Prolific Valley musician Jay Allan likens his childhood to Almost Famous.
Turned onto music by his older brother, Joe, Allan absconded with his sibling’s Guns N’ Roses tapes and sat on the floor of his room, just like Patrick Fugit’s character in the 2000 Cameron Crowe film.
Allan explains those scenarios bum him out.
“Now, it’s the days of singles and ADD,” he says. “I’m guilty of it as well. I look at my phone too damn much.”
That isn’t dissuading the towering multi-instrumentalist from recording a new album or two. On the heels of his 2015 self-titled album as Jay Allan and The Uncommon Good, and his 2011 solo album, Conductor, he is ready to return to the studio.
“When we released Jay Allan and The Uncommon Good, people asked me where they could download it,” he says. “I said I had the hard copy right there. You know what they said? I’ll just throw the CD away when we download it.”
Musicians have a tough time making it in the Valley—namely those who perform original tunes. Allan knows, as he regularly plays around the state.
“It’s a cover band kind of town,” Allan says wistfully. “That’s where the money is, unfortunately. It’s a labor of love with an original band.
“We get some good, high-profile gigs, though. For the most part, showcase gigs are good for just making gas money. Rock Bar in Old Town, that’s our home turf, where we developed as a band. But, I’d rather play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ every night instead of digging ditches or answering phones.”
Allan’s brother not only piqued his interest in music with Guns N’ Roses, but he took him to his first shows, which included Van Halen, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. His eyes really opened when he saw the Grateful Dead at age 15 in Las Vegas.
“It made me want to see and be a part of a lot of those shows,” he says. “I started messing around playing bass with some friends in high school. I was in punk bands, but I loved Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, too.”
His other hobby was extreme sports, until he broke both shoulders in a snowboarding accident his senior year at Horizon High School.
“It put the fear in me,” Allan says with a laugh. “I didn’t want to throw myself off giant jumps anymore. I was really into music and found an affinity for it playing bass. I’m a rhythmically drawn person.
He relocated to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, where he got his start in music. Allan lied about his age to get into Brennan’s Pub in Marina Del Rey to watch two musicians play Grateful Dead tunes.
“I said, ‘Hey man, I play bass. Can I join your band?’” Allan says. “I did, and later they told me that I sucked but I was so excited that they couldn’t turn me away. After two weeks of jamming, I started playing with them.”
Every Wednesday, he played with the band, dubbed Cowspace.
“That’s when I got the bug,” he says.
Allan, who’s now inspired by the likes of Tom Waits and Umphrey’s McGee, took off in a van and toured the United States. He returned penniless.
“I learned what it meant to really go on tour,” he says.
He honed his skills, landed a job at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Tempe campus as a studio musician. Every three weeks, he works with students in the band and overdub clinics.
In 2015, he cut Jay Allan and The Uncommon Good. Allan’s live shows are heavy on the lap steel guitar, which he builds with his father. He calls his music “Ben Harper meets the Black Crowes meets Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.”
“The lap steel is a signature part of my solo stuff,” he says. “I do the looping. I’ll throw that in and a little analog beat thing that I have. I’ve started to form my own sound over the last year and a half.
Allan is an avid supporter of the local scene.
“There’s such great talent here in town,” he says. “It’s a shame that sometimes we get pigeonholed into that cover thing. There are a lot more events that showcase original music. At Center Stage (at Hyatt Gainey Ranch), we all play our own tunes. You can go there and see a really good production of original music. People can enjoy it in a beautiful setting.”
Allan is proud of how far he has come since the days of listening to cassettes.
“I’m pretty kick ass at my job,” he says with a smile. “I’m getting to do good gigs. I deserve this. It feels great. It’s been self-affirming. I know I’m on a good track.”
Jay Allan performs regularly around town, jayallanmusic.com.
Spotlight shows are:
Jay Allan and The Uncommon Good w/The Runner-Up and Gene Pool, Last Exit Live, 717 S. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602.271.7000, lastexitlive.com, 9 p.m. to midnight Thursday, May 4, $8.
Jay Allan Acoustic, Center Stage at Hyatt Gainey Ranch, 7500 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale, 480.444.1234, http://bit.ly/2ox7yLJ, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays May 8 and May 15, call for cover information.
Jay Allan and the Uncommon Good, Rock Bar, 4245 N. Craftsman Court, Scottsdale, 480.331.9190, rockbarscottsdale.com, 9 p.m. Friday, May 27, call for cover information.