Last week I came across a rather haunting and brief David Allyn vocal ballad called A Swing for Joey. It runs all of 32 measures, without a repeating chorus or a break for solos. Curious, I did a little research and found that the song was recorded only twice—both times by David. The first recording of the song was for David's 1964 album This Is My Lucky Day (Everest), with big band arrangements by Bob Florence. The second was for a duet album David recorded in 1975 with Barry Harris called Don't Look Back (Xanadu). [Pictured: David Allyn with Tony Curtis in the studio in 1964 during the recording of This Is My Lucky Day]
After a little more digging, I found that the music for A Swing for Joey was written by David himself, with lyrics by Blanca Webb. More questions came to mind: Who was Joey? What's up with the swing? And who was Blanca Webb? So I gave David a call. Here's what the legendary vocalist told me:
"Soon after Johnny and his wife invited me to stay at their house in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., about 45 minutes north of New York City. They had a beautiful home on the water. Just past their back porch, the lawn ran down to a big oak tree. I thought to myself, 'What a great tree for a swing.' I was pretty handy, so after I returned home from their house, I went to a lumberyard and bought a 2-by-10-foot piece of wood. I trimmed it down and stained and vanished it. Then I bought 50 feet of rope and fixed it to the wood seat.
"The next time I went over to Johnny's home, I told his wife that I had something for her. She said, 'Yeah, what?' I said, 'A swing for Joey.' She said, 'Gosh, what a wonderful line, David. That should be a song.' Johnny's wife's name was Blanca. She was a lyricist whose maiden name was Webb. In the minutes that followed, I thought about what Blanca said and agreed with her. I told Blanca I'd take a shot at writing a melody. I told her I'd sing it without words on a reel-to-reel tape and send it to her so she could write the lyrics. She said, 'Great,' and we put up Joey's swing.
After I left, I recorded the melody onto a tape and sent the reel to Blanca. The result was A Swing for Joey. Then in 1964, when arranger Bob Florence and I were working on my album This Is My Lucky Day, I told him about the song, and he wrote a chart for it.
"As you can hear in the song, Joey isn't there because he has outgrown the swing, and the swing is empty. When I asked her about the words, Blanca told me that Joey rode my swing only once and never sat on it again. It was a short song with a hard melody to sing, but I loved it."
Here are the lyrics to A Swing for Joey:
A swing for Joey
Night and the twilight shadows playing games with the breeze
And a boy, small and sunburned, seems to swing through the trees,
"Swing higher, Joey"
Then it was time to be a man and reach for the moon
For youth was gone all too soon
The swing hangs empty
A Swing for Joey, music and lyrics by David Allyn and Blanca Webb ©David Allyn and Blanca Webb. All rights reserved.
JazzWax tracks: David Allyn's A Swing for Joey appears on This Is My Lucky Day, which is available here on CD as a Japanese import for between $44 and $50. David's duet album with pianist Barry Harris, Don't Look Back, isn't available on CD but turns up on LP from time to time at eBay. Both albums may be available at other download music retailers.
JazzWax interview: For those who missed my interview with David Allyn a few weeks ago, you'll find the two-parter here or under "JazzWax Interviews" in the right-hand column.