Henry "Red" Allen


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Having served heroically as a front-liner in so many hot bands during the 1920s and '30s, the mighty Red Allen waded into the middle of the 1940s ready to cook like a merry demon. Listeners are very fortunate to have the entire session of May 5, 1944, as it includes "The Theme," a six-minute jam that suggests part of the root system of R&B. An interesting thing occurs during Red's solo: the piano starts vamping on the bassline to "Call of the Freaks," a piece that both Red and trombonist J.C. Higginbotham had recorded some 15 years earlier with Luis Russell's orchestra. "Ride! Red! Ride!" is fast and frantic, a raucous two and a half minutes of over the top blowing and shouting. The transition from this rumble in the parking lot to the relaxation of the following track might cause whiplash. "Just a Feeling" features alto saxophonist Don Stovall, keening in a languid, Johnny Hodges sort of way. "Dark Eyes" begins as a sort of rhumba, with an incredibly funny vocal by Red and another member of the band who plies him with questions. They then pick it up and shake it hard. "Dear Old Southland" features J.C. Higginbotham's trombone. "Red Jump" is the perfect embodiment of the phrase "swing to bop." Boogie-woogie manifests as "Get the Mop," a shout-along stomp soon to be plagiarized by certain opportunistic white musicians for their own financial benefit. Red Allen quietly sued and won the case. This is the story behind the pop novelty "Rag Mop." With a cry of "wamp! wamp!," Red Allen charges into "The Crawl," a blistering ride that ends with basement blasts from the trombone. Red also "wamps" his way into "Buzz Me," a song strongly associated with Louis Jordan. Red's version is nastier and tougher, a bit like full-force Hot Lips Page.

"Drink Hearty" was used in a "soundie," one of those short movies featuring the band lip-syncing over their own record. Red seems to have employed the "wamp!" whenever possible during this time period. It was how he counted off each tune. An updated "Get the Mop" sprints at an insane pace, setting the stage for "Count Me Out" and "Check Up," two boppish runs during which Red sounds almost like Fats Navarro. When he sings the blues or belts out a ballad, Red has a lot of class, as he does on the two titles finishing off his 1946 Victor recordings (and on "A Shanty in Old Shanty Town" from 1947). The next session has apparently languished for years, having never been issued before. A chump announcer introduces Red's band to a live audience during the "Saturday Night Swing Session" in 1947. Higginbotham is still on board, along with Buster Bailey, Johnny Guarnieri, and jazz accordionist Roy Ross, who vamps neatly behind the horns. Allen really stretches out, taking all kinds of chances with his horn, particularly during eight and a half minutes of "Indiana." Switching over to the Apollo label, Red actually becomes "Mr. Wamp" on a very cool walk that seems to have sprouted directly from the "9:20 Special" (aka "Tush") by Earle Warren. "Old Fool" has more of that two-voiced comedy exchange with coordinated hollering from the band. Always willing to pursue an idea to its logical extreme, Red makes room for a comprehensive list of every kind of fool.

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