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Local Photographer Frank Allen Making The World A Better Place
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Local Photographer Frank Allen Making The World A Better Place

- edited by: Mike Kaufmann

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If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words then not even Tolstoy could write a story that would do local music photographer Frank Allen, Sr. justice. Frank Allen has photo documented more music events, concerts, festivals and benefits than any photographer in the business.

 

Frank Allen, Sr. shooting Springing The Blues.

Frank’s interest in music started pretty much the same as every musician’s, he loved listening to music, the creative part of his brain drove him to want to play and out of convenience and necessity, he got a harmonica and started figuring out how to match musical notes to the songs he loved. After high school, Frank was asked to join the band Loose Change and as Allen recalls, “The band Loose Change played a birthday party that Ed White and I were putting on in Neptune Beach and I pulled my harmonica out and sort of played along and one of the guys heard me and they asked me to join the band. I really think they needed me more because I had a car, but we gigged all over North Florida and it definitely was a lot of fun.”

Frank with lifelong friend Ed White and Kim White at Springing The Blues.

Bands break up and people move on, but Frank knew he had an instinctive love for music. Not being in a band any longer he decided to trade his motorcycle for a camera and he started shooting pictures of local bands at any kind of gigs he could find out about. Allen met Sydney Drashen of Jet Set Enterprises and to hear him tell it, “I bullshi**ed my way into working for Drashen and I got to shoot Heart and Dire Straits, Lynyrd Skynyrd and a lot of other bands.”

Eventually Frank found himself married with children and like with so many others his run in the music business came to an end. He put his camera away and focused his life on providing for his family. After an absence from playing music publicly or shooting photographs of bands for almost thirty years he remembers getting out of his truck one day and pulling his harmonica out and playing softly for himself when someone heard him and struck up a conversation.

photo: Frank Allen, Sr.

That chance encounter led Frank to sign up to play at an open mic in Atlantic Beach led by Mike Shackleford and before he knew it music was back in his life. “I was so nervous I almost didn’t go through with it,” Allen said. “Then I got up and played, the nervous jitters went away and I started doing open mics on a regular basis.

I noticed how many loved to come out just to get up and play one or two songs and I got to thinking that somebody should be shooting pictures of this and then it hit me, ‘that somebody’ should be me!”

When the new nightclub Seargent Peppers opened up Frank was hired to run the back bar and one night Bob Seger came in and got Allen to play some pool with him.

Allen in a ‘selfie’ with Jacksonville’s most popular Blues band, Smokestack.

After whipping Seger in a few games of pool he remembered other nights spending time with guys like Johnny Winter and others. Ultimately Frank went on to work out in Jacksonville Beach at the oceanfront club, Tan Fannies. Keith Roberts and Malcolm Marvin put Frank in charge and that lasted for a few years until the owners decided to sell the bar.

Frank worked out a deal to buy the bar, but at the time Jacksonville Beach was going through the beginning of the blighted stage and before long a group of doctors bought the property and Tan Fannies came to an end.

Shooting Smokestack at the Community First Seawalk Music Festival.

Having shot on 35-millimeter film back when he was working for Jet Set Enterprises, the digital age of technology had surpassed him, but Frank went out and bought a digital camera and sat down and learned how to use the new technology. “I had quite a few photos from back when I shot on film,” Allen said, “and one day I was at work and heard on the radio that Johnny Van Zant and some of the members from Lynyrd Skynyrd were headed to the Rock 105 studio so I told my boss I had to take off and I went home and got some of the film prints and went to Rock 105. I met Johnny Van Zant and Billy Powell and I showed them the photos and Johnny’s reaction was incredible. He was stoked to see the pictures but his reaction was that finally he had some cool pictures from back in the day before he had grown ‘such a big gut’ as he stated it!”

Frank with “Miss Daisy,” one of his most photographed subjects!

Fast forward a few years and Frank had come to understand how to use his digital camera efficiently and was out taking pictures of bands on a regular basis. Before he knew it Frank Allen had become the First Coast’s hardest-working music photographer, but he was doing it because he loved doing it, not for money. Frank has always been very humble so in his words, “I was just an old man with a camera!” Along with the time spent in the venues taking pictures, a lot of time was required to sit down at the computer and weed out the bad shots and edit the good ones. “I would spend days working on editing the pictures and all the time I was wondering in the back of my mind if the fish were biting or should I be doing something else?! But I loved doing it and to me photography is like fishing. I might throw a thousand casts to catch one or two keepers, just like taking a thousand pictures to get those one or two amazing photographs.” 

“As I was Walking Miss Daisy yesterday, this bird flew by, and I swung my camera around and click, not expecting anything, I checked what I got. What I got, was LUCKY.” – Frank Allen, Sr.

Besides his love for taking pictures, Frank loves hearing music and that is a major part of the draw, but probably most important of all is that he knows he brings joy to people when they see a great picture of themselves out at a gig or at an event that they otherwise don’t have any visual memories of. It isn’t only the musicians either. Frank Allen takes pictures of the people out supporting the bands and supporting the venues that book the musicians and he never charges a dime for any of it. It comes from the same type of passion that drives musicians to pack $10,000.00 worth of equipment into a $25,000.00 vehicle, drive 20 miles to spend a couple of hours setting up, play for three hours then break it all down, pack it all up, and drive back home for basically $100.00! And when people share his pictures or use them to promote themselves or post them on social media, all Frank hopes for is that they give him credit for the photo. 

Frank with Tom Fisher of Whiskey Jax.

Through it all, Frank Allen, Sr. has seen his ups and downs, just like so many of us, but in the end, Frank’s philosophy in life is to be someone who strives to make the world a better place every chance he gets. And from looking through his photographs it’s pretty obvious from the smiles on the faces of his subjects that he is doing a very good job at it.

Next time you’re in a venue listening to music and you see a guy taking tons of pictures, be sure to shake his his hand say thank you because the chances are it’s going to be Frank Allen.

At the 2024 Polar Plunge with event producer Mitch Kaufmann.
One of Frank’s selfies with Glenn Shuck recent 2024 Dancin’ in the Streets

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5 Responses

  1. I am so pleased to read this wonderful article about Frank. I had the opportunity to be a friend of his many years ago when I lived in Jacksonville, I moved away and as Frank had a lifestyle change but got to see him again at one of the Wanne Festivals and he remembered me after all those years
    What a great guy!

  2. Always a joy to know you are being “shot” by Frank. When he is on the scene or behind the scene looking through his lens, you know he is going to capture a moment and share it for the benefit of others to understand and enjoy what is happening.

  3. Thanks for the memories of our musician friends and fans. You have created many great photos in the past and present I have seen on FaceBook and Instagram, magazines, folio and more. What goes around comes around. In other words you are reaping what you sow. You deserve the recognition given here. Happy for ya! Cheers! & Praise the Lord!

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