Charlie Allen has been around the music business all his life. At a very young age he was opening and working with acts who are now country legends, artists such as Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr. only to name a few. Charlie and I settled into some comfy corner chairs in a local coffee shop to discuss his career, past and present. His new CD is called “That Was Then, This Is Now” and we took some time to dig a little deeper into some of the lyrics and meanings behind the music.
Bev: I am so excited to have this opportunity to sit down and share conversation with you. Your musical career has spanned many years and you have had success and seen the down side as well. How has each contributed to the current project?
Charlie Allen: I have been around forever; I have seen the good side and the bad side. All of it was a lesson. Through the good and the bad I have learned a lesson. One thing I learned was that you learn who to trust in this business, because sometimes people know what they are talking about and other times they do not.
Bev: You were seven when you seriously got into the music business. Nowadays it is more or less unheard of with all the changes in society to allow someone so young to be working as hard as you did at that age. Do you think if then was now, the outcome would be the same or have things changed a lot over the years?
Charlie Allen: I was seven; I jumped into this business head first. I think it does not matter if you are seven or fifteen, when you really look at it. There are so many people out there who are dreaming of reaching for the stars, but only a few know how to really reach and be able to grab them. As a kid, all I knew was being a childhood star and had the world in my palm thanks to my dad and mom and my uncle who put me out there. I really did not know what was going on, I was just working. I was hanging out with all the stars and it was a very fun part of my life.
Bev: You signed your very first recording contract with Decca Records when you were very young, how old were you?
Charlie Allen: I think if I remember correct maybe around 12 years old. It has been awhile. (laughing) I do remember they came to see me one night and I really did not think much of it, I was just singing and they said they were interested in signing me on their label. We actually had another label too, but dad signed with Decca. And not too long after that, my mom pulled the plug and said she did not want me to be working so much at such a young age. It was hard, I had already been doing it for several years at that point and she just was taking it away from me, but I know she had my best interest at heart. She saw I was working harder than most adults at that time.
Bev: I know you also hosted a television show – probably before you were old enough to shave, how old were you? Do you still have tapes of those shows?
Charlie: I hosted a show out of Bristol, TN for awhile and had a really good time but I would always hear people asking me “shouldn’t I be hosting you instead of you hosting me?” I was about 12 or 13. I do have copies of them somewhere, the crazy thing was, that it really was more and more of a job for me every day and it was fun, I learned a lot from it.
Bev: Coming from a family who was very involved in the business, your mom is a member of the Bristol Hall of Fame and your dad was an artist manager, how has that impacted your career?
Charlie Allen: I heard mom singing all the time and I guess I became involved as I listened to her sing and write, then I began to sing around the house too and next thing I know dad comes in the house and says, “son I got you on stage with Hank Jr tonight, opening the show for him”. I had no clue what to say. I had to practice with tapes for three or four hours before every show and then climb up on stage with a live band and do it.
Bev: I know you play a variety of musical instruments, the guitar, piano, steel guitar and drums, do you have a favorite?
Charlie Allen: I love the steel guitar and enjoy the keyboard .. but any guitar really, it is been part of my heart for years, so it is my favorite of all I play.
Bev: Of all the songs on the new album, which is getting the most popular or favorable response and most requested and why?
Charlie Allen: It is hard to say which is a fan favorite or radio favorite. I have to say my favorite is “I Don’t Have Forever” .. and I also like “I Did This To Me” and we have had a lot of positive reaction from it. “See If I Care” is another one getting a lot of talk. I feel like I am very lucky to have so many great songs on this record, because they do not just come easy like that. The best feeling is when you arrive at a radio station and they have been playing the CD and you start playing and they actually know the lyrics and can sing along with you.
Bev: I know you have written many songs over the time span of your career, which is your favorite ?
Charlie: One is “Grandpa’s Recipe For Life”. It is a song I co-wrote with Tommy Stampley in New York City on the 30th floor in Manhattan. Several people have wanted to cut the song, but we keep putting off releasing it. It will be a great song for my next project.
Bev: You chose the name of the new album to be “That Was Then, This Is Now” which describes your life, or your career in general, are you trying to send out a message to the music industry and the country fans with this?
Charlie: Diane’s (Diane Delena, River Run Records) brain actually caught that and came up with the album title. I was so busy writing songs for this project and for other artist’s that I did not take time and I think she did a fabulous job with it.
Bev: You made a comment about a song “having a hook that speaks to people’s hearts and that it is what keeps you going” … can you elaborate on that comment?
Charlie: I find often when your heart starts to talk out loud, it is when it is happiest or when it is down. And when you are writing songs, you have to take a hold of that and run with it when you are listening to your heart. Those truly are the best songs. Sometimes I am too hard on myself when it comes to writing songs because I want them to be like me, but not every artist can be me or sing like me or be who I am, so I have to let go of that.
