THE BLOG
11/05/2013 08:30 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Astoria Characters: The Guitar Man

Three guitars and a chin-up bar. There's not much else in this monk cell of a living room.

The shy guy doesn't know what to do with his hands, so he starts strumming.

Once Jon Christopher Allen finds his voice, he loses himself in the song. And everything's all right.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jon's working on album No. 5.

Jon's music has been a long time coming, and in a sense, his whole life has been a rehearsal. True, he's been performing for nearly two decades, and he has released four albums, but this time, things are different.

For the first time, he is devoting all of his time and energy to his music without an outside job to pay the bills. And album No. 5, which is due out early next year, marks a turning point in his career.

"This will be my masterpiece," he says. "I've been performing the songs before recording them. I've never taken my work from the street to the studio before. It's usually the opposite."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jon has made music his full-time job.

But we're getting a bit ahead of the story. John, who is from Glen Cove, Long Island, didn't grow up in a musical family. But he was surrounded by a mom and four sisters "who have the voices of angels."

Although he started beating drums at age 10, he didn't pick up the guitar, his instrument of choice, until he was 16.

"Before I could even play it, I wrote a song," he says. "It was just something natural in me, and I knew it was meant to be. Playing drums prepared me for it by giving me a good sense of rhythm and led to my percussive style."

But putting his talents on stage was something altogether different.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
He was 16 when he picked up the guitar.

"I was always very sheepish," he says. "I would get nervous when I walked into a bar or had to sit with people I didn't know."

It was hard to hide because Jon's the kind of guy who stands out in the crowd: He's 6-foot-5. And he looks as though he walked straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad.

By the time Jon, his guitars and his soulfully achy voice went to college, music had taken a backstage seat in his life. He earned a degree in history, a subject that he says "allowed me to use my imagination because I could picture myself back in every time period."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jon performs a couple of times a week.

After graduation and a single, nerve-wracking performance at The Bitter End, Jon was drawn to Austin, Texas, a music-centric city where he had family and friends. He rented a room in a house filled with musicians so he could write and play and paid his meager bills by substitute teaching and working for a catering company.

"I overcame my shyness because I had a hunger to be heard," he says. "That's what helped me overcome my fear."

Eventually, he returned to New York City, settling in Astoria and working as a mortgage banker. In September, he quit that longtime job to focus solely on his music. He's paying his dues with his savings.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Just trying to earn a living.

"This is not a joke," he says. "I treat this like any other job. I'm at my desk at 8 a.m. every day, and I work nine, sometimes ten hours a day."

He also performs two to three times a week at clubs and private parties and special events.

The constant work of composing and rehearsing -- what Jon insists is fun -- is done mostly at home. In addition to guitars, his living room "band" includes a mini-keyboard, amp and mic so he can practice when the muse moves him.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The guitar as constant companion.

"This is a most solitary profession," he says. "Writing songs can be very lonely, but the feeling you have when you're playing and performing is such a high that it's worth all the loneliness and frustration."

Jon knows he'll make it as a musician. He's given himself no other choice.

"I have a talent for this," he says, "and I have a responsibility to develop it and will do it at all costs. I'm about to create something special and unique. I've never felt so confident. I've built my whole life around this moment."

He picks up his guitar and starts playing.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2013 by Nancy A. Ruhling