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Ricky Allen

20th December 2001 Jefferson Records (Scandinavian Blues Association) relesead a live recording by Ricky Allen with the 8 best songs from his first show at the Monsteras Bluesfestival 25th May 2001. This CD will be the first album ever by Ricky. Ricky is backed by some of Swedens finest blues players: Mats Grönquist: guitar, Lars Hamnede: organ & piano, Niclas Lüning: saxophone, Bo Johnsson: bass and Tommy Medner: drums. The recordings were done by the Swedish Radio Corporation in Kalmar.

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Ricky Allen / Live
Jefferson Records SBACD 12657 (2001)

(From the cd-booklet)
The recordings here are from Ricky Allen’s first show at Mönsterås. To kick off the evening’s entertainment he started out with the all time crowd pleaser Everyday I Have The Blues just to put things together and then turned to his own classics. Help Me Mama was originally released on AGE 29125, his last single for the label in 1964. You Were My Teacher was the flipside on his first single and hit You’d Better Be Sure on AGE 29102 in 1961. Can’t Stand No Signifying was his hit on 4Brothers 401 in 1965. The lively Little By Little was originally recorded for the USA label in 1964. The second voice on the original recording was sung by Mel London. Here the sax player Niclas Lüning fills in that part on his saxophone. The song written by Mel London had been a hit for Junior Wells some years earlier. Stormy Monday shows Ricky Allen’s ease on slow numbers and is of course the T-Bone Walker classic. Cut You A-Loose originally recorded in 1963 was released on AGE 29118. The encore, Ouch!, released on AGE 29115 in 1962 was Ricky’s second biggest hit, almost making the national chart.

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1. Everyday I Have The Blues
2. Help Me Mama
3. You Were My Teacher
4. I Can´t Stand No Signifying
5. Little by Little
6. Stormy Monday
7. Cut you a-loose
8. Ouch!


Ricky Allen: Live (Jefferson Records)

It's a mystery why Chicago singer Ricky Allen hasn't received more recognition. A native of Nashville, Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio - he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star that annotator Anders Lillsunde calls "an impressive list of recordings made during a time when most blues artists were struggling with changes in public taste".Perhaps because he played no instrument, Allen himself failed to make the transition to the blues' new white audience, and by 1974 he had retired from the music business after a last 45 on Mel.

In the years that followed, he owned and operated dry cleaning and limousine businesses, and launched a comeback in 1993 (see LB # 109) fail to get off the ground. Except for recognition by French blues historian Sebastian Danchin in his recent Earl Hooker biography and an internet bio (also by Danchin) on Jefferson magazine's website.

Thankfully, the good people at Jefferson found Allen (it must not have been too hard? He'd lived at the same address for 20 years) and brought him to Europe for the first time in May 2001. This recording, from his first show at Sweden's Mönsterås Blues Festival, finds Allen ably backed by a five piece Swedish band configured like those on his Age sessions, tenor sax, guitar, organ, bass, and drums. Still trim and clear voiced at 65, Allen selected a play list that must have been typical of his glory days. opening with that most prototypical of all openers, Everyday I Have The Blues and including the equally venerable Stormy Monday along with six of his own numbers. Besides Cut You Loose (his biggest hit at #20 on Billboard's R&B charts in 1963), we get Little By Little, Help Me Mama, and Ouch!, all with that irresistible combination of compelling riffs, catchy melodies, and hip lyrics that makes them sound as fresh today as they did forty years ago. The other track, You Were My Teacher, is a blues ballad that was on the flip side of his first Age single (You Better Be Sure) and shows his Nashville roots. The recording is generally good for a festival set, though some times Allen's voice is too far back in the mix.

So now that Ricky Allen is finally back on the scene, how about a reissue project, to say nothing of getting one of the most distinctive and appealing blues singers of the last forty years back in the studio again?


From Bad Dog Blues
Despite a number of good sized hits in the 60's Chicago singer Ricky Allen has remained an almost totally neglected figure. Almost as strange as this total neglect is the story behind this fine live recording cut at the 2001 Monsteras Blues festival in Sweden.

Allen's latest comeback (he attempted comebacks in the early 80's and 90's) was engineered by the Scandinavian Blues Society after some of the members came across Allen's old singles. They found Allen living in Chicago in early 2001 and by May this live set was recorded. It was Allen's first time outside of the USA besides a few dates in Canada. It's certainly odd that it took a bunch of Swedish blues fans to jump-start Allen's comeback. Allen was quite popular through the early to mid-60's cutting several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity. Live proves that Allen still has some gas left in his tank and is a surprising and welcome recording.

Allen is backed by by a surprisingly good Swedish band formed around the same instrumentation found on Allen's classic recordings. Allen runs through a program of covers and his own classics in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. Vocally Allen has has lost some of the range of those early recordings but is still in good voice. This is a very solid set of blues making it all the more inexplicable why Allen hasn't been able to sustain a comeback career. The set opens with a fine version of the crowd pleasing "Everyday I Have The Blues" before dipping into his own material like the bouncy "Help Me Mama", the shuffling "I Can't Stand No Signifying", a tough version of "Little By Little" and of course "Cut You A-Loose." Allen and the band sound like they've been playing together for years. It's obvious Allen is very much enjoying himself and he definitely has the crowd in the palm of his hands. The record is rounded out with a well written set of liner notes documenting Allen's career and some nice photos.
It's seems to a sad fact that many older bluesman are much better received overseas than they are in their own country. Whether or not this live recording will usher in a full fledged comeback for Allen it's great to have him back in the spotlight no matter how long it lasts.

(Jeff Harris)