REX ALLEN on the Big V JamboreeRex & his horse, 'Koko'

HOEDOWN - November 1953

REX ALLEN in 1953




REX ALLENEP review in C&W Jamboree - March 1957

Listen to fifty seconds of 'Hootin' & Howlin'

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Everybody agrees with the fact that Rex Allen was the last of the Singing Cowboys ; indeed, he entered the movies in 1949, when Republic Pictures in Hollywood signed him to a 7-year contract - with a little help from one of Rex's heroes, Roy Rogers himself (the man who used to ride Trigger). Rex starred in 19 westerns for them between 1949 ('The Arizona Cowboy') and 1954 ('The Phantom Stallion').

Rex was born on December 31, 1921, on a ranch in Mud Springs Canyon, some forty miles from Wilcox, in Southeastern Arizona. In the February '56 issue of 'Country'n'Western Jamboree', Bea Terry wrote : 'Rex Allen doesn't just happen to be an acting cowboy. He just happens to be a real cowboy who can act, and does'. She explains that Rex, his brother Wayne and their parents lived many miles from their nearest neighbor and that it was a quarter-mile to the spring from which they carried water. Rex lost his brother at a very early age after he had been bitten by a rattler and his mother died of blood poisoning when he was twelve. 'By that time' writes Bea Terry, 'Rex could rope calves, had calluses from balancing on fences near chutes at rodeos, could ride a bronc bareback, could strike a match at twenty paces with a .22 calibre bullet and, in general, was a cowboy'. His father, one of the original Arizona homesteaders, was a fiddle player and one of his cousins, a guy known as Cactus Mack, plunked a guitar ; Rex's interest in music came from there and grew even more after his Dad bought him a guitar and a book of instructions from a Sears Roebuck catalog when he was 11. Rex's first singing was done in church choirs. According to an article in the November 1953 issue of 'Hoedown', Rex was soon playing clubs and benefits throughout the surrounding territory, and after high school graduation, joined the rodeo circuit and won considerable national acclaim. On October 10th and 18th, 1953, Rex appeared in Chicago for the World's Champion Rodeo.

More biographical data appeared in the first issue of 'The Scrapbook Of Hillbilly & Western Stars' from 1950, compiled and edited by Thurston Moore in Cincinnati, Ohio, reproduced hereafter :
Rex got his first taste of radio work in 1941. At that time he was a rider with a traveling rodeo in the east, when, as he tells it...'The rodeo broke up and I got hungry. So I got a job singing cowboy songs on a small New Jersey radio station'. Two years later, Rex joined WLS in Chicago where he won fame as 'The Arizona Cowboy' on the National Barn Dance program. His fan mail ran about 15,000 letters a year and his radio fan club of 1,500 members is fifth among such clubs in the country. Rex Allen has written and published 250 songs, many of which have been recorded by himself and other leading artists. Some of his best known songs on the Mercury label have been 'Foggy River', 'Loaded Pistol', 'Hawaiian Cowboy', 'Teardrops In My Heart' and 'Who Shot The Hole In My Sombrero'. His recording of 'Arizona Waltz' has also been hitting the strides of popularity, and was featured in his first Republic picture, 'The Arizona Cowboy'. Rex left Chicago for Hollywood earlier this year, and right with him are his wife, Bonnie, and their two year old son, Chico. Rex signed a contract with Republic Pictures calling for four filmings this year and at least six during 1950. We know his many thousands of fans throughout the nation are real happy about seeing their idol on the screen. For recordings Rex uses an aggregation of top musicians known as 'the Arizona Wranglers'. His recent recordings were made with Jerry Byrd who is one of the most famous steel guitar stylists in the business.

REX ALLENIndeed, Rex did some radio work in Phoenix, Arizona, and held many jobs before winding up in Trenton, New-Jersey, as a featured singer over WTTM. He then joined a group of country singers, The Sleepy Hollow Gang, who managed to get a job on Chicago's famous 'National Barn Dance' in 1944.
Like Gene Autry and Red Foley before him, Allen's job at WLS provided the big break he was dreaming of. He stayed there until 1949. By 1950, he had his own very successful radio show on CBS.
Meantime, Rex had accepted an offer from Republic Pictures in 1948. According to Bea Terry's article from 1956, he made twenty-three pictures for them before extending his activity to television.

