Rex Allen the best singing cowboy? It’s certainly a startling thought, especially when you figure that most people would vote for Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. But here’s the thing — Autry himself called Allen the best cowboy among them, and Rogers said he was the best singer by far. So if you add up those two comments, isn’t the man known as the Arizona Cowboy worth considering?
But Rex Allen was much more than a movie cowboy. He was also a popular recording artist — his “Cryin’ In The Chapel” and “Don’t Go Near The Indians” both approached the top of the charts. He starred as TV’s Frontier Doctor in addition to making appearances on many other shows, and was also featured in comic books. But he might be best remembered for his drawling, honeyed voice narrating countless Disney nature films.
Rex Elvie Allen was born on a ranch near Mud Springs Canyon in Southeast Arizona, and his upbringing certainly included learning the life of a real cowboy. But his father was also a part-time fiddle player, so young Rex grew up around music and eventually found himself playing guitar and singing alongside him at area dances and shows. Rex also made some appearances on local radio, but after graduation from high school he was ready to try something else — he joined the rodeo circuit.
Unfortunately, he was soon badly injured and returned to full-time music, spending the years during World War II working his way up the ladder of fame via radio. By the post-war years he’d managed to also sign a recording contract, and his first successful record, “Afraid,” appeared in 1949. It also helped provide the young singer an invitation to Hollywood.
Throughout the Fifties and beyond, Rex Allen appeared in a number of Western movies and also continued to make records that did very well. And even though they weren’t always the big sellers, some of the best were those evocative of lonesome cowboys. One of my favorites is “Out Where The West Wind Blows.”
Although his own career eventually slowed down, in later years Rex was able to see his son, Rex Allen Jr., become a country music star too. He was also able to spend a lot of time in his beloved Arizona, where he died at age 78 in 1999. He is still a favorite son of Arizona and is honored in the annual Rex Allen Days celebration in Willcox.