“Like a lazy flowing river,
Surrounding castles in the sky.
And the crowd is growing bigger,
Listening for the happy sounds,
And I got to let them fly.” (1972) “Listen To The Music” Recorded By: Doobie Brothers Composer: Tom Johnston
Remarkable, isn’t it? Music has the ability to awaken memory banks which have been on pause for decades. Just a riff from a guitar, a tinkling of the keyboard, or a certain downbeat of percussion, and ZAP…you remember all sorts of scenes from when that song pierced your young ears. Test yourself sometime. Suddenly places, people, jobs, schools, loves, all come flooding back. Music truly is a computer file wrapped up in rhythm, rhyme and harmonies.
I must say, many tunes bring back such a place…and such a man.
Carrollton, Texas, my hometown, a northern suburb of Dallas, was much smaller in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. (I have written about our town in others posts.) In 1972, when indoor malls were new, and in vogue, or just being built, we shopped the various shopping center strips of the area. Before I discovered the gigantic record stores like, Sound Warehouse, Peaches, Tower Records, Rhino Records, or even the record section at Sears, here in our community we had, The Happening Sound Shop.
Nestled in the Carrollton Park Shopping Center strip, was a fairly small storefront, an authentic mom & pop retailer of everything in sound (music). Times have changed things a bit with tenants, retailers and renovations, but this is what a section of it looks like today.
Photo: The Happening Sound Shop was located in this small section of the shopping center strip, right around where the blue sign is.
Bill Allen was the owner. Not much is known about his earlier days, with the exception of being a manager of a production facility. For reasons that are unknown, in 1972, he left watching over assembly-line workers and opened up a record store. His vision grew with the addition of stereos, headphones, amps, guitars, CB’s (popular in the early to mid 1970’s), and other accessories. To further the customer’s opportunities, he opened up little semi-soundproof rehearsal booths in the back of the store, as well as guitar lessons from private music teachers.
Photo: NS yearbook ad. Bill Allen made sure there was a wide selection for every wallet, long before The Guitar Center.
With all his inventory of various products for the ear, the little shop became a bit crowded. But that was okay for those of us who lived just around the corner. In fact, our high school in the 1970’s was only about 200 yards away. It was perfect for a quick dash to Happening Sound at the lunch hour. THAT was terrific marketing from Bill Allen himself. Then in August of 1978, a second high school opened in north Carrollton, and Bill Allen made sure his shop was well known on the new campus.
Photo: Carrollton Chronical. 1977, Bill Allen at the counter taking orders for Elvis’ new project after his death at Graceland. The line was lengthy.
Growing up in our expanding community I doubt there would be one person in the 1970’s who didn’t frequent The Happing Sound Shop at one time or another. Many of us were there often. Bill Allen introduced us to the music we were hearing on the radio with his assorted stacks of wax.
Photo: RLT Yearbook. Two friends from my high school days in one of the many ads for Happening Sound Shop.
Bill knew where to put his advertising dollars. He had ads in the school papers, the playbills of many theatrical productions from the various schools, sporting evets and programs, and local newspapers published in Carrollton, and the neighboring suburb of Farmer’s Branch. He invested in the ISD of our community, as well as the young lives coming up. He had Happening Sound Shop, with the phone number, etched on all the guitar picks he sold. Many still have them to this very day. It’s been said he would mark down a price if a kid was short on cash. It was noticed. In 1983, even Billboard Magazine wrote an article on Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. The title of the article, “How One Texas Store Survives”.
As technology grew, so did Happening Sound Shop. Bill Allen stacked up the vinyl albums to the walls, always displaying the latest singles available on the old 45’s. Then came the 8-track tape cartages and players, then the cassette decks segued in the mix in the late 70’s and early 80’s, leading up to building shelves for something called, CD’s. He saw it all.
Photo: From Facebook Happening Sound Shop fan page. There are some mementos us older folks still carry in our wallets.
Bill Allen was an unusual retailer in several ways. He was witty, very quick with words, and humorous chatter. He had a gift of gab that could’ve landed him a radio talk show. The man understood how relationships, and filling needs, kept the clientele coming back.
