Ballads tell stories, but if Cole Gallagher wrote one about what happened to him, you might not believe it.
The singer-songwriter-guitarist and aspiring professional musician — who is 18, and still a senior at South Pasadena High School — recently traveled to Nashville to check out the music scene and see what it was like for working musicians. By his third day there, he was offered a job performing at Tootsies Orchid Lounge … the legendary joint where Willie Nelson got his start.
“Nashville has the highest concentration of professional musicians that work hard every day trying to make it, and I felt that I needed to see that in-person to know if this was really something I was interested in pursuing,” Gallagher told the Review. “It was a very eye-opening experience. The job they offered me at Tootsies was the same job they offer to any musician passing through.”
But still, Gallagher is no ordinary musician passing through Music City. He’s still a high-school kid. This is big stuff.
Gallagher traveled from bar to bar in Nashville and Memphis, as well as Alabama and Mississippi, asking for the opportunity to perform live onstage. He managed to book multiple gigs over the course of his 10-day trip, which included performances at Tootsies, Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ‘N’ Roll Steakhouse, Redneck Riviera Bar & BBQ, Legends Corner, Honky Tonk Central and B.B. King’s Blues Club.
“I had no contacts and there was no set plan when I got there,” Gallagher said. “I just kept going into bars and continuously asking if I could play. Sometimes they’d say no, but most let me get up onstage and play my original material live with bands. A lot of established touring musicians gave a kid the chance to get up and play. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I had while there.”
One of the standout moments of the trip was when Gallagher performed onstage alongside Jason Foree and Leroy Hodges at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis.
“I was shaking when I got onstage because it was the first time that I was playing with musicians I knew,” Gallagher said. “These people had been a part of some of my favorite songs and I got to play my original material with them. It was amazing.”
Inspired by his surroundings, Gallagher also penned several songs during the trip — one of which he plans to debut onstage at his upcoming gig at The Rose in Pasadena on Dec. 21 with his band, Cole Gallagher & The Lesser Saints, made up mostly of SPHS pals.
“The South inspired a lot of music for me,” he said. “Because of the work I did in Nashville, it opened up this amazing opportunity to perform at The Rose. It’s the closest you can get in this area to a marquee venue that has amazing sound.”
Cole Gallagher & The Lesser Saints consist of Gallagher (guitar, vocals), plus SPHS seniors Ben Fogel (drums), Nic Roberts-Mataric (piano/keyboards), Shayan Gerami (rhythm guitar), Matt Dudley (bass, violin, vocals); SPHS junior Logan Bishop (lead guitar); and South Pasadena resident Jane Powers (backup vocals). The band was assembled by Gallagher and Dudley after performing together as playing members in an existing band called Minorities at the South Pasadena Music Center & Conservatory, where Gallagher got his first experience playing onstage.
“It was the first time I was in a band that was getting stage time and playing my original material with a band,” Gallagher said. “From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician. We started recruiting the best musicians we could find and we’ve created something that has a lot of momentum behind it.”
In addition to the upcoming gig at The Rose, Cole Gallagher & The Lesser Saints have also planned a mini festival for New Year’s Eve, which will feature multiple artists and take place a couple blocks north of the Wrigley Mansion on Orange Grove.
Gallagher’s singing has been likened to The Black Keys — and while his musical influences include classic rock bands such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, as well as new wave artists like Talking Heads, his inspiration comes from all types of music.
“People tend to clump rock ‘n’ roll into one genre, but I see it more as a giant story that led to modern music as we know it,” Gallagher said.
“My songwriting is inspired by the tune. I’ve always thought of songs as a way for me to tell stories. In order for me to write a song, I usually have to have some sort of story in my head. I mostly write power ballads, which tell a short story and try to encapsulate a feeling. I love live performance and seeing people’s reactions to the songs that I wrote because I want to evoke an emotion from the crowd. When I feel that I’ve done my job and people go out of their way to talk to me after a gig, that’s everything. It’s beautiful.”
Gallagher started playing guitar at the age of 13, after his aunt left a guitar at his house one day. He played the guitar for two years straight, to the point where all of the strings were broken except for two. He also started to write songs and took lessons from local guitar instructor, John Klof.
“John has always said that I died in the ‘60s and was reincarnated now,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “He says he knew me back then. He’s a mentor to me and a music guru. John’s an awesome person.”
As for future plans, Gallagher wants to return to Nashville in a month, then he is looking to bring the rest of his band out there in the summer to play at various bars. He is also working on a concept album that includes 16 songs he wrote last summer.
“I think every musician’s dream, anybody who writes songs, is that someday they will have an audience that will sing their lyrics back to them,” Gallagher said. “I’ve gotten this far because of a lot of hard work on the parts of many people. There’s been that determination to play music — it’s always been about the music. As a whole, it’s been a lot of fun, and at the end of the day, the reason that I’m doing this is because I love it. I love working with my band, I love making music and I love performing live. I feel that chasing this happiness is what I’m meant to do.”
Cole Gallagher & The Lesser Saints are performing at The Rose in Pasadena on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com. To check out Gallagher’s music, head to his YouTube channel, Cole Gallagher.