Gregg Allman Reflects on Friends and Brothers
By Mike Greenhaus
Gregg Allman has the right to feel a bit nostalgic. In January, musicians ranging from Eric Church and Trace Adkins to Jackson Browne, Sam Moore, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Robert Randolph and the members of Widespread Panic celebrated his life during an all-star tribute concert in Atlanta, Ga., and The Allman Brothers Band will officially mark their 45th anniversary during their annual run at New York’s Beacon Theatre (which kicks off tomorrow night). Allman’s life story will also be turned into a major motion picture starring Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt, The All-American Rejects singer Tyson Ritter and Wyatt Russell. However, despite peeking into the rearview mirror, the 66-year-old singer/organist has his eyes firmly planted on the future. At the end of 2014, Allman will turn his attention away from The Allman Brothers Band and focus on his recharged solo group. He plans to enter the studio with Don Was to record an album of all-new, original material, and a blues record is also in the works.
A wide-range of musicians from the rock, country, blues and jamband worlds took part in the “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman” tribute in January. At what point in the event’s planning did you find out about the tribute and what was your initial response?
I didn’t find out about it until it was about halfway put together. [My old friend and former roommate] Jackson Browne called me and I hadn’t heard from him in a while so I thought, “That’s odd.” My first reactionwas, “Oh, man. They only do this for dead people.” Then, I thought, “Oh, God. What if it’s a bomb?” But then I kept hearing who had signed on—people like Dr. John. I was just flipping. Man, I’ll tell ya, I have never experienced such an incredible evening in my entire life. It felt like I was seven or eight years old and it was Christmas. It gave me chills and a bump in my throat. I did “These Days” and “Melissa” with Jackson and, at the end of the bridge of “Melissa,” he had a big tear on his face. I said, “Oh, no, Jackson. Not now!” The kid who did “Win, Lose or Draw” [Eric Church] turned it into a great country song.
My manager Michael Lehman and Don Was put together the most incredible band: [onetime Allmans keyboardist] Chuck Leavell playing piano, Jimmy Hall on harp and [former ABB guitarist] Jack Pearson on guitar. Pearson, man, he must have been woodshedding because every person on that stage, at one time or another, said to me: “Is Jacky Pearson playing 10 times better than he used to or am I hearing stuff?” I said, “No, you are exactly right.” Somebody needs to hire that boy. If I had room for him I would hire him tomorrow.
Speaking of Gregg Allman & Friends, you recently switched up your solo band’s lineup. You even added Marc Quiñones, who has served as The Allman Brothers Band’s percussionist since 1991. What brought about these changes?
I hired two horn players, so Gregg Allman & Friends is now a nine-piece band. Marc Quiñones is a permanent member and we have Ron Johnson (Warren Haynes Band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) on bass. Those two were the catalyst that put the fire in my band’s ass. I had to let Jerry Jemmott go because he was developing hearing problems. I hated it—we did many years together and parted ways super friends—and Floyd Miles, on the account of his hips and knees, had to pretty much retire. I had been with Floyd off and on since I was 14, but he’s hung it up. My goal is to hit every place The Allman Brothers didn’t.
You mentioned Eric Church’s version of “Win, Lose or Draw” and Trace Adkins described his participation in the tribute as “the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my career.” However, your songs always seemed more rooted in the blues and singer-songwriter side of The Allman Brothers Band’s repertoire. Are you surprised by the way that your music has influenced the modern country world?
I was born in Nashville and I know a lot of those people. I would say that for the last 25 or 30 years, I have been approached about—and thought about myself—going forth on a country music project. I have been given carte blanche to do that whenever I want. But that has to sit on the backburner for now because I am very, very interested in doing my next record in Muscle Shoals with Mr. Don Was producing. [Allman is also slated to record a blues project with T Bone Burnett this year.]
Your last solo album, 2011’s Low Country Blues, consisted mostly of covers. I have heard that this album will feature all original material. Is that still your goal?
It will be called All Compositions By. I have written way more than enough songs. I always like to go in there with 20 songs. Some will turn into two songs and some don’t always pan out and we’ll shit-can it. These are all new songs that I wrote, and it will be [recorded with] my band. I believe that part of the whole effect happens when you see a bunch of dudes get up onstage behind their instruments and they start playing, and it is just like someone turned a record on or close to it. That’s the effect. Bonnie Raitt is good at doing that.
Your memoir My Cross to Bear has been adapted into the film Midnight Rider. The actors portraying you recently spent time on the road with your band.
They’re living with me at my house. They call it shadowing—unless you are in the shower or asleep, they are with ya. Tyson Ritter is playing the young me, and William Hurt is playing the not-so-young me. They watch every move you make to get your idiosyncrasies down. I am executive producer and can pull the plug on it anytime.
Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks recently announced that they will leave The Allman Brothers Band at the end of 2014. What does the future hold for the band?
This is it—this is the end of it. Forty-five years is enough and I want to do something else anyway. Everyone has their own real good respective bands. Who’s to say? We may get together every five years anddo just one play at a time.
How does the decision to stop playing with The Allman Brothers Band affect your solo career?
I suppose I am the only one who can legitimately play all of the Brothers’ songs. The other guys can play some of them but, on the account of that I wrote or sing most of them, I will be carrying that on. Only every song that I do in my band that was written by me for the Brothers I have totally rearranged—and all for the better. I play a lot of electric guitar, and I have an extremely good keyboardist. The horns are really starting to sink in now: It is really working out perfect. This is what I’ve dreamt of all my life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing with The Allman Brothers—and I still do—but The Allman Brothers never seemed to have a focal point. A band doesn’t necessarily have to have a leader but they do have to have a focal point—a point at where everyone starts and they somehow never had that. Nobody seemed to want to take over the job after my brother passed away. I was pretty much out to lunch myself, but we trenched on. I am the leader of my band now, and it seems to work out much smoother.