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Slam Allen, Reading Blues Fest Preview #2

Blues, R&B, soul, it comes out of Slam Allen. The former is where the singer and guitarist’s roots lie, and those show up in all his work, and especially his stage performance. What people might not know, is Allen was ready to call it quits last year.

Allen fortunately, will appear at the Reading Blues Fest, which is familiar ground. He was on the road, doing deliveries for his medical courier service when I caught up to him. From the roadside (including a state trooper knocking on his window to make sure he was okay!), Allen spoke frankly about where he was, and yet, he didn’t sound any different from all the times I’ve spoken with and watched him live. “I’ve basically been putting the pieces back together,” he said, “and without saying, we all went through some heavy stuff.”

Speaking of the coronavirus pandemic, Allen said the lockdown forced him to “slow down some and find myself again, and really feel the reason why I wanted to do music. So I’m on that path, right now still learning, understanding, and growing making things happen.”

With the layoff, and having no place to go or gigs to play, Allen admitted after so many years on the road, “it was definitely strange, like a piece of you is ripped away from, you know, not being able to do your craft, be around your friends and be around people and put smiles on their faces. But as I say, it was a curse and a blessing in disguise for me. That said, it made me really learn me again, what I was about, and because the industry could be very, very stressing, very trying on your soul, and I was able to just sit back and examine myself, how entertaining people and how I want to entertain people. And at one point, I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t even want to do it anymore.’ But you know, all that changed.”

That time off was spurred by the support of his fellows and fans. That empowerment has included the rejuvenation of Allen’s drive to play music. Anyone who has heard either of his albums, This World or Feel These Blues knows there is much more to Allen, and especially so in his live shows. “I never set out to be a bluesman,” Allen explains, “I set out to be an entertainer who just happens to play the blues. Because now that was in my family my upbringing, but I always considered myself as an entertainer who can get on stage and just entertain people. The pandemic (helped me) understands who I really am and what I’m about.”

Allen’s plan for a new album combines the elements of his varied influences, one which he hopes will shake up the industry and the genre. “The blues world hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Allen says, “and in a long time. (There’s) a lot of great players out there, but the genre itself hasn’t really had a big spark. I just want to add a little extra element to make it stand out.”

Allen has made no bones about the blues changing, as legendary artists pass on, such as Cotton, who played harmonica as part of the all-star lineup around Muddy Waters for years. “All the people he played with,” Allen reflects, “and it’s something many don’t get to do. He was always a person, he believed in the first day that went and did rehearsal with him in Chicago. I was with him for almost ten years and he was saw something within me as a person that somebody was trying to find a way, and for me to be somebody who has that legendary status, I learned a lot, about the business…James Cotton was part of the original crew, the people blues were the blues. For me to be right next to a person who’s connected like that with all the history, hearing all these stories, and it just makes me feel like I’m part of the chain, it’s something that I will never forget, and we’ll never be again.”

This continues with a longstanding view that Allen and some others have, that the blues has changed with the influx of younger artists, who have more diverse influences. “Today especially with the younger generation,” Allen observes, “they’re never really gonna get the blues from the original source. Today it’s just going to be carbon copies of what was. So many young guys that’s coming out now, they’re good but you could tell that they learned from videos more than actually being there. You know and a lot of time younger cats they want to lean toward rock and kind of pass it off …as the blues…people of that caliber no longer around anymore, we’ll never have that again.”

Despite the misgivings some artists have about the blues, and its changes, Allen is forging ahead with a new lineup, which will open for Ana Popovic Saturday night at the DoubleTree Hotel, the base for the Blues Fest. Allen says prepare for the kind of show he’s known for. “When I walk in the room, I feel the room. I can literally feel what people want, I feel the vibe, every show I do is a different show. When I get there I’m going to do it the best, you can believe that. When my performance is over, you’re gonna be like, you never seen me before. I’m coming to entertain and I’m coming to give myself, and just put smiles on people’s faces.”


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