When former Vienna Raiders coach Mark Meana heard that his former quarterback Bryan Galentine set out to Nashville to make it as a country music songwriter, Meana knew that Galentine would go far. He recalled how the quiet quarterback rallied the Raiders to victory in the 1983 Washington metropolitan area youth super bowl championship.
"Y'know something, he's going to sneak up and do something really good," said Meana, who was Galentine's football and baseball coach when Galentine was growing up in Vienna.
Galentine struck success with "What If She's an Angel," a song recorded by singer Tommy Shane Steiner. The song, which asks listeners how they would react to people in need, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts last May 2002, and was nominated for an Angel award for the 2002 Christian country song of the year. The song was also ranked No. 8 overall for 2002 by R&R magazine, and Billboard voted Galentine as the No. 7 country songwriter for 2002.
"We got a great reaction from it," said Jon Anthony, assistant program director and afternoon-drive disc jockey for radio station WMZQ. "From the first play, the phones lit up."
But some of his old friends in Vienna already knew that Galentine would be a success.
"It doesn't surprise me, because he's been successful in everything he's done," said former classmate Mark Gjormand, who graduated with Galentine, played sports with him, and now coaches the Madison High School baseball team. "He was a guy that everybody liked."
Although Galentine, who goes by "Bryan Wayne" professionally, has made it in Nashville, he didn't aspire to be a songwriter growing up. Playing baseball and football were important to the former Vienna resident. In 1989, he graduated from George Mason University as a finance major.
"I wanted to be a baseball player. That was my plan, growing up," Galentine said.
Yet throughout his youth and until his move to Nashville in 1994, music played a key part in his life. He would make up songs with friends and listen to entertainers like the Eagles, U2, and Billy Joel. His parents, who still live in Vienna, listened to country music performers such as George Jones, Don Williams and Willie Nelson.
"I liked everything," said Galentine, who went to Marshall Road Elementary and graduated from Oakton High School in 1985. "I can remember music class, always excited to bring in the latest 45."
Galentine started taking guitar lessons in 1991, while his day job was in health insurance. The lessons changed his life.
"That evolved into discovering that I really enjoyed song writing," Galentine said.
For Dan Wagner, Galentine's guitar instructor, the opportunity to teach Galentine was special for him, too.
"Initially, he was one of those surprise students you always hope to get," recalled Wagner of the first meeting. Galentine had come in and played five or six of his songs. "At the end of the half hour of the lesson, I couldn't even charge him because he had entertained me."
Wagner and Galentine then worked for two or three months to create a demo tape. One of his songs was played on a local artists' show on radio station 107.7. Another song was included on a Washington Area Music Association compilation disk.
"His writing skills, quite frankly, even back then, were very impressive," Wagner said, whose favorite Galentine song has been an up tempo ditty named "Southern Belle Blues."
When Galentine was around 25, he decided to take the plunge and move to Nashville, to eke out a career as a songwriter. His musical acquaintances in the Washington area connected him with their Nashville ties.
"You get down here, and you try to give it a go," Galentine said.
He worked some odd jobs before breaking into the business as a staff writer at King Lizard Music. He later wrote for Chrysalis and Broadvision, and he is currently in negotiations with a new publishing company.
But Galentine made waves with his hit song "What If She's an Angel," which was actually written several years before it was produced. Galentine got the inspiration for the song after reading bible verses in the book of Samuel I, where God was helping Samuel pick the king of Israel. Instead of picking someone with an obvious show of strength, God was directing Samuel not to judge people by their outward appearance.
The song itself describes three situations — a homeless person, a domestic abuse victim and a cancer victim — and asks the listener how he would respond to that person in need.
"What if the people out there were more than they appeared, and were testing you to see if you did the right thing?" Galentine said. He added that the idea moved him so much that he wrote the song in about a day. "Once I started, it just wouldn't leave me alone."
Others were apparently moved, as well. The song hit No. 2 on the Billboard and R&R charts, and it even spawned a Web site, www.whatifshesanangel.com.
"With country music, it's usually God, country and family," said Anthony of WMZQ. "A lot of songs have that message. ... It didn't preach, it wasn't a superficial song."
As Galentine continues to write songs in Nashville, his friends in Vienna wish him the best. Another song, named "Country By the Grace of God" and co-written with Chris Cagle, was a recent Top 30 single. The song "It Ain't Called Heartland" is on Clay Walker's Live Laugh Love cd.
"He's just a smart, tremendously athletically gifted individual. ... People marveled at watching him," Meana said. "When he spoke, it drew a tremendous amount of attention."
Wagner agreed. "He's kicking up dust and still doing it now."