‘There’s something special about playing with family.’ – Jeff Allegue
This is a quieter stage than Jeff Allegue is used to.
The summer breeze off the Atlantic whispers through the pines in his backyard. A trio of baby robins gripe from their nest, just as the musicians take their places on the porch below.
Jeff, a multi-platinum award winning guitarist, and his 24-year-old son, Grant, position their chairs toward each other. They each take turns plucking the six strings on their guitars, then pausing to twist the tuning keys before plucking again. Then they stop. Abruptly.
They look at one another for a half-second. “Ready?” Jeff asks. Grant nods.
Jeff’s fingers lead on his Martin, and Grant’s follow with gentle confidence on his Ovation. The tune, “Sleepwalk,” is a slow-paced anthem perfect for a June evening like this. The kind you want to sway along to in a hammock or enjoy over a cold beer.
Before the duo hits the halfway mark, an off-key version of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” blares from a passing ice cream truck. Jeff shakes his head and smirks toward Grant. But the two press on. Their left hands work up their instruments’ necks. Their right hands play their part, plucking a single string at a time. Jeff’s left foot taps along on the porch. Grant nods the same rhythm.
Reenie, who was once a guitar student of Jeff’s, stands in the grass to take a photo of her husband and son doing what they love most. Then she smiles and does her best to hold in a laugh when she hears a Southwest jet overhead, a second attempt to upstage the backyard concert.
Jeff smiles again at Grant. A wordless, “you’ve got to be kidding me?” And they press on. They strum the last measure in unison and gently shake their guitars to let the final note linger, along with the musicians’ grins.
“If we keep this up, a garbage truck will drive by next,” Jeff says.
Grant laughs, “Yeah, we’d better call it.”
His journey to the big stage(s)
Jeff traces his love of music back to when he was about 8 years old. His dad was a commercial art executive working on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. One day, he brought home a small tape machine called “play tapes,” that he was creating a logo for. Included in the package was a sample tape of the Beatles’ “Revolver.”
“It was the first time I’d heard the Beatles, and I couldn’t get enough.”
Shortly after, Jeff discovered guitar greats Chet Atkins, who’s gone down in history as Mr. Guitar, and Andrés Segovia, who’s credited with making the guitar a concert instrument.
“I watched how they played and that got me interested in wanting to play that way, a more intricate way of playing guitar.”
Jeff, who grew up in Amityville, NY, happened to live across the street from guitar instructor Craig Smith. At 10 years old, he approached his neighbor about starting lessons in classical guitar. Several months into his lessons, he found himself signing up for the talent show at his school in Massapequa.
“I played a classical piece and it was a big deal. Everyone went crazy. I was just blown away by that,” he said. “Moments like that were milestones for me. I started realizing, ‘hey, I’m pretty good at this and I really like it.’”
Other early milestones included the chance to study with renowned British composer John Duarte and perform at master classes with guitarist Christopher Parkening. He and his brother, John, later started a band, The Tallboys, which had some national success. MTV featured one of their music videos, which led to their appearance on Star Search. They later signed with Robber Baron/Significant Records and released a record, Normal All Around Men, which charted in the top 10 nationally on college radio.
At 24 years old, the same age his son, Grant, is now, Jeff was profiled in Guitar Player Magazine, which put him in front of some of the most popular touring groups at the time. It led to an audition with Billy Idol, and later landed him a songwriting gig with Joan Jett, right when her hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” topped the Billboard pop chart.
He then signed on as the bassist for Taylor Dayne (Tell it to My Heart, Love Will Lead You Back, I’ll Always Love You), touring the country with her for three years.
He worked on several projects with his childhood friend, Paul O’Neill, including an original band that led them to record together at The Record Plant and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City in the very early ’80s.
But that was just the start of what Paul had in mind for them.
“Paul concocted this whole vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He asked me to do these demos—these rock versions of Christmas tunes—and I had no idea what he was even talking about,” Jeff said.
“Paul was one of those guys who would have these ideas and amazing things would just happen and you had no idea how or why…It was almost like if someone told you ‘invest $1 million in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s going to be huge.’ You’d say, ‘what are you talking about?’ It was that kind of a thing. … And TSO became enormous — it still is.”
Just more than two years after the band formed, they sold out Madison Square Garden. Jeff played on several of their multi-platinum records that, in all, sold 10 million copies. Just last year, Trans-Siberian Orchestra ranked in the top 25 highest grossing tours in the world, just on the heels of Elton John.
Jeff toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra for 10 years and, sadly, Paul died in 2017.
These days, the seasoned performer plays closer to his home on Long Island with rock band Cover Girl.
Passing on the love of music
Jeff and Reenie never pushed their son to play guitar, but they always had musical instruments around the house for him to try.
“He’d play a little keyboard, guitar, drums, sing a little. But he really gravitated toward guitar,” Jeff said.
In the 35 years since Jeff worked as an instructor, teaching instruments and voice, he’s seen a shift in how young people take to music.
“I like inspiring someone to want to do the work. Especially now that it’s harder and harder to get inspired to put in the hours when so many things come easy. Studying an instrument takes years of work and a lot of people just starting out forget that.”
Grant had natural talent early on. But, what’s more, he was willing to work at his craft, Jeff said. “He understands so many nuances that most people, even if you explained it for hours, wouldn’t get. It’s amazing.”
Most nights, the Allegue family home is filled with music. If it’s silent, odds are the two Allegue men are out playing a gig at a local restaurant or beach bar. And Reenie’s likely in the audience snapping photos.
“There’s something special about playing with family. I felt the same way when my brother and I would harmonize. We’re perfectly in sync,” said Jeff Allegue.
For instance, of all the award-winning rock stars Jeff has shared the stage with in his 30-year career, he says that playing alongside his son has been the most meaningful.
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“Playing with your kid, if they’re good, is incredible. It’s like he’s my right arm.”