Gary Allan Couldn't 'Care' Less About Chart Success

Excerpted from the magazine for

Although he's from Orange County, Gary Allan isn't your typical blue-eyed surfer from Southern California. This wave rider has a top-5 single on the country charts, and instead of sunglasses, his eyes are frequently shaded by a well-worn cowboy hat.

Allan's third album on MCA Nashville, "See If I Care," hit stores Sept. 30, and, as the title indicates, it evokes the nonchalant attitude of the original pioneers of the Bakersfield, Calif., sound.

"I keep hearing this demographic that everyone's targeting called the 'soccer mom,' and I don't think any of my heroes [would have given] a s*** if the soccer moms bought their albums," Allan says, speaking of boyhood idols Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Lefty Frizzell.

With songs like the raucously honky-tonk "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey" and the defiantly nostalgic "Guys Like Me," it's easy to imagine Allan growing up on the smoky bar circuit of Southern California, where he's been touring since he was 12.

"There used to be a really big cool factor to country music, and I think it's trying to be too politically correct right now," Allan says.

After two albums with Decca Records that garnered lukewarm response, Allan's career picked up when the label folded and sister label MCA Nashville took over. The latter released 1999's "Smoke Rings in the Dark," which enjoyed platinum success.

"They were trying to package me like everybody else," Allan says of Decca. "I think no matter who had me, it would have been a long road. You have to go through this period of being odd before everybody realizes that's your sound."

With the 2002 follow-up "Alright Guy" -- which produced the artist's first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, "Man to Man" -- Allan is what Universal Music Group Nashville chairman/CEO Luke Lewis calls "a quiet success.

Though Allan has started to enjoy success on a mainstream level, Derek Simon, VP of marketing for MCA Nashville and Mercury Records, says, "Gary hasn't lost his edge. If anything, he has more of an edge now."

But Allan takes a departure with the first single, "Tough Little Boys," which is No. 5 Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Sung through the eyes of a father, it's a song that Simon expects will build Allan a new fan base.

"It's such a moving sentiment that most people can relate to," Simon says. "Whether you're a mother or father, the song draws you in lyrically, and I think it's going to open people's eyes to a new side of Gary."

Although Allan is married with six children, he sings "Songs About Rain" -- slated to be the new album's second single -- with the convincing frustration of a jilted lover. Lewis says the standout track is the most likely choice for Allan's first performance on the Country Music Association Awards, slated for Nov. 5.

Allan, who has been playing three to five dates per week since he was a teenager, only leaves the road when it's time to record and has been performing material from "See If I Care" for the past several months.

But for an artist who confesses he doesn't care about his position on the charts, this way of life is perfect.

As Allan puts it, "If the record industry blew up tomorrow, I'd be playing in a bar someplace, and I'd be really, really happy."

Excerpted from the Oct. 11, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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