DIARY - 27 OCTOBER 2004 - GARY ALLAN INTERVIEW
GARY ALLAN - SURF RINGS IN THE DARK
surfing Californian cowboy Gary Allan was searching for songs for
third album Smoke Rings In The Dark he decided to host a
guitar pull with a bunch of Nashville songwriters.
Not just your average run of the mill Music Row songsmiths who toil
from 9-5 in publishing company cubicles, churning out radio tailored
This was the big league - featuring heavy hitters Harlan Howard,
Guy Clark, Shawn Camp, Harley Allen and Byron Hill.
"That's one of the coolest moments I've had finding songs,
it was magic," Allan told Nu Country on the eve of his second
Australian tour that started at the Continental Cafe in inner Melbourne
suburb, Prahran, on August 22.
do that again. I found three songs that night - Sorry, Learning To
Live and Bourbon Borderline out of that. Shawn Camp had been
holding songs, including Sorry, because he hoped to get another recording
deal. He also wrote Greenfields. He had been played fiddle for Alan Jackson
It's a long breaker from the surf beaches of southern California where
Allan rode waves before school while growing up in Montebello near Huntington
Although Allan first worked honky tonks at 13 he rejected his first Nashville
deal at 15 to finish his education.
It was at the age of 15, while at junior high school, that Allan wrote
his first tune Teenage Crush - one of many songs spawned by his
oft broken heart.
"There was a girl I liked in school," Allan recalled, "she
went away to camp for seven days.
When she came back she liked someone else. I was writing songs, taking
just four or five hours, from raw emotion. Now they have to crafted. I
wish they were still that easy. I barely went to school when I was in
school. I played the bars at night, I was half asleep when I got to school.
I thought sleep was what you did when you got to school."
Ironically it was a post education job selling cars that landed him his
first record deal when a wealthy couple found the singer's demo tape in
their glove box.
"They came in to get their truck washed and asked who was on the
tape," Allan recalled, "they asked what it would take for me
to have a singing career. I said 'money, probably.' They said 'how much?'
I said '$10-12,000.' The husband said 'write him a cheque for $12,000.'
When they gave it to me I gave it back. I said 'I've never taken money
from my family in case I wanted to quit.' I didn't want to feel like I
owed anybody anything. She laughed at me and slid the cheque back across
the table and said '$12,000 ain't that much money to us - if it can change
your life you should take it.' Six weeks later I went to Nashville, got
a record deal and gave her back the $12,000. She now has a gold mine in
Allan bumped one of his own songs from debut disc, Used Heart For Sale,
to include Jim Lauderdale's Wake Up Screaming.
"Jim is one of the writers I like to listen to around the house,"
says Allan, "every album needs those really different songs on them."
IN TEXAS AND ON MUSIC ROW
repeated when Allan was finishing his second album Her Man
and discovered No Judgment Day - a tune penned by Allen Shamblin
who wrote a brace of hits with Mike Reid.
"I bounced one of own songs to get that on the album," Allan
revealed, "that song was so heavy. It was played during so many
crises in the U.S when they had inter-school shootings. I think it's
a song everyone can relate to. It was a song written off the front
page of the newspaper, a true story about a Texas town, Crosby. Three
kids beat a shopkeeper friend of Allen's dad to death with a baseball
was included as a hidden acoustic track but airplay was so heavy it became
"At first they didn't want me to record it," Allan recalled,
"they said 'you shouldn't do it, it's too dark and then when it's
a success they said wasn't that a great idea of ours.?"
Allan is proud that his music owes more to the Bakersfield sound of Buck
Owens, Wynn Stewart and Merle Haggard than the formulaic Nashville chart
candy that is clogging charts.
"I've got a really cool song, a take on Murder On Music Row,"
Allan revealed, "it's called None Of Them Out There Worth A Buck.
It has the line 'Buck Owens gets my dollar every time.' A friend of mine
gave it to me. I laughed a long, it just killed me."
Gary empathises with the sentiments of the Larry Shell-Larry Cordle satiric
Murder On Music Row - a parody of the de-countrifying of music force-fed
to the 2,800 plus U.S. country music stations.
Cordle and David Frizzell - brother of the late Lefty - released their
versions of the song before U.S. superstars George Strait and Alan Jackson
cut it with chart topper Lee Ann Womack on harmonies.
Although the duo kicked sand in the faces of Music Row moguls by playing
the song at the prestige Academy Of Country Music Awards, radio has not
changed its country pop penchant.
"I don't think they took much notice," Allan revealed in a call
before a gig in the north Texas dance hall circuit.
"It hasn't really impacted."
