Not to be confused with the jazz trumpeter who came along a little before him (although their careers did overlap), bluegrass performer Red Allen was a much-respected and influential part of country music for many years beginning in the 1950s. An accomplished instrumentalist with a solid singing voice, he was a favorite of many fans even if his name wasn’t quite as widely known as some of his contemporaries.
Harley ‘Red’ Allen was born in Pigeon Roost Hollow, Kentucky, surrounded by the music of hardscrabble rural America, and it continued to influence him even after he’d fulfilled his military obligation and moved to Dayton, Ohio, in the late 1940s. In fact, he soon began performing bluegrass professionally, and before long he had formed his first band, The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys.
Although his band was popular, Allen made it even better by enlisting the services of an amazingly talented teenage mandolin player named Frank Wakefield. The two would work together off and on for several years, including some time spent as part of a band they called the Kentuckians, but Wakefield would eventually go his own way. As time passed, Allen also worked with stars like the Osborne Brothers and J.D. Crowe, and a bit later also performed with his sons, as Red Allen & the Allen Brothers.
In later years Red Allen kept performing whenever possible and he also found continued success in record sales, often working under the Smithsonian Folkways label. He managed to entertain his fans right up until his death in 1993 at age 63, the victim of cancer.