In 1945, he signed a recording contract with Mercury Records ; he cut about forty discs for them - some being pretty dire pop (like his duets with Patti Page in 1950-1), most of the others showing his deep, melodious baritone voice to good advantage like the excellent 'You Started Honky Tonkin' (#6008, 1946), 'Blues In My Mind ' (#6221, 1949) and 'Dixie Boogie' (#6252, 1950). Of course, he could yodel too, as demonstrated with 'Yodelin' Crazy' (#6269). He found himself in good company at Mercury with Tiny Hill, Jenny Lou Carson, Cliff Bruner, Lonnie Glosson, Carl Story, Doye O'Dell, Eddie Dean, Flatt & Scruggs, Red Kirk or Buz Butler among so many others. At first, the '78s bore the mention 'Rex Allen & His Dawn-Busters', then 'Rex Allen & His Dawn-Breakers' and eventually, 'Rex Allen & His Arizona Wranglers'.
In 1949, Rex sang the vocal part on Jerry Byrd's classic, 'Steelin' The Blues' (Mercury 6175); he would also sing on both sides of another Jerry Byrd single in 1950 ('Bandera Waltz' c/w 'Steelin' Is His Business', Mercury 6232). In return, Byrd would often play steel guitar on Allen's recordings from then on.
1952 saw Rex moving to Decca Records - that's where he cut his best sides. He went back to straight Country music for a while, cutting nice versions of 'Jambalaya' and Stuart Hamblen's 'Rack Up The Balls Boys' ; other good songs included 'Till The Well Goes Dry', 'Lonesome Letter Blues', 'Money, Marbles & Chalk' and 'This Old House', a duet with Tex Williams. His biggest hit though, was his 1953 cover of Darrell Glenn's 'Crying In the Chapel' (Valley 105), later a huge success for Elvis Presley.
In the April 1954 issue of 'Hoedown', it was reported that Rex had a very active fan club run by Mrs Wilma Orr and that he cooperated completely with his club, giving away valuable personal gifts for contests the club sponsored and treating its members wonderfully - a real gentleman.

Musically speaking, two singles stand out in my humble opinion.

One is from 1952 (Decca #28446) and couples a languorous, organ-backed version of 'No One Will Ever Know' (featuring Jerry Byrd on steel
once more) with a terrific hillbilly boogie number, 'Hootin' & Howlin', written by Vaughn Horton who also penned or co-penned such classics as 'Choo Choo Ch'Boogie', 'Mockin' Bird Hill', 'Sugarfoot Rag', 'Plantation Boogie' and 'Hillbilly Fever'. Allen had cut other boogies prior to that one (i. e. 'Dixie Boogie' and 'Honolulu Boogie', both on Mercury) but I think 'Hootin' & Howlin', propelled by some Jerry Adler-type harmonica, is one of his best. The harmonica solo is wonderful and there's also a very fine guitar break. Rex's voice - one of the best in its category, just a notch below Eddie Dean's - is perfectly suited to that uptempo material.
The other (Decca #30651) was the result of a February 23, 1958, session held at Bradley's Studio in Nashville. This time, Rex tried to rock - certainly with some reluctance - but he did score nicely thanks to two Clyde Mitchell compositions. 'Knock, Knock, Rattle' is a real good rocker, fast and ornamented with two strong Hank Garland guitar soli. Rex manages to mention 'Rin-Tin-Tin' in the words - probably a nod to his friend, James L. Brown. The song re-emerged on the third volume in the trailblazing 'Rare Rockabilly' series of UK LPs in 1978 - the definitive proof of its enduring quality. As for the flip side, 'Invitation To The Blues', it's more relaxed and the vocal chorus more prominent but Garland again is in fine form, playing licks which would soon grace Elvis's records such as 'I Need Your Love Tonight'. One mystery I'd like to solve concerns the composer credits to 'Invitation To The Blues' ; that same song was later cut by Roger Miller, Red Sovine, Pete Drake and Joe Maphis
, yet the credits always go to Roger Miller. Did Clyde Mitchell sell his rights ?

