A Singer’s Singer:David Allyn

Weekly on Thursdays at 7:00 PM left and right beginning June 3, 2021. And on-demand right here.

A Message From Les Block

A longtime admirer of David Allyn’s, I came to know him personally as his manager during the three years he lived in Minnesota to be near his son, seeking refuge from his failing career. I found him working in a hardware store. I wanted to help this brilliantly talented singer restart his singing career and to have another chance at gaining the limelight and public admiration that had eluded him his entire professional life.

A singer’s singer and a musician’s singer, who was greatly revered by the best singers and musicians of popular music and jazz of the era, Allyn was well-aware of the respect and admiration of his music peers. In conversations I had about David with such greats as Steve Allen, Henry Mancini and Stan Getz, each declared that David was his favorite singer. David was nevertheless frustrated and gravely disappointed that his career never matched theirs. It is true that while Allyn’s friends Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Vic Damone were household names, David struggled until the end.

David saw the problem mainly as his never having a hit record. “If only I had had hit records like Tony (Bennett) or even one like Herb Jeffries, “Flamingo”, I would have been working all these years. I almost had a hit with “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”, but it never happened”. To a large extent he was right, though no doubt other factors contributed as well.

After David became quite ill in his 90’s and knew he didn’t have long to live, he expressed to me that although he appreciated the high regard his peers had for him, he lamented that it had not been enough to get him to the top. He told me: “I’m going to be forgotten. I just don’t want to be forgotten. Promise me that you will not let them forget me.” I promised I would try – a promise which led to this project.

After David’s death I spoke with several of his friends who suggested that a radio show tribute to David should be produced. It would feature interviews with his peers and would play his recordings, using a format similar to our Johnny Mercer Centennial Tribute of 2009. The show was produced, and we are very pleased to learn that the David Allyn Tribute has been accepted into the archives of the Library of Congress as of 2021.

–Les Block (May 2021)

Produced by:

Les Block and David Cummings

Audio editing and mastering:

Rod Nicas

The following is a short biography of David Allyn by Mark Chilla:

David Allyn is what you might call a “singer’s singer”—in fact, that’s what songwriter Alec Wilder referred to him as in an interview they had together in 1976. He was admired by many in the business. Frank Sinatra was a friend and supporter. Sammy Davis Jr. wrote liner notes to one of his later albums. But for one reason or the other, Allyn never quite caught on with the public—sometimes it was his own fault, other times it was for reasons outside of his own control.

He was born in 1919 and learned music from an early age. Like many vocalists from that time period, he was a Bing Crosby acolyte, and you can hear echoes of Crosby’s warm baritone in Allyn’s voice.

His first big gig came around 1940 when he sang for a year with trombonist Jack Teagarden and his orchestra, including a recording of the Alec Wilder song, “Soft as Spring.”

But that partnership didn’t last long. Allyn briefly served in the army during World War II, and then bounced around in the bands of Van Alexander and Henry Jerome. He eventually ended up with bandleader Boyd Raeburn. Raeburn had created one of the most progressive jazz bands in the country, rivaling Stan Kenton for use of weird dissonances, blaring horns, and out-there arrangements by in-house arranger George Handy.

David Allyn’s steady vocals provided grounding for the band, and helped make him one of the most exciting singers of 1945 and 1946. Their signature song was the hip, bebop-inspired number written by arranger George Handy called “Where You At,” featuring Raeburn’s wife Ginnie Powell on vocals. But they also found success with more sentimental ballads like “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

Allyn’s careful attention to words and phrasing, and Raeburn’s progressive jazz sound made them a draw especially to the hip, intellectual crowd. But Allyn’s time with the hip jazz crowd also brought him into contact with drugs. After the band dissolved in 1946, Allyn spent as much time looking for his next fix as he did looking for his next gig.

His work in the late 1940s and early 1950s was sporadic and marred by a haze of opiates. There are a few bright spots in this time, chief among them a 1949 session with bandleader Johnny Richards, featuring songs like Rodgers and Hart’s balled “Wait Till You See Her.” This session added French horns, woodwinds, and strings to Allyn’s already lush sound, and the recordings sold rather well.

The success of this recording session with Johnny Richards was perhaps the only bright spot in the 1950s for David Allyn. His reputation for drug use made him unable to perform at cabarets in New York City. Without a steady gig, he fell deeper into opiates, and in 1955, he got busted for trying to forge drug prescriptions. Allyn was sent to prison in upstate New York for two years.

Years later in an interview with JazzWax’s Marc Myers, he said that during this period, as he was in rehabilitation, he used to lie on his cot with his arms crossed, imagining he was going on stage and singing. Late in 1957, he was paroled to California, and immediately tried to get back to work. Music became part of his recovery. He stayed in touch with producer Dick Bock and arranger Johnny Mandel, who he worked with back in the 1940s. They agreed to help him work on an album of all Jerome Kern songs.

The album, later called Sure Thing, was recorded in 1957 and became a triumph. Sammy Davis Jr. called it “an almost perfect wedding of musical ability and good taste.” Standout tracks include the title track, the ballad “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” and a soaring performance of “The Folks Who Live On The Hill,” which became Allyn’s signature tune.

David Allyn recorded a few albums in the late 1950s and 1960s, specializing in the warm, sensitive ballad. These include Yours Sincerely [originally titled Let’s Face the Music and Dance] from 1958 with Bill Holman and his Orchestra, I Only Have Eyes For You from 1959, and In The Blue of Evening featuring arrangements again by Johnny Mandel. He even recorded original songs, like “And Now Goodbye,” in 1966, a song he wrote with songwriter Steve Allen. Many of these albums were mostly ignored upon release, but years later, in the 1970s, they found new life when they were reissued by Discovery Records for an audience of songbook aficionados.

Allyn’s career stretched on and off for the next several decades. He worked in clubs, recorded a few more albums in the 1970s and 80s, and spent time working with recovering drug addicts. He passed away at age 93 in 2012. 

–Mark Chilla (January 2020)

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