“Hold on to your dreams with both hands and don’t let go. There’s no guarantee you’ll make it to the top, but I can promise you one hell of a ride. And sometimes that can be enough.”
Country recording artist Allen Karl is much more than “The Good Guy in the Black Hat”. He’s a seasoned entertainer, international dignitary and preserver of the tradi tional country and western music genre that has defined a nation.
From Willie Whistle to Recording Contract: A Teenager Finds His Calling
Allen’s love affair with music dates back to the tender age of 12, gathering with family and friends in the kitchen of his Pottsville, Pennsylvania home and soaking up the playing techniques of his talented mother and grandfather. Combining raw talent and an insatiable appetite for learning, the young man progressed at an unbelievable rate. Recognizing his uncanny knack for picking, local radio station WPPA hired him for the “Willie Whistle” show, a half-hour program on Saturdays that offered Allen the rare opportunity to “cut his teeth” in a formal performing and recording medium.
Encouraged by the radio station, the 17 year-old entered a talent contest at the Santa Fe Ranch in nearby Reading. Hosted by Shorty and Dolly Long and the Santa Fe Rangers, Allen stole the show and was signed to a one-year recording contract with King Records. What followed was a whirlwind introduction to some of the biggest names in the business. For the next two and a half years, he opened shows for such trailblazers as Skeeter Davis, Jeanne Sheppard, Hawkshaw Hawkens, Eddy Arnold, Wanda Jackson and the inimitable Patsy Cline.
During Allen’s senior year in high school, he and three classmates put together a rock and roll band called the “Shuffles” and appeared throughout areas of Pennsylvania near his hometown. They played for school and street dances, fairs and clubs.
Serving with Honor and Starting a Band: Allen Entertains Abroad
Following his sense of duty, Allen joined the United States Air Force. But music was never far from his mind. He started his first country band while stationed in Japan--The Dixieland Playboys. The group played a string of hot spots in Tokyo, culminating in appearances at the second largest Grand Old Opry opening for Ferlin Husky, Hank Snow, The Young Jimmy Rogers and Johnny Cash. Allen also appeared one Saturday night a month at Tokyo’s “Little Copa Cabana.” On one occasion at the Little Copa, Allen had the distinct privilege of playing guitar on stage for Julie London.
That stage experience was invaluable--and the contacts he made would serve Allen well throughout his career. After a couple of tours in Vietnam, Allen found himself in Thailand leading an all-Thai band as a weekend headliner at the Miami Club in Udorn. He spent the next four years honing his technique and learning to read his audiences.
Taking the Show Back to the States, and to Bigger Stages
Situating himself in Fort Worth, Allen began a string of premiere dates in Fort Worth, Dallas, Grand Prairie and Amarillo opening for the likes of Johnny Rodriquez, Willie Nelson Ray Price “The Cherokee Cowboy” at Panther Hall. The trail then led from Texas to Nashville, where he took up residence three nights a week at such storied halls as at the Opryland Hotel’s Staircase Lounge, The Stockyard, The Hall of Fame Hotel and Moxie’s Lounge. Recognizing a star in the making, Century Artist Records signed Allen to a contract in 1978 and released a record called “Gonna Buy Me a Camel”, Allen’s musical statement about the impending gasoline crisis.
In the late-80s, Allen appeared on the Grand Ole Opry Gospel Hour, by invitation of Hank Snow. About that time Allen was proclaimed an honorary member of the Cherokee nation in recognition of his unwavering support of the Cherokee people, followed by his induction into the Native American Hall of Fame by chief Black Eagle. In 1989 he was signed with Century II Records where he recorded ten singles, a twelve-song LP called “She loves My Troubles Away,” and shot a video for “Face of Love”.
Brief Burnout Gives Way to Victorious Comeback
Possibly feeling burned out, used up or whatever happens to artists who give their heart and soul to the business, Allen all but dropped out of country music in the mid-90s. But fortunately for fans, the hiatus didn’t last long. In 2001, he started writing and recording in Nashville again. 2006 marked the release of an 18-song CD titled “Rolling River,” sold wor ld-wide including the U.S. and twenty-three countries.
In August of 2008, Allen was inducted into the Traditional Country Music Hall of Fame in La Mars, Iowa. Allen released two more CDs-- a gospel CD titled “No Place Like Home” as well as a Christmas collection entitled “It’s My Favorite Time Of The Year.” Both CDs have enjoyed international interest. A tour of Ireland and Northern England is scheduled for 2009
Influences, Advice to Young Stars, and Odds and Ends
You might say that much of Allen’s success is owed to a strong family upbringing, a stable home life and an appreciation for the traditional country trailblazers that have influenced his career. His younger brother Jerry is still a close contact. He married his hometown sweetheart, Darlene, and the two have four wonderful children--daughters Janelle, Rebec ca, and Amanda and son Travis. Rounding out the clan is his grandson Mitchell, the apple of Allen’s eye and whom he describes as his very best friend.
Allen counts Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as his biggest musical influences. And when it comes to young talents rising up in the business, Allen hopes to be the same positive influence that those legendary performers provided for him. His advice to aspiring singers and songwriters? Make sure that the music business is so mething that you love passionately, then focus, make a plan and stick to it.
Even though Allen Karl has had a career most artists only dream of, his future is even brighter. He now does all of his recordings in Nashville and is gearing up for more releases and international tours. Allen tours with his band, “Canyon River,” and has opened several shows for Tom Grant and Ronnie Dove. Allen considers his band to be some of the greatest musicians that have ever picked up an instrument. But perhaps more than that, Allen feels close to his band members--like they were family.
How he’ll outdo nearly forty songs, LP releases, a music video and worldwide acclaim is tough to imagine. But you can bet that “The Good Guy in the Black Hat” has the personal drive and artistic talents to give it a go.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
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