Born Anthony Penia Allan, 13 August 1932, New Orleans, Louisiana
Tony Allen is one of the real characters in Los Angeles R&B. He recorded extensively, for dozens of labels, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Allen grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, not far from Fats Domino's house. His father was a butcher, his mother (a French Creole) had played saxophone in the Sweethearts of Rhythm. Her brother was Frank Penia, who owned the Dew Drop Inn, one of New Orleans' top R&B clubs in the 1940s and 50s.
During the Second World War Tony went to live with his aunt Nila in Los Angeles. Arthur Lee Maye and Eugene Church were among his high school classmates. "I recorded my first record when I was 14", claims Tony on his website http://www.electricearl.com/dws/tonyallen.html which serves as the major source for this biography. So that would have been in 1946 or 1947. However, in the discography on this same site, the release year of this record on the tiny Aries label ("Angel Child"/"Check Yourself") is given as 1952, which is probably correct. "Check Yourself" was reissued in 1955, first on Ultra 104, later repressed on Dig 104 (Johnny Otis's label) with label credit going to "Tony Allen and Barbara". Tony's second record became his biggest seller. Jesse Belvin, another high school acquaintance, introduced him to Bumps Blackwell at Specialty Records. "Nite Owl"/"I" was recorded on July 4, 1955, and released on Specialty 560 in October. The labels for that record got mixed up at the pressing plant. Deejays thought they were playing "I" (the intended A-side), but heard "Nite Owl" instead and liked it. Though it did not chart nationally, "Nite Owl" was a big West Coast hit, enough to assure his local immortality. Another mistake was the billing on the label, which read "Tony Allen with the Champs". This had nothing to do with the "Tequila" group, which didn't even exist yet at the time. It should have read "Tony Allen with the Chimes". The Chimes were a vocal group that sang backup for many Specialty acts and made several recordings of their own, including the great "Chop Chop", which was released as the B-side of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" in the Netherlands and Belgium (Ronnex 1158, I still have a copy). A second Specialty single, "Check Yourself Baby"/"Especially" (570) was less successful. Allen went on the road with a lot of Specialty's top acts, including Little Richard, Larry Williams and Lloyd Price. After Specialty, Allen recorded for too many labels to mention. See the discography at the bottom of the website mentioned above or Pete Hoppula's discography at http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/tonyallen.htm (which has a few inaccuracies, for instance Specialty 549 is not by the Chimes, but by the J.J. Jones Combo).
In 1957-58 Tony recorded some excellent rockers, with accompaniment by top session men like Rene Hall, Plas Johnson and Earl Palmer : "Holy Smoke Baby" and "Now You Tell Me" (the latter credited to the Cupids) on Aladdin, "Strange Talk" and "Rockin' Shoes" on Imperial and "Skinny Minnie" (not the Bill Haley tune) on Dot. For some reason unknown to me, most of these tracks were relegated to B-side status. Later releases on Jamie, Kent, Original Sound, Bethlehem etc. were not up to the same standard. Allen had an LP release in 1961 on the budget label Crown, titled "Rock 'n' Roll With Tony Allen". Tony can still be found performing at various oldie revival shows in Los Angeles.
CD : Tony Allen, Holy Smoke Baby (Titanic TR-CD 44221). 29 tracks. Though this has a 1993 copyright, it did not come out until 2004. No liner notes, unfortunately. "Nite Owl" is not included, but the five rocking tracks from 1957-58 are. A mixed bag. This might be the CD intended to come out on UK Ace in 2001 (but which never materialized), mentioned at the end of the discography.
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