Monday, May 28, 2018
News Roundup

Epilogue: Musician Bill Allen was more famous than he knew

ST. PETE BEACH — For a brief moment in 1957, Bill Snivley was living a musician's dream. Radio stations in the Midwest were playing a song he and his group had recorded, Butterfly.

Another song he wrote and recorded, Please Give Me Something, was on its way to becoming a cult classic.

And he was still a teenager.

Mr. Snivley, better known as Bill Allen, never became a big star. But he did tour with Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes), George Hamilton IV (A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation), Buddy Holly and a then-relatively unknown Roy Orbison.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he was a popular performer on the Pinellas beaches, packing the original Silas Dent's restaurant and other venues that are no more.

Mr. Snivley, who tasted brief fame and long-standing local esteem, died Feb. 22 in his native Akron, Ohio, of pulmonary disease. He was 75.

Mr. Snivley taught himself to play guitar and was performing in Akron bars before he could legally enter them. Then his father saw a newspaper advertisement for "Bill Snivley — the next Elvis Presley" and blew up.

From then on, Mr. Snivley performed as Bill Allen.

He teamed up with a John Seli, a good guitarist his own age. At the invitation of Eldorado records, Bill Allen and the Keynotes recorded Butterfly, a peppy tune of unrequited lust.

The song began to take off — just in time for Andy Williams to cover it in a No. 1 hit. The record company folded.

Mr. Snivley and Seli found greater popular success with Please Give Me Something, a hiccupy, growly number they wrote and recorded under the name Bill Allen and the Back Beats.

For a couple of years, they toured with big names. "He said, 'I was buying these guys' 45s at record stores, and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the bus with them,' " said Billy Snivley, 54, his son, who performed for 18 years on the Pinellas beaches as Bill Allen Jr.

Mr. Snivley married and divorced, then married Judie Sterner. He worked at Firestone to support his family, but also toured the country with several bands.

"Bill had the ability to make you feel like you were just in your living room, sitting around having a good time together in a very intimate setting," said musician Kenny Later, who performed in a Pinellas duo with Mr. Snivley called Almost Live.

Mr. Snivley went back to Ohio in 1988 but had returned in recent years to jam with old friends. Until recently, he did not know that his hit songs from 1957 and 1958 had migrated to France and the United Kingdom, where they remain popular.

In 2012, Mr. Snivley and fellow band members were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

"He was just so excited," his son said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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