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Rex Allen Jr.'s 'Arizona' lives on as state anthem 40 years later

Posted at 7:06 AM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 22:36:42-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It's been 40 years since Rex Allen Jr. released the song "I love you Arizona," and it still lives on as a true anthem for the state.

"It's real simple because I wrote about a place and a people that I have loved in my entire life," Allen Jr. said. "That's why I love you Arizona."

To fully understand that love, you have to go back more than 100 years. That's when Rex Allen Jr.'s great-great grandfather moved his family from West Texas by wagon.

"Pancho Villa came across the border and raided them. Stole their ox and everything they had that was of value," Allen Jr. said. "They were going to California and they started walking. They got as far as Willcox and quit."

That's how the Allen family ended up in the Willcox area. Rex Allen Sr. was born there in 1920.

He became a star of stage and screen. Known as "The Arizona Cowboy," Rex Allen Sr. has a star on the walk of fame. In Willcox you'll find the Rex Allen Museum, and each fall, he's remembered with Rex Allen days. This October will be the 70th.

That leads us to the song "I Love You Arizona."

Rex Allen Jr.'s 'Arizona' lives on as true anthem of the state 40 years later

As Rex Allen Junior's own career was taking off, he was writing an album about a guy who grew up in a small town in the southwest and went on to stardom, loosely based on his father's own story.

"I called Dad and I said 'Dad do you have a song that you have written and haven't recorded that I can use as a prologue for this album?' Dad said 'Son, I tell you what, you're suppose to be a songwriter. Go write your own darn song.' So I went into my den and in literally 30 minutes came out with the song," Allen Jr. remembered.

The song was first released in 1981. By 1982, the Arizona legislature named his song "Arizona" an alternate state anthem. He says it's really just a love song.

"I looked at Arizona when I wrote it as a woman. So it's a man singing about a love for a woman. In this case it's the state of Arizona," Allen Jr. said.

He is now semi-retired in Nashville. He's still producing music, but his heart drifts back to the song and to the lyrics he wrote 40 years ago.

"I thought about the people and the places there that I'd grown up with my entire life. So, the words were simple. They just fell on the page," Allen Jr. said. 'You know 'I love you, Arizona; your mountains, deserts and streams; the rise of Dos Cabezas' which is Willcox. That's where Dos Cabezas is."

In 2006, Rex Allen Jr. performed the song at the Great Wall of China. He says he never tires of playing it.

"Career-wise writing the song for Arizona is probably the highlight of my career musically," Allen Jr. said.

He boasts that his tombstone is already up at his family gravesite in Texas Canyon. It reads: "writer of 'I Love you Arizona.'"

Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.