R.C. Allen Interview
By Freddie House
Appeared in the AFG Sound Hole - Issue 7 (March 1999 - editor: Nathan York)
C. Allen, the man who makes and displays those big beautiful
blond guitars at every AFG Pickin Party and Convention, is
really an interesting character and has lots of good stories to
tell about musicians like Merle Travis, Joe Maphis, Jimmy Bryant,
Chet Atkins, and the list goes on and on. He has a collection of
about 3,000 guitar picks, a whole bunch of antique banjos, a
collection of ceramic animals playing stringed instruments, and
quite a collection of photos of early musicians. He has a vast
knowledge about the creation of some of the first guitar
companies in Southern California and their evolution into today's
R. C. Allen playing Chet Atkins' guitar
Dick: I was born in Al hambra, and raised here
graduating from El Monte High School. My Dad played the ukulele
some, but I didn't come from a musical family. I became
interested in the guitar when I saw a couple of fellow students
playing in a swing band in high school. Those boys graduated, I
applied, they gave me a Mel Bay book and I took their chair
learning as I played. There was a guitar shop across from the
school ran by John Doypera, the inventor of the dobro guitar, and
I hung out there absorbing all I could about the making of
instruments, and so I made my first guitar while in high school.
There was this fellow named Paul Bigsby that had a shop in
Downey, and I hung out there a lot too. After graduating I worked
at a paper warehouse for sixteen years, and at two musical
wholesale places setting up and repairing guitars, and eventually
opened my own shop in 1967. I probably worked on and set up
something like 20,000 guitars in those years.
AFG: How did you meet Merle Travis?
Dick: I saw Merle in 1949, but didnt meet him until 1952 when a friend who knew Merle and I went to the El Monte Legion Stadium to see him play and afterward I introduced myself and the next thing I knew I was in Merles car going over someplace else to listen to some other guitar players, and we were friends from then on. I always seemed welcomed in Merles house, and I knew him when he was up and when he was down. I remember asking him once about a fan club, and he said he didnt have fans, just lots of friends, and that's the way he was. He was always listed in the phone book.
AFG: Did you make any guitars for Merle?
Dick: I made several guitars for him. One is on the cover of the album Strictly Guitar, which he used to record that album, and it now is in the country wax museum in Nashville in a display of him and Chet in a dressing room.
AFG: Did you make any guitars for Joe Maphis?
Dick: The last guitar he got before he died was one of mine, but never played it on a job because he got sick, and I believe his wife still has it.
AFG: When did you meet Chet?
Dick: I believe in 1955, at the Ambassador Hotel. Roy Lanum, Chet, and I had dinner there and talked for a couple of hours, and Chet borrowed a Standell Amp. that belonged to Merle, for a recording session that I acquired a few years later. I talked to Chet a couple of times on the phone, but he never played any of my guitars.
AFG: Did you know Jimmy Bryant?
Dick: Very well, he was a very inventive style player on both the guitar and fiddle. I played rhythm for him some in some jam sessions. I also knew Thumbs Carlisle, he played in a little club here in South El Monte for years.
AFG: What can you say about the history of country music in Southern California and the influence it has had?
Dick: The names of Fender, Rickenbacker, Dobro, Bigsby, Standell, Spade Coolie, Tex Williams, and Cliffie Stone are just a few that came from Southern California and had a tremendous influence in the music industry, and especially with guitars.
AFG: How many guitars do you think you have made?
Dick: I didnt keep very good records, but in the 60s I probably made 50 or60, and then in the 70s I started making banjos, made around 100 of them, but about 5 years ago I got really serious in striving to make the kind of guitar I had always wanted to make, which is the ones I make today. Now Im so busy I would like to slow down a little.
AFG: Do you ever design or wind any of your pickups for your guitars?
Dick: Not anymore, but in the 60s I used to make them for Moserite for electric dobros.
AFG: Tell us about the pick collectors club you belong to?
Dick: A few years ago I found out about this fellow in LaMirada that collected guitar picks, and as I had a bunch of old picks I contacted him and now there is a club of pick collectors that I belong to and we put out a little newsletter that I write an article for occasionally. I have about 3000 flat picks, and now Im beginning to collect thumb picks. I have a couple of Chets picks from the 60s and 2 that belonged to his brother, and of course some from Doyle Dykes, and Bob Saxon. I also have about 150 antique banjos, 75 to 100 old guitars, not all in playing condition.
AFG: Do you play in any bands now?
Dick: I play guitar in a banjo band every Tuesday at the El Monte Senior Citizens Center. We play mostly for fun, but occasionally someone will want us to play for a party or something special.
Note from Dick: I would like to thank my brother who is my right hand man, and Im extreemly proud to play with Michael ODorn in his concerts, and I wish that the AFG could grow to several hundred members. I really enjoy being a member of it.
©1999 - Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists