Rex Allen: 1920 to 1999
You can’t deny that the Singing Cowboy is a dying breed, but this is getting ridiculous. Within the eight months between July 1998 and March 1999, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Eddie Dean all passed away, leaving Rex Allen as the sole survivor of an era and genre in the golden age of American entertainment.
Not to worry, we thought, as Soundies (my label) and Bloodshot Revival set about issuing some of Allen’s old radio transcriptions last year as The Last Of The Great Singing Cowboys. Rex was happy and healthy in the warm retirement of his home state of Arizona, getting ready to outlive us all. But Singing Cowboys were not made for a new millennium: On December 17, 1999, Allen, 80, died from injuries suffered in a freak car accident a few days earlier. Unlike his cohorts, Allen didn’t get the dignity of slowly riding off into a final sunset. Of all things, Rex was run over by a caretaker backing Allen’s own car out of his own driveway.
At least Allen had his full faculties until the end. I had the pleasure of several phone conversations with Rex in the course of assembling our package, and on each occasion he was full of the vim, vigor, and sly sarcasm that made him a great singer, storyteller, narrator and emcee.
The M.M. Cole Transcriptions we reissued were cut in Chicago in the mid-’40s, when Allen stepped into the starring role on WLS’ National Barndance, then the dominant country radio show in the country. Allen remembered everything about the city that made him a star. When we spoke I could see him leaning back, closing his eyes, thinking of the salad days of his early career. He took me on verbal tours of the Chicago Loop just after the war, remembering individual names, addresses and specific details of his performances and recording sessions. “Chicago was beautiful to me,” he said. “I could do no wrong.”
It was an honor to do business with Allen. He made a fine elder statesman of the Singing Cowboy clan. Indeed, above all else, that is the legacy of the Singing Cowboys: Roy and Gene maintained their lily-white reputations until the end, and Eddie Dean was known first and foremost as a gentleman’s gentleman. Rex, too, displayed all the dignity and integrity we came to expect of these larger-than-life heroes.
And we expect happy endings, too, but this time it’s up to us. Tip your hat to the ghost riders in the sky, and keep the songs alive.