Gary Allan Biography

Review The Artist (26)

Gary Allan-photo
Those are words Gary Allan has heard whispered before. Debuting when he did in 1996, at a time when Nashville was scratching a rash of suburban cowboy hat-wearing newcomers, it was perhaps an inevitable response. But he had the edge of experience. Having honed an individual style on the honky-tonk circuit in his native California since age 12, Allan is nothing if not resilient, and like the long line of honky-tonk icons whose music has inspired him - Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Johnny Horton, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens - he's learned that the best way to meet a challenge is head-on. With a smile.

"There were these guys at Buck's place last night," Allan says, the day after giving a by-invitation performance at a Bakersfield birthday celebration for Buck Owens. "I was signing their Gretsch guitars. They were way into punk, and they said, 'Man, we thought you were just another hat act out of Nashville, and you rawk!' When people see you're real, they're so impressed, and they so want something like that. I've had those guys at my shows since I was 15. Our shows are different that way - I don't worry about politics too much. I go in and I have fun."

If Allan sounds relaxed, he's earned the right. After playing countless smoky bars with his dad as a teen, he led his own band through the clubs and fairs of Southern California for several years before signing with Decca Records and releasing two albums that each generated Top 10 hits (single "It Would Be You" climbed to #5). His just-completed third album, Smoke Rings In The Dark, is by far his most honest and rewarding release to-date. And the hard-working entertainer achieved that feat following the most tumultuous year the music industry's seen in decades. When Decca closed in January, corporate maneuvers could have relegated Allan to the "Whatever Happened To...?" column in tabloid rags. Instead, he was one of only four artists picked up by parent company MCA. His new deal afforded him the time and resources to create a more mature, career-defining record.

Co-produced by top MCA honchos Mark Wright and Tony Brown (a "magic combo" who had never produced together before, and specifically requested by Allan), Smoke Rings In The Dark features a more muscular sound, replete with some swing, bluesy shuffle and twang. Allan even tackles Del Shannon's "Runaway," a staple of every working band's song list. Country sounds come courtesy of Western country sidemen like pedal steel man Dan Dugmore, Allan's longtime bandmate Jake Kelly, and former Faron Young/George Jones fiddler Hank Singer.

"I always thought Gary had a very distinctive sound," Brown comments. "On Smoke Rings In The Dark, this new creative team (Brown, Wright, Allan) really maxed out a direction - we found Gary's musical identity." Adds Wright, "When I first heard Gary play live, it was all about his vibe and musical presence. On this record, we've finally captured the essence of his live performance."

While Nashville contemporaries issue safe pop garnished with occasional steel licks, Allan has synthesized the hard honky-tonk vibe with the high-energy immediacy of his live shows. But it's on ballads like the sophisticated title tune, Harley Allen's "Bourbon Borderline," and Buddy Brock's classic-sounding "Don't Tell Mama" that he really shows the depth and command of his critically praised "aching tenor."

A great singer sounds like they've climbed inside the song and are living it as they sing; there's no distance between their vocal and the song's emotion. When Allan sings, whether he's parsing a lyric with humor or pain, he sounds like he's down with the dust and sweat and compromise of everyday life. No high-glam stylings here.

Capturing that mix - the light and the dark, the laughter with the anger, the conservative and the unusual - goes to the heart of the sometimes contradictory cultural traditions that helped shape the divorced father of three. Allan calls the region around Orange County, California home, an area rich in country music history. It's one of the few places in Southern California with working cattle ranches, where cowboys still rope and brand and go two-stepping at night.

"We get asked a lot at shows, 'What's a guy from California doin' playin' country music?'" Allan says. "There's a lot happening on the West Coast. And it's different than Nashville. I never heard the terms 'radio-friendly' or 'commercial value' until I got to Nashville. When we were writing songs in California, we wrote 'em for how we thought they would come off in a club-y'know, 'How's this gonna be to sing live to people?'"

