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September 2014 Relix Magazine Sampler: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers "Forgotten Man"
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Gregg Allman: The Other Side of this Life (Relix Revisited)

by John Swenson on March 21, 2014

On the record, Gregg sings “Floating Bridge” with powerful, full-throated emotion, a dramatic contrast to the plaintive country blues singing he uses when accompanying himself with guitar. His facility with such a wide range of vocal styles is the result of his ability to inhabit the material he sings about rather than just copy it. Gregg is inside every song on Low Country Blues.

“That’s exactly what it feels like,” he says. “I always felt like that even when I was a kid. I’d hear a song or see a movie and I would live it. It felt like it was going right through me.”

Indeed, the emotions Gregg plumbs on Low Country Blues are the product of his life experiences. He agrees that he probably couldn’t have sung these songs as well if he were a younger man.

“I think it includes the wisdom of growing older,” he says, reflecting on the album’s general tenor. "I could have made a reasonable facsimile at best when I was younger. The notes might have been in the right places, but it wouldn’t have been [what Low Country Blues sounds like]. You learn about it as you grow older – just like everything else. “I wonder how I would have done this back in ‘69. Why didn’t I do this right out of the box, ya know? It’s like being an architect. You get better at what you’re doing. You learn by doing. Just like a record producer. The more you do the better you get.”

Photo by Danny Clinch

Most of the songs on Low Country Blues deal with courting and losing women, experiences Gregg is well versed in after being married and divorced so many times in his life.

“I guess I just wasn’t meant to be with one woman,” he says with a shrug. “But I’ll always keep trying.”

During the course of the conversation, Gregg recalls his early inspirations – many sang about broken hearts, fractured relationships and missed opportunities. These were artists such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker that he heard as a kid on WLAC, the radio station out of Tennessee that came on at night and played blues. When he started out playing music, he says that singing was the last thing he wanted to do – he played guitar – but that the choice between a job doing manual labor or music forced him into it. Soon after, he discovered singing’s pure emotional quality.

“To change the tone of an instrument, you have to do something physically,” Gregg says. “A whole lot of emotion goes into playing but singing, it’s actually part of your body. It comes to you right off the brain; it doesn’t have to go through an instrument to come out.”

He does, however, remember the impact of hearing one particular instrumentalist early on – the jazz organist Jimmy Smith. “For years, I fantasized playing a Hammond like he did,” he says. “I didn’t actually see Jimmy Smith until right before he died. He was 76 years old. I went to see him one night in New York City and it was something else, man. His hands were a little slow, but his feet hadn’t slowed a bit. All he needed was a drummer and his feet. He played more shit on them pedals than anybody. I couldn’t believe it. And he had this Hammond organ with two Leslie cabinets that rotated at different speeds. And he had this I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. Somebody called out for ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’ – one of those burners – and he said, ‘Goddamn! Ease up on that. I’m 76 years old,’” Gregg laughs.

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