Gary Allan

THREE MAY BE GARY ALLAN’S LUCKY NUMBER. He has three daughters, the former promotions head of Decca Records agreed to manage him the third time he asked, and his third album and its single are burning up the charts.

The country singer’s success may be attributed to his penchant for playing the live circuit and his philosophy on making music.

In 1995, he wanted to cut a demo that sounded different from his previous recordings, so he flew to Music City. “I had done all my demos in L.A. and I wanted to do something in Nashville studios using some of their players. I wanted to make an impact on those people instead of knocking on doors like everyone else,” Allan told POLLSTAR.

Afterward, he refused to return to Nashville to showcase “because if they flew me out there, I would play in a room for a couple of guys in suits and what I wanted to do was have them see me in clubs,” he said.

His strategy worked. When Decca learned RCA planned to fly to California, it flew there a week ahead of its competitor and signed him in 1996. “It just snowballed into this big deal. It was killer,” Allan reminisced.

Relying on his business savvy, “I didn’t have a manager all the way through my second single, so I had a record deal without a manager, had an agent without a manager,” Allan said. “I didn’t have a manager until the third single of my first record. I did everything myself.”

After the success of his debut album, Used Heart for Sale, plus the increased workload, Allan admitted he tried talking John Lytle into quitting his job at Decca to become his manager. “He was the only person in town I trusted that much,” the 30-something-year-old singer said. They’ve been together three years.

From the beginning, Allan’s output was never determined by radio. “Radio doesn’t have anything to do with how I record,” he said. “I don’t think about radio when I’m in the studio. I don’t try to make things radio (friendly). I just go in and make a record that I like and hopefully somebody else likes it, too.

“I think what’s wrong with a lot of music today is it’s overthought. If everybody would just go and do what they thought was cool, we’d have a wider variety and cooler music to listen to,” said the artist who was named 1998’s sexiest country star by People magazine.

Sticking to his guns, the Southern California native finds himself busier than ever since Decca closed in January 1999 and parent company MCA picked up his contract. Allan was one of only four of the label’s acts absorbed. Last year, he spent 115 days on the road.

The continued hectic pace since the October release of his third and latest album, Smoke Rings in the Dark, has deprived him of quality songwriting time. Each of his albums contains one of his compositions.

“Doesn’t mean a whole bunch to me that I wrote them,” Allan said. “I think there’s too many guys out there writing great songs and I think it would be a mistake for me to try to shove all mine on there.”

When it comes to selecting songs, “I always look for things that bring out an emotion for me. They have to make you laugh, make you cry, piss you off – or else it’s just fluff,” he said.

Gary Allan

His musical goal is similarly cut and dry. “My career goal is just to play. All the music business could fall apart tomorrow and I’ll be playing some bar someplace and I’d be happy,” Allan said. ” … I wanna play to bigger crowds but there’s no big financial or any of those kinds of goals. I just wanna be happy.” The singer with the laid-back attitude calls Huntington Beach, Calif., home and is passionate about another interest requiring skill and focus – surfing. Growing up, he hit the beach and the bars, his guitar accompanying him to the latter. His career began at age 13, when he sang and played bass at neighborhood honky-tonks with his dad and brother. His inspirations were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. At 15, he turned down a record contract with A&M. Taking a slight detour, the crooner did a short stint in the Army, then worked in construction and sold cars before Decca signed him.

He considers that deal his big break “because my first single, ‘Her Man,’ went over real good. We were on a label that didn’t really have the funds to compete as much, like with MCA, so I feel like now things are gonna change a lot for me ’cause I’ve got a label with a lot more presence,” Allan said.

His own presence is on the rise. He’s got U.S. dates coming up, plus tours in the U.K., Brazil and Canada. This month, he returned from a two-week stint in Australia.

Nose to the grindstone with an eye on graduating to the arena level, Allan laid out his plans for himself and his seven-piece band, Honky Tonk Wranglers, in simple terms. “We’re gonna keep making traditional music.”