Din Allen “suffering of change.”
James “Din” Allen came to Key West from New York City in 1978, to join his brother Woody and to play bass at the Rose Tattoo, (currently, Bagatelle). They performed at other locations but after the winter season ended, it became more difficult to find work. Most bands would leave and travel north to Maryland and Virginia. Din and Woody, along with Quint Lange, formed a trio and stayed in Key West during the lean summer months.
In 1979, the trio started performing at the Pier House, playing calypso and junkanoo music. They would play gigs wherever they could find them and just “survived” the summer. This, combined with playing a good deal of Bob Marley reggae, led to the name of the band – The Survivors. The famous Survivors’ song, “Back in Cayo Hueso”, had a lyric written by Din’s brother Woody – “77 we arrived, somehow the 80s, we survived”.
Later, the Survivors grew to a nine-piece band with two vocalists. They played mostly reggae and then moved into Latin music, later downsizing to five pieces. When the Survivors started playing at Mangrove Mama’s, a horn was needed. Marty Stonely and his amazing sax joined the group
Din recalls an embarrassing musical moment while performing with Jimmy Buffett, who returned to Key West in the 80’s from time to time to blow off steam or just get away. Buffett would show up on Caroline Street and pack a venue. One time, he sat in with The Survivors at the Reach Resort. They never really knew his music. Buffet called for “Margaritaville”, and the band started playing. Buffet looked over at Din and said, “No, that’s ‘Changes in Latitude.” Din was playing the wrong song for Jimmy Buffet.
Woody Allen left town in 1995, Quint Lange soon followed, and that was the end of the active Survivors band. Din’s two sons, Janii and Jamiel, and nephew, Jeff, would come down from Virginia once in a while. Din plays bass with their band, Alliens. Din continued to play gigs with other bands in Key West.
He stayed four decades in Key West, mainly because he believes Key West is the best place for a musician to work. Din saw Woody and Quint leave Key West and struggle to find work in their new environs. Din says Key West has plenty of work, plenty of places to play. “I could work every day if I wanted to.” And, he added, “It’s warm in February.”
Din Allen mostly played solo after the Survivors broke up. Playing solo was a great job but sometimes he got a little lonely. He played weddings and the occasional fill-in gigs with others. He remembers budgeting so he could take an extra day off during the week. A month or so later, he lost a gig at the Conch Republic that he held for twenty years.
A number changes have taken place since Din and The Survivors performed in Key West. Key West in the 70s was very much a mellow pot smoking Hippie counter culture era. Fantasy Fest started in 1979, as mostly a locals’ party, hoping to attract a few tourists in October before the season started. The 80s became a cocaine era, with a little harder edge. Sloppy Joe’s for all its kookiness was purchased by a corporation and was run by accountants and lawyers. To Din, the venue became more homogenized. In 1988, the Beach Boys’ song, “Kokomo” came out and the next summer, up and down the Keys, a number of Kokomo Beach or Kokomo Bars popped up. To Din, it was another irreverent commercialization of the music – it was, as the Buddhists refer to, a “suffering of change.”
Another sign of Key West changes – Din was ending his gig at the Pier House Beach Bar one afternoon and was packing up some gear. He had a small hand truck to help tote everything to his car. Chris Toler, who was up next, arrives with guitar on his back, an amplifier on one shoulder, and effects bag on another shoulder – on a skateboard.
Key West is one of few places that a musician can hold a steady gig for years. For most music scenes in other cities, the venues have the same or very similar clientele, and after a month, they start to get tired of the same entertainment.
The handwriting was on the wall. Din kept planning an exit and retirement. A few weeks later, COVID shut the world down. He sold his Old Town home in 2021, that he purchased for $75,000 in the 80s, and left Key West.
He now lives near his sons in Floyd, Virginia, near Roanoke. There are a lot music opportunities but they are far apart, and he is not use to the long drives after four decades in Key West. He has started running sound, making others sound good.
Din also started writing songs again – with actual lyrics – for the first time in decades, and he is enjoying music differently. He continues to search through old recordings of The Survivors. His brother, Woody, passed away last year, and Din discovered a large cache of old music to review, digitize and tweak into new recordings. He will get his son to help setup a Survivors YouTube Channel and post the new music. Best of luck to a survivor.