Gary Allan

When 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 tunes.

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.

"I'll 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 for years."

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 Beach.

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 Alaska."

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."


History 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 bat."

The song was included as a hidden acoustic track but airplay was so heavy it became a single.

"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.


"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 To Heaven.

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 Airport.

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.


"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, something."

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 in June.

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 that,"

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 added.



"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 brokers.

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 Me.

"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 babies again."

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 office.

"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


"I once 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.

Well, almost.

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."


Allan cut 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 Jamie O'Hara.

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 single Runaway.


SEE IF I CARE - 2003

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