PICTURED:  Pasadena’s Cole Gallagher and his band, the Lesser Saints, come to the Deer Lodge on Aug. 6. Photo by Chris Mortenson

by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Singer-songwriter Cole Gallagher is an old soul. 

His lyrics are wise beyond his years and his understanding of music and the surrounding business is as advanced as that of adults. 

The 20-year-old South Pasadena resident appreciates his fans, and his family and the rest of his team. 

“I’m extremely gracious for all the support I’ve received along this road,” Gallagher said. “I couldn’t have done it without an army behind me.”

Valley Boy

Gallagher is the new voice of music coming out of the San Gabriel Valley. His latest single, “Chatting Through Steel,” features David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. Each Tuesday, Cole Gallagher and the Lesser Saints serve as the house band for Pasadena hotspot The Mixx, where they perform for the venue’s Tuesday Night Open Jam. The band will bring their talents north to the Ojai Valley this weekend with a show at the Deer Lodge on Aug. 6. The audience is likely to be in for some surprises.

“They can expect songs from the record that’s coming out soon and stuff that I don’t know if I’ll ever release,” Gallagher said. “I have about damn near 30 songs recorded and I love them all. I feel like putting them all out, but that’s a tough move. I’d love to have all the music out, but we’re releasing the songs in small chunks. That’s the way to do it.”

Inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Gallagher is the first person in his family to pursue music. His father, Dan of South Pasadena, introduced his son to bootleg concerts and Bob Seger. His mom, Paula Gibson, resides in Sierra Madre.

“I’m into classic rock artists like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival] and, my go-to, Pink Floyd,” Gallagher said. “I’ve had (CCR’s) ‘The Midnight Special’ stuck in my head for three months now.”

At age 11, he started guitar lessons with Pasadena music teacher John Klof, who continues to mentor him. 

“He taught me how to play guitar and has been writing with me since I was a little kid,” Gallagher said. “He’s basically the one who helped me lay the foundation for everything. I went from putting a record together in L.A., to going to Nashville, to mixing the album with Vance. If it wasn’t for John, I don’t know where I would be.”

“Vance” is Vance Powell, whom Gallagher met in the summer of 2020 during the mixing sessions for his first record. The six-time Grammy Award-winning record producer, engineer and mixer’s credits include Phish, The White Stripes (and Jack White’s solo work as well), The Raconteurs, The Arctic Monkeys and Martina McBride, among many others.

Cole Gallagher PLAYS the Deer Lodge on Aug. 6. Photo by Chris Mortenson

For the 16 tracks on Gallagher’s upcoming album, the young gun and the legendary producer spent 15 days together.

His live experience started with The Mixx in Pasadena, courtesy of Ed Minassian, in 2016, when Gallagher was just 15 years old. 

“He’s been a saint to me,” he said of Minassian. “He’s put up with my band for almost three years now. Every Tuesday night we play there. I went from going there and getting yelled at and put down by old-time blues players, to being the house band for the joint and working hard to keep the tradition going. That’s really where I got my start — on stage at his bar. A couple of kids came up who had never played before on stage recently. It’s great to give that chance to other people.”

Gallagher said Pasadena has a special place in his heart, as his musical experience stemmed from the city’s venues. He attended South Pasadena Music Center and Conservatory and, in 2020, graduated South Pasadena High School. 

Power Players

Industry heavy hitters continued to take interest in the young musician, who credits all of them for playing a role in his success.

As a student, Gallagher met videographer Marc Levine in 2017. The family friend has provided the connections for the musician to move forward, setting him up with his first studio sessions in 2020 as well as an entertainment attorney.

“My dad and I refer to him as the glue,” Gallagher said. “He helped me after I did a show in Pasadena at The Rose. After that, Marc helped me land at NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] after-jam artist showcase at Bobby McGee’s in Orange County. Marc Levine got the ball rolling on everything that is going on.”

Levine said he has watched Gallagher perform since his library gigs. He described his music as “cool” at the time, but unsophisticated. 

“However, his lyrics were something to sit up and take notice of,” Levine added. “Here was this precocious little kid speaking in a language much older than himself. He’s an observational songwriter. That was something special. In talking to Cole and others, it’s come up that he is what people call an ‘old soul.’ I was intrigued by it.”

From there, Gallagher’s team continued to grow. The lead engineer at Tustin’s Voyager Studio, Chris Sikora, came into Gallagher’s life in February 2020. He produced and engineered Gallagher’s first recordings. 

“He reached out to his friends in Nashville, session players to help create this music,” Dan Gallagher said. “Chris was going to mix the project’s songs but instead handed it to Vance Powell.”

Powell was assisted by Michael Fahey, whom Dan Gallagher called “the absolute key person who helped Cole take the major steps toward being able to record with amazing musicians.”

Fahey is Powell’s first assistant at Sputnik Sound he tracked half of the first recording sessions for Gallagher. 

Nashville session keyboardist Jon Eldridge hooked Gallagher up with Jimbo Hart and Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, for overdubbing bass and lead guitar on this project. Gallagher considers Hart a mentor. 

“When I go to Nashville, the first thing I do is call Jimbo,” he said. “We hang out and play music. He’s a great guy. Working with Jason’s band, I realized the caliber of musicianship in which I had been playing. It’s pretty far off from what I was seeing happen in the studio.”

In the summer of 2020, Gallagher took a side trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to relax during a three-day break from recording in Nashville. Once again, being in the right place at the right time paid off: He ran into musician Barry Billings in a Marriott hotel lobby in Florence, Alabama. 

“They found out they had common friends in the guys from The 400 Unit,” Dan Gallagher recalled. “They co-wrote a song together that was demoed by Barry and Cole at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Then, Barry traveled to Buffalo to perform with Cole at his first nationally recognized music festival. He also invited Cole down to Florence, Alabama, again to perform with Jason Isbell.”

Gallagher continues to record with the likes of The 400 Unit’s Hart, Vaden and Chad Gamble, as well as Hidalgo. 

“Things have really been a dream come true,” Gallagher said. “I have so many people to thank and I’ll be repaying them for the next, God knows how many years. I’m super, super excited to see this music come out. I can’t even begin to express what the people involved mean to me.”

Cole Gallagher and the Lesser Saints perform on Saturday, Aug. 6, at 9 p.m. at the Deer Lodge, 2261 Maricopa Highway, Ojai. Tickets are $5 and sold at the door. For more information, call 805-646-4256 or visit www.deerlodgeojai.com/live-music.