“We did it on our own terms, and we went out on top.”
“People will have a good time when they come to my shows. They’ll be singing and dancing and laughing. My goal is to make folks smile and lose themselves in the music for a few hours. And I’m gonna be like John Lee Hooker, because they are going to have to drag me off the stage, man! I want to play as long as I can.”
That was the late Gregg Allman back in February 2015, telling me how much he wanted to keep playing live gigs until he just couldn’t do it anymore.
And now that sad end day is upon us, as Allman, a founding father of the Southern rock and jam band movements, died at his home in Savannah, Georgia, on May 27 at age 69. While the specific cause has not yet been cited, an official statement on his web site noted Allman had “struggled with many health issues over the past several years.”
I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Allman three times over the years, and he was always the Southern Gentleman whenever we interacted. He was kind, open, soft-spoken, and polite to a fault — all in contrast to the hard-scrabble image that surrounded him.
There is, of course, no shortage of great Gregg Allman music out there for you to discover just how much the Nashville-born and Florida/Georgia-bred musician was not only a maestro of whatever keyboard he would be perched behind — most notably a Hammond B-3 organ — but also how much his whiskey-tinged voice already had a depth and smoky blues character to it when he was in his early 20s.
Allman Brothers Band music Never sounds dated or unnatural.
You can start with Dreams, a pivotal track from The Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled 1969 debut (and also the name of the ABB’s then career-spanning box set in 1989), that encapsulates the way the Brothers incorporated modal jazz themes from Miles Davis and John Coltrane right alongside the incredible fretboard prowess of Gregg’s brother, guitar wizard Duane Allman.
Next, cue up just about anything from the live 1971 benchmark At Fillmore East, such as Statesboro Blues and the instrumental clinic In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, or the live segments of 1972’s Eat a Peach, especially the 33-minute tour de force Mountain Jam. This live tandem is where the ABB forged the template for the live improv style that an entire movement continues to hang its collective hackysack on.
Want to dig even deeper? First, follow a suggestion from my good friend Alan Paul, author of One Way Out, the definitive inside history of The Allman Brothers Band. Paul picks Don’t Keep Me Wondering and Please Call Home, both found on 1970’s Idlewild South, as being two “tremendously underrated” Allman songs, and I have to agree. From my POV, I would also suggest playlisting Gregg’s definitive 1987 solo band track I’m No Angel, and then adding classics like 1969’s It’s Not My Cross to Bear and Whipping Post and 1970’s seminal Midnight Rider and Revival alongside latter-day gems like 1990’s Good Clean Fun, 1991’s End of the Line, 1994’s No One to Run With, and 2003’s Firing Line.
What follows are some comments culled from the previously cited February 2015 interview I conducted with Gregg, interspersed with a few thoughts shared with me by his son Devon Allman, his onetime bandmate, guitarist Derek Trucks, and a final word from the aforementioned Alan Paul.
Rest in peace, dearest Gregg. Share your dreams with all of the angels and no-angels you come across out there in the ether, for now you are a Midnight Rider forevermore.
Digital Trends: I know the “Los Angeles experience,” as you discussed in your 2012 autobiography, My Cross to Bear, wasn’t exactly the most ideal way to start your career in the late 1960s, but I’m wondering how you feel about it all these decades later. How did hanging out and playing with the other musicians on the L.A. scene in the ’60s affect you?
Gregg Allman: Well, my first experience in L.A. really was a drag; that raw deal our band the Hour Glass got from Liberty Records taught me some hard lessons about the music business, and it caused some real problems between me and my brother [Duane] for a while.
Looking back on it now, the only positive memories I have of that period are the ones about all the great musicians we got to hang out with. We were part of the whole L.A. scene, playing at clubs like The Troubador, The Avalon, and The Whisky A-Go-Go. And we opened for some heavy hitters, man — The Doors, Paul Butterfield, Buffalo Springfield, Buddy Guy, and even Ike and Tina Turner.
I got to know guys like Jackson Browne and Tim Buckley, both of whom had a huge impact on my songwriting. So did Neil Young. I think his Expecting to Fly is a masterpiece. [Expecting to Fly appears on Buffalo Springfield Again, the December 1967 release from one of Young’s earliest bands, Buffalo Springfield.]
Hanging out with bands like Spirit, Love, The Seeds, and the guys in Poco really made a terrible situation a bit more tolerable, but that was it.
I see your son Devon and his band have occasionally opened for you on tour. You must feel like one proud papa! Do you think the old adage “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” applies to him?
45 years is a great run for a band. It’s a testament to how badass of a Jedi Council they were.
Gregg: I’m impressed by everything Devon has done, and I am very proud of him. The name Allman will only get you so far in this business, and Devon has made it on talent and determination, not because of his last name. His Ragged & Dirty album [released in late 2014] is a helluva a record, and I’m glad to see he’s hitting it hard and heavy with his solo career. It’s always fun to have him out on the road with me. We have some good times!
Devon Allman: My mom and I used to drive around and listen to the radio, and I’d ask her, ‘Who’s this? Who’s that?” And one day she went, “Oh, that’s your dad.”
He just said at times I reminded him of Duane. It maybe also had something to do with the way I look when I’m playing — just in the way he sees my mannerisms, and stuff like that. Duane was a pretty fiery cat and a natural leader, and my dad was more of the quiet one.
How did you feel those final Allman Brothers shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York went in 2014? Do you feel they were the right “final statement” on the band’s long, amazing career?
Gregg: I am very proud of how The Allman Brothers closed things out. We did it on our own terms, and we went out on top. I never wanted us to become a parody of ourselves, and I know my brother would have approved of how we kept the high standards he set for us, right up until the last note faded at the Beacon.
Devon: I went to the last two shows. It was amazing. I think they did it right. They did it with class, before they became some nostalgia act not up to snuff. They went out on top.
45 years is a great run for a band. It was like my dad said — he had no idea it would go on that long when they started that thing. It’s a testament to how badass of a Jedi Council they were, for sure.
Derek Trucks: I never thought I’d get a chance to play that music with him and that band, no. That stuff seemed like it was from a time passed. The Allman Brothers records I grew up listening to in heavy rotation were At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach. To get to play the majority of that music with them — it’s definitely been surreal.
What do you think people will say about the legacy of The Allman Brothers Band 50 or even 100 years from now?
I never wanted us to become a parody of ourselves.
Gregg: I don’t know about legacy and all that stuff, but if people want to learn about the history of the band, they should visit our museum at The Big House in Macon, Georgia; it’s the best rock & roll museum in the country, man. [For more information, go to www.thebighousemuseum.org.]
Devon: You know, my favorite album that my Pops did was Laid Back (1973). There’s something so vibe-y about that solo record of his. And that’s nothing to take away from what Duane and Dickey [Betts] and The Allmans did — there’s something special about all of those first records. But Laid Back is something that always stands out to me. Yeah, that’s a very chill record.
Alan Paul: The Allman Brothers Band will still sound both ancient and modern — just as they have since their first album — and they will be regarded as one of the greatest rock & roll bands ever. Their music does not ever sound dated or unnatural.
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