Atwood Allen, harmony vocalist and songwriter, was born on February 5, 1937, in Robstown, Texas. He was the son of Robert Louis and Ethel Allen. Allen grew up in San Antonio, and by the late 1950s he worked for the Mission Ice Company. He also was a skilled singer and songwriter, played guitar and trumpet, and cultivated his talents along with a growing number of musicians on San Antonio’s West Side.
Possessing a sweet high tenor voice, Allen often partnered as a backup singer with Doug Sahm. He sang harmony with Sahm, for example, on Hugh Hefner’s television program Playboy After Dark in 1969, albeit in hiding. The show’s producers objected to Allen—a large burly fellow who had a penchant for wearing overalls—and deemed his appearance unsuitable for Playboy’s sophisticated audience. At Sahm’s insistence, the producers allowed Allen to perform, and he sang out harmony to “Mendocino” and “She’s About a Mover,” but did so behind a curtain.
Allen sang harmony vocals as a member of the Sir Douglas Quintet on The Return of Doug Saldaña in 1971. The following year, he joined Sahm and the band in New York to record the album Doug Sahm and Band, produced by Atlantic Records co-owner Jerry Wexler. As a harmony singer, Allen played a key role in contributing to Sahm’s overall sound, and Wexler compared their vocal pairing to that of 1940s and 1950s country duo Johnnie & Jack. Sahm and Allen, in fact, sang a cover of the Johnnie & Jack 1951 hit “Poison Love” for the album, and in the ensuing years, Sahm often referred to the “high Johnny [sic] and Jack harmony” that Allen brought to the songs. Allen himself wrote the song “It’s Gonna Be Easy” that was included on the LP, which was released in 1973.
Sometime during his career, Atwood Allen released his own 45 rpm record, comprised of the songs “Michoacan” and “Bossier City.” Allen was dubbed “The Electric Iceman,” recalling his occupation with Mission Ice Company in San Antonio. His song “Michoacan” was also recorded by Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm, the Krayolas, Louie & the Lovers, and Kris Kristofferson.
By the mid-1970s he was part of Sahm’s backing band, the Texas Tornados (not to be confused with the Tex-Mex supergroup of the same name that rose to prominence in the 1990s). Allen contributed backing vocals on the acclaimed album Texas Rock for Country Rollers (released by MCA in 1976), which was produced by Huey Meaux and recorded at SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston. Allen also penned the country song “I Love the Way You Love (The Way I Love You)”—a highlight on the album.
Through the years, Allen continued his contributions as harmony singer and songwriter for various projects of Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet. He also helped produce Best of Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet, 1968–1975 that was released in 1990.
He worked various jobs later in life in addition to his musical pursuits but increasingly suffered from declining health, including heart disease. Allen died in San Antonio on September 29, 2001. He was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. His harmony vocals and compositions have been included on various compilations, including those of the Sir Douglas Quintet. His other songwriting credits include “Rain Man,” recorded by the Lucky Tomblin Band and released on their CD Lucky Tomblin Band in 2003. Among the many fans of Allen’s songwriting talents is Bob Dylan, who has referred to Allen as one of his favorite songwriters.