Songwriter, record label executive
While Joe Allison’s name might be less familiar than Nashville singers like Faron Young, Tex Ritter, and Jim Reeves, he helped write songs that became hits for each of these performers. During the 1950s and 1960s, Allison wrote a string of songs that climbed the country music charts, including “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” and “He’ll Have to Go.” “Joe Allison contributed immeasurably to country music’s birth as an urban phenomenon,” wrote John Bush in All Music Guide. As a radio announcer, songwriter, and record label executive, he became a primary force behind the scenes, promoting future talents like Willie Nelson. “Allison was at the heart of Nashville’s country music scene from his arrival in the town in 1949,” noted the Times, “until his retirement from the music business in the late 1970s.”
Born in 1924 in McKinney, Texas, Allison attended grade school at East Van Vandt in Fort Worth and junior high in McKinney. After high school in 1939, he attended Murry Junior College in Oklahoma. He started his first radio job at KPLT in Paris, Texas, in 1943 and moved to KMAC in San Antonio the following year. After serving in the Air Force at the end of World War II, he became an emcee for Tex Ritter’s show at the Texas Theater in 1945. Later he traveled with Ritter’s band on a tour of the United States and Canada. In 1946 Ritter recorded Allison’s first song, “When You Leave, Don’t Slam the Door,” which climbed to the country top five.
When Allison moved to Nashville in 1949 he began to attract notice as an up-and-coming talent. “He soon had his own daily show on WSM and WSIX,” noted the Los Angeles Times, “where he hosted stars including the Everly Brothers, Anita Kerr, Chet Atkins and Brenda Lee.” He moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and replaced Tennessee Ernie Ford on KXLA. He soon expanded to television, hosting Town Hall Party for KTTV and Country America for the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Hollywood. Allison’s songwriting also began to receive broader recognition around this time. With the help of his first wife, Audrey, he wrote “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young,” which Faron Young recorded in 1955. In 1957 both Tommy Sands’s version of “Teenage Crush” and Jeanne Black’s version of “He’ll Have to Stay” sold over a million copies.
The inspiration for Allison’s most successful song came in 1959 while talking to his wife on the phone. She had been unable to hear him clearly, and wrote on note pad: “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.” When Allison found these words, he wrote the remainder of “He’ll Have to Go” around them. Chet Atkins believed the song would be perfect for Jim Reeves, and while the smooth crooner was initially reluctant, he recorded the song. “He’ll Have to Go” spent 14 weeks on the country charts, reached number two on the pop charts, and received Broadcast Music Incorporated’s (BMI) country and pop awards for 1960. “He’ll Have to Go” was followed by a number of answer songs, including “He’d Better Go” and “She’ll Have to Go,” and was recorded by artists as diverse as Nat “King” Cole and Ry Cooder.
In 1960 Allison started a country music division at Liberty Records, where he signed Willie Nelson to his first contract and produced his album, And Then I Wrote in 1962. He was also instrumental in reviving Western swing legend Bob Wills’s career with a series of albums, and in 1963 produced “The Tips of My Fingers” for Roy Clark. A tireless supporter of country music, Allison helped found the Country Music Disc Jockey Association (a forerunner to the Country Music Association), and convinced the city of Nashville to donate land for the Country Music Hall of Fame. In recognition of these efforts, he was presented with CMA’s Founding Presidents Award in 1964. “His sales presentations for the CMA,” noted Oermann, “helped convince advertisers and broadcasters to support country as a musical style.”
Allison worked as the general manager of Central Sounds, a music publishing company, where he mentored songwriters like Tommy Collins, Howard Harlan, and Bobbie Bare. He remained involved in radio, designing a program for the Armed Forces Network during the 1960s, and continued to write songs, including Roy Clark’s 1969 hit, “Love Is Just a State of Mind.”
In 1965 Allison moved back to Nashville where he oversaw the country music division of Dot Records and worked on projects with Clark and Hank Thompson. Between 1967 and 1974, he worked for Capitol and
Born Joe Marion Allison on October 3, 1924, in McKinney, TX; died on August 2, 2002. Education. Attended Murry Junior College, Oklahoma.
Worked at radio station KPLT in Paris, TX, 1943, and KMAC in San Antonio, 1944; emceed Tex Ritter’s show at the Texas Theater, 1945; wrote “When You Leave, Don’t Slam the Door,” which Ritter recorded, 1946; broadcast on WSM and WMAK in Nashville, late 1940s-early 1950s; relocated to Los Angeles, 1952; wrote “Teenage Crush,” recorded by Tommy Sands, 1957, and “He’ll Have to Stay,” recorded by Jeanne Black, 1957; hosted Country America, 1957-60; oversaw Liberty Records country division, 1960-65; worked for Dot Records, 1965-67; employed by Capitol and Paramount, 1967-74; worked as independent producer, 1970s, and as an art and antique dealer until 1988.
Awards: Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), Country Awards for “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young,” 1955; “It’s a Great Life,” 1956; “Teenage Crush,” 1957; “He’ll Have to Stay,” I960; BMI Country/Pop Award, “He’ll Have to Stay,” 1960; Country/Pop Award, (CMA), Founding Presidents Award, 1964; Jim Reeves Memorial Award, 1970; induction, Disc Jockey Hall of Fame, 1976; induction, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1976;induction, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1978.
Paramount Records before concentrating exclusively on independent production through the remainder of the 1970s. During these years he worked with Tommy Overstreet, Joe Stampley, and cowboy singer Red Stegall. He oversaw a tribute album to Tex Ritter, the singer who had recorded his first song, and scored a posthumous hit for Jim Reeves with “Fight the World” in 1974. In 1976 he was inducted into the Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame and in 1978 became a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Allison retired from the music industry during the 1980s, though he continued to serve on a number of industry boards and committees. “His contributions to the music world were many,” wrote Robert Oermann in the Tennessean. “In addition to writing hits, Joe Allison was a recording executive, radio personality, song publisher and record producer.” After retiring, he sold antiques and paintings until he had a heart attack in 1988.
Although not a prolific songwriter, more than 100 artists have recorded his work, and he received gold records for “Teenage Crush,” “He’ll Have to Go,” and “He’ll Have to Stay.” On August 2, 2002, Allison died after a long battle with lung disease. “As a songwriter,” wrote Billy Kennedy in the Belfast, Northern Ireland News Letter, “Joe Allison enjoyed legendary status … and at his funeral service near Music Row in Nashville, an all-star cast gathered to hear noted studio guitarist Harold Bradley play a tribute and Connie Smith sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’”
Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2002, p. B-18.
News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), September 20, 2002, p. 30.
Tennessean, August 3, 2002, p. B8.
Times (London, England), August 6, 2002, p. 27.
“Joe Allison,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (January 14, 2003).
“Joe Allison,” Nashville Songwriters Foundation, http://www.nashvillesongwritersfoundation.com/ (January 14, 2003).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Allison, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/allison-joe
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