Singer Allan Blye has stories to tell about Elvis, the Smothers Brothers and Rich Little
Posted by Andrea Ratuski, SCENE Producer | Wednesday June 19, 2013
Allan Blye wrote Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special (supplied by Allan Blye/CP)
He was very humble and an absolutely terrific guy. I learned a lot from what he was all about. He remained my friend till the day he died.
—Allan Blye, on Elvis Presley
He's worked with the likes of Elvis Presley, The Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Andy Williams and Jack Benny. He even counts Rich Little as a close friend.
Former Winnipegger Allan Blye returns to the city and to his first love, singing, with a concert of Yiddish songs as part of the fifth Mameloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture.
Blye, now 75, says growing up in Winnipeg was a wonderful experience because there was no Internet and no television, so young people were involved in cultural things and sports. He started participating in shows as a singer and actor and sang in the synagogue choir.
"I learned the fundamentals of all those things. It became a terrific gift to me on many levels."
He also performed a lot on CBC Radio and Television and produced a live variety show called Club 41. He later continued his performing and producing career for CBC in Toronto.
The Smothers Brothers
It was as a result of one of his television shows that Blye landed his gig as a writer and producer for The Smothers Brothers. The pair were in Toronto to perform and happened to catch Blye's variety show on TV.
Tom Smothers got Blye's number and called him up immediately after seeing the show at 11:00 pm, but Blye, thinking it was his friend Rich Little doing an imitation of Smothers, hung up on him.
They eventually connected and he was invited to meet with the producers. "I got hired and within two years I was head writer and producer and the rest is very good, fortunate history," he says.
Looking back, Blye is still amazed that he got the chance to work with the 'greatest of the great.' "I grew up on Selkirk Avenue in the North End of Winnipeg, a cut above poverty," he explains.
"It never entered my mind that I would end up not only being in the entertainment business but meeting and working with the most talented and unique and special people in the entertainment business. It's just a miracle, really, to have those roots in Winnipeg and have been in their world working with all those men and women."
Blye also recounts the time he was asked to write a special with Elvis Presley. He suggested they do a retrospective, an idea Presley's manager hated, but Presley loved it. So they went with it.
A song from the '68 Comeback Special:
Late one Friday night, just before they went into production, Blye was shocked to find Elvis Presley at his doorstep. He had managed to escape the entourage that never seemed to leave his side and drove to Blye's house on a motorcycle.
What followed was a rollicking good time of scotch, cigars and conversation. Then Presley picked up the Blye's son's half-size guitar and regaled Blye and his wife with a stream of music well into the night.
"He was a respectful guy and was astounded at his success. He was very humble and an absolutely terrific guy. I learned a lot from what he was all about. He remained my friend till the day he died."
Through Blye's rich and storied career, he never forgot his roots as a singer and continues to sing as a cantor in the synagogue. He says he is tickled about his Winnipeg show.
"It's the thing I love the most. With all the writing and all the producing, the thing I do most naturally and enjoy the most is to sing."
Allan Blye sings Yiddish songs, accompanied by Ron Paley, on June 19 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It's part of the Mameloshen (mother tongue) Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture.