Originally created 05/30/97

Ramblin' Rhodes: Californian prefers traditional country



California-born Gary Allan, known for his hit ballad (All I Want To Be Is) Her Man, is typical of many young country stars who didn't grow up picking cotton or driving a tractor.

His favorite movie is Pulp Fiction, favorite TV show is Seinfeld, favorite sports are boxing and volleyball and favorite vacation is "any place there is sun and surf."

In fact, he called from his new house near the pier at Huntington Beach, Calif., pausing at one point to yell at a surfing buddy to come in and get something to eat.

But the 30-year-old Mr. Allan lists among his favorite singers such traditional country artists as Merle Haggard, George Strait and Mark Chesnutt. His favorite song is Mr. Haggard's My Favorite Memory.

Registrants at the 1997 International Country Music Fan Fair will hear Mr. Allan perform with the MCA/Decca Records show in Nashville on June 17.

"My friends listened to a lot of alternative (rock) stuff," said the vocalist, "so I was exposed to it. But my family played a lot of country music. My dad is like the biggest Little Jimmy Dickens fan in the world.

"Whenever I'm going to be in Nashville, he always tells me to say hello to Little Jimmy if I see him. ... When I got in my friends' pickup trucks, I listened to what they wanted to hear, but if you got in my truck, you listened to country."

The young recording star was born Gary Allan Herzberg in Montebello, Calif. His family includes his parents, Harley and Mary; his brother, Greg, and his sister, Tamboree Walton.

At 13, a honky-tonk two blocks from his house advertised for a singer. He talked the owner into listening to him and was hired for a regular gig, with his father and brother playing in the band.

After high school, Mr. Allan signed up for two years in the Army but was discharged after eight months. ("Because of a bad back. That's the story I'm telling anyway.")

He also went through a brief marriage. ("It was on the rocks before I started back playing after the Army. We were 18 when we married. It was too young.")

Mr. Allan hooked up with a country band, and that's when he met fellow musician Jake Kelly.

"We met in Santa Anna when our band was auditioning for another guitarist," Mr. Allan recalled. "He played two songs and said, `I don't think I want to go in this direction,' meaning that he felt the band was that bad. He called me outside and told me, `I like your voice. What are you doing with these people? Why don't you and I form our own band.' And that's how our band, Honky Tonk Wranglers, was born."

The group disbanded, but Mr. Kelly continues to be an influence in Mr. Allan's career. The two wrote Used Heart For Sale, which also is the title of Mr. Allan's debut album, produced by Mark Wright and Byron Hill.

The first song released from that album was Her Man, written in 1990 by Kent M. Robbins. The catchy chorus goes, "I've been a wildcatter, and a go-go getter/Been an S.O.B. right down to the letter/I've had misadventures. I've even got pictures/I'm even more than I can stand/But startin' today, all I'm gonna be is her man." It turned out to be a big hit.

Mr. Allan's current single, backed by a music video, is From Where I'm Sitting, co-written by Garth Brooks and Kent Maxon. Other potential hits on the album are the 1969 Faron Young song Wine Me Up, the 1965 David Houston song Living in a House Full of Love and two other great cuts, Forever and a Day and Wake Up Screaming.

"Life is good," said a very upbeat Mr. Allan. "I finally did get to meet my hero, George Strait, a few weeks ago at an MCA Records party. I stood next to him and Vince Gill for a long time making eye contact.

"Finally I said, `I'm Gary Allan, and I wanted to say hi. I actually was with you at the last MCA party, but I didn't say hello because I was afraid you'd be an idiot.' He just laughed, and we had a good talk."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 26 years.