Bev: Do you find yourself writing so true to yourself, that your music tends to be autobiographical?
Charlie: Oh yeah, definitely. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just don’t know what you will write that day. Or if you are collaborating with another writer, we never know what we will come up with, we are just trying to break the glass and come up with a big cut just like everyone else is.
Bev: How many projects have you released total?
Charlie: I have 5 CD’s, but singles I have released 15 to 18.
Bev: Let’s talk marketing. There have been so many changes in how an artist is promoted and the music is made available to the fans that purchase it, what are your thoughts and feelings on the digital world we find ourselves in right now?
Charlie Allen: It is a door open to everyone in the industry that gives everyone a chance. When it comes to radio it is so cut throat. The ability to be online and listen to other artists and get to know them and listen to their music gives everyone a chance to breathe in this world, instead of just having ten major labels pushing their artists and that is all we hear. And it is such a got-to-have-it-now world, that the digital availability makes it wonderful for the fan who just heard you sing a song live and wants to get it for their ipod.
Bev: What has been your most difficult hurdle this far in your career?
Charlie Allen: I think when you have been at a place in your life when you feel like all is going great and then suddenly it is taken away from you. You never know what is going to happen.
Bev: If you had your choice of anyone to write with who would it be?
Charlie Allen: My favorite for the longest time was Earl Thomas Connelly, but I have been writing with Brian G. White, who is just a fun loving, happy go-lucky person and you go in there and do the song writing session and you walk out with a smile on your face knowing you just wrote a good song. He does a really good job of that.
Bev: Same questions, but performing, anyone past or present you would love to perform with?
Charlie Allen: Without any hesitation, I would choose Willie Nelson. I had that chance many years ago in Ft. Worth when I was a kid, but I have not since and I would love to be on stage and perform with him again. Willie is an inspiring writer and he has an ability to really paint a picture when he performs a song.
Bev: Worst experience on the road?
Charlie Allen: About 10 or 15 years ago we were coming back from a show, and we had this big old green station wagon that we called the gator. We broke down and the tire had blown on one side, so we had to take out all of the equipment in the back so we could change the tire and the other tire went BOOM. I had a 1966 Stratocaster, the prettiest guitar you have ever seen, and I had to give it up to trade for new tires because I had no other choice and had to get to the next show. There have been so many crazy things that have happened in all the years I have been out there.
Bev: As both an artist who performs and write – if you had to choose to do one or the other which would you choose? Or could you only do one?
Charlie Allen: Ohhhh man, that is such a big part of who I am. I would have to say performer, but my heart is in writing, so it would be tough.
Bev: Any embarrassing stage stories?
Charlie Allen: One time in Daytona Beach at the Rockin’ Ranch, I got wild one night and started jumping up and down and I went through the stage. I could not get out. I guess people thought it was part of the show for me to be stuck like that, but I was really hurt. It was an old wooden floor and all I can remember is I was just trying to get out.
Bev: What do you enjoy most about being in the entertainment industry?
Charlie Allen: I really enjoy the people I get to meet and listening to other acts. I really enjoy a lot about the business. I have seen and experienced so much in the span of my career. I truly feel God has blessed me.
Bev: Is there any aspect of the business side of things you wish you did not have to contend with?
Charlie Allen: When you have a song, and you feel you are ready to run for radio and you hire promoters, and they do not do their job, then you get cheated, because what people do not realize is the industry and business side is such a money hungry animal. You spend thousands and thousands to get a song done and then you just spent a lot of money and get nothing back for what you have just put your heart and soul into. So I have learned to ask my team if they like my music or do they love my music, because I really need to be partnered with people who believe in the song and believe in me as an artist.
Bev: Not to say you are old by any means now, but you have already been in the business a long time, but, looking back at the life of Charlie Allen, what do you want to be remembered for most?
Charlie Allen: I want people to ask “who is this guy behind the glasses, and who has been out on the road since he was seven years old.” I get to live the dream people do not get to do everyday. So I want to be remembered for being the one who God really gave a blessing to and put out here to sing all my life.
Bev: Is there anything else you would like to add or say about the album we did not cover?
Charlie Allen: I was at a point not long ago when I was really feeling like my career was over. I mean I just really felt like I could not get a break. And I sat down one night and wrote “I Don’t Have Forever” and the very next morning, I made one phone call, and everything started to fall back in place. So the old saying of when you least expect it, expect it, because it is so true. You just have to believe.
Bev: Charlie, I have really enjoyed our time together today, and wish you great success with you career and this CD. Thanks so much for asking me to join you.
Charlie Allen: Bev, I really appreciate your time too, and happy you really love the CD. I look forward to seeing you again. Thank you so much.
For more information on Charlie Allen check out his website www.charlieallenmusic.com or www.myspace.com/charlieallenmusic