Talking to Texas legend Terry Allen is like catching up with an old friend. His warm Lubbock drawl and sprinkles of “you know” between thoughts are instantly comforting. Terry Allen is best known for his iconic ‘70s hit albums Juarez and Lubbock (on Everything), both of which are considered of the greatest albums of all time and bread and butter for any Texas music aficionado.
Along with his 12 solo albums, he has created art in all types of media; drawing, sculptures, painting, theatrical performances, and installations. The Texas Renaissance man will be visiting Houston March 30 for a meet and greet at Cactus Music and a special performance at the Heights Theater that evening. Allen will be joined on stage by his son Bukka on accordion, Davis McLarty on drums and fellow Lubbock legend, Lloyd Maines on guitar.
He and his wife, fellow artist Jo Harvey, left Lubbock as two young kids fueled by a burning desire to create. They were looking for more in life than their flat landed, narrow minded immediate surroundings seemed to offer and decided to move to California. Both join the long list of unique artists born from the city which mysteriously molds strong creative types out of its vast nothingness.
In an ironic twist of fate this year Texas Tech, in their hometown of Lubbock, inaugurated the Terry and Jo Harvey Allen Collection. Allen describes the idea behind the center, “The focus I think is gonna be on how things happen, how they get made. From the inception of an idea to the whole process of making something. How something can start from a simple idea that maybe you scrawl down on something or sketch on something and how it can develop over a period of time to become a full blown work. I think that can be possibly really helpful to people.”
The couple was initially in disbelief at the university's interest in their lives and works, “The most dumbfounding thing of all to us that they really want it.” he laughs. “Also the Lubbock we left is not the same. There’s still some real conservative elements in it, just like there are everywhere, but the people that we’ve encountered have been real progressive.”
After an eight year process, it officially opened this past February and the Allens couldn’t be happier. “It really is about 60 years of notebooks and writings scripts and stories and basically our lives together. Of course Jo Harvey and I have been together so long and then we came from the same place, so it's kinda a funny full circle all of this stuff going back there and we both left pretty much as quick as we could.” Allen continues, “It’s something we’ve been really happy about and excited about cause they are calling it a ‘living archive’ because we are still alive. We’re not dead.”
Allen will also be releasing a special box set this month titled Pedal Steal + Four Corners, out March 22 on Paradise of Bachelors record label. The box set features five pieces of never before released narrative work on vinyl and CD along with a 28 page booklet featuring photographs of related artwork and essays about the plays. The works include narrating by the artist himself, his wife and musical accompaniment from Lloyd Maines, Bobby Keys and Butch Hancock to name a few. The record label has done a fabulous job of presenting this body of work as a complete work of art.
Pedal Steal was a soundtrack Allen composed for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. He was asked to design the sets and costumes as well as the music. Allen describes the piece as a combination of Billy the Kid and a steel guitar player he had heard a lot about who had overdosed in the late ‘70s. “There was something about that transient mentality and going from one place to the other, right on the edge of disaster at all times, whether it was a band or an outlaw. So I just wrote a story about this character and it's told in various voices talking about this person like you were talking about a movie for people to have all different kinds of ideas about this person and memories about this person and its embedded with music that I wrote and songs that I wrote.”
The four additional pieces are narrative radio stories that Allen did in decades past for New American Radio, an affiliate of NPR; Torso Hell, Bleeder, Reunion (a return to Juarez) and Dugout. Complete and vibrant, all of these stories draw the listener in so deep they have to fight the urge to duck from a stray bullet or take a shower after a dirty motel room romp.
The box set combines Allen’s written work with his life long love of the radio and appreciation for visual arts. “They've done this incredible beautiful packaging on each of the works. They've really made an effort to show the visual aspects of what I do along with the music and the stories which I’ve been really happy with because they have done something the art world in a sense has never been able to do you know.” Allen continues, “I’ve always thought of making music and making art of any kind as the same thing, I never thought it was a separate act.”
When asked where he thinks the future of radio and these kinds of narrated stories will be Allen answers, “I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to affect the idea of story telling. I know people are still really hungry for stories and I think it’s just a natural human necessity to hear stories about themselves, the world they
live in and their fellow humans.”
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This will continue to be a busy year for Allen. He is heading back into the studio in May to work on a new album and is opening a new exhibition in LA, a survey of his drawings dating back to the late ‘60s. Movement has been a reoccurring theme in the Allen’s lives and time has not slowed them down. “That’s kinda been the nature of our life. Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve had to go somewhere else to make a living and that’s just where all that motion is coming from, trying to survive. We’re also like sharks, gotta keep moving.” he says with a chuckle.
The Allens have been married and working together for more than 50 years. Allen describes their working relationship as having clear boundaries, “One thing we’ve done is Jo Harvey does her work, I do my work. When I work with Jo Harvey I work for her and then the same thing is true on pieces that I do.” Allen describes collaborations as “Living hell. It’s always living hell because we are both brutally honest with one another so half the time you’re just completely pissed off but then you realize that this person is probably 99 percent of the time right.” He says his wife wears a necklace that has become their credo, “It’s amazing how long two people misunderstand each other.”
Allen admits he doesn’t book a lot of gigs but always enjoys coming to Houston. “I have a lot of friends there, a lot of artists, lot of musician friends and I’ve just always felt really close to Houston as a town.” It will not be his first visit to the Heights Theater and he agrees that it is a special venue, “Always after the Paramount in Austin, we do the Kessler and then the Heights. I love playing the Heights, we’ve played there pretty much since it opened the last four years." See Allen perform songs from his new unreleased album, recently released box set and long time favorites at what is sure to be a special evening.
Saturday March 30 at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth at 1 p.m.. Free Meet & Greet
Saturday March 30 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th, doors at 7 p.m. $28-39.