When their time comes, many seasoned entertainers have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto their tour bus.
Gary Allan isn’t one of them.
“A lot of guys don’t (love the road),” the best-selling country singer and songwriter says. “They don’t like it because it’s so relentless. But I absolutely love it. I love to play live. To me it’s like camping. (And) I love to play to different people. A lot of people play live so that they can record. But I mostly make records so I can go out and play live.”
Just arranging a concert tour can be as challenging as writing a song for Allan. And that’s because Allan, who has charted 46 singles on the Billboard Hot Country list since his 1996 debut album “Used Heart For Sale,” has different tours.
Sometimes he hits the road to promote an album. Then there’s the tour that takes him to concerts in casinos and at rodeos. The road brings Allan back to the boardwalk for a show 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in the Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars Atlantic City.
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Still an opening act
Although Allan reached headliner status years ago, perhaps his favorite tours are those where he doesn’t get top billing.
“I still enjoy opening for people where (the audience) doesn’t know who I am,” he explains during a phone call from Little Rock, Ark., where he was getting ready for a gig. “I actually enjoy going into a crowd that doesn’t know me, and by the end (of the set), you have them standing up. I love that stuff.”
One of his favorite opening-act tours was with Sheryl Crow, he recalls. He also had fun working before Keith Urban and Randy Houser.
Allan has worked steadily since first signing with Decca Records in 1996. Yet despite his success, he doesn’t take for granted that all country music fans know him. That’s why he enjoys spending part of the year opening for other artists.
“I want a crack at somebody else’s fans,” he says with a laugh.
Father knows best
Although he’s been based in Nashville since 1995, Allan’s country music background is rooted in California, where he grew up in farm country about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles.
As a child, he was surrounded by music, and by 13 he was good enough on guitar to play honky tonks with his dad’s band. It was around this time Allan began writing music, which brought him to the attention of A&M Records.
He was just 15 when the label wanted him to sign a recording contract. But there was something holding him back: his dad
Harley Herzberg — that’s the family’s real last name — felt his son still hadn’t developed a distinctive style that would make him stand out.
“My dad wouldn’t co-sign (the contract) because he wanted me to finish school,” says Allan, which is really Gary Herzberg’s middle name. “And then I got pissed off at my dad, and I wouldn’t play in his band for a few years.”
But Allan eventually sang and wrote his way to Nashville, which had a different country sound than the one he was used to while growing up in California, which produced country stars like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakum and Buck Owens.
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Although country music has become “homogenized” today, Allan remembers when there were distinct differences between the Nashville and California country sounds.
“The Nashville sound was kind of the Chet Atkins thing — very slick, using orchestras and stuff,” Allan explains. “California was more hillbilly steel guitars, and that kind of became the distinction (between the two).”
Because country music has become so blended, Allan says he feels pressure to keep traditional country music alive whenever he writes a song.
But it isn’t easy.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult,” he says. “You have to leave (the radio) on the country station longer and longer to decide whether it’s actually the country station.”
Move over, Willie
Allan would have been happy if he lasted 20 years in the music business, an anniversary he reached this year. Now, he has a more ambitious goal.
“Willie Nelson was the one I kind of used as an example when I was starting out,” he says of the 83-year-old country music legend. “But the truth is, I just want to be here forever, I want to do this forever. I want to be Willie Nelson.”
Nelson signed his first contract and released his first recording in 1956. That’s 60 years ago, Allan was reminded.
“Oh my gosh, that’s like Rolling Stones numbers,” he says with a big laugh. “Guess I’d better start saying I want to be around for another 40 years.”