How does someone who dropped out of high school see the world and become successful in the music industry — as well as a key player in the world of Mixed Martial Arts — all before age 40?
In Joanna native Gary Alexander’s case, the hard way.
Alexander is the son of the late Barbara Norris of Joanna and the late Charles Alexander of Whitmire. After his mother’s passing when he was 15, Gary Alexander quit school, left home and moved to Myrtle Beach.
“I lived a hard life, making my own way,” he said.
He worked various odd jobs, including landscaping at a campground area, but his passion at the time was music. His father was a regionally well-known musician, and before leaving home, he had played in a band with fellow high school students. He also had a passion for songwriting. While working at the campgrounds, Alexander befriended Larry Gatlin of the well-known Gatlin Brothers country music group. Gatlin was the connection which got Alexander’s foot in the door and landed him a job at Opryland in San Antonio, TX.
Alexander eventually moved to Nashville, where he spent a year writing songs and playing with band mates from Clinton with which he reunited in Nashville. Alexander eventually moved back to Myrtle Beach and formed a band called Gary Alexander and Brother Faith. He also worked as a comedian at Dixie Stampede, which led to a job with The Crook and Chase Show Live from Myrtle Beach, which was produced by Country Music Television pioneer Jim Owens. That connection also landed Alexander a role in a stage play entitled “Summer of ‘66” — a musical based on the story of South Carolina beach band The Villagers — and eventually a record deal with Warner Bros.
When The Crook and Chase show moved back to Nashville, Alexander began looking for the next chapter of his career, and he began performing on a cruise ship, spending nine months traveling the Mediterranean. He vividly remembers being on the ship on September 11, 2001.
“It was a significant moment for me,” Alexander said. “I was there with over 1,000 other employees on the ship. I watched the second plane hit live, and I was in Athens, Greece.”
Alexander said the event put a new perspective on his life.
“I began to realize how proud I am to be from Joanna, South Carolina and to be who I am,” he said.
The event also sparked an idea for a song Alexander wrote called “Once Upon A Time In America,” and as soon as he left the ship, he went to New York to record the video, which is still viewable on Youtube.
He then moved back to Nashville, but because of a lack of available work, he was compelled to throw his hat in the Las
Vegas ring. He discussed the city known as “The Entertainment Capital of the World.”
“That is the thing about Las Vegas,” he said. “It may not be your dream job, but you’re going to find work and have work.”
About five to six years ago, Alexander said he was in his thirties and wanted to go in a different direction. He began to tire of competing with 19-year-olds for the same type of jobs.
“I had been successful in the entertainment business as I had achieved every goal I had set for myself,” he said. “I thought, ‘Am I going to be a butler? A valet? A casino dealer? Should I get my real estate license? What am I gonna do?’”
While contemplating his next big decision, Alexander had received an iPod for Christmas. As a huge fan of Clemson Tigers football, he had discovered a Clemson Tigers podcast to which he listened regularly. He was fascinated with the new wave of digital media, and he began to contribute to the Clemson podcast by making music beds for the show.
“I fell in love with the idea of online radio and a new wave of media,” Alexander said. “Digital media is the future, no doubt. I saw that, and I latched onto it.”
At the time, Alexander was also a fan of boxing and K-1 kickboxing, and he was beginning to get into the increasingly popular Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Alexander decided to create his own podcast focusing on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which he named “The Ultimate Podcast.” It became the No. 1 online MMA show and stayed such for years.
“There were only about three other online shows for MMA at that time,” Alexander said. “I listened and thought, ‘I could do better than that.’ So I did.”
The Ultimate Podcast led to a position as media director with Throwdown, which is a leading manufacturer of MMA gear, clothing and more. That position led to another — one in which Alexander has been for the last few years — Director of U.S. Operations for Fighters Only Magazine.
Not only is Alexander a part of all major fight cards — including last Friday’s Lesnar vs. Overeem event — but he knows the fighters and they know him.
Alexander participated in a phone interview with The Union Daily Times while waiting in an optometrist’s waiting room for his friend and Strikeforce star “King” Mo Lawal. Those who reach Alexander’s voicemail will hear a former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion say, “This is B.J. Penn. You’ve reached Gary Alexander’s phone. If you know what’s good for you, leave a message.”
Alexander also has a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu, as he is a part of Team Carlson Gracie and trains with Ricardo Cavalcanti, who was a 5th-degree black belt under Carlson Gracie, Sr. He also trains for boxing with Ray Sefo — a five-time Muay Thai world champion and a K-1 champion.
In 2010, Alexander was named one of the “45 under 45 Outstanding Gentlemen of Las Vegas” by Esquire Magazine and Elliott and Co. for 2009.
Alexander admitted that he would not advise others to take the same unorthodox path he took.
“I would advise high school kids to stay in school,” he laughed. “I know it sounds cliche, but it’s unbelievably important.”
Alexander said he wished he would have had business classes and other tools which would have helped him master parts of his journey with which he struggled. He said that going out on his own was what he needed, though, to become successful.
“When my mom first died, I was angry at God,” he said regarding his spiritual struggle. “When I moved to the beach I began surfing and finding a very natural environment. I got centered again, and became spiritually comfortable again.”
Alexander said although he took a rough path that many would not make it to the end of, he felt that his ambition and tenacity made him an exception to the rule.
“I chose to live life to the bone,” he said. “I always felt suicide was a cowardly way out, and drinking and drugs just mask what is there. I was going to succeed or die trying.”
Alexander also strove to make his parents proud and prove to himself that he could be successful. He said even though his relationship with his father was rocky at times, he was fortunate enough to hear his father tell him how proud of him he was before he died.
“I don’t forget any of those things, and I carry them with me,” he said.
Alexander said he plans to move back to South Carolina in the future, where he can enjoy spending time with his daughter in his home state. He said he misses family and friends from South Carolina and has longed to watch live Clemson football.
“I’m surrounded by people you watch on TV, and it’s a weird position to be in,” Alexander said. “95 percent of me wants to be home and see the people you see every day.”
“There is a side of me that wants to get back to entertainment and a side of me that wants to stay in MMA,” he added. “There is also a side that just wants to sit on the front porch and drink sweet tea.”