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Published: Saturday, 8/2/2008

Country rocker Allan keeps things honest in his music and his life

Gary Allan Gary Allan

Gary Allan has never pretended to be anything other than what he is: a rock star singing country music. Tattoos run up and down his arms. His electric guitar screams when he blasts through a riff on stage. Speakers pulse to the beat of the drum.

He also is honest. He doesn t do spoken interviews. Sometimes he ll respond in an e-mail. The interviews stopped after his wife, Angela, killed herself in 2004 and Allan was left to pick up the pieces for his family. His honesty comes through in his songs.

At a concert last year, Allan sat on the stage and sang Life Ain t Always Beautiful. By the time he had finished, tears filled his eyes but the roar from the crowd caused him to break into a little smile.

I m exactly the same on the stage as I am off the stage, he said in his biography for his current album, Living Hard, and what I found is, the bigger the arena, the more you re standing in the middle of those people, the more transparent you are. You can tell when somebody s not authentic or they re trying to be something they re not.

Saturday night, fans will experience his emotional, high-energy show when he takes the stage at The Andersons 25th Annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off.

Four years after his wife s death, Allan s still hitting the touring trail hard, but he s also still piecing his life back together. His current single, Learning How to Bend, talks about that.

I think my favorite song that I wrote on this album is Learning How to Bend , he wrote. I woke up one day with that title. And it s me, you know I m still learning, learning how to bend.

Allan was not an overnight success in Nashville, most likely because radio stations didn t know what to do with the La Mirada, Calif., native.

His first single, Her Man, climbed to No. 7 on the charts and lifted his debut album, Used Heart for Sale, to gold status for sales of more than 500,000, but the next three singles off of the album barely charted.

It Would Be You was another Top-10 hit for Allan in 1998, but he did not truly arrive as a bona fide star until 2002, when The One topped out at No. 3. He then followed that up with his first No. 1s, Man to Man and Tough Little Boys.

In a testament to how overlooked his early career was, Allan was nominated for the Country Music Association s Horizon Award, which is typically given to a new artist, in 2003 eight years after his first recording contract.

But there s no doubting his star power now. Prior to his current single, seven of his nine previous singles have climbed to the Top 10, including chart-toppers Nothing On But the Radio and Watching Airplanes.

He s changed as a person, but he s still an unrepentant rocker, something he noted in his biography.

Hopefully country music feels like they need somebody like me in the fold just to shake things up.

Contact Brian Dugger at:bdugger@theblade.com.

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