The Rance Allen Group (RAG) is one of the most explosive groups to emerge from the legendary Stax Records label in the 1970s. Their sanctified soul hits such as “Ain’t No Need of Crying,” “I Belong To You,” and their consecrated cover of The Temptation’s “Just My Imagination” placed them in a pantheon of deep soul artists like Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. In the decades since, the Allen Brothers (Rance, Tom and Steve) have built on that foundation with their Tyscot Records-era hits such as the R&B crossover smash “Miracle Worker,” “Do Your Will,” and “Something About The Name Jesus.” Their sacred-secular musical fusion, chunky harmonies, lyrical messages of faith and fraternity, and Rance’s stratospheric falsetto have made them standout as one of the most dynamic groups to ever shuffle across the stage of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater.
Brotherhood is the underlining theme to RAG which has maintained the same line-up for all of its 40 year history. Their story began in the paper mill city of Monroe, MI where Rance Allen was born November 19, 1948. One of twelve children, he began preaching as Little Rance Allen and singing at the age of five. “We were raised in a family where you went to church every single night,” Allen once told Gospel Flava.com. “To keep our interest, my grandmother went to a pawn shop and brought instruments, drums, guitars and amplifiers.” Using records by the Rev. James Cleveland and occasionally a Ray Charles tune as his guides, Allen learned to play the piano before picking up the guitar with Chuck Berry as an influence. His grandparents served as his agents, but he once told writer Lee Hildebrand, “I didn’t have a life like most kids had. I wasn’t allowed to go out and play baseball with the guys and do the things a kid does.”
Circa 1968, the kid, with himself on guitar, started the Rance Allen Group with his older brother Tom on drums, and younger brother Steve on bass. They recorded their first song “Let’s Get Together and Love” for the local Reflect label. It was poorly distributed, so they packed the wax singles in their instrument cases and sold them at their shows. Then, in 1971 they won a prize of $500 at a Detroit talent contest where legendary Stax Records promotion man Dave Clark was in the audience. Clark liked what he heard and took RAG into the studio that very day when they recorded an album’s worth of material that was purchased by Stax Records, the gritty counterpoint to Motown in the 1960s.
Stax President Al Bell loved RAG’s music so much that he sired The Gospel Truth subsidiary specifically to promote RAG. The group’s first single was “Just My Salvation,” a 1971 gospel cover of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” Soon, RAG was appearing on bills with the likes of The Dramatics and Barry White and taking their R&B-infused gospel to an un-churched audience. Over the next few years, the Allen Brothers’ studio sessions were laid by some of the finest players in the history of R&B. There was Lester Snell who played piano on Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” and Shirley Brown’s “Woman To Woman.” They also had Al Jackson Jr. the drummer on Booker T. & the MGs’ “Green Onions” and Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay.” What better bass player was there then Donald “Duck” Dunn who played on Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour.” RAG built a solid following off of their hits such as “I Got to Be Myself” and James Cleveland’s “That Will Be Good Enough for Me.”
However, by 1975, financial misappropriations among label executives, legal suits and other issues eventually shut Stax down. Burned but not baked, RAG snagged a deal with Capitol Records where R&B sensations Natalie Cole and Peabo Bryson were receiving most of the label’s attention. RAG released a couple of albums before returning to Stax in 1979 after the company was purchased and reorganized by Fantasy Records. During this period, RAG enjoyed its biggest Stax hit with the R&B-styled love song to God, “I Belong to You.” From there, RAG moved to Myrrh Records where they recorded two albums, including, I Give Myself To You, that peaked at #5 on the gospel chart in 1985.
It was during the l980s that Allen really began to focus on his preaching ministry. Church of God In Christ (COGIC) leader, Bishop G.E. Patterson, began to mentor him. Under his guidance, Allen founded the New Bethel Church of God COGIC in Toledo, OH in July 1985.
Four decades into their career, the music industry has now begun to honor RAG’s groundbreaking work in bridging R&B and gospel. They received a the Bobby Jones Legend Award during the 2009 Stellar Awards and were feted in a BMI Trailblazers of Gospel ceremony in 2008. The Allen Brothers and their respective wives and families all live in Toledo now. Steve is a physical therapist with the St. Vincent Medical Center and Tom is retired from the State of Michigan after a 39 year tenure. Allen still pastors New Bethel COGIC where his wife, Ellen Marie Allen, is very active in supporting his ministry. When asked what he’d like his legacy to be, Allen says, “I would love it if they said Rance loved God, he loved music, and he loved people. If God was given glory in the music. If music was played and performed and anybody who heard it was blessed. Something like that…”