• Added info on Jimmy Ford, thanks to Volker Houghton. • Extended and corrected the post on Happy Harold Thaxton (long overdue), thanks to everyone who sent in memories and information! • Added information to the Jim Murray post, provided by Mike Doyle, Dennis Rogers, and Marty Scarbrough. • Expanded the information on Charlie Dial found in the Little Shoe post.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals

Country Boogie from Memphis
Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals

Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals was another Memphis based country music act that enjoyed popularity from the very late 1940s until the mid 1950s, before rock'n'roll came along and took country music's young listeners. Although not nearly as durable or famous as Buck Turner's Buckaroos or the Snearly Ranch Boys, Allen and his group played the area for a couple of years and had some influence on early rock'n'roll with recording their original "Tennessee Jive", which was picked up by Bill Haley and turned into Haley's "Real Rock Drive".

Birth of the Jive
Not much is known about the band leader, who actually performed as Tiny Allen in Memphis. Allen founded the Tennessee Pals when the decade of the 1940s faded with Allen being the steel guitarist of the band, other members remain into obscurity to this day. Pretty soon after the band came into existence, Allen contacted Jim Bulleit of Bullet Records in Nashville (there were no record labels in Memphis at that time). He received a positive answer concerning the sound of his band but their vocalist was dismissed by the label. Allen, who originally hailed from Chattanooga, Tennessee, called an old friend of his, Houston E. "Buck" Turner (no connection to Memphis' own Buck Turner), who was a talented singer. Turner came over to Memphis and joined the band as a singer.

It is likely that Allen and the Tennessee Pals recorded their sessions in Memphis, though an assured recording place cannot be given. Adam Komorowski mentions in his liner notes to the box set "From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly" (Proper Records) the Peabody Hotel in Memphis as the most probable place, though Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service was in business by January 1950.

When Jive developed into Real Rock Drive

However, the first disc appeared around April 1950 with two of the band's original compositions, "Tennessee Jive" written by Buck Turner and "Rockin' Chair Boogie" written by Ed Crowe (either a member of the group or one of Turner's writing partners) on Bullet #702. The release was credited to "Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals" instead of Tiny Allen, caused by a communication mistake between label and pressing plant due to the label executives' southern drawl. However, the name stuck and henceworth, the band was called "Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals".

Billboard May 6, 1950, Country & Western review

Billboard September 30, 1950, Country & Western review

The disc must have sold decently, as two cover versions turned up, although they appeared years after the original version. Bill Haley, Pennsylvania based and once western swing singer and yodeling cowboy at the same time, heard "Tennessee Jive" and reworked it with his band as "Real Rock Drive". Haley had found a new sound on Dave Miller's Holiday and Essex labels with R&B fueled, supercharged western swing, and the first exponent of this new music that developed into rock'n'roll was Haley's cover version of "Rocket 88" from 1951. In that same style, he recorded "Real Rock Drive" in late 1952 in Chester, Pennsylvania (or New York City according to other sources). Miller released his version in November 1952 on Essex #310 and wisely, they put no composer credits on the label as the song was lyrically and melody-wise identical to its original version. However, when the Haley single hit the market, Bullet instantly recognized it was actually a song from their own catalog (published by their Volunteer firm) and sued Essex (despite Buck Turner's advice to wait and see if Haley's version show signs of success). Essex removed "Real Rock Drive" from the market and instead released "Crazy Man, Crazy".

Billboard January 24, 1953, Pop review

Johnny Horton's cover of "Tennessee Jive" must have been prompted by Haley's reworking, as Horton recorded the song shortly after the release of the Haley single, namely on January 26, 1953, at Jim Beck's studio in Dallas, Texas. Though, Horton gave credit to the song's original writers and the song was issued under its original title. Mercury, Horton's label at that time before he found success at Columbia, released "Tennessee Jive" in March 1953, coupled with "The Mansion You Stole", on Mercury #70100.

After the Jive
By the time Haley had reworked "Tennessee Jive" into "Real Rock Drive", Allen and the Tennessee Pals had already their last record released. A total of six discs had been released over an approximate stretch of two years from 1950 until late 1951. Musically, the band kept their uptempo country boogie, sometimes even pre-rockabilly, style on nearly all of their released sides. The band's music was part of a development that occurred across the whole land in country music, covering R&B hits, mixing boogie and rhythm & blues with country music - a sound later evolved into rockabilly and rock'n'roll. And Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals were located at what became the center of this movement: Memphis. However, they were a couple of years too early to really take part in this musical revolution and disbanded likely even before Memphis became the epicenter of popular music.

Billboard January 19, 1952, Country & Western review

Concerning the Tennessee Pals popularity, it is hard to tell how popular they really were. Bullet managed to constantly send promo discs to Billboard and the band's singles found entry into the magazine's review section. The two cover versions of "Tennessee Jive" also suggests that at least their debut release was a good seller. In addition, Michael Stewart Foley mentions in his book "Citizen Cash - The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash" that the Tennessee Pals' "Back in the Army Again" from 1951 was "in regular rotation on country station". Cash, who lived not in Memphis until 1954, must have heard this song elsewhere at the time of its release, as he had joined the US Air Force a year before.

A couple of their songs saw re-release on different compilation, including "Tennessee Jive", "Back in the Army Again" (Rockin' Hillbilly, Volume 1, Cactus Records), and "When Hillbilly Willie Met Kitty from the City" (From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly, Proper Records). Thanks to the French Doghouse & Bone reissue label, the band's complete recordings were reissued on long-play vinyl in 2021.

About the band itself, not much is known. After their sixth and last single, released in late 1951 or early 1952, Bullet dropped Allen and his band from its roster. The label offered vocalist Buck Turner to continue recording solo for the label, which he declined. Though, Allen encouraged him to further a solo career in music, which he did and eventually sang and recorded with different bands, including the Dixieland Drifters and his own Town & Country Boys.

Eventually, Allen returned to Chattanooga, where he opened two music stores. There is a mention in the Catalog of Copyight Entries for unpublished music in 1956, documenting the copyright of a song entitled "Pauline, Pauline, Pauline", which Allen had co-written with Carole Smith.

Catalog of Copyright Entries 1956

Tani Allen is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Chattanooga. If you have more detailed information on Allen and his band, feel free to contact me.

Tani Allen entry on 45worlds
Bill Haley entry on 45worlds
Johnny Horton entry on 45worlds
BMI archive
• Michael Stewart Foley: "Citizen Cash - The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash" (Basic Books), 2021
• Bill Haley, Jr./Peter Benjaminson: "Crazy Man, Crazy - The Bill Haley Story" (Backbeat), 2019, p. 54
• Colin Escott: "Bill Rocks" (liner notes), 2006, Bear Family Records
• Adam Komorowski: "From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly" (liner notes), 2005, Proper Records

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