice recorded numerous blues songs, but the Allen Brothers' music was so rooted in the blues that Columbia catalogued their recordings as "race" performances, which caused them to leave the label.
Austin and Lee Allen were from a poor family of Chatanooga sawyers, and spent a part of their youth as itinerant musicians especially on miners camps in the moutains. There they probably met a lot of other songsters, black and white, and learnt a lot from them. The songs they recorded between 1927 and 1937 were mostly personal compositions (a rare fact at that time) inspired by blues standards and jug band numbers. They often wrote about current events : "Jake Walk Blues" is a commentary on the Jamaican ginger ("jake") food-poisoning episode that made headlines that year.
Although they were good singers and valuable banjo/guitar players, Lee's kazzo playing is the duo's trademark. As Bill C Malone says , "he took this child's toy of presumed limited range and converted it to a lead instrument of exceptional flexibility. On Allen Bros recordings the kazoo is used like a trumpet; the result is a sound not unlike that heard on Charlie Poole's string band recordings, a syncopated but structured swing."
Like a lot of musicians who recorded in the twenties, their onstage repertoire was wider than just the blues.
As a bonus, here is a good example of their uptempo, swinging songs.
The Allen Brothers - Ain't That Skippin' An' Flyin' (buy) (1928)
Check out their AMG bio
Here a post on Lonesome Lefty's Scratchy Attic