White guy sings the blues: Allen Stone’s soul explosion
The first time I heard the soulful sounds of Seattle’s Allen Stone, I got a pretty specific image in my head of what the crooner must look like. Suffice it to say the last thing I expected was a gawky white guy with long hair and Coke bottle glasses who looked a lot more like refugee from a 70’s stoner flick. But after a year that’s seen the singer storm to worldwide acclaim, his amazing voice has drowned out any doubts based on his looks.
“I get a lot of ‘hey thank you for being you and doing the music that you do.’ I think that people are kind of sick and tired of seeing the dolled up R-and-B singer,” Stone told me in an interview ahead of his sold out show Friday night at Seattle’s Paramount Theater.
Stone is the real deal. His singing harkens back to the greats of a bygone era and the likes of Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. It’s hardly something you’d expect from a kid growing up in the tiny town of Chewela, Washington near Spokane.
It all started when he was about 15, thanks to someone at his church who gave him a copy of Stevie Wonder’s “Inner Visions.”
“I was just blown away, like ‘oh my god this is what I’ve been searching for.’ It just really resonated with me,” Stone said.
“From there, that expanded to Donnie Hathaway live records and Marvin Gay “What’s Going On” and Gladys Knight and the Pips and Aretha and all those soul greats of the 60’s and 70’s.”
Eventually, the small town couldn’t hold him anymore and he headed for Seattle. Stone spent years belting out soul in a town dominated by indy-folk, bearded hipsters, hip-hop and post-punk. But he never wavered from his long term plan to bring the music of the people to the people.
“Making sure the venues I played were the right fit, making sure the artists and producers I worked with were artistically in the right direction I was trying to go. But a lot of it has been on the back of timing and luck.”
Call it what you want, but whatever the recipe was, it worked. In the past year and a half, Stone blew up. A video of him singing in his mom’s living room went viral, and caught the eye of some heavy hitters in the music business. Before he knew it, he was appearing on the likes of Conan and singing with Daryl Hall from Hall and Oats in a hugely popular episode of Hall’s “Live From Daryl’s House.”
His self-released album “Allen Stone,” re-released by ATO records, hit the number two spot on iTunes, and number 9 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. He’s toured the world, packing theaters from South Africa to Seattle. Pretty heady stuff for a kid from Chewela.
“It’s been bonkers. I’ve been so busy that I’ve yet to really sit back and reminisce about the craziness that has been my life the last year,” Stone said.
His rise is pretty unconventional. And wisely, even though he’s beholden to a label and the trappings of the big time music business now, the suits are leaving him alone to keep doing things his way.
“I did it the way I did it. I made the industry come to me. I went and did it as an independent act and the industry said ‘ok, well this is something that works, let’s go and just get on board.'”
Still, it doesn’t stop some well meaning people from offering their unsolicited advice. Stone said he regularly hears he should be appear on the Voice or American Idol. Suffice it to say that won’t be happening. Ever.
“I hate those type of shows, I mean with a passion. I think it completely rips out what artistry actually is and that’s just bonafide karaoke,” he said.
It shouldn’t be an issue. Stone’s star is expected to keep rising as he heads back out for a sold-out European tour in the new year. But even even though he’s now playing for thousands, he’s not about to forget about his past. Don’t be surprised to see him show up and sing at a Easy Street Records.
“We’ll always come back to play where the people feel most comfortable seeing us. I think those record store things, I get excited about those more than playing big old, huge theaters. There’s something really special about intimate settings.”