It was a torrid summer's day in Casablanca in 1943. American troops double-timed across a sandy parade square, rifles held aloft, heavy packs on their backs. Sweat ran down their faces as they pounded under the Moroccan sun. As they passed the barracks office, teenage infantryman Larry Allen saw a sign on the door: 'If you can sing or play the piano, see the sergeant,' it said. Allen chuckles. It sounded like a great alternative. The young soldier could certainly pound out music. He handed in his carbine, was assigned to a group called Harlem in Cadence, and tinkled his way across North Africa and up the Italian peninsula during the Allies' long and bloody advance. Today, he still plays some of the tunes with which he entertained the troops, timeless favourites such as Sophisticated Lady, a song he adores. But next month, Allen closes the lid: 55 years - and a million songs - after he marched away to war, he is going home. Behind him, the amiable music-maker will leave an army of friends, scattered across Asia in the bars, clubs, hotels and lounges where he has performed. 'It's time to leave,' he rumbled at the Foreign Correspondents Club, one of his regular workplaces for four decades. Hong Kong is getting too expensive and, at 75, Allen is slowing down, although his slightly risque, gently ribald versions of popular tunes are sprightly as ever. Allen learned to play when he was a boy in Indiana - and that is a favoured tune, too - where his father was pastor at the Amer-Zion Methodist Church in South Bend. Musicians were sometimes hard to find in church, so Reverend Allen made sure all nine of his children could perform to accompany the hymns. Allen also learned to ride a horse, which was why in 1943 he was in North Africa in the cavalry. Even the generals realised horse-borne soldiers were not about to beat the German Panzers, so the unit was broken up and Allen eventually ended up with 27 other soldiers in the special musical unit. They had be-bopped their way up to Florence by the time the war in Europe ended, then found themselves on a ship heading for the Far East and the dreaded contemplation of the invasion of Japan. But off Manila, the ship slowed down. Japan had surrendered. When Allen marched down the gangplank, he fell in love with Asia. He wanted to build a house and live forever on Manila Bay near the yacht club. So he left the army and stayed in Manila. The Philippines then was still an American possession. It did not take him long to work out how to make a musical living. There was plenty of work in Japan, where the Allied occupation meant demand for western entertainers. Allen stayed there for most of a turbulent decade as armies flowed through Japan en route to the increasingly desperate war in Korea. 'They were riotous times,' he recalls with his slow grin. 'I was playing in a lounge called the Golden Gate. One night in 1952, things got out of hand. The place was packed with servicemen and fists and chairs and beer mugs were flying. 'The military police came in with clubs swinging and as they carried out the combatants, I played Goodbye, Soldier, Goodbye as an accompaniment.' Allen could play just about anything anyone asked. His repertoire was gigantic. It included show music and jazz, folk songs and bawdy ballads, classical and soul. Interspersed with amiable asides and with his own lyrics to well-known tunes, Allen was a one-man performing troupe. He could fill an intimate piano bar with people listening intently or he could play in the background of a large hotel lobby. He came to Hong Kong in 1958, to live, as it turned out, permanently. But he still roved on lengthy special commissions to Jakarta, Singapore, Tokyo and other Asian cities. His greatest joy came from a five-year stint he put in when the Hyatt Hotel opened its Chin Chin Bar in 1969. 'I had to build the clientele,' Allen recalls. He did, too, and later opened his own establishment a few blocks away. For years, Larry Allen's piano bar in Cameron Road was a retreat for a quiet beer and a bit of music for knowledgeable local residents. The blue cap with a gold eagle is an Allen trademark. He got it in Singapore where he played in the Hilton's Captains Bar. Patrons called him Captain Larry; some still do. Some of the songs he wrote himself have become immortalised, as was one he used to sing during the exuberant days of rest and recreation in Hong Kong when the bars of Wan Chai were packed with free-spending Americans and British soldiers on less generous pay scales. Allen would imitate a bargirl - a difficult task for a man who then weighed in at well over 113 kilograms. Me no likee Blitish sailor/ Yankee soldier I adore. . . he would croon. And so it went, with much social commentary, and truth, packed into some of his self-written parodies. He worked in many clubs, such as the American Club and Foreign Correspondents Club, on and off for decades, a melodious landmark. Members would hear a familiar tune, interrupted by bellows of laughter at the ribald music, and hurry their steps: 'Hey, Larry's playing.' In the small towns 125 kilometres north of New York, where he is heading to join his wife, Laura, who runs several Chinese restaurants, Allen will still be playing his familiar tunes, three times a week. It is a long way from the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, but for Larry Allen, the music will go on.