Harley Allen: Did You Know the Sun Shines When It Rains?

“His death is the least interesting part of his life story, so I wanted to make something that talked about his life.”

The above quote is by podcaster Nicholas Felton of Feltron.com talking about his Father after he passed away.

Harley Allen, January 23, 1956 – March 30, 2011

Patterns emerge over time. When it comes to this blog and the people that interest me enough to write about I find that I tend to write about them on the day they were born more than the day they died (assuming both have happened). I’m slightly amused by that since I don’t particularly celebrate my own birthday, at times to loved ones frustration. I suppose though I do prefer it over the other stated alternative. So, when one of my favorite bluegrass singers passed away last March I didn’t mention it here. That may be as much of an answer as any for the handful of folks that asked me why I didn’t write about Hazel Dickens, Bill Morrissey, Johnny Wright or any of the other fine singers and songwriters we lost this past year. Often in fact I did write about them. I wrote a lot about Hazel Dickens after she died. I wrote a lot about Bill Morrissey after he died. I just didn’t post any of it. Still, it’s not such a rule that it never happens as you can find pieces on Mike Seeger, Mel McDaniel and Vic Chesnutt to name three.

A young Harley with his brother Greg and father Red Allen

Harley in many ways is a mystery to me. I know he’s the son of bluegrass great Red Allen. I know he sang in the Soggy Mountain Boys. I know his songwriting chops had him writing for Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson, Hal Ketchum, George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Linda Ronstadt, Del McCoury and Rhonda Vincent and really the list just goes on like a river. He was one of five kids raised by a poor single Mother. They all played music. And that’s where I connect with Harley – the music:

I’ve been higher than the high sierra
Lower than Death Valley must be
I’ve been right, mostly wrong
Wrong about you, right about me

or:

I live a simple life
I work all day I sleep all night
A couple kids that need a nap
Big dog and a little cat
Wife that barks but rarely bites
So I live the simple life

He evokes the perfect little things in his songs whether it’s the heartbreak of lost love in High Sierra or domestic joy in A Simple Life. The Harley I know still lives somewhere between those songs. His fragile high tenor lifting up like a mountain fog. His banter on live recordings was like his voice, like his songs. They could be filled with the world’s heaviness, drinking, broken homes, temptation and he could slip a joke through during the guitar break and not lose the emotional power or undercut the song. Townes could do that, not many others I think. I believe it says something about his sincerity. He believed in what he was singing. I believe it says something about the world we live in. It’s hard and it’s easy.

It’s a simple life, except when it’s not.

Happy birthday Harley. You are missed.

Wildwood Flower Blues, Harley Allen

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About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Oldtime, Radio and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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