An Epic Man Called Slam

For Harrison Allen, Jr., his journey to packing a blues club on a cruise ship started in a wrestling ring.

"I wanted to be a pro wrestler," laughs the personable star of the Norwegian Epic's Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club. "I trained for wrestling but I found out it's too hard. It's a rough, rough business. I had one match. I was what you call a jobber. My job was to get beat."

On stage, he's known as Slam Allen and, yes, the name did come from wrestling, but not for what you might think — a move called a body slam.

"There was this person younger than I was [he was a teenager]…he was a little runt, like the smallest of the litter," Allen recalls. "He had a stick, like a two-by-four, that he used and he called the stick 'Slam.' I took on that name, and it kind of stuck with me."

While Slam Allen is 0-1 as a wrestler, he's something like 1043-0-1 on the Epic, because that's about how many shows he's done in more than two and a half years. He's always a hit and the "draw" represents the only show he ever missed, because of rough seas.

Wrestling, however, did leave its mark.

" I was fascinated by entertainment," he says. "At the time, I didn't really know pro wrestling was all fixed. I just had a passion for entertaining people and I saw how characters moved people, because people rooted for the good guy and booed the bad guy, and I wanted to be part of that. I just love entertaining."

By then, he'd already had a taste of music as entertainment. He just didn't think of it as entertainment.

"Music had been around me all my life, so it was second nature to me," adds Allen, now 46. "I didn't think I was doing anything different than what my dad and my uncles were doing. They had a band for years. As early as five years old I was on stage to sing and play with my Dad's band. I remember the first song I ever sang — it was called 'Tighten Up'. I was 13 and I was already playing the Chitlin Circuit — Alabama, Mississippi — with my dad."

His late father played bass, regular guitar and drums. He was also a deejay, which gave young Harrison access to a library of records that helped to shape his musical career.

" I travelled with the band for a while, then I was a kid for a while. But music always called me back. In high school, I was playing the string bass, and reading and playing classical music. Bass is nice but you can't pick up chicks with a bass, so I had to get a cool instrument."

That was a guitar.

"What really got me into guitar was when my Dad let me hear B. B. King." he says. "After the first record, that was it. I started to get into guitar players. Then I heard George Benson, and I was into jazz. I wanted to be George Benson. Eventually I tried to take the fluid playing of George Benson and the blues of B.B. King, and make it my style."

Today, his style also includes a touch of Sanford & Son

Yes, that Sanford.

"I grew up watching it," laughs Allen. "I liked the way Red Foxx had this quick wit, the way he could come back with something funny, and say something funny from something you said…he made me laugh. I absorbed it and I became Red Foxx, only cleaner. I have the whole collection of Sanford and Son. I watch it over and over again."

There's a little bit of Fred Sanford in the Epic's Fat Cats & Blues Club, which is eight months of the year, because he's fun…and he's funny. He's also, well, his interpretation of his nickname says it best…

"SLAM took on a new meaning after I got hold of it," he says, "…Smooth Like A Mother."

Tomorrow: Why Epic passengers love Slam The Man.

Carnival Legend
12 nights
April 22, 2013
Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Marseille, Olbia, Livorno, Rome, Naples, Messina, Dubrovnik, Venice
Inside:  $679
Cost per day: $56

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