Since their formation in 1969, the Allman Brothers Band was responsible for such classics as “Ramblin’ Man,” “Jessica,” “Midnight Rider,” “Melissa,” “Blue Sky,” “Whipping Post,” “Statesboro Blues,” “Dreams” and many others. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. The Brothers performed their final series of concerts together over six nights last October at one of their favorite venues – the Beacon Theater in New York City.
Co-founder Gregg Allman has successfully divided his time between performing with the band that carries his name and as a solo act. His first album, Laid Back (1973), was well received and the 1987 single, “I’m No Angel,” charted at #49, with the album of the same name later going gold.
T-Bone Burnett produced Allman’s Low Country Blues, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for Best Blues Album. Allman won a Lifetime Achievement award for Performance at the 2011 Americana Music Honors and Awards. His 2012 autobiography, “My Cross to Bear,” became a New York Times best seller. A special star-studded concert honoring Gregg Allman recorded in January 2014, All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman, featured such artists as Jackson Browne, Eric Church, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Vince Gill, John Hiatt, Trace Adkins, Martina McBride, The Allman Brothers Band and many others. Gregg Allman and Taj Mahal were nominated for a Grammy Award this year for their live performance from this album in the Best American Roots Performance category. Allman received the living legend award at the 10th annual Classic Rock Roll of Honour ceremony last fall in Hollywood. He recently established a scholarship in his name to the University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music.
I recently connected with Gregg Allman during a well-deserved break from the action.
Jane Spietz: Hi Gregg. The last time I interviewed you, you were at home and some guys were cranking up your Arlen Ness Highliner motorcycle! Do you still enjoy riding?
Gregg Allman: I love to ride. I always have, always will. I love the freedom it brings, and there are these great open roads around my home in Savannah that are just perfect for riding. That’s one of the many reasons I love living down here.
JS: When you’re not making music or touring, how do you spend your time these days?
GA: Fishing has been a favorite pastime of mine since I was kid, and over the years I’ve picked up painting. I love to go up to this room in my house that has this spectacular view of these old oak trees; it inspires me. Painting truly relaxes me, and it’s something I’ve really come to enjoy.
JS: For your fans, please tell us how you were first introduced to the Hammond organ.
GA: I fooled around with a B-3 a few times when I was kid in Daytona, but my first real lesson about the Hammond came from a guy in St. Louis named Mike Finnegan. The Allman Joys were playing this club called Pepe’s a Go Go, and Mike was in this band called the Serfs.
He let me sit down behind his Hammond, which is something most guys won’t do, and I fell in love with the sound of the B-3. Mike turned me on to Jimmy Smith, and man, I was hooked. It’s funny though; as much as I love it playing it, I’ve only written two songs on a Hammond, “Dreams” and “Demons.”
JS: Some of the early adventures of the Allman Brothers were adapted for the movie Almost Famous. Please share this great story of that connection.
GA: (Rolling Stone writer) Cameron Crowe came out with us for a few weeks when he was like 15 or 16, and man, we took him to school a bit! He was a great kid, and even then you could tell he had talent no one would have thought he’d go on to make the movies he’s done. Cameron’s not ‘almost’ any more. I love Almost Famous, because Cameron caught the spirit of the band, and so many of those scenes were just perfect. That’s how it was, no doubt.
JS: Will there be a follow-up to your 2011 chart bustin’ album, Low County Blues, with T-Bone Burnett?
GA: We have a live CD from my solo band coming out later this year. It was from a smokin’ show we did in Macon, GA last year. I’m also determined to do an album that’s made up of songs written solely by me. I want the credits to read ‘All compositions by Gregory L. Allman.’
JS: Your 2012 autobiography, “My Cross to Bear,” became a New York Times best seller and is an amazing read. How did the book come to be?
GA: I first started writing about my life back in the ‘80s. I would jot memories and stories down on legal pads and in notebooks, and then I would set it all aside. Then I began to do interviews on tape with a former employee of the band who was really informed on dates, shows and events about the band. We had hours and hours of stuff, and finally Michael Lehman, my manager, decided we really had to make a move to get it published. He went to Harper Collins, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how everything came together. #2 on the New York Times best seller list. Man, I still can’t believe that!
JS: The Allman Brothers Band performed its final shows last October at the Beacon Theater. What was that experience like?
GA: It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. We wanted the Allman Brothers to go out on top. There was no way we were going to become a parody of ourselves. That final show was special, and I know my brother would have approved. After 45 years the time had come, and we did it right.
JS: Share some of the highlights from All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman, the recording of the January 2014 concert tribute to you.
GA: Man, that whole night was a highlight! The one and only Sam Moore just owned “Please Call Home,” and I got to see old friends like Taj Mahal and Dr. John. I loved how Trace Adkins, Eric Church, Vince Gill and Martina McBride put a country twist to some of my songs, and singing “Melissa” with Jackson Browne actually made the both of us tear up a little bit. It was a show I’ll never forget, no doubt about that.
JS: Who are the members of your touring band?
GA: I’ve got a kick-ass band. It’s one of the best line-ups I’ve ever put together. The veterans of the band are Scott Sharrard on guitar, Jay Collins on sax and Steve Potts on drums. They’ve been with me for a while now. The ‘newe’ guys are Peter Levin, who has played keyboards for Aaron Neville and Levon Helm, while Ron Johnson has played bass with Karl Denson and Warren Haynes. People know percussionist Marc Quinones from his twenty years in the Allman Brothers, and about a year ago Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin joined Jay to give us a killer horn trio. Man, we play with a groove that’s a mile wide.
JS: I just finished listening to your son Devon’s album, Turquoise. Wow, I absolutely love it! It’s apparent that Devon has not fallen far from the Allman musical tree!
GA: I’m very proud of Devon, and Turquoise is a hell of an album. Devon has earned everything he’s gotten, because a name will only get you so far in this business.
JS: We are so looking forward to your shows at the Northern Lights Theater in Milwaukee in March. What can your fans expect to experience there?
GA: There will be something for everyone who comes out, I can promise you that. We’ve got a set list that covers my solo career, some Allman Brothers tunes I’ve re-arranged to fit the sound of my solo band, and a couple of killer cover songs as well. People can spent a few hours singing along and dancing their butts off, and then go home with a big smile because they forgot about their problems for a while. That’s the power of music, and that’s why I still play.