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Veteran songwriters Harley Allen and Don Sampson will declare with bravado that they're a couple of "guy's guys." Except when it comes to being dads - now that's a whole different story.

"Don and I both have two little girls, around the same ages," Harley explains. "One day we got to talking about them, and I said, 'Man, I'm such a wuss when it comes to them getting hurt. It just kills me.' And Don goes, 'Yeah, I freak out, and my wife is always so cool.' We feel like our wives are stronger emotionally with the kids."

Harley pauses and laughs. "With Don and me, when we start thinking about our little girls, we're just so fragile and sensitive."

The conversation triggered their sensitive sides, and they began to write a song from a dad's point of view. Harley came up with a line - It's kinda like tough little boys grow up to be dads, and turn into big babies again - and that started the ball rolling.

"We both knew right away that 'Tough Little Boys' was going to be our title," recalls Harley. "The rest came easily."

They found all the inspiration they needed in their own backyards. "The line that starts with, I followed your school bus to town ... I actually did that, on my daughter's first day at school," Harley confesses. "So that went in there pretty quick. Don drew on his experiences with his girls - and about an hour-and-a-half later, we were done."

The end result was indeed called "Tough Little Boys," which Gary Allan recorded for his latest album, See If I Care. Both writers were so moved by the lyrics they'd written, they instinctively knew that something special was in the air.

"We're a couple of been-around-the-block, jaded songwriters," Harley laughs. "So if we can move ourselves, we feel pretty confident that our song can move the public."

He couldn't have been more on the money. "Tough Little Boys" raced up the charts and hit No. 1 for two weeks last fall.

"We wrote it pretty quickly," says Harley, "but I have found out that the really strong songs don't always take a lot of time to write. We just drew on our own experiences and feelings, and took that to a bigger place."

-- Marianne Horner