But the singer said the cyclical nature of the genre may again see a return
to roots country.
AND TV ROLES
"There's an upsurge of the Bakersfield sound out there right now,"
he explains, "Eric Heatherley and Darryl Worley are some of the young
guys coming up doing some nice retro stuff. There's an upsurge of artists
now who are more retro because country has lost a lot of its soul. The
result is they see their audience declining. The songs have got to have
soul, have real meaning. That's what country music is, what happens during
the week. Rock n roll is about what happens at the weekend."
The singer played the lead role of Eddie Cochran in the TV mini-series
Shake, Rattle & Roll but is not keen to divert to acting.
Cochran died at 21 in a car crash on April 17, 1960, after a short but
fiery career that produced the smash hits Summertime Blues, Come On
Everybody and Something Else.
Ironically the singer, whose passenger and fellow rock star Gene Vincent
survived the crash, was touring to promote his new single Three Steps
Like many peers Allan found the transition from singing to acting a time
consuming test of his patience and nerves.
"It was so tedious being there on the set from Sunday to Friday,"
Allan recalled, "I was going nuts. I'd be a heroin addict if I had
to spend nine months in trailers. The series was screened over two nights."
That role landed Allan another part in another CBS TV series Pensacola
- Wings Of Gold.
The TV roles enabled Allan to make his music videos lavish productions
- the latest was shot last week on a deserted runway at Nashville International
Allan and his band The Rhythm Wranglers performed in an aircraft hangar
and on the tarmac with a cast of 100 extras - mainly female models - doubling
as concert fans.
"It was an out of control crowd, clad in black leather in 95 degrees
heat," Allan revealed, "it was for my new single Right Where
I Need To Be.
As a performer Allan is meticulous about song choice - even it means replacing
his own compositions as he did on his first two albums.
The singer refuses to read the biographical blurb accompanying songs pitched
to him and is unfazed by the industry fanaticism for positive love songs.
INOCRRECT AND PROUD
"I don't believe country should be a politically correct format,"
says Allan - a twice divorced father of three daughters.
"I believe country music in the early days had lots of soul and the
songs had a lot of heart.
There were songs about life. I make sure the songs I pick bring out some
sort of emotion in you, make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry,
Allan was put to the test on the eve of recording Smoke Rings.
"Quite often an album is a reflection of what you are going through,"
Allan revealed, "my marriage broke up. In the middle of record I
had a lot of personal stuff on side."
Allan split with second wife Danette Day, a Versace model, after only
seven months of marriage - the same length as fellow tattooed country
singer David Allan Coe's seventh marriage.
"Thanks for pointing that out," Allan quipped, "the price
was heavy but I think we got a good record out of it."
The title track cracked the Billboard Top 20 about the same time as Allan
debuted in Tamworth in January.
The new U.S. single, Loving You Against My Will, was Top 40 early
And the local single - a remake of the Del Shannon smash Runaway
- and revamp of Kevin Welch tune Crying For Nothing are also receiving
airplay here on community radio and the ABC.
But the song with most legs could be Don't Tell Momma I've Been Drinking
- co-written by Jerry Lasseter, former fiancee of Tanya Tucker.
"Man, that's classic American country," says Allan, "you
don't get any more country than that. It's so powerful, I had to record
Allan is accompanied by long time band The Rhythm Wranglers featuring
guitarist Jake Kelly, Jody Maphis and pedal steel player Mike Fried who
has toured here twice with Wylie & The Wild West.
"Jody's dad, Joe, was a famous session player and writer whose hits
included Bright Lights, Thick Smoke And Loud, Loud Music," Allan
CD REVIEW 2003
ALLAN SURFS AGAINST TIDE
"Well, there's no more smoky bars in California/ ain't no wild life
left in Tennessee/ but I keep on living every song I'm singing/ and they're
trying to put an end to guys like me/ all that's left in Bakersfield is
a juke box/ and it's haunted by old songs and memories." - Guys
Like Me - Kostas & Trent Summar.
Surfing Californian cowboy Gary Allan is not afraid of hanging five or
ten while fighting his war of the bar-room roses against Music City power
And, with a brace of recent radio and video hits, he has clout as he flexes
his Tex-Mex in his torched treatment of the biographical tune Guys Like
"It's a lot more politically correct than it used to be," Allan,
35, revealed recently as his aptly titled fifth album See If I Care
(MCA-Universal) soared the charts.
"I think that we've lost a lot of edge. There used to be so much
more character in country music. Now, I keep hearing this demographic
called the soccer mom and I don't think any of my heroes gave a shit if
the soccer moms listened to their albums. I feel like when it's too politically
correct you lose the kids because kids want to see the edge in something.
