Terry Allen’s career began back in 1966, when he was just twenty-three. Since then, his various careers have blossomed, and he’s now a successful country singer, conceptual artist, sculptor and painter. 

Given his many talents, nowadays, Terry Allen means different things to different people. Some people know Terry Allen as a highly respected artist, whose drawings, paintings and sculptures can be found in private collections and top art galleries worldwide. Others have seen Terry Allen’s installations, while some remember his theatrical performances. Many more however, remember Terry Allen for his music.

Over the last fifty years, Terry Allen has forged a successful career as a country singer, who has released eight albums. This includes his 1975 debut album Juarez, and the followup Lubbock (On Everything), which was released in 1978. These albums are now regarded as cult classics, and recently, were reissued by the Paradise Of Bachelors label. However, music is only part of the Terry Allen story.

It’s a story that began in Wichita, Kansas on May 7th 1943. That was when Terry Allen was born. He grew up in Lubbock, Texas, which would later establish a reputation as a musical town.

Lubbock would produce Buddy Holly and The Crickets, bluesman Delbert McClinton, country singer and songwriter Mac Davis, The Flatlanders, songwriter, musician and producer Lloyd Maines and his daughter Natalie Maines of the Dickie Chicks. Another of Lubbock’s musical alumni was Jo Harvey, Terry Allen’s future wife. She would play an important part in his later career.

So would Terry Allen’s parents. Especially, his mother. She was a barrelhouse piano player, and occasionally, took her young son along when she played. Terry’s father was a professional baseball player, but in his spare time promoted wrestling bouts to concerts. These concerts took place on Friday and Saturday at nights at a gospel church, with Terry lending a hand.

The Friday night concerts featured blues players, including BB King, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. These concerts were attended by mostly a black audiences. Then on Saturday, country musicians swung by Luddock and played at Terry’s father’s concerts. This included the legendary Hank Williams and Ernest Tubbs. As the music played, Terry Allen sold patrons bottles of Coke and slices of lemon. This they combined with whatever they had smuggled past the doormen. However, for Terry seeing the various characters and hearing the music would influence his later musical career.

Having graduated Monterey High School, Terry Allen decided to escape the clutches of Lubbock. He felt constrained in the small town, and headed to Los Angeles. Terry had been accepted at the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in L.A. That was where Terry trained as an architect, and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1966. However, Terry didn’t take architecture any further.

Instead, Terry Allen’s art and music career began in 1966. Terry had drawn the first Juarez drawing. It would later evolve and provide inspiration for The Juarez Device, a “surrealistic hog killing machine” that features on the Juarez album in 1975.  A year later, Terry’s music career began.

Within a year, Terry released his first single Gonna California. It was released in 1967. However, disaster struck for Terry when he signed a seven year recording and publishing deal with Clean Records. Terry was locked into a punitive deal, and as a result put his recording career on hold. By then, Terry had returned home.

Two years after gradating from Chouinard Art Institute in L.A, Terry returned to Lubbock. Between 1968 and 1969, he returned to his alma mater Monterey High School and taught a new generation of students. During this period, Terry first tried to combine music and images at the Michael Walls Gallery, in San Francisco.

This is where Terry Allen setup framed pictures and reel-to-reel tapes of music. Terry pushed a piano round the gallery, stopping at various picture and playing pieces of music while interacting with the patrons. One of the pieces of music was Cowboys and The Stranger, which nowadays, is regarded as a forerunner of the music on Terry’s 1975 debut album Juarez. That was the future.

Before that, Terry Allen left the employ of Monterey High School in 1969. Then in 1970, he exhibited his trilogy of mixed media drawings, Dogwood, Border Vows and Cortez Sail. It made inspired the song Cortez Sail, which became the centrepiece of Juarez. That was still four years away,

By 1971, Terry Allen was married to Jo Harvey and the pair had two young children. Terry was still a struggling artist. This meant life was tough for the couple. Fortunately, Terry got a job teaching at the University of California, Berkeley for five months. He also became a guest lecturer at the California State University, Fresno, where he served on the faculty. This lasted until 1973. During this period, Terry drew, wrote songs and taught children art in the Latino neighbourhood where the Allen family lived. It was around this time, that the Juarez paintings were stolen. Incredibly, the burglars broke back in to replace them, as if terrified by the images and scared they would bring bad luck upon them. Meanwhile, Terry was about to go up in the world.

In 1974, Terry Allen became an associate professor at  California State University, Fresno. This was a position he held until 1977. A year later, in 1978, Terry Allen became Professor Terry Allen and held this position until 1979. By then, he had decided to pursue other opportunities. This included his music career, which began in 1975 when Terry Allen released Juarez.


The seven year recording and publishing deal Terry Allen had signed with Clean Records was about to expire in 1974. During the past few years, Terry had continued to write. These songs had been partly, been inspired by his art. Terry Allen was also a people watcher, who had studied people from an early age. He then told their stories in his songs. Some of these songs Terry recorded. He worked on his own, and didn’t collaborate with other musicians. This was how Terry seemed to prefer to work. That was all about to change.

