Show Spotlight: Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs at Tipitina’s

Corneal Westbrooks

Special to theadvocate.com

Shamarr Allen
Shamarr Allen

Shamarr Allen may be a member of the Underdawgs band, but not many people who are familiar with his music would be willing to bet against him. Allen has been playing the trumpet since he was 7 years old and has become quite good at it. In fact, the 31-year-old trumpet player has become so good that he has performed with legendary performers like Patti Labelle and Willie Nelson. He has even played for President Barrack Obama — twice.

“Trumpet was the first thing I picked up,” Allen said, “I play the keyboard. I played trombone with a couple other bands for a while, but the trumpet is the thing that sets me apart from everybody else.”

The list of people with whom Allen has performed reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry. Allen has performed with Labelle at the Essence Festival, toured with Nelson and played with Lenny Kravitz and Branford Marsalis. In 2010, Allen also performed at the White House along with Harry Connick Jr. for President Obama, however, that wasn’t the first time that he played for the president. Allen played the National Anthem for the president during his 2009 visit to the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.

“I’m not sure how it came about. I got a phone call from the White House. It was blocked, and I’ll never forget the dude’s name was Carlos.” Allen joked. “He said, ‘We got your information, and you should come play for the president.’ I hung up thinking it was a prank. I was thinking Carlos in the White House, come on man.

“Then, he called back and was like Shamarr Allen born in 19 whatever. He gave me my address and read me half of my Social Security number. I was like, ‘Alright, what’s up?’ He gave me the date and time that they wanted me to perform and was like, ‘But first we have to run a background check.’ The rest is history,” Allen said.

Allen has been with his current band for five years. Members of the band include his childhood friend Floyd Gray (drums), Herbert Stevens (percussion, backing vocals), Jason Butler (keyboard), Matt Clark (guitar) and William Terry (bass). Allen and his band are not taking the normal touring route of most musical groups. Even though they do play shows around the country, the band also has served as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other Eastern European countries.

“We did it twice.” Allen said, “We went to different schools performing. It was funded by the U.S. government — like a cultural exchange type of thing. This year we are supposed to be going to Dubai and Moscow.”

The group’s latest album is titled “504-799-8147,” which is Allen’s telephone number. The album covers a diverse array of musical genres.

“They have Twitter. They have Facebook. They have Instagram. They have Myspace. They have all this stuff where if anybody in the world wants to get in touch with you, they can,” Allen said when explaining his reasoning behind using his phone number as the album title. “I haven’t gotten any crazy calls, but I have got some funny texts. It was a marketing thing, people feel like they are your friend when you give them your phone number.”

Most artists want to appear at as many venues and perform as many times as possible during Mardi Gras season, but not Allen and the Underdawgs. They plan on performing one time and one time only -- on Feb. 2 at Tipitina’s. The show will start at 10 p.m., and you don’t want to miss it because you never know where Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs will appear next.

“My situation is a little different than everybody else right now.” Allen said. “I try not to play as much. I try to do less shows, but get more people out. You may have your regulars, but you won’t go to their shows if I’m playing on the same night as them, because you know you can catch them next week, but you can’t see Shamarr, because he don’t play like that.”