BMI singer, songwriter, and musician Harley Allen died last week after a battle with cancer. He was 55.
Allen moved naturally from honky tonk to bluegrass to country music’s mainstream, and back again. The 2005 BMI Country Songwriter of the Year wrote or co-wrote BMI Country Award-winning songs including Alan Jackson’s searing “Between the Devil and Me” (1998) and “Everything I Love,” Joe Nichols’ “I’ll Wait for You” (2007) and “If Nobody Believed in You” (2005), Blake Shelton’s “The Baby” (2003), Gary Allan’s “Tough Little Boys” (2004), Dierks Bentley’s “My Last Name” (2005), John Michael Montgomery’s “The Little Girl” (2001), and Darryl Worley’s “Awful, Beautiful Life” (2005). Don Williams, Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Del McCoury Band, Garth Brooks, Billy Currington, Joe Diffie, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, John Conlee, Josh Turner, Kathy Mattea, Claire Lynch and IIIrd Tyme Out, the Grascals, and many others also recorded his songs.
His compositions are noteworthy not only for their chart climbing, but for their nuanced artistry. Harley Allen songs are tightly knit nuggets in which wry observation thinly veils deep feeling, or intricate tales are spun in less than three minutes.
The son of bluegrass great Red Allen and the husband of singer Debbie Nims, Allen had a two-decade career as an accomplished bluegrass singer, musician and performer before he settled in as a Music Row writer. His solo albums are prized by roots aficionados and hardcore bluegrassers alike. It was as the distinct harmony vocalist with the Soggy Bottom Boys on the acclaimed O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, however, that Allen earned two Grammys.
Read Peter Cooper’s tribute to Harley Allen in the Tennessean.