Best remembered for his work on Boyd Raeburn’s adventurous Innovations album, vocalist David Allen was born into a musical family. His father played the french horn, and his mother sang. Allen left high school to begin his career as a professional singer on Hartford radio station WTHT. He later sang on other stations and in local orchestras before landing a job with Jack Teagarden’s band in 1940.
Receiving his draft notice in August 1941, Allen served in an Army medical detachment in North Africa during the war, where he was wounded and discharged in March 1943 with a purple heart and 60% disability. Returning to the States, he found work with Van Alexander in early 1943 and Paul Martell later that year before joining Bob Chester’s band in May 1944. He left Chester after only a few months to sing with Henry Jerome’s bop orchestra followed by Freddie Slack’s band. He also sang at radio stations WHN and WNEW during that time. In April 1945, he joined Raeburn, recording on the band’s Innovations album in early 1946. He also recorded four sides solo on the Atomic label that year.
During the mid-1940s, Allen began to spell his name David Allyn in order to distinguish himself from the myriad of other singing David Allens in the business. He was only partially successful. The trade press and record companies continued to use the original spelling as often as they did the new version.
Allen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after the war. His symptoms gradually worsened, and he began seeing things and hearing voices. He alienated his friends and associates, causing his career to suffer. Realizing that he was in trouble, he turned to the Veterans’ Administration hospital in Brooklyn, spending much of 1947 there under treatment. The hospital discharged him in October of that year, and he moved to California to live with his sister.
Allen also suffered from a drug problem. During the war he’d begun to take morphine to calm himself. He avoided drug use after his discharge until early 1947 when his PTSD symptoms worsened, and after he left the hospital he stayed away from the music business, fearful of getting involved in drugs again. He turned down an offer from Harry James and instead worked in gas stations and factories. In the summer of 1948, though, he began using heroin.
Returning to music, Allen found work singing in nightclubs. He signed a record contract with the Discovery label in 1949, and in 1950 he joined Art Mooney’s orchestra. He managed to kick heroine for a while, but his addiction soon returned, and he began to spiral downward. His career imploded, and he resorted to passing fake checks to earn a living. Arrested in New York in 1955, he was sentenced to 2-3 years for grand larceny in the second degree. He served time at both Sing Sing prison and the infamous Clinton prison in Dannemora, described as the “Siberia of New York.”
Allen turned his life around while incarcerated, and upon his parole in May 1957 he came out ready to get back to work as a singer. Old friends in the industry welcomed his return, and he earned a recording contract with the World Pacific label, on which he released an album of Jerome Kern tunes backed by Johnny Mandel’s orchestra. The album sold well, leading to appearances on television. His return to singing in New York, though, was briefly stymied by police refusing to issue him a cabaret license due to his criminal record, a problem that caused various local officials and music personalities to rally to his cause. Allen’s career stayed strong into the 1970s.