One day in 1974, Terry Allen received a phone call from an old friend, Jamie Howell. He was the manager of Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. The two bands owned a label Grunt Records, and Jamie Howell was the label A&R man at Grunt Records. He had a proposition for Terry.

Jamie Howell wanted to record an album with Terry Allen. There was only one problem, there wasn’t much in the way of a budget. However, there was enough to book Studio A at Wally Helder’s Studio in San Francisco. This legendary studio was where the great and good went to record an album. Mostly, albums were recorded late in the day. Studios were quiet  between 9am until noon each day. Wally Helder’s Studio was no different, and Jamie Howell proposed recording the album in the morning, when the studio was quiet. All Terry had to do was make his way to San Francisco.

Terry Allen packed, and drove from his home in Fresno to San Francisco. That was where he met Jamie Howell. Soon, though, Jimmy’s plans started to unravel. 

Just like most musicians, Terry wasn’t a morning person. He would’ve preferred to record during the night. That wasn’t an option, given the small budget to record. It was so small, there wasn’t enough in the budget to rehearse a band. Juarez was recorded on a shoestring budget, with just a few local musicians joining Terry at Wally Helder’s Studio.

This included Black Kangaroo guitarist Peter Kaukonen. He also played mandolin and added backing vocals on La Despedida (The Parting). Peter was an experienced musician who had already worked with Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Link Wray and Johnny Winter. Greg Douglass was another experienced guitarist, who previously, had worked with Hot Tuna, Van Morrison and The Steve Miller Band. Adding vocals on La Despedida (The Parting) was Dianne Harris. Producing Juarez was Jamie Howell. In preparation for the recording sessions, Terry Allen found an unusual but effective way to prepare for the early morning sessions.

Terry Allen took to staying up all night. Day became night for Terry as he headed into the studio with his tight and talented band. They would eventually record fifteen tracks. These tracks were a mixture of songs and dialogue, including The Characters (A Simple Story) and The Run South. The arrangements were spartan and minimalist, with just a piano or guitars accompanying Terry, as he became a storyteller.

The Juarez Device (aka Texican Badman) opens Juarez, and epitomises the album’s understated, alt-country arrangements. It also showcases the first of a series of compelling characters, the Texican Badman. He’s introduced by Terry, before this gives way to the first piece of dialogue, The Characters (A Simple Story).

What follows, is an album of alt-country, where Terry Allens tells of “The Characters” motivations and desires. Unlike many albums, the characters are believable and three dimensional. Some of the characters are hard bitten, with a life is cheap attitude. Other characters have a seen it all, worldweary outlook. Some are cynical, like on Border Palace, while other characters are dysfunctional. A couple even become murderous, on another piece of dialogue, The Run South. Terry uses his Texan drawl to narrate the story of a drinking spree that ends up in murder, and a chase through the South Californian desert. Just like so many of the songs on Juarez, there’s a grittiness to the song. 

Many of them look at the dark underbelly of life on the wrong side of town. This is the case on Jabo/Street Walkin Woman. Then on La Despedida (The Parting), a mixture of dialogue and music, Terry Allen takes his leave on what was his much anticipated debut album.

When Juarez was released on Grunt Records in 1975, sadly, the album passed most people by. It even passed most critics by. The few critics who reviewed the album, were won over by this tale of life on the wrong side of the tracks in small town America. It was one of the earliest alt-country albums, and would inspire and influence other artists. However, commercial success and widespread critical acclaim would elude Juarez…until much later. By then, Terry Allen had released several albums, including his sophomore album Lubbock (On Everything).


Lubbock (On Everything).

Three years after the release of Juarez, Terry Allen returned to the studio to record his sophomore album. By then, Terry was still living in California, and was now a professor at California State University, Fresno. Terry’s art career was blossoming, and his reputation was growing. He had also been writing a new album of songs.

They were based around the Texan town where Terry and his wife Jo Harvey grew up. All these years of observing and people watching had given Terry a wealth of material for his sophomore album. He had written twenty-one songs about the people of Lubbock. They would become Lubbock (On Everything), an insightful album into human nature in small town America. They were recorded this time around, by a full band.

This time, Terry Allen returned home to where it all began for him, Lubbock. He booked Caldwell Studios to record  Lubbock (On Everything). Terry who played piano became the leader of what he called The Panhandle Mystery Band. It was a large band, with strings and horns. This was the polar opposite to the lo-fi approach to Juarez.

At Caldwell Studios, Terry Allen was joined by The Panhandle Mystery Band. Their rhythm section featured drummer Curtis McBride and bassist Kenny Maines. Meanwhile Luis Martinez added jazz guitar and Jesse Taylor flatland guitar. They were joined by accordionist Ponty Bone, fiddler Richard Bowden, Joe Ely on harmonica and percussionist Alan Shin who also played marimba. Don Caldwell arranged the string section, which featured Leslie Blackburn on viola, cellist Karen Blalack and violinists Ruth Ann Truncale and Susan Allen. The horn section included trumpeter Tommie Anderson, trombonist Mark Anthony, saxophonist Don Caldwell and Russ Standefer on tuba. Some of Terry’s musical friends added harmonies and the Monterey High School Marching Band even made a guest appearance. Producing Lubbock (On Everything), was Terry Allen. This was the first album he would produce. 

Terry Allen had thrown himself into the deep end on Lubbock (On Everything). Now it was a case of sink or swim. Terry embraced the role of producer, and soon, the twenty-one songs were recorded. These songs had a strong narrative and would introduce the listener to another cast of captivating characters.

Some of them are flawed, fragile or vulnerable. Some are lonely, others in love or lovestruck or struggling with their identity. Others are browbeaten by life, and are worldweary and even desperate. Especially the one time high school football star, who having fallen on hard times, robs an off license on The Great Joe Bob (A Regional Tragedy). Then there’s Lubbock Woman whose: “forty and lonely” and still hasn’t found love and happiness. This is the only relationship or love song on Lubbock (On Everything), 

There’s several more. They examine relationships and love, in the romantic and erotic meaning of the words. This Terry Allen does on The Wolfman Of Del Rio, The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma, Cocktails For Three, The Beautiful Waitress and Blue Asian Reds (For Roadrunner). Many of these songs are cinematic, as Terry paints pictures of love in small town America. Other times, Terry gives love songs a new twist with lyrics that are metaphorical. Essentially, Terry is looking for a new way to tell what is one of the oldest stories known to man, a love story. This he certainly succeeds in doing. 

Some of the songs on Lubbock (On Everything) have a poignancy. Other times, the lyrics are insightful and sometimes, personal, including The Thirty Years Waltz (For Jo Harvey). There’s also  a affection, compassion and even empathy in some of the songs on Lubbock (On Everything). That’s even the case when the characters are downtrodden and foolhardy, and even appear to be pitiful and even absurd. Terry has mercy on them, unlike on Juarez, where his lyrics would’ve been much more acerbic. This shows another side of Terry Allen. So do several other songs on Lubbock (On Everything), 

Among them, is The Great Joe Bob (A Regional Tragedy), where  the one time high school football star has fallen on hard times, and robs an off license. There’s a sadness and even a degree of poignancy in the song. Sometimes, satire is the order of the day. Especially, when it comes to the songs about the art world, including Truckload Of Art, The Collector (And The Art Mob). These songs find Terry Allen laughing at a world he himself was part of. This new world looked like providing a wealth of material for his musical career as it began to unfold.

Alas, when Lubbock (On Everything) was released as a double album on Fate Records in 1978, it was a familiar story for Terry Allen. The album failed to make any impression on the charts. Again, a few critics went into bat for Lubbock (On Everything). They regarded it as be a carefully crafted and accomplished album of insightful, cinematic and cerebral songs. These songs introduced the listener to three dimensional characters. However, the only problem was that when Lubbock (On Everything), this album of alt-country was released at the height of the disco boom. Country music and alt-country wasn’t what record buyers were looking for.


Still, though, a small and discerning coterie of record buyers discovered Lubbock (On Everything), and flew the flag for Terry Allen’s first two albums. They realised that Terry Allen was a talented singer, songwriter and storyteller. His speciality seemed to be telling the story of life in small town America.

In Juarez, this included people living on the wrong side of the tracks in small town America. Lubbock (On Everything) was a much more hopeful album, where songs about relationships and love sat side-by-side with personal and poignant songs, and songs where tragedy touches the people of Lubbock. The people of Lubbock Terry Allen paints using the equivalent of every colour in artist’s paintbox. They range from the hapless, happy and hopeful, to those who are lonely and those in love. Some come across lost causes, others seem pitiful. However, this isn’t just a snapshot of Lubbock. Instead, it’s a snapshot every town, in every country. Providing this insightful snapshot is Terry Allen, whose music is cerebral, cinematic, beautiful, hopeful, poignant and sometimes tinged, with sadness and satire. Gradually, people began to discover Lubbock (On Everything).

Belatedly, Lubbock (On Everything), and its predecessor Juarez began to find a wider audience. This has been helped by the Paradise Of Bachelors label’s reissue of Terry Allen’s first two albums, Juarez, and  Lubbock (On Everything). These two albums are introduction to one of the most underrated musicians of the past fifty years. However, music is just part of Terry Allen’s life.

He’s a highly respected artist, whose drawings, paintings and sculptures can be found in private collections and top art galleries. Nowadays though, more and more people remember Terry Allen for his music, including his 1975 debut Juarez, and  his 1978 sophomore album Lubbock (On Everything). These two albums are the perfect introduction to the multitalented Terry Allen, singer, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire.




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