Sammy Allred, a native Austinite who was a nationally known humorist, country music entertainer and radio personality, died Thursday. He was 84.
Allred and Dewayne Smith formed the comedic country music duo the Geezinslaw Brothers in the 1950s. They were regulars on the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show based in Shreveport, La., in the late 1950s and once opened for Elvis Presley.
The Geezinslaws were the first Central Texas act to land a major-label recording deal, signing with Columbia Records for their 1963 debut “The Kooky World of the Geezinslaw Brothers” after Austin radio personality Cactus Pryor introduced them to New York TV and radio broadcaster Arthur Godfrey.
The Geezinslaws moved to New York in the mid-1960s, and several albums for Capitol Records followed. They made TV appearances on network shows, including Ed Sullivan’s and Jackie Gleason’s, as well as “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. They also toured with musical giants Roger Miller and Perry Como.
Allred was born May 5, 1934, in Austin and attended Austin High School. He graduated in 1952. James White, owner of the Broken Spoke — where the Geezinslaw Brothers frequently played over the years — told the American-Statesman in 2007 that he remembered the first time he saw them perform on a flatbed truck in 1954 at the opening of the Twin Oaks Shopping Center in South Austin.
Allred, a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, joined KVET-FM in 1969. In 1990, he joined Bob Cole for a morning show that played country music. Allred was fired from KVET in 2007.
“Sammy Allred was without a doubt the most colorful radio star in the history of Texas,” Cole said Thursday. “He taught and schooled us all in the profession of radio entertainment.”
Allred was an “unsung hero of Austin music. He always mentioned Austin on every national TV appearance,” Monte Warden, a longtime Austin musician with bands including the Wagoneers and the Dangerous Few, said Thursday.
In addition to opening for Presley at the Skyline Club on North Lamar Boulevard, Warden noted that the Geezinslaws also played a show at Travis High School with Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. He also recalled Allred telling a story about sneaking into a 1952 Hank Williams concert at City Coliseum by carrying a guitar through the back door.
Over the years, Allred became an Austin radio institution, raising eyebrows and making headlines for salty comments and his crotchety radio persona. He made a career out of using broad humor that sometimes touched on race. It was a common occurrence on the morning show for him to refer to “white trash,” for example.
Such references carried over into the Geezinslaws’ revived career in the early 1990s. After a 1990 appearance on the Nashville Network show “Texas Connection,” they had a minor hit in 1992 with the single and music video “Help, I’m White and I Can’t Get Down.”
In a 1993 interview with the Statesman, Allred described his experience on his radio show like this: “I take a lot of heat. I worry if I hurt somebody’s feelings, and they take it personal when I really don’t mean it that way. I assume everyone knows it’s a show. It’s an act.”
Not everyone was always in on the joke. In 1997, a local environmental activist filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission that sought to deny KVET a license, alleging that Allred, Bob Cole and John Doggett had violated the FCC’s personal attack rule with comments made, most notably, about former City Council Member Brigid Shea. The commission rejected the petition a few months later.
Allred was suspended for a week after calling then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama a “clean darky” on air March 1, 2007, which he later said was a phrase he was using to mock then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden. Biden had referred to his then-presidential rival as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Allred was fired months later after being accused of cursing on air.
The Broken Spoke’s White said at the time that he couldn’t have imagined the radio show without Allred, whose crusty impatience with callers sparked both resentment and fondness among listeners. It was “just a lot more fun when Sammy’s on there,” White said. “He’s one of them colorful characters.”
Allred later would make appearances on KDRP in Dripping Springs, a nonprofit community radio station with listeners in Hays, Blanco, Williamson and Travis counties.
A public memorial service for Allred is set for 1 p.m. May 18 at Harrell Funeral Home, 4435 Frontier Trail in South Austin. Visitation, also open to the public, will be 6 to 8 p.m. May 17 at the same location.