Archive for the ‘Allen Bros.’ Category

Allen Bros. on JSP

March 8, 2015

By the early 1920’s, already professional musicians, they settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga would feature in a number of their titles to the extent they were dubbed the Chattanooga Boys.

In Chattanooga the Allen’s got on radio once or twice a week – a bonus because radio was then the most effective form of publicity. The result was lucrative bookings as far afield as Georgia. They also performed for medicine shows – the musicians gathered a receptive audience for the show owner to exploit.

The Allen’s seem to have entered the recording studio fairly seamlessly and they had decent record sales. They recorded regularly – most years twice or more. Their sales were sufficient for them to continue to record well into the 1930’s – many musicians were discarded because of the depression.

The Allen Brothers were the first of the brothers groups that cut popular Country records in the late 1920s and 30s. The were followed by other blues-based brother acts like the Callahans, Sheltons and Delmores. The Allen Brothers created a unique sound based on fast-paced, upbeat blues and ragtime influenced songs. Their bawdy, humorous good-time lyrics, mixed with up-tempo renditions and Lee Allen’s delightful kazoo leads are reminiscent of the early jug bands. They were one of the first Country groups to base their sound on the blues and ragtime styles found in African-American groups. In fact the Allens’ second recording for Columbia was mistaken for an African-American group and release on Columbia’s “race” label, used only for African-American groups!

See also here.


The Chain Store Blues

September 8, 2012


An energetic, if short-lived, protest movement of the late 1920s and early ‘30s flexed against the encroachment of chain-stores — evidence that the “buy local” concept is of some vintage. Although several chain-store blues were recorded in the pre-war recording era, however, only the Allen Brothers’ 1930 plea for support of independent “home stores,” entitled “I Got the Chain Store Blues,” was released.

Perhaps the labels assumed that the chains, many of which sold their records, wouldn’t take kindly to such sentiments. By 1930, Chattanooga, Tennessee — then the base of operations for the Sewanee-born Lee and Austin Allen — was home to a Sears Roebuck, a Montgomery Ward, and a McLellan’s five-and-dime. Other stores like Woolworth’s, J.C. Penney, and the A&P (“Where Economy Rules”) had infiltrated many smaller towns, prompting “trade-at-home” campaigns and legislation to limit what the chains sold and where they sold it.

W.K. Henderson, the sensational personality behind Shreveport’s radio-powerhouse WKHK, threw his considerable weight behind the movement: “We have attempted to bring to light the ruinous and devastating effect of sending the profits of business out of our local communities to a common center, Wall Street…. appealed to the fathers and mothers — who entertain the fond hope of their children becoming prosperous business leaders—to awaken to a realization of the dangers of the chain stores‘ closing this door of opportunity…. insisted that the payment of starvation wages such as the chain-store system fosters, must be eradicated.”

Allen Bros. play “I Got the Chain Store Blues”:

A New Salty Dog

March 10, 2012

(From, liner notes to “Going Down the Valley,” CD 80236)

Even the folks back in the hills could not escape the lure of the jazz age. The Allen Brothers, of Franklin County, Tennessee, were so successful at assimilating the jazz and blues styles from the other side of the color barrier that Columbia decided to release two of their songs in its Race Records series. Some artists would have taken that as a compliment; the Allen Brothers, however, threatened to sue, and stopped recording for that label.

When they switched to Victor they rerecorded several of the numbers they had done for Columbia, including “Salty Dog Blues” which they renamed “A New Salty Dog.” Lexicographers have not provided a satisfactory account of the meaning and evolution of the phrase “salty dog.” As early as 1785, “salty” meant lecherous (or, literally, salacious); “salt bitch” was a dog in heat. In black slang of the twentieth century the phrase has been used with various implied meanings: sometimes, in the general sense of a sexually active person; other times, in connection with specific kinds of sexual behavior.

To Lee Allen a salty dog was a “common person…who had a good time and did it in the wrong way.” The earliest use in a musical context was in blues singer Clara Smith’s 1926 recording “Salty Dog,” a considerably more outspoken piece of bawdry than the Allen Brothers’ relatively tame lyrics. Two other locutions in the text deserve comment: in the penultimate stanza, “bum” may be used in the same sense that we use it today, but there was a more specific meaning in the 1920s- a cheap prostitute.

Quite likely there was a conscious attempt in the second recording to eliminate what some regarded as an offensive term. It should be noted, however, that these terms have not carried the same connotation at all times and in all areas. Many white mountain folk had used these terms without any intention of slurring, slighting, or offending. It is instructive to recall, in this connection, how much the connotative meaning of the word “colored” has changed in the past decade.

In lyrics, tune and instrumentation, “A New Salty Dog” is a good example of how much jazz and blues influences could alter string-band music. The partial circle of fifths chord pattern (I-VI7- II7- V7- I) has been used since the Baroque era, but to modern listeners it is perhaps more closely identified with ragtime music than any other style. In country music, almost every tune that uses a circle of fifths is labeled a “rag.”

Come here, mama, what’s on your mind?

Daddy wants to love you but you won’t give him time,

You ain’t nothin’ but a salty dog.

Oh, salty dog, ha ha ha, ha ha ha, hey hey hey.



Available here.

The Allen Bros. play “A New Salty Dog”: