Deborah Allen Is Just Warming Up
Singer/songwriter Deborah Allen is receiving fresh honors for yesterday’s songs while re-launching her career using today’s recording technology.
In 2011, BMI certified her 1983 pop/crossover smash “Baby I Lied” (written by Allen, Rory Bourke and Rafe Van Hoy) as having been broadcast more than 2 million times. In addition, the performance rights organization certified four other Allen songs as having achieved 1 million broadcast performances: John Conlee’s “I’m Only in It for the Love,” Janie Fricke’s “Let’s Stop Talkin’ About It,” Patty Loveless’ “Hurt Me Bad in a Real Good Way” and Tanya Tucker’s “Can I See You Tonight.”
Ironically, these honors come with Allen now focusing on 12 new songs for Hear Me Now, her first new collection of Country songs in more than a decade. Though her previous work was released on major labels, this one was issued in August by Delta Rock Records, an indie founded and run by her manager and husband, Raymond Hicks.
“That was the only way I knew how to do it back then,” Allen said. “The major labels had the advantage of great marketing dollars. But with the advent of the Internet, it’s a much more level playing field for an independent artist. It was like an invisible wall had been torn down. I see the Internet as an amazing way for independent record labels to leap over traditional roadblocks.”
“Change is good,” added Hicks. “The unknown is exciting, even the slippery slopes. When it’s a muddy track, anybody can win.”
And on Elvis Presley’s birthday, Jan. 8, she also used the Internet to announce her Amazing Graceland Contest at AmazingGracelandContest.com. “Amazing Graceland” is an Elvis tribute that appears on Hear Me Now, with Allen as the sole writer. Elvis Presley Enterprises featured the song and contest on its official Elvis Facebook page. She also announced the contest on the SiriusXM Elvis Radio channel. The winner, to be announced in mid-April, will receive a trip to Memphis and Graceland during Elvis Presley Week in August as well as a Gibson guitar and other prizes.
“Talk about making new friends!” she exclaimed. “Elvis’ fan base on Facebook alone is over 5 million. There is no way I could have been exposed to them, if not for the Internet.”
A Memphis native, Allen grew up with the music and legacy of Elvis as a presence in her world. “He was always in our midst,” she recalled. “He really was our hometown hero. My parents actually upholstered and designed the interior of Elvis’ first tour bus. My sister and I camped out in the bus! We spent a night in it. Today, I get a laugh out of it when I say, ‘Yeah, I slept in Elvis’ bed.’ But I was 3 years old and he wasn’t there!”
Despite that connection, Allen never set foot in Graceland until she was booked to play a private function across the street from the famed attraction in 2009. “We got to spend the whole evening inside Graceland,” she said. “When I first stepped my foot through the door, I felt this spirit come over me. With every room, the spirit just felt stronger and stronger. When I was headed back to Nashville with Raymond, I was sitting in the car going, ‘That was amazing!’ By the time we got to Nashville, I thought of ‘Amazing Graceland’ and went ‘Get me in the house!’ I sat down and wrote the song. It was like the heavens opened up and poured this into my heart.”
Allen began her performing career in Memphis but set her sights on Nashville stardom when she was still a teenager. One of her earliest Nashville friends was songwriting legend Bobby Braddock, a member of CMA’s Country Music Hall of Fame, who produced three of the songs on Hear Me Now.
“I was a fan from the beginning and still am,” said Braddock. “I first met her at a party, back when she was barely out of her teens. She was just as enthusiastic and animated as she is now. My very first impression was, ‘Wow, what a gorgeous girl!’ As the night wore on, I was very impressed with both her singing and her writing. The most memorable thing was when she sat down on the floor and sang a cappella in this haunting voice. It was a song she had written about her mother and father. She’s a first-rate musician, really good on acoustic guitar. As a piano player myself, I envy her perfect meter and her powerful left hand on the keyboard. And when writing with her, she’s very engaging and not reluctant to let you know everything that pops into her mind. She always does her share of the heavy lifting when she co-writes.”
Two of the songs she wrote and produced on Hear Me Now have been released as singles. Both are up-tempo tunes: “Anything Other Than Love” (Allen and Gary Burr) and “It Better Be Big” (Allen and Callie Champion). The album’s ballad “Deeper Water” (Allen and Gary Nicholson) has been used in a documentary about the Underwater Warriors therapy program.
Why has it been so long since Allen’s previous album, Memphis Princess, dropped in 2006? “It’s true that I don’t have a (record) release every year,” Allen agreed. “But I’m writing every day and I’m in the studio a lot. Songwriting is just a constant process. I’m always getting ideas. I’m never going to quit loving it. I have volumes of work that no one’s heard. That’s another reason I’m so excited about the possibilities that the Internet opens up. In the future, a lot of this work will be able to find its way out.”
Over the years, Allen has written more than 1,600 songs, 27 of which have charted as Billboard Country singles. Like her friend Braddock, she is unusual in that she remains prolific years after she began writing.
“I was writing with Kix Brooks one afternoon last summer,” she said. “He was talking about his kids and how creative his daughter Molly is. He goes, ‘Have you seen her artwork?’ I looked her up and a light bulb went off: ‘Oh, my gosh, this could be the missing piece to my book!’”
The synchronicity was undeniable. Allen had written a children’s book, The Loneliest Christmas Tree, in 1986 — the year of Molly Brooks’ birth … on Christmas Eve. In short order, the two were collaborators. The result, a 54-page hardcover tale about a solitary Christmas tree facing the threat of urban development, was released in time for Allen to preside at a book signing and impromptu acoustic concert on Dec. 3 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Singing, songwriting, producing, performing, recording and authoring aren’t Allen’s only creative outlets. In 2006, she starred in a Nashville production of the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” She also has several alter egos: “Adrian Rose” is a sexy blonde jazz singer who issued a pop standards CD in 2002, titled Nothing but Pearls, very much in the style of Billie Holiday, along with a playfully improbable bio. (“Her mother, Estar Pearl, was a chanteuse from Paris, France, who had decided to move to the Southern jazz community in the United States to further her career. … Unfortunately, Estar met with a yet unsolved ill fate and Adrian was orphaned at only 3 months old.”) “Rosetta Posey” is a high-spirited hillbilly who sometimes performs at Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Downtown Nashville. And “Sister Leona Love” is a wacky, motor-mouthed gospel preacher.
In summing up his friend’s ongoing exuberance and search for new channels where she can unleash her creativity, Bobby Braddock states the obvious: “She has a spirit that doesn’t dampen and a talent that keeps on growing and getting better.”
By Robert K. Oermann
Photo credit: John Scarpati