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Lovers of song in New Orleans and around the world got some sad and shocking news yesterday. Johnny Ray Allen, original bassist and songwriter for the subdudes, has passed away.

A big man with a big heart, Johnny Ray was a subdued presence even in a band known for elegant understatement. To my knowledge, he never sang with the dudes, though he did take lead on a couple of numbers with the band's precursor, the original Continental Drifters. (More on how the one became the other here).

But whether or not he opened his mouth, his voice was certainly heard in the lyrics to such songs as "Need Somebody," "Tell Me What's Wrong" and "Got You on His Mind." A consummate craftsman, Allen wrote deceptively simple, direct songs with an apparent ease that concealed the work he put into making each line just right.

Those who knew and loved him are deeply saddened at the news of his passing, much too young, and music lovers everywhere are poorer for the wealth of songs yet unsung.

Rest in peace.

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