There are ways to do that without going off the deep end. I feel like
kids want a part of something that is cool. When I was a kid I didn't
care what you listened to.
"There was a cool factor to country music cause you had Waylon and
Kristofferson, and you had Willie and Haggard. Those are real life people.
I think that we've lost a lot of that today."
Allan sneers at Music Row puppeteers and their pop country puppets.
"Now it's a guy that a great producer found and threw a hat on and
told him what to wear and say," says the Orange County lineman.
"You see a lot of that stuff. I feel like there are still a lot of
those really cool people, you have to dig to find them. They are usually
not in the Top 10 on the charts, but there are still some very cool people
out there. You just have to look below the surface."
So was Allan
taking a risk when he took his album title from bluesy Jamie O'Hara song,
See If I Care?
O'Hara - who had hits with Kieran Kane in The O'Kanes - also wrote George
Jones album title track Cold Hard Truth.
It's an assertive love song about a departed lover but equally relevant
to Allan's career.
"I think that has been my attitude throughout my career," says
Allan, "that I'm going to do what I want, and if you guys want to
buy it or the label wants to back it, that's cool. But if not, I will
be doing my thing over here. I think it made for a longer road for us,
but I think it's going to make for a longer career."
The new album has rocketed the charts for the twice wed father of three
who has toured here twice.
It kicks off with Michael Henderson-Chris Stapleton penned honky tonker,
Drinkin' Dark Whiskey that segues into the ruptured romance of
Can't Do It Today.
Chart reality kicks in with Harley Allen-Don Sampson penned hit Tough
Little Boys - sibling song of sorts to the late Harry Chapin's oft
covered Cats In The Cradle.
"But when tough little boys grow up to be dads/ they turn into big
Allan milks the melancholia of Don't Look Away and Pat McLaughlin-Liz
Rose tune Songs About Rain - a collage of radio rain requiems and
perfect link to the optimism of I Can Love You.
Allan is adept at extolling sensual bliss in Nothing On But The Radio
and redemption fuelled co-write with O'Hara and Odie Blackmon on You
Don't Know A Thing About Me.
Fitting finale is a duet with Willie Nelson on Jesse Winchester standard
A Showman's Life.
And Allan also has down home ideas if tapped on the shoulder for political
"I think we're going to feed the homeless and lower taxes,"
quips Allan, "they can smoke in bars and we'll legalise medical marijuana
usage. For medical reasons!"
CD REVIEW - 2001
GARY ALLAN DEVOURS DEVIL'S CANDY
lost an angel when a bad girl was handy/ I've always had a sweet tooth
for the devil's candy." Harley Allen-Carson Chamberlain.
When Californian cowboy Gary Allan played the Continental Café
he had frantic front row femmes eating out of his crutch.
Allan, 33, and twice wed father of three, has a smoky, sensual appeal
that transcends sub genres of the most popular roots music form.
On a previous disc Allan released a hidden track - an acoustic murder
ballad - as a single.
Now, on his fourth album Alright Guy (MCA), the singer has updated
the Todd Snider penned title track with a Monica Lewinsky quip, deleted
from a lyric sheet on the inner sleeve.
"I'm just trying to see how far you can push the envelope,"
says Allan whose music owes more to Bakersfield than Nashville.
"I've got them talked into putting out Alright Guy as the
last single in case it offends everybody and ruins the record."
the whimsical What Would Willie Do - one of many tunes by fellow
Aussie tourist Bruce Robison whose Angry All The Time is an huge
hit for Tim McGraw.
"Country music is about life and has soul," Allan adds, "I
think so much of it today is bubble gummy and light, To me that's boring."
That description doesn't fit Allan's single - Rivers Rutherford-George
Teren tune Man Of Me - or intro song Man To Man penned by
Gary is not a prolific writer - he penned I Don't Look Back with
road guitarist Jake Kelly and Odie Blackmon.
He maintains he listens to demos without knowing the names of the writers
- that way he can pick without prejudice.
That's why he chose the haunting Devil's Candy - penned by Harley
Allen and Cason Chamberlain and the Jim Lauderdale-Leslie Satcher tune
What's On My Mind.
Allan showcases his two extremes - Roger Brown-Luke Reed penned haunting
ballad Adobe Walls and previously recorded Del Shannon penned Aussie
FOR SALE - 1996
IT WOULD BE YOU - 1998
SMOKE RINGS IN THE DARK - 2000
ALRIGHT GUY - 2001
SEE IF I CARE - 2003
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