Johnny Ray Allen, songwriter and original bassist for the subdudes, the local beloved roots-rock group, passed away on August 8 at his home in New Orleans. Although he had a heart condition, his cause of death was unknown at press time. Allen was 56.
The original subdudes grew out of an entirely impromptu acoustic gig at Tipitina’s back in 1987. John Magnie had decided to invite three musician friends, Tommy Malone on guitar, Steve Amedee on percussion, and Johnny Ray Allen on bass, to join him in a mesmerizing jam session that floored the musicians and the audience alike. The following night the men gathered together at Amedee’s home, listened to a taped recording of the performance and knew, decidedly, that their newfound musical fusion was worth continuing.
“The first four months we didn’t have the turnout…but once the record started getting some airplay and sellin’, it started to happen.”
At one time the band toured with Bonnie Raitt. Allen described what led to the experience: “Eric Clapton came to see us. So it was like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, they’re both watchin’ us, right now—cool!” Allen was smitten. He continued, “Eric Clapton did an interview on WNEW in New York, and they asked him who he was listening to, and he said the subdudes. Then Tommy one night was watching Entertainment Tonight and they were interviewing Michael McDonald, and they asked him who he was listening to—same response. There’s a lot of pretty heavyweight people that are aware of us.”
Allen summed up the touring life like this: “It’s still hard as shit, you know; you get up, and, it’s really hard to describe it. It’s just weird when you can’t enjoy the beauty of a particular place. You go in, and you’ve got to run in and do stuff real quick, and be at the hotel a little bit… It’s like being in a spaceship or something. You’re in a cylinder—a bus, a van, a plane—and you go fast, and they let you out of the cylinder into the hotel. Then they funnel you out of the hotel into the club—if you’re lucky to go to the hotel.”
“Johnny Ray was a subdued presence even in a band known for elegant understatement,” songwriter Louie Ludwig wrote in a remembrance on the Daily Kos. “Allen wrote deceptively simple, direct songs with an apparent ease that concealed the work he put into making each line just right…”
Johnny Ray Allen was a member of the subdudes from 1987 to 1996.
The subdudes—as a tribute—will reunite at Tip’s on September 26.