A short drive west from those cowboy roundups are the beach communities where Allan loves to surf - and where the punk and modern-rock scene still thrives. Interestingly, many of its pierced and tattooed denizens are also exuberant fans of country legends like Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Hank Williams. Allan sees them at his own shows, and believes they respond to country music's relevancy.

"It's real life," he says. "The great country songs, they're powerful - I don't care what kind of music you listen to, they have a lot of soul. That's what a lot of country's lacking today."

Soul was a priority for Allan while hunting for songs for the new album. He heeded the lessons he's learned from years of reading audiences. The music - more specifically, the industry - has always gone through cycles. What outlasts trends are true stories and strong songs. Allan credits the new album's quality to the players and the fact that he was allowed to do three full song searches with publishers. Additionally, he hosted his own private guitar pull in a living room with cream-of-the-crop songwriters like Guy Clark, Harlan Howard, Harley Allen, Shawn Camp and Byron Hill. "They were there to pitch me songs, and they all pitched 'em acoustically," Allan says with enthusiasm. "It was awesome." Three of the album's best songs - Camp's "Sorry," and Allen's "Learning to Live With Me" and "Bourbon Borderline" - came from that enjoyable return to tradition.

That intimate setup also completed a circle, in a way, by returning to the basic importance of the singer and the song -- and listening. Allan's record deal was cinched by his extensive performance experience on the club circuit, where, like any stage-savvy veteran, he learned to listen to his audience and what makes them respond. For Allan, it's the live moments connecting him to an audience through song that still define country music.

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fell in love | Reviewer: julie | 1/29/13

I fell in love with your music and I listen to hard rock. I personally relate to a lot of the lyrics in your music and can not wait to read more of your bio I love the lyrics in songs because it puts togeather the persons life story and I personally love the phrase every storm runs out of rain the newest one that I have heard

made something cool | Reviewer: stephanie | 1/27/13

Gary- my name is stephanie and I was chilling with some friends and we listened to my playlist, your song "life ain't always beautiful" played. one of my music buff friends told me little about your Bio. and I am a member of TuneWiki, a music social networking site.On the site a person can upload photos and add lyrics from the songs to create something cool and share them with the world. I added a pic of roses underneath that song. I would like to dedicate my creation to you and for your wife. I also, learned from one of your interviews that she passed away on my birthday which saddens they say keep on keeping on

Turning stone Casino | Reviewer: Chrissy | 10/8/12

I hated my seats ..... Said I would never go again unless I got FRONT ROW!!!!! and guess what I got them coming up on nov 3rd in NY..... Watch for the shirt I throw on stage ..... I so deserve to see this guy and meet him... No not a stalker and no not gonna give him sex just want to meet him!!!!

Turning stone | Reviewer: Chrissy | 10/8/12

Yea its me again ..... I think its enough about his hardships how about him as a singer song writer.... AMAZING!!!!! How about a Fan who just loves his music !!!! Oh ok so his looks dont hurt !!!!!..... Going on Nov 3rd OMFG CANT WAIT JUST TO SEE HIM :)

How do you do it | Reviewer: Kimberly | 5/1/11

Gary, I recently (Valentines Day) lost my boyfriend of 6 yrs to suicide. I am having such a hard time coping with what he did and the emptiness I feel. You can pour your heart out into a song, yet I have no outlet. I don't have the talent like you do which leaves lots of lead in my pencil. Any suggestions for my healing? Greatly appreciated, Kimberly

Love song wrote for my wife | Reviewer: Gary Kade | 10/27/10

Good afternoon,
I seen you perform with Brooks & Dunn in Detroit this past year.It was fantastic!!
I know this is a long shot but when I heard you perform I knew that you were the artist to sing a song that I wrote for my wife. I have a copyright on the song.
This song bleeds the true meaning of a husband & wife that is so in love. It is not a song where either one of them lose everything to one another. It is said that George Jones had the saddest love song of all times with "He Stopped Loving Her Today" well I hope to present the most life lived love song. This song reflects not just on the wife, but in the end a complete family.
I wish you nothing but the best in your career & please continue to sing the great songs that you do. They are truely amazing! God Bless.

Recent Concert | Reviewer: Tammy | 9/5/10

Hi Gary. I just went to your concert here in Washington State and I have to say it was so good. I have always enjoyed your music and sound of your voice however never went to see you. The songs I heard the other night brought me back to when I first learned about you. I usually listen to rock but I certainly like your music (not a fan of country) I have been sad listening to it lately tho cuz I finally read about your wife and it brought me to tears. My 10 yr old son had to hug me, it reminded me of my older sister that did same thing when she was 26 yrs old. Thanks for the great music, it gets me thru life's struggles! Peace be with you and your kids.

the best i ever had | Reviewer: sheila zohrer | 3/25/10

hey gary, just a note to let you know how important your music is to so many of us. You sing our happiness and our pain and in such a good way. NO mainstream country crap that is everywhere. You need to know that you make such a big difference in our lives. going to see you in Great Falls in May. Can't wait. been loving your music for over 12 years. Thank you

pure | Reviewer: dawn palese-dougherty | 2/21/10

gary, i am in awe of you. i think you are pure, soulful and deep. life throws us all kinds of things love, death, happiness, darkness, and the experience of just living. in your songs, you feel it, when you perform you see it. i love to see u in concert and have a few times, the best place i've seen you is at the house of blues in atlantic city, nj. this was just a little note to let you know - i feel u and u have a beautiful spirit.

A man of pain | Reviewer: Steve Brown | 12/29/09

I've been listening to Garys Allens music for years it is the best country music for me.All the pain in his life has made him a song writer that comes from his heart now that is music.Now the tatoos are a big part of his life. But that is cool its just another part of a life of songs to come from him and i cant what.Just dont stop the music because guys like me need it ever day.Im vere proud to say im a big Gary Allen fan and ever concert gets better.The small bars are the best show ever it rocks.thanks for all the music.

Tracy Kelly | Reviewer: Tracy Kelly | 4/8/09

Gary Allen has stollen my heart. I can really relate to his music. My favorite song is "I just got back from hell",and "Johny Cash". I would love to meat him in person. I'm afraid my husband would have a little competition. Ha Ha lol. If I ever make it big in Nashville, mabey I'll get to meat him. My demo was cut at sound control studio and produced by Mark Mosley. Im a song writer and country singer as well. Gary if by any chance you read this please respond. with respect to you,Tracy Kelly from Hattiesburg Mississippi.

need advice | Reviewer: ashley | 3/5/09

Gary I really don't have that many friends maybe just one.But I have a really good life. i just wonder how do you make friends i mean i know your famous but you probably had a hard time when you first started out i just need some advice i don't just see you as a famous person but i see you as a person who is in this buissness for the love of music and how you can express yourself with it i hope you reply because i could really use your advice. i am about to turn sixteen and i hope i could see you in concert in evansville indianna for my birthday i think your really great best wishes and god bless

Love Your Music. | Reviewer: ashley | 2/3/09

Hey! Gary its me ashley I have just recently got your cds,tough all over and smoke rings in the dark for christmas. I have found that every cd of yours that I have gotton I love. You are a very good artist and I hope I can be a great country musician like you. Best of luck to you and stay strong.

girl who wrote my insperation | Reviewer: ashley | 10/4/08

hi gary its me agian i wanted you to know that your songs help me get through high school life i am pretty sure you know what its like to be a freshmen in high school its pretty tough and just knowing your music has gotton me through it you are still my insperation.

Your Music | Reviewer: jessica Day | 8/22/08

I've listened to all your songs and loved everyone of them. My favorite is smoke rings in the dark. There have been moments in my life that I could really relate to that song, and also songs about rain is a favorite of mine. when I listen to these two songs its like you know exactly how I'm feeling. I've been a fan of your's since i was 15 years old and I will be a fan forever even though I have never been to one of your concerts, I hope someday I will get lucky enough to go to at least one.

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