REX ALLEN MontageEven if 'Knock, Knock, Rattle' didn't dent the charts, Allen's discs sold usually well and at the end of the '50s, Rex was living comfortably in California. One day, he got a call from Walt Disney who asked him to become the narrator on some of his nature movies and do some cartoon character voices as well ; according to Rex himself, he worked in 150 such movies in about 15 years. The association with Disney Productions led to Allen's appearance on Disney's Buena Vista label - home of Annette and Hayley Mills ! Happily, it didn't last ; Allen went on to record for Hacienda (he had 3 singles, one EP and one LP there, featuring a remake of 'Lonesome Letter Blues'), then returned to Mercury where he enjoyed a big hit with 'Don't Go Near The Indians' in 1962.
He wrote the last chapter of his recording career at Decca in the late '60s, while keeping on raising horses on his ranch and performing on the rodeo circuit : yes indeed, a true Cowboy !
He had married Bonnie Linder, a Nebraska native whom he met while making a Chicago radio appearance. They had three sons : Rex Jr. (born in 1948), Curtis (born in 1951) and Mark Wayne (born in 1954).
Surely one of his biggest prides has been to watch his first son, Rex Allen Jr., become a successful Country singer in the '70s.

In 1999, the Chicago-based Bloodshot label put out a Rex Allen CD titled 'The L
ast Of The Great Singing Cowboys' (SCD 4101), comprised of previously unreleased radio transcription recordings dating from 1946-49 (the WLS Barn Dance period), which received a glowing review from Ron Bally in issue #137 of Discoveries. The 22 live, in-studio cuts, originally cut directly to acetates, present Allen backed by The Prairie Ramblers on songs like 'Little Puncher', 'Mexicali Rose', 'Rocky Mountain Home', 'Dude Ranch Polka' and 'I Won't Need My Six-Gun In Heaven'. There's even a song sung by Bonnie Linder called 'Gonna Mary Me A Cowboy' - which she obviously did by becoming Rex's wife.

[Further reading includes a very informative piece published in the April '83 issue of US mag, 'Goldmine', by author Bob Garbutt.]

