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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2010

Country singer Gary Allan finds success in sharing raw emotions

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Gary Allan is happy.

That's a simple-enough emotion for most people, but it's an emotion that was foreign to Allan not so long ago.

"I'm in a good place. I'm sleeping well at night. I'm super tight with my kids, touring is going through the roof," he said by phone from his Nashville home after returning from lunch with his 16-year-old daughter Dallas.

He'll bring his tour to the Huntington Center on Thursday. Randy Houser and Jerrod Niemann will also perform at the 7:30 p.m. show.

The good place Allan is in has been reached only after slaying a horde of emotional demons released by his wife's suicide. Angela Herzberg shot herself in her home shortly after Allan and his children returned from a Halloween party in 2004. In the weeks and months afterward, Allan struggled with his own emotions, searching for answers and trying to balance being a father and being a country superstar.

He withdrew from the public light, shunning interviews. In 2005, he released "Tough All Over," an album that tapped into the emotions he was feeling about the suicide. The album became a commercial success, selling more than 500,000 copies, but the songs, including "Best I Ever Had" and "Life Ain't Always Beautiful," became too emotionally difficult to sing, and he cut them from the set list for his shows.

But he never quit writing and recording. As he struggled to find his way out of the emotional maelstrom, writing became his release.

"To be able to sit down with friends in the morning, have coffee, and kick around every emotion, that was the most healing thing for me," Allan said of his writing sessions. "I felt like I had therapy every day."

He's in a much better place, but he's still cutting tear-jerkers, and he's unapologetic about that.

"I like the heart-wrenchers. I don't think anyone wants to hear about if you're happy — I don't," he said. "We've been around long enough that people know who we are. I pick songs that are best for the radio and run with it. I guess our demographics have changed, and we're supposed to try and keep it upbeat for the soccer moms, but all the stuff I love — Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down' — I'm not sure if that's soccer mom material either."

Whether he's following Nashville's blueprint for success, there's no doubt that he's connecting with his fans. Earlier this year, he was voted Country Weekly's "Hottest Bachelor." Commercially, he's been making it work since Decca Nashville released his first album, "Used Heart for Sale," in 1996. Since then, he's had 10 Top 10 hits, including "Man to Man," "Tough Little Boys," and "Nothing on But the Radio." Each of those singles became No. 1 songs.

"I've always said I've wanted to be around forever. I never wanted to be the latest, greatest thing. I want to be like Willie Nelson — touring when I'm 70. To do that, you can't be the latest, greatest thing because those things fizzle out. So I knew I wanted a career that kind of hung in the back and kept growing. I've been proud to be able to do it."

Honest, raw emotion is what has made Allan such a success over the years, and fans in Toledo will be able to hear him express the rawest of those emotions Thursday night. He has revamped his set list to include the songs from those dark days and months after the suicide.

"I feel like I should be able to do it. It's been long enough. I'm going to spend this year singing those songs. I read a review on one of our shows that said, ‘His show is amazingly up.' I said I need to slow it down and give people what they want to hear."

Gary Allan will be in concert with special guests Randy Houser and Jerrod Niemann at the Huntington Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $37 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000, or by going online at ticketmaster.com. Students with a college ID can purchase tickets for $10.

Contact Brian Dugger at:

bdugger@theblade.com



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