Ira Allen Photo courtesy of his family

Ira Allen, a rockabilly and country musician who was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, died July 25 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 83.

Allen was best known for the 1962 classic country song, “Just Enough To Keep Me Hangin’ On,” which he co-wrote with Buddy Mize.

Allen was remembered this week for his signature smooth voice and professionalism. His motto, which will be engraved on his headstone, was “It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about the music.”

“He lived it and he loved it,” said his wife, Judi Martin of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “He was a legend. He could handle a microphone like no one else. He would hold it a certain way and go down as low as you could go. He and his band always wore suits with rhinestones. That was a part of it. He said you had to dress the part and be professional. He was so professional and so perfect in what he did.”

Allen grew up in the Norway/South Paris area. At an early age, he had an interest in rockabilly and country music and performed on local radio shows. He graduated from high school, then moved to Boston to pursue his dream of performing.

“He started as a chicken farmer in Maine and followed his hillbilly dream to the Boston combat zone for $5 a week,” his wife said. “He drank water and had crackers. They would give him a salad at the end of the night. His family went after him twice, but he wanted to perform.”

Allen later moved to New York City, where he worked with DJ Alan Freed playing rockabilly and country rock music.

Allen served three years in the Army, then got back into music on the West Coast, performing on television with well-known names like Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn and the Ventures. He performed in clubs and began writing songs.

He recorded 14 albums, including a recently released gospel album, a tribute to his mother.

“Just Enough To Keep Me Hangin’ On” has been recorded by more than 100 artists, including Vern Gosdin, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, Cher, Barbara Mandrell and Kitty Wells. The song was also listed in the credits of the 2011 movie, “Country Strong.”

Allen is listed in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for his self-penned song, “Nursery Rock” in 1958. In 1985, he won the Maine Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year awards. In 2005, he was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame.

For 25 years, Allen headlined the “Maine Country Pioneer Show,” produced by Norm Poulin. His former band – The Palomino Riders – reunited with Allen for the final two years back in 2010 or 2012. In 2016, he returned to Maine to perform with fellow Mainer Perley Curtis for four shows.

Asked what Allen loved about performing, his wife said it gave him the freedom to express himself.

“He was into the lyrics,” his wife said. “He would paint a story. At the end, it always came back around. It never finished.”

Allen and his wife lived in Murfreesboro and were married for 33 years. She reminisced about the night she met him. Martin said she was singing in a club and he stopped in with the band. Someone recognized him and asked if he would go on stage, and Allen and Martin performed together.

For the next three weeks, Allen was on the road performing. When he returned, the couple had their first date. Soon after, they were married. Allen had a son from a previous marriage and Martin had two daughters from her first marriage.

“We had a wonderful life,” his wife said. “He raised my kids like they were his own. They are his. That’s just the way it is. He taught them so many values. He was a wonderful father … the best and hands on. When my kids needed anything, he was there.”

Allen had congestive heart failure, his wife said.

“I’ll miss the little things,” Martin said. “We did everything together. I’ll miss the phone calls and the I love you’s every two minutes. We held hands. Anybody in Nashville could tell you we didn’t go anywhere without the other. I’ll miss that … He made it and he was always humble. My heart is broken, but I know I’ll be with him again.”


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