An outlaw of his own accord, Terry Allen’s output across a drove of mediums has remained open and engaging for over four decades. The Lubbock, TX native is a stalwart storyteller, oftentimes softening the lines of genre in both music and visual art. At age 72, Allen maintains a rigid work ethic, carrying with him the rich history from which he came.
Seminal 70s recordings Juarez and Lubbock (On Everything) are resolute, meant to be absorbed in their entirety. With humor and a gift for songwriting, each finds Allen subtly giving the middle finger to any and all expectations of what Country is or should be. Ahead of their reissue for Paradise of Bachelors, we spoke with Terry at home in Sante Fe, NM.
Aquarium Drunkard: What are you working on currently?
Terry Allen: I just put up a new piece I’m calling Memwars. It’s a sequence of about nine stories. Each of them kind of lead to the making of a song. How songs come about, stories of people I knew from childhood, relatives, incidents. Things that somehow ended up being a song and stories that talk about the idea that some songs don’t become what they really are until something happens after the song is written. Takes them a while to become what they are.
AD: You’ve worked across so many mediums over the years. When do you know a song should be a painting/drawing or vice versa?
Terry Allen: I don’t think in that way in terms of division. I figure there is an unlimited availability to just about anything you do. It kind of depends on what the idea is. What the circumstances are. I don’t think ‘oh well, I’m going to use this or that”, it just comes out of whatever the thinking concerning the work is. Like this piece is entirely a video installation (Memwars). There are three videos. Two of them are moving across a wall from one another. Constantly moving…the story videos. Just basically talking heads. My head and my wife, Jo Harvey, who I use a lot when there is acting involved. We’re just telling the stories. When they stop, it goes to a stationary wall. A song wall where the song is played. It’s just me playing a piano in front of a green screen with images that relate to the stories.
AD: You’re living in Santa Fe now. What drew you there?
Terry Allen: We lived in California for years. Lived in LA for all the 60s. Bay Area most of the 70s and then in the Central Valley. I taught at Fresno State for seven years and then quit, but we stayed on there and our kids grew up there. When they got out of high school and were ready to leave, we were ready to leave too. Deciding whether to come back to Texas or somewhere back in this part of the world. I booked a bunch of gigs in Texas. All over. We stopped in Santa Fe cause we had always traveled through here and really liked it and found a house just on a fluke that we really liked.
We changed our whole life overnight. Buying this house and selling the one in California. That’s how we got here. We lay pretty low when we are here. Low as snakes basically. We both travel a lot so when we are here we are in our studios. My mother did play her last professional job at the La Fonda hotel in in the lounge. We’d drive over from Lubbock to play the gig and I’d sleep in the booth. And we’d drive back after the gig. I had a history in Santa Fe.
AD: Speaking of family, can you tell me about the dance hall your folks ran when you were growing up, Jamboree Hall?
Terry Allen: My dad was a baseball player but he was nearly 60 when I was born. So he didn’t play anymore. He had a chance to get to get a hold of a defunct gospel church and he turned it into a dance hall on the weekends. He ended up getting a wrestling promotership and started throwing wrestling matches and would move to another building. He had moved out to an aircraft hangar. On Friday nights he would have these all black incredible dances with T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. On Saturday nights he’d have all white country music. It was heavily segregated in Lubbock at the time. All these touring bands. Everyone was a touring band. People like Hank Williams or B.B. King. They were all traveling in one big station wagon with bass and drums on top.