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"sandman" sandy allen: Bio

Sandman was making up songs before he could read or write. He showed a gift for music at an early age and began playing trumpet in third grade, moving to baritone, then trombone over the next three years. During that period he began to teach himself guitar (his mother had an old Sears "guitbox", as she called it). His nearest neighbor was a "retired" folksinger, John Allison - "Uncle Jack" to Sandy. Uncle Jack welcomed Sandy to his studio - a space over the garage, full of attractions for a musical kid; an electric piano, a couple of guitars, and most fascinating, an old recording device. It recorded onto a wax disc, which could then be transferred to an acetate. Even at the tender age of seven or eight, Sandy thought " I want a place like this when I grow up...". By age ten, he'd started saving his allowance to buy a guitar. Uncle Jack recognized Sandy's talent and generously let him borrow the older of his two Martins. For the next few months (A year, maybe ?) Sandy played that guitar every spare moment, and gave up the brass instruments (not to mention the painful Sears axe!)
Sandy's first guitar was a Gibson, which he still has. Soon (c.1962), he was playing in a band, and within a couple of months, when the bass player left, everybody looked at Sandy. So began a life-long "hobbie" - collecting instruments, amps, etc. Over the next few years, there were at least half-a-dozen bands, typically made up of guys a year or two older.
When he was fifteen, he was signed to a songwriting contract by Paradox Music (the publishing co. associated with Elektra Records). Hoping this would be his "big break", Sandy was disappointed to realize he still had to do homework and such... he made it through high school and went on to study acting at Carnegie-Mellon U. in Pittsburgh. He lost his passion for acting and dropped out after one year.
Back home, he ran into a couple of old high school bandmates (Michael Packer & Brendan Harkin) and they formed a band. It started out a CSNY kind of thing, but soon transformed into something else. The addition of a drummer, keyboard player, then a violinist and a sax player created the band "Papa Nebo". In 1970 they recorded an album (Atlantic) and began playing coffeehouses, colleges, bars and radio stations. Well received, they began work on a second album. Some of the members had other paths to follow and "Papa Nebo", unfortunately, broke up. Bob Mintzer (sax, flute) and Ann Leathers (violin) went on to successful careers. Brendan Harkin (lead guitar, vocals) took advantage of his superb talent and leadership qualities, finding work as a musical director, producer, engineer. He was the lead guitarist and the driving force
behind the 70s group "Starz". I don't know what became of Sal (keyboards) and Kenny (drums). I hope they're still playing !
Sandy and Michael moved around a lot after the break-up. Though not travelling together, they ran into each other occasionally and settled into the coffeehouse/bar scene in San Francisco in '71-'72. This is where Sandy became Sandman...it happened naturally. Michael was always outgoing, even boisterous, whereas Sandy was quiet, introspective, almost invisible at times. So, by contrast, and due to his relatively "sleepy" demeanor, people started calling him Sandman.
Returning east for his sister's wedding, Sandman got side-tracked and went to live in Vermont, where he did odd jobs and eventually got a regular gig (for room & board) playing five nights a week at an inn. After about a year, Michael tracked him down and the two settled in NYC, forming another band, "Free Beer". Brendan produced their first album (Buddha). Two more albums followed (RCA) over the next couple of years and the band toured the U.S. "Free Beer" met with some success and critical praise, but it was the 70s...too much fun.
After "Free Beer" broke up (c.1977), Sandman continued playing. Greenwich Village, where he lived, was in the midst of a renaissance. Singer/songwriters came from all over to play the clubs and be discovered. Sandman was burned out. Over the next couple of years he worked as a messenger and had a variety of other odd jobs, playing occasionally. His favorite job was driving a horse-drawn carriage, which he did for most of his last three years in NYC.
An opportunity came by way of a job offer from an old friend. Sandman moved to Mystic, Ct. to work at the aquarium there, training marine mammals, playing occasionally in the local bar scene. In 1985, when his mother died, Sandman went through a re-evaluation, quit his job and started writing again, working part-time as a gardener. He soon met some other singer/songwriters and got back into performing original songs.
Around 1991, he went to Brendan's studio and recorded a couple of songs. During the following year, Sandman hit bottom. He'd been drinking just about every day since age twelve and it finally took it's toll. On his 42nd birthday (9/9/92) he had his last drink.He gradually, steadily, got to work on a solo album.
At Brendan's in '95, there was about two minutes of tape left. "Got any short ones?", he asked.
"Horses to Water"...
And so this album was born. It's taken him a while - worth the wait, we think. Hopefully the next one won't take so long !

In addition to his solo career, Sandman appears regularly as a member of several bands: "The Hoolios" is singer/songwriter Jim Carpenter's band - Sandman sings, plays mandolin, rub-board, percussion. Hellbent & Heartbreakin' is a rockin' band with a REAL traditional country sound - Sandman plays pedal & lap steel and sings some harmony vox. His own band is comprised of Corina Malbaurn on bass, Bill Light on guitar, Tim O'Connor on drums, and Brian Straub on pedal/lap steel. We call this outfit "Corina & the Wenchmen" (Sman is always on the prowl for background singers - "Allen Wenches" - hence the name). With or without BG vox, we're having a great time working up Sandman's original material and a handful of choice covers. Having spread himself a little thin over the last few years, and due to scheduling conflicts and personal responsibilities, Sandman recently ended a 6 (or 7?) year stint with "The Rivergods", one of Connecticut's favorite original bands. Apparently, "once a Rivergod...", so there will likely be guest appearances. He usually has an instrument with him, welcoming the opportunity to sit in with (just about) anybody - the ever-growing "casual/part-time" list includes "Raise the Rent" and "Swamp Doctors" (two incarnations of a Daphne Martin/Craig Edwards collaboration, the former folk/rock/Americana, the latter Zydeco), singer/songwriters Chris Castle, Kevin Desabrais, Sue Menhart, the Village Jammers, the Michael packer Blues Band, bluesman Johnny Nicholas, and on those rare occasions when he comes out of his hermitage, Paul Siebel, a dear old friend and inspiration.
All these folks have wonderful Cds...most have web sites. Check 'em out! Also, the old "Papa Nebo" & "Free Beer" albums have been re-issued (iris music group, the orchard)