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There's a side to sexy, five o'clock-shadowed Gary Allan that you never see onscreen in his steamy music videos: that of the devoted family man he is offscreen.
He's dad to three kids of his own and three stepchildren, ranging in age from 7 to 13. Four of them live with Gary and wife Angela at their Huntington Beach, Calif., home. And the kids have inherited Gary's surfer-guy affection for the sun and sand of Southern California. "We spend a ton of time at the beach," he reports. "All my kids love the water. Some of them are just learning how to surf. None of them are great surfers yet. But I'll get 'em there!"
Some dads might be uneasy watching their kids get pounded by rolling waves, but water sports are the least of Gary's fatherly worries. After all, he's watching after teenagers now.
"This whole 'growing up' thing is scary for dads," he confides. "My oldest daughter is just scaring me to death every day. She's full of life and wanting to see what life's all about -- kind of like I did. Very scary!"
But when his daughters start dating, Gary promises he'll be the frightening one. "I'll be cleaning the guns on the porch every time the boyfriends come over!" he laughs.
For now he tries to keep close tabs on his kids by being home as often as possible between tour dates. "I'm usually home a few days a week, so I'm never gone that long," he says.
His wife also joins him on the road whenever possible to steal a little time together. When she does, you probably won't see them out and about. "If we're at home, we'll go out to a nice restaurant," explains Gary. "But If I'm on the road, we'd just as soon stay out of the public and do something by ourselves."
And during the summer, the whole family tags along. "I bring everybody out for a couple of weeks," he says. "I'll get a separate bus and we'll just pal around together. It's fun."
So, in the middle of all this mayhem, how tough is this cool Californian when it comes to children who want their way? "It depends on their approach," reveals Gary. "Some of my kids are still so cute they could talk you into anything -- and some are teenagers who drive you bananas!"
Fans are bananas over Gary these days -- witness his current smash "Man to Man," in which he sings about a guy who stands up to his girlfriend's ex.
"I think this song has a great perspective," says Gary. "I've never heard a song where the guy is talking to the other guy saying, 'C'mon! This is your fault, not hers!' "
This unique point of view has paid off, landing the song at No. 1. "This has been the biggest hit we've ever had!" he says. "I'm super happy."
Especially crazy over Gary are his female listeners -- though the star himself is modest about it. "I think we're appealing to both guys and women fans," he says, before adding with a chuckle, "but if I'm going to play to a big group of people, it's OK with me if most of them are women!"
Still, Gary's very uncomfortable with being called a sex symbol. "I think it's a little strange," he says. "I definitely don't view myself that way. I just do my thing and hope that people come and watch it."
That's always been Gary's greatest reward from his musical career -- the excitement of playing for fans. "That's my rush!" he exclaims. "As long as I can keep doing that, I'll be happy."
Gary has been entertaining those audiences since he was 13, when he played with his brother and father around their hometown of La Mirada, Calif. He believes the experience he got winning over crowds in those rough-and-tumble barroom days are what sets his music apart from most of his Nashville peers. "It's just edgier," he reckons.
Gary's sound was also shaped by growing up in the Golden State, listening to fellow West Coast country music-makers Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. "I love the music that comes out of California," he says. "And I love being there, so I think I'll always be 'the California guy.' "
That goes for his music, and his way of life -- Gary definitely fits the laid-back image of his home state. "I've never really sweated things," he confides. "I've always just plugged along, done my own thing and hoped that it worked, and I think that's created a longer path for me. Everything seems to be clicking for me, especially right now. Things are moving faster than they ever have."
And things will keep on moving. Gary is working on the follow-up to 2001's gold-selling Alright Guy; the new album, set for release later this year, will most likely include at least one self-penned tune. "I don't write as much as I used to," he confesses. "But I do when I have time off. That's when it all spins for me -- I have to slow down and let my mind relax and think."
But in Gary Allan's world, time off always gets trumped by the thrill of bringing his music to his fans. "Even when I'm 80 years old," he smiles, "I'll still be playing someplace."