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Allen Wayne Damron


1939 - 2005 Obituary Condolences
By Joe Gross

AMERICAN-STATESMAN MUSIC CRITIC

Monday, August 15, 2005

Allen Wayne Damron, folk singer, cowboy poet storyteller, manager of a legendary Austin club and longtime participant in the Kerrville Folk Festival, died Sunday from pneumonia complications. He was 66 years old.

"When I came to Austin in 1969, the 'music scene' in town was the old Chequered Flag club, which featured folk singers," said longtime Austin producer Joe Gracey of the club Damron managed. "Allen was the man there. He was one of the first guys to enliven the Texas folk music scene with his originals, his love of old songs and his piquant political point of view. All of us who followed Allen Damron owe him a debt of gratitude for his pioneering work in Texas music."

Hailed by the American-Statesman in 1990 as having "everything but the big break," Damron was the definition of a cult artist, recording more than 20 albums and logging tens of thousands of hours on the road in his career, which lasted for more than four decades. The Texas Legislature declared him a "Goodwill Ambassador to the World" in 1986 as part of the state's sesquicentennial celebrations.

Damron earned a devout following in the Austin folk community. The late American-Statesman country music critic Townsend Miller once wrote, "If any young musician wants to learn what onstage showmanship is all about, they should just study Allen."

Damron earned an associate arts degree in drama at Lon Morris College in Tyler, where he first performed professionally at 18. Damron also earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Texas in 1962. "Carol Hedin & Allen Damron: Two for the Show," his first of more than 20 albums, was released that same year. (A Texas history buff and historical re-enactor, he appeared in "Alamo, The Price of Freedom," an IMAX film that plays perpetually in San Antonio.)

In 1967, Damron and promoter Rod Kennedy opened the Chequered Flag at 1411 Lavaca St. (current site of the Texas Chili Parlor), one of the earliest clubs that put the "Austin sound" on the map. Damron was hired as the general manger.

"He was the reason I opened that place," Kennedy said Monday. "He had a lot of heart and enthusiasm, and we're all going to miss him very much."

"Damron was a true pioneer," Austin sideman and songwriter Gary P. Nunn said. "The Chequered Flag was a haven for singer/songwriters and was where I, a band player, became acquainted with the songwriting world. The atmosphere was very influential on my life and career."

1967 was also the year Damron recorded the song "Mr. Bojangles," the first artist to do so. It was recorded at the opening night of the Chequered Flag.

In 1971, Kennedy founded the Kerrville Folk Festival. "I think the folks in this small town were afraid of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, so I brought Allen with me to break the ice. He was a wholesome, healthy entertainer." Damron played every festival until 2003, released five live albums from his yearly performances, and managed to play more than 50 children's concerts in addition to his appearances on the main stage.

Kennedy also admired Damron's constant evolution as an artist. "He started out inspired by Pete Seeger and became his own man," Kennedy said. "Later on in his life, he grew to love cowboy poetry. He never did stop growing."

Damron is survived by his wife, Marie. A memorial folk service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 4 on Chapel Hill at the Kerrville Wine and Music Festival.

[email protected]; 912-5926.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Aug. 15, 2005
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