Sound and Sight: Matt Allen

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Matt Allen: For the love of rock and roll

Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me,
How to dance real slow?
“American Pie”, Don McLean

The soul, the groove, the pulse, the beat, had been simmering on the airwaves long before Alan Freed, legendary DJ and promoter, declared “rock and roll” was born.

While the story has been mythologized repeatedly, a new form of popular song emerged during the early 1950s that captivated young teenage listeners and had them dancing in the aisles and screaming for more. Soon, the heroes of rock and roll, or rockabilly as some would call it, could be heard on every jukebox and on the radio, coast to coast. From Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry to Buddy Holly, the music would become a driving cultural force sweeping the nations.

The arrival of the Beatles in the USA, 1964, would revolutionize ideals and viewpoints for decades. The so-called English invasion of the early 1960s was more like a homecoming for many who loved the vibrancy and excitement of the earliest forms of blues, rockabilly and honky-tonk. Matt Allen, a Huntsville professional performer, was only a young boy when this history was making an impact but he has spent his life perfecting and bringing the thrill of this music to his fans throughout Muskoka and beyond.

Allen is an extraordinary guitarist and singer. He has sustained a career for 40-plus years. His lasting inspiration has always been the blues and particularly rockabilly. His solo show is a delightful mix of well-worn classics and standards, along with his own compositions.

Allen moved to Huntsville in 2006 and has been playing local solo gigs and band shows around Muskoka since 2016. He continues to play with his much-beloved bands, The Tex-Styles and the Swingin’ Blackjacks, in Toronto (and area) on a regular basis, which he has done since 1986.

Matt Aallen (right) with The Swingin' Blackjacks

Matt Allen (right) with The Swingin’ Blackjacks

Allen began his journey at a young age. One of his earliest memories was a band he encountered in Trinidad, where his parents were teachers. The Merrymen are a band with worldwide fame; their music has an infectious joyful feel that makes you want to move. In his teens, Allen, like so many others, loved The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, bands that were largely formed and aspired to be like their idols―
Buddy Holly, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and the Chicago bluesmen. During these formative years, although he originally hoped to be a drummer, Allen began to play guitar. The electric guitar was to become his calling.

As Allen grew older, he was more directly influenced by the early ‘80s music, particularly The Clash, Blondie and Elvis Costello. Allen’s fascination with these new sonics led him to investigate the source from which these newer bands drew their perspective. What he discovered and soon began to love was the traditions which underscored and informed these bands. These traditional or earlier forms of the song and playing―
blues, honky-tonk, country, and rockabilly were foundational to his technique and approach to performing.

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music and is still vital in mainstream culture. Grease, the 1978 American romantic comedy, continues to be a massive hit worldwide, celebrating the music, culture and look of the early days of rock and roll.

Not only is Rockabilly a way of expression and playing, it is a very characteristic manner of fashioning hair and clothing. In many regards, it is a living legacy of a pioneering spirit that emerged after the Second World War. One of the predominant sounds that had been emerging as the Americans entered World War II was “jump blues” which mixed 12-bar blues patterns and drum backbeats with the big band swing (which itself had emerged from New Orleans jazz). These forms are not only highly innovative for expression and freedom but they are vastly enjoyable fun for the audience. The big drive of the bass and drums make you want to dance!

By 1985, rock and all its roots had really caught Matt Allen’s artistic soul and has driven his sound ever since. He formed The Swingin’ Blackjacks in Toronto around that time and has played professionally with them throughout his career. The band allows him to accentuate his guitar virtuosity. Allen’s guitar playing is very distinctive―
full of energy, muscular and exciting, as he overdrives his solos or fills the room with vibrato and reverb. How he gets this sound remains a highly guarded secret.

Listen to “Little Red Head” by The Swingin’ Blackjacks below.

Allen has a beautiful singing voice and personal touch. His vocals are rich and melodic with a touch of twang, salted with falsetto accents. He is a joy to listen to as he takes you inside the simple stories and characters that fill his songs. Allen completes his style and sound with carefully shaped hair, vintage shirts and the ever-present sneakers.

Matt Allen is one of the busiest local musical performers working in Huntsville. He is a sincere and gracious artist who believes that his work “must bring good value to an audience.” You can see him at the local venues throughout the year.

Learn more about Matt Allen here: facebook.com/matt.allen.3139.

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