The Allen Shadow Story

The genesis of the artist Allen Shadow is something like the birth of a star that forms when the original entity finally collapses into itself.

When Allen Shadow began working on his new release — "King Kong Serenade" — he had come full circle as an artist — from poet to songwriter to rock poet.

Shadow (a.k.a. Allen Kovler) began his career as a poet and performance poet who pushed the language like a race car driver in the far turn. Library Journal called his imagery "startling," as thewidely-published idealist showcased his vision in readings and performances at noted clubs, halls and colleges across the country during the 1980’s.

But the accomplished poet was also a budding songwriter who longed to make his mark. So the Bronx bard packed up his stuff and pointed his beat-up Ford to Nashville. Alternative radio hadn’t been invented yet — and with country music reinventing itself with folk and rock influences — it was a draw for songwriters from diverse genres.

Might as well put my head in the mouth of the lion," says Shadow. "It’s the crucible thing. If you want to be a second story man, go to Attica. If you want be a songwriter, it was ‘Music City or bust’. At least it was in those days."

Armed with a progressive country EP, Shadow hit the record labels in the miniature palaces along music row in 1988. While they loved the music, the songs were too progressive and dark.

I used to sit in this guy Bob Doyle’s office. He loved my writing but would say the lyrics were cool but just too dark. He was managing this artist named Garth Brooks whose first album was just hitting the air waves at the time."

So Shadow started writing more to the market and one of his songs — "Is It Love Yet?" — found a champion with publisher/producer Russ Zavitson, one of the town’s top hitmakers, who signed the song to PolyGram. Zavitson spent years pitching the song to female artists — including several times to Trisha Yearwood who was perfect for it. There was one catch: Yearwood was the singer on the demo of "Is It Love Yet?," and the diva hated listening to anything that reminded her of her pre-star life. Zavitson swears by the tune and still pitches it to her.

But, while he ended up publishing many songs with companies like PolyGram, SONY and Mel Tillis’ Tillistunes, and had veterans like Zavitson and Tom Collins telling him he was ‘that close’, Shadow became frustrated with Music City and its stifling, formulaic ways. He was tiring of commercial songwriting, tired of being the outsider, tired of getting nowhere,

and, besides, he had bigger fish to fry. Allen Shadow, "songwriter" was only meant to be a stop along the way, and as he figured it, it was time to move on, time to get back to his true voice as a writer/songwriter, time to go out there and just be the artist he had always wanted to be.

Truth is," says Shadow, "my songs were getting heard in Nashville but not my true voice. My talent was going to waste, and my interest was waning.

I realized no one’s going to see your potential, no one’s going to nurture and develop you. It’s one of those times in your life when you come face to face with yourself, and you realize there’s no one who’s going to help you, there’s no one but yourself. It’s crucible time again, baby. Spread those feathers, no matter how ugly, no matter how beautiful, and fly."

When you’ve been the outsider for so long, I’ll tell you, it puts you in touch with your inner beast. That’s what ultimately brought me back to myself in a new way, and that’s what ultimately led me to the image of King Kong — the ultimate poster primate for the struggle of the outsider."

So Shadow returned to his natural voice as a poet and married it with his music in "King Kong Serenade," a gritty, take-no-prisoners portrait of New York City and the struggles of the human spirit. The album took four years to write and produce. And that’s when the artist decided to take the stage name Allen Shadow.Ironically, Shadow recorded it in Nashville, since he had befriended some the town's best alternative musicians over the years. His band on "King Kong Serenade" includes ex-Dylan guitarist John Jackson, who has recently played with Lucinda Williams, John Prine drummer Paul Griffith, and Emmy Lou Harris bassist --.

Getting back to my original voice and expanding it on 'Serenade'," said Shadow, "was perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so freeing to put the songwriter-editor away and let the poet have the reins again." (for more on Shadow's views on poetry in pop music, see "The Ginsberg Experience.")


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