Herewith a selected MERCURY & DECCA discography, focussing on Rex Allen's 40's & 50's recordings.
352 Atomic Power
351 You Started Honky Tonkin'
501 Don't Turn Your Back On Me (Gibson-Allen)
500 Texas Tornado (Wakely)
499 Driftwood On The River (Klenner-Miller)
502 Look At Me Now (Bonnie Allen)
726 Foggy River
727 A Broken Promise Means A Broken Heart
180 Curtains Of Sorrow
179 Whatcha' Gonna Do
882 Feudin' And Fightin' (Dubin-Lane)
879 Take It Back And Change It For A Boy (Chattaway)
1506 Lord Protect My Darlin'
1510 The Border Serenade
353 Queen Of The Rodeo
880 I Went And Got A Bucket For My Tears
1382 That Little Boy Of Mine
1388 Loaded Pistol
1387 Hawaiian Cowboy (Allen-Johnson)
879 Take It Back And Change It For A Boy (Chattaway)
1385 Slap Her Down Again, Paw
1249 Tear Drops In My Heart
1383 Chime Bells
1389 Miranda Doaks
1384 Who Shot That Hole In My Sombrero (Leeds-Hayes)
1636 Happy Mary Polka
2347 Tennessee Tears
2349 Song Of The Hills
1631 Cottage In The Clouds
2346 Afraid
2348 Arizona Waltz (Allen)                       from the Republic Picture, 'The Arizona Cowboy'
1509 Tell Me Little Darlin' (Hurt-Taylor)
178 I'm So Alone With The Crowd
2616 Over Three Hills
2615 Little Brown Shoes (Greishop-King)
2617 Blues In My Mind (Fred Rose)
2673 I Gotta Have My Baby Back
2680 A Petal From A Faded Rose
2676 Broken Down Merry-Go-Round (Herbert-Spryker)               with Patti Page
2677 Tag Along (Shelb-King-Pendlton)
7002 Dixie Boogie
7508 Put Your Arms Around Me
2678 Softly And Tenderly (Thompson)                                               with Patti Page
2679 Farther Along (Shelb-King-Pendlton)
1503 Don't Cha
1633 Yodelin' Crazy
7043 Honolulu Boogie (Spencer-Spencer)
7045 Too-LeeRollum (Allen)
7042 You Drifted
7044 I Ain't Gonna Cry No More
881 Naggin' (Allen-Penny)
1637 Albuqerque Polka (Bohme-Allen)
No More-Cattle Call-Just Walking Out The Door-Sentimental Fool
Ten More Miles To Go-Hot Time In New-Orleans Tonight-Afraid-Light In The Window
Loaded Pistol-Mister & Mississippi-I Gotta Have My Baby Back-Don't Turn Your Back On Me
More useful information can be found in the Hillbilly Researcher publication, 'Mercury - 6000 Hillbilly Series', compiled by Big Al Turner and Dave Sax.
81822 I've Got So Many Million Years (Stuart Hamblen)
Is He satisfied ?
81804 Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old Tucky Home (Young-Lewis-Meyer)
81803 Ragtime Melody (Beasley-Hazlewood-Stratton)    with The Nashville Dixielanders
81823 As Long As The River Flows On (Art Noel-A. Leroyal)
81806 Waltz Of Roses (Tim Spencer-Glenn Spencer)
Till The Well Goes Dry
Rack Up The Balls Boys
83087 Two Faced Clock (Ruth Beifield-Harold Saxe)        with The Nashville Dixielanders
83088 Jambalaya (On The Bayou) (Hank Williams)
83091 Hootin' & Howlin' (Vaughn Horton)
83089 No One Will Ever Know (Mel Foree-Fred Rose)
83090 Knockin' On The Door (Autry Inman)
83092 Why, My Darlin' Why (Rex Allen)
84672 Crying In The Chapel (Artie Glenn)
81826 I Thank The Lord (R. Allen-D.Bohne)
85253 To Be Alone (Billy Vaughn)
85254 If God Can Forgive You, So Can I (Charlie Gore-Buford Abner)
Why Daddy
Where Did My Snowman Go
He Played The Steel Guitar
84670 Bringing Home The Bacon (Frank Bannister-Lew Colwell-Gus Van-Joe Schenck)
85304 I Could Cry My Heart Out (Sometimes) (Floyd Wilson)
L 7635 Chapel Of Memories
L 7636 In The Chapel In The Moonlight (Billy Hill)
L 7780 This Old House (Stuart Hamblen)                               as by Rex Allen & Tex Williams
L 7782 Two Texas Boys (Don Raye-Sonny Burke)               as by Tex Williams & Rex Allen
You Took My Name
I'm Learning To Live Without You
84516 L-o-n-e-s-o-m-e Letter Blues (Cindy Walker)
L 7785 Tomorrow's Just Another Day To Cry (Billy Hayes-Rosalie Allen)
That's What Makes The Juke Box Play
Pedro Gonzales Tennessee Lopez
L 8518 Daddy You Know What (Jim Wilson)
88108 The Albino (Pink Eyed) Stallion (Marvin Rainwater)
L 8767 The Last Round-Up (Billy Hill)
L8768 I'm A Young Cowboy (Rex allen-Dave Woody)
The Last Frontier
Sky Boss
L 9237 Nothin' To Do (Johnny Parker)
L 9236 Trail Of The Lonesome Pine (Harry Carroll-Ballard McDonald)
Little White Horse
L 9630 Westward Ho The Wagons ! (George Bruns-Tom Blackburn)
L 9628 Wringle Wrangle (Stan Jones)
L 10175 Flower Of San Antone (Ray Joseph-Mack David)
102334 Money, Marbles & Chalk (Pop Eckler)
101085 Blue Dream (Felice & Boudleaux Bryant)  with Nudie on mandolin
102337 The Blue Light Waltz (Al Hoffman-Dick Manning)
104624 Knock, Knock, Rattle (Clyde Mitchell)
104628 Invitation To The Blues (Clyde Mitchell)
85309 I Know The Reason Why (Pee Wee King-Redd Stewart)
85307 The Mystery Of His Way (Bob Nolan)
Take Me Lord
Sheltered In The Arms Of The Old Rugged Cross
Tiny Bubbles
Jose Ville Lobo Alfredo Thomoso Vincente Lopez
Wringle Wrangle-Ballad Of John Colter-I'm Lonely My Darlin'-Westward Ho The Wagons !
'UNDER WESTERN SKIES' (LP issued in 1956 ; with Victor Young & Singing Strings)
'MISTER COWBOY' (LP issued in 1959)

© PAUL VIDAL * Privas, France * August 2002 - Spring 2019