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Everybody agrees with the fact that Rex Allen was the last of the Singing Cowboys ; indeed, he entered the pictures (!) 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 (seen below, riding Trigger in June 1950). Rex starred in 19 westerns for them between 1950 ('The Arizona Cowboy') and 1954 ('The Phantom Stallion').

Rex Allen 1949Rex was born on December 31, 1921, on a ranch in Mud Springs Canyon, forty miles from Wilcox, in Southeastern Arizona. In a very informative piece written in the April '83 issue of US mag, 'Goldmine', author Bob Garbutt explains that Rex lost his brother at a very early age and that his mother died when he was twelve. His father was a fiddle player ; Rex's interest in music came from there and grew even more after his Dad bought him a guitar.

More biographical data appeared in the first issue of 'The Scrapbook Of Hillbilly & Western Stars' from 1949, compiled and edited by Thurston Moore in Ciincinnati, 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'.

Indeed, Rex did some radio work in Phoenix, Arizona, finally ending up on Chicago's famous 'National Barn Dance' in 1945. Three years later, 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), 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). 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' ; Jerry would often play steel 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.

Rex Allen on Decca
However, two singles stand out in my humble opinion

You can hear 25 seconds of Rex's excellent 'Hootin' & Howlin' !
One is from 1952 (Decca #28446) and couples a languorous version of 'No One Will Ever Know' 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 even better. The harmonica solo is wonderful and there's also a very fine guitar break. Rex's voice - one of the best in its category, along with 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. 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 ?

Even 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 : a true Cowboy ! Surely one of his biggest prides has been to watch his first son, Rex Allen Jr., become a successful Country singer in the '70s.


© PAUL VIDAL * Privas, France * August 2002 - December 2018


The DECCA Discography

I've Got So Many Million Years / Is He satisfied ?
Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old Tucky Home / Ragtime Melody
As Long As The River Flows / Waltz Of Roses
Till The Well Goes Dry / Rack Up The Balls Boys
Two Faced Clock / Jambalaya (On The Bayou)
83091 Hootin' & Howlin' / 83089 No One Will Ever Know
Knockin' On The Door / Why, My Darlin', Why
Crying In The Chapel / I Thank The Lord
To Be Alone / If God Can Forgive You So Can I
Why Daddy / Where Did My Snowman Go
He Played The Steel Guitar / Somewhere
Bringing Home The Bacon / I Could Cry My Heart Out (Sometimes)
Chapel Of Memories / In The Chapel In The Moonlight
This Old House / Two Texas Boys (duets with TEX WILLIAMS)
You Took My Name / I'm Learning To Live Without You
Lonesome Letter Blues / Tomorrow's Just Another Day To Cry
That's What Makes The Juke Box Play / Pedro Gonzales Tennessee Lopez
Daddy You Know What / The Albino (Pink Eyed) Stallion
The Last Round-Up / I'm A Young Cowboy
The Last Frontier / Sky Boss
Nothin' To Do / Trail Of The Lonesome Pine
Drango / Little White Horse
Westward Ho The Wagons / Wringle Wrangle
Flower Of San Antone / Money, Marbles & Chalk
Blue Dream / The Blue Light Waltz
104624 Knock, Knock, Rattle / 104628 Invitation To The Blues
I Know The Reason Why / The Mystery Of His Way
Take Me Lord / Sheltered In The Arms Of The Old Rugged Cross
Tiny Bubbles / Jose Ville Lobo Alfredo Thomoso Vincente Lopez
'UNDER WESTERN SKIES' (LP issued in 1956 ; with Victor Young & Singing Strings)
'MISTER COWBOY' (LP issued in 1959)

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