One odd manifestation of such tools was his incredible ability, or the knack, to come up with nicknames for whoever walked through the door of his shop. With the forever cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, he would see me open the door and would greet me with, “Well, hello Curly!” Others, like my wife, had other nicknames. When he would see her he would shout out, “There’s little Red!” (She’s a ginger.) Other nicknames of note, “How’s it goin’ there, Sugga Booga?” “Come on in, Gold Dust!” “There’s old, Silver Queen!” “I do believe it’s John Wayne comin’ through the door!” “Hey, it’s the Golden Knight himself” “How’s it runnin’, Daisy Jane?” Then you could always expect some creative statement at the cash register. “That’ll be, $239.00 today, Cactus Eater.” (The price was $2.39.) Or, “Here’s ‘er change back, Raggedy Ann. Just like McDonald’s”. “Well, Humdinger, your bail sits at $4.99 even.” One of my favorites was when he sold me Barry Manilow’s latest LP, the comment at the counter was, “Well, Curly, how ’bout fries with that?” He had an amazing memory to be able to keep up with the names used for the customers, especially with the changes as we were growing up and hitting puberty. What a guy!
One final comment on the nickname subject. Our fine arts departments in the ISD were well known for our annual musical productions. In February of ’78, I took on the role of Johnny Brown (Molly’s husband) in, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” production at our high school.
Photo: Carrollton Chronicle, Feb 1978. Me as Johnny (JJ) Brown.
Someone had asked Bill Allen if he would place our promo ad poster in his store window a month before opening night. He did, as he did each year for major high school productions. After the run of shows, from that point on, he called me, “Mr. Uptown Brown”. What’s funny is that’s also my real last name. I don’t think he ever knew it.
You may be wondering why I would write about a small record shop and its owner’s quirky ways from 1972 and onward. My answer would simply be, ask us locals, now with whiter hair with pictures of our grandkids on the fridge and arthritic knuckles. Today there is a Happening Sound Shop fan page on Facebook. No surprise. Tons of people write of their solid memories of Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. People, who were touched in a personal way from childhood by a place, a man, and his love for community.
If you should scroll through the fan page, the string of admiration is clear. The comments go on and on about the man, and the place we all knew to be a shop where no matter what was up in our lives, we felt loved. Bill Allen really cared, without judgements, without slanted favor. When available, many post old photos of the place, Bill, and the old storefront. And for those of us who have moved away from the area, who had touchpoints with Bill Allen and his shop, have carried the precious memories with them. Moreover, they, we, have carried Bill Allen and his kindness in our hearts. In a way, one might say he taught us a bit how to love, be civil, and serve with a joy not often found in modern times.
After diving into theology in my 20’s, I discovered some of Bill Allen’s attributes found in Jesus and His teachings. To serve, not be served. To love, even if you know you may not be loved back. To reach out to the lowly, the poor, the young. To lift up, not to pull down. To invest in lives around yourself, and not store up for self. Call me quirky if you want, but I also see another trait. I see personal recognition, regardless of one’s status in society. Jesus spoke of it often. Scripture says He even named the stars, each and every one. He said His flock knows his voice. He knows each of us, individually, by a special name.
Bill Allen wasn’t wealthy. His mark-ups were never unreasonable, even during the inflation years of the 70’s. Bill Allen set up sales racks, marked down to where any of us could afford what was there. When he saw a customer who was needy, he would point out his depreciated items with a helping hand. He lived a life which left behind a great legacy.
Photo: One of the last pictures known of Bill Allen from around 1993.
Bill Allen’s cigarette habit closed in on him. He was diagnosed with cancer, and it took him quickly. His daughter made the attempt to keep Happening Sound Shop going after her father’s death, but in the end she felt it was truly his baby and could not survive without him. Several months after his death, Happening Sound Shop closed its doors for good in 1994. It was a sad day when the sound ceased to happen.
For a 22 year span, Happening Sound Shop was a bright star, not only for our community of music lovers in general, but to the masses of impressionable young people from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.
Who knows you by name? Find out in fuel for the race, Sugarfoot.
“‘…To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.’” – Rev 2:17b (NAS)