Joe Marion Allison was an influential disc jockey, songwriter, publisher, recording executive, and producer of country music. He was born in McKinney, Texas, on October 3, 1924, and attended East Van Zandt Elementary School in Fort Worth. From there, he went to junior high in McKinney and then to Denison High School in Denison, Texas, where he graduated in 1939. Allison enrolled in Murray Junior College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. In 1943 he landed his first radio station job on KPLT in Paris, Texas. He then moved to KMAC in San Antonio in 1944. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Allison joined country singing star Tex Ritter’s show as an emcee and toured the United States and Canada with Ritter’s outfit. In 1946 Ritter had a Number 3 country hit with “When You Leave, Don’t Slam the Door,” a song Allison co-wrote. The tune helped launch Joe Marion Allison’s successful songwriting career.
In 1947 Allison moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and worked at WDAI radio. He subsequently moved to Nashville in 1949 and worked at radio station WMAK. Soon Allison, who would be known by his radio monikers “Jamboree Joe” and “Uncle Joe,” had his own daily radio show on WSM and WSIX, featuring such popular artists as Anita Kerr, Brenda Lee, and Chet Atkins. In 1952 Allison moved to the Los Angeles area, where he took over singer Tennessee Ernie Ford’s previous slot on KXLA, a radio station licensed out of Pasadena, California. While in California, Allison ventured into television, appearing on such shows as Town Hall Party on KTTV and hosting and coproducing his own program Country America on ABC, which featured such up-and-comers as Gordon Terry, Glen Campbell, and Billy Strange. It was during this time that he assisted in founding the Country Music Disc Jockey Association, the forerunner of the Country Music Association (CMA).
Allison secured his reputation as a highly-regarded songwriter with a number of popular compositions. He wrote “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” for Faron Young in 1955. Teen idol Tommy Sands performed “Teen Age Crush” in 1957, and that same year Jeannie Black recorded “He’ll Have to Stay.” Allison’s best-known song, “He’ll Have to Go,” was recorded by Jim Reeves in 1960 and spent fourteen weeks at Number 1 on the country charts and also reached Number 2 on the pop charts. In 1962 Hank Cochran scored a hit with “I’d Fight the World,” which he co-wrote with Allison. That same song became a posthumous hit for Reeves in 1974. Allison’s wife Audrey co-wrote a number of songs, including “Teen Age Crush,” “He’ll Have to Stay,” and “He’ll Have to Go.”
By the early 1960s, Allison worked both as a manager for Central Songs, a publishing company based in Hollywood, and as head of the country music division for Liberty Records. It was in this latter capacity that he signed Willie Nelson to the singer’s first recording contract in 1960. Allison produced early recordings by Hank Cochran and helped revive western swing legend Bob Wills’s career. Allison also started an international country radio show on the Armed Forces Radio Network. He was integral in expanding country music’s popularity by writing and producing sales presentations for CMA that persuaded advertisers and broadcasters to program country music in major markets across the United States. He successfully pitched the idea of a CMA awards program to network television. He was also instrumental in securing property from the city of Nashville for the first Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame.
In the mid-1960s he was director of the country division of Dot Records. By the late 1960s, Allison was working as an independent producer, helping turn out such hit songs as Roy Clark’s “The Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young,” as well as Hank Thompson’s “Smoky the Bar.” From 1970 to 1972 Allison headed the country music division at Paramount Records in Nashville. While there he signed popular country singer–songwriters Tommy Overstreet and Joe Stampley. After two years, Allison left Paramount to work for Capitol Records, where he worked with Red Steagall and produced Tex Ritter’s final album, Tex Ritter: An American Legend.
Allison won a total of six Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) awards for his songs, with “He’ll Have to Go” being his biggest success. He also won seven American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) producer awards. In 1964 Allison received the CMA Founding Presidents Award (now called the Connie B. Gay Award) for his series of sales presentations that helped to expand country music nationally. In 1970 he received the Jim Reeves Memorial Award, and in 1976 Allison was inducted into the Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. Allison, whose songs have been performed and recorded by such artists as Tex Ritter, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Faron Young, Jeannie Black, Roy Clark, Nat “King” Cole, Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, and Tom Jones, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1999 he was honored in the Texas Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame, and that same year, his song “He’ll Have to Go” won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
Allison retired from the music business by the early 1980s and began working as an antiques dealer. He was married twice. His first wife, Audrey, co-wrote at least three of his songs. They eventually divorced, and he married his second wife, Rita. Allison also had three sons, Gregory Joe, Brian James, and Mark Woodward. On August 2, 2002, Joe Marion Allison died of respiratory failure in a Nashville hospital after a long battle with lung disease. He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery.