Though he seemed pleased that his latest album, See If I Care, recently went gold, that’s about all the record business numbers Gary Allan knows, or cares, anything about.
Those stories about his fighting with his record company, especially in the early days, are true. When the label honchos started to pick songs he didn’t like, he said, “No, that’s not me,” and stood his ground. “I think it made for a longer road,” he says, “but I think it’ll make for a longer career.”
So he’s not an arrogant bad boy. He’s simply a man who knows who he is and where his musical boundaries lay — or maybe, more appropriately, refuses to be limited by the confines of others.
He wears a hat, but he ain’t no cowboy, and he’ll be the first one to tell you so. He grew up on the beach in Southern California, surfin’. He did help brand cattle on his family’s ranch one day a year, but that didn’t make him a ranch hand.
And Nashville, as hard as it tried, couldn’t make him one of its cowboys, either.
Gary Allan is, though, an emotive, versatile tenor with a range from falsetto highs to rugged lows. He describes himself as “a very direct person.” He doesn’t read press, doesn’t pay attention to what anybody else does and he doesn’t watch the charts. “It drives me crazy to watch that stuff,” he says, “so I quit years ago.”
Initially signed to Decca Records, Allan released two albums, 1996’s Used Heart For Sale , which yielded the top 10 single “Her Man,” and 1998’s It Would Be You . When Decca folded, sister imprint MCA picked him up and 1999’s Smoke Rings In the Dark soared to platinum. Two hit singles from the album, the title track and “Right Where I Need To Be,” gave Allan’s fledgling status in the country music mainstream some sturdy legs, and People and Country Weekly dubbed him “country’s sexiest star.”
With 2002’s gold Alright Guy , a record Allan made when he was fed up with the “fluff” of country music, he scored big with a number three hit, “The One,” and the two-week number one “Man To Man.” The first single from See If I Care , “Tough Little Boys,” also reached the pinnacle, and Allan became the only solo artist to have two chart-toppers in 2003.
He’s been called hard-core, progressive, raw, alt-country and even country rock, but all those expansive terms grouped don’t do justice to Allan’s uninhibited creative breadth. He grew up a stone’s throw from Bakersfield, and that gravy of progressive influences ladled over a traditional foundation became his own musical pathway.
In fact, on See If I Care , Allan visits the very edges of the genre. From the stone-country daddy-ballad of “Tough Little Boys,” to the hip-shaking honky-tonk of “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey, to the Roy Orbison-conjuring swirl of the title track, to the Bakersfield/tejano romp of “Guys Like Me” — which channels Buck and Merle, by the way — Gary Allan, the anti-cowboy, keeps blazing his own trail right on top of that commercial/artistic fence. His second single, “Songs About Rain,” is climbing the charts, too, but Gary Allan hasn’t a clue where it is.