Rex Allen Biography

Rex Elvie Allen, 31 December 1920, Willcox, Arizona, USA, d. 17 December 1999, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Country singer Allen was no imitation cowboy - his family were homesteaders: a mountain lion was killed close to his home, his brother died from a rattlesnake bite, and the family lost everything in the drought of 1934. As Allen had ridden on the farm, he thought he could transfer to rodeos, but a fall from a Brahman bull directed his thoughts towards music. In 1945, he hosted the National Barn Dance for a radio station in Chicago and was able to afford an operation to correct his congenital squint. His first local hit was ‘Take It Back And Change It For A Boy’, and his early recordings found him yodelling, although he subsequently kept his tone and pitch the same. Allen later hosted his own show for CBS from 1950-52.

Country singer Red Foley was not interested when he was asked to replace the popular singing cowboy, Roy Rogers, at Republic Studios, but he recommended the good-looking, well-spoken Allen instead. Republic named him ‘The Arizona Cowboy’, which was also his name in several movies in which he starred between 1950 and 1954. The last, Phantom Stallion, marked the end of the B-movie western. His son, country singer Rex Allen Jnr. , said: ‘He wanted to be the opposite of Roy Rogers. He rode a black horse, he didn’t wear fringed shirts and he had his guns back-to-front. If he’d got involved in a real gunfight, he’d have been dead.’ Allen’s weather-beaten sidekick was Slim Pickens, who later featured in Dr. Strangelove and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. Pickens also made an album of narrations, Slim Pickens (1977), which included the outlandish ‘The Fireman Cowboy’, which they had written together.

Allen moved on to the role of Dr. Bill Baxer in the television series Frontier Doctor. Although Allen had a million-selling single, ‘Crying In The Chapel’ (later a hit for Elvis Presley), in 1953, he did not record regularly and, in 1962, when he returned to the US pop charts, it was with a song he disliked: ‘Don’t Go Near The Indians’. His own suggestion, a new Willie Nelson song, ‘Night Life’, was vetoed. His last country hit was with 1968’s ‘Tiny Bubbles’. Allen’s clear diction earned him the opportunity to narrate documentaries for Walt Disney, and in 1973, his voice was heard in the Hanna-Barbara feature cartoon Charlotte’s Web. He returned to Arizona where he made a living doing voice-overs on commercials and occasionally joined his son on stage. In December 1999, Allen suffered a heart attack and fell down behind his caretaker’s parked car, which subsequently reversed over him. He later died from his injuries.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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