Gregg Allman: The Other Side of this Life
Gregg in 1987
Allaying Gregg’s fears further was the discovery that the band for the session included Dr. John on piano and Doyle Bramhall II on guitar. Both play brilliantly in a tight, well-focused backing group that offers terse, powerful accompaniment to Gregg’s vocal, guitar and Hammond B-3 organ work.
“We did ‘Please Accept My Love’ in a version that was listed as B.B. King’s but it was a Texas blues arrangement,” remembers Gregg. “Dr. John was in there and he says, ‘This ain’t B.B. King, it’s T-Bone Walker.’ So we were trying it out and I said through the microphone to T-Bone, ‘OK, you wanna take a crack at this?’ And he says, ‘It’s OK we already got it!’ [Laughs.] I said, ‘No man, we just ran that down.’ So we tried it again but he was right—we had it before we knew it. One take.
“It’s been a long time since we played together,” says Gregg of Dr. John. “It’s such a pleasure playing with him again. He played on my second record [1977’s Playin’ Up a Storm ], but back then, even though we were friends, we couldn’t really enjoy each other’s company because we were both so strung out.”
One of the highlights of the record is a big band arrangement of “Blind Man,” a staple for Bobby “Blue” Bland but also for Gregg’s favorite vocalist, Little Milton. “It was all cut live—the whole damn thing, horns and all,” says Gregg. “There’s no count off to that song. It has big band feel to it. I’ve always wanted to do that. Not so much live, but in the studio. Bobby Bland would use a huge band sometimes. Little Milton killed that more than anybody.”
Gregg becomes animated as he recalls Little Milton’s guest appearance at The Allman Brothers Band annual run at the Beacon Theatre in 2005. “He came and played with us and the next thing you know the man’s gone,” he says, still sounding wounded. “Every song he did, he would stand back with his head raised like he’s in church and the microphone would be at a full arm’s length. Man, he could deliver it.”
As they were selecting material for the record, a particular song caught Gregg’s attention: a chilling Sleepy John Estes tune called “Floating Bridge.” The episodic tale of a drowning told from the perspective of the victim had an eerie, dreamlike quality that fascinated the singer. “I wasn’t familiar with it, but it stood out,” he recalls. “I carefully listened to the lyrics and we changed them a little bit.” Gregg sings the song in a high, reedy voice, fragile and otherworldly. It’s the voice of a man who’s faced death.
“Wait ‘til you see the cover,” he says of Low Country Blues. “The cover looks like it came from that song. It’s about death. Being an addict, I had many brushes with death. Because they’re self administered, they make you feel,” he pauses, “like such a fool.
“It’s very scary when you wake up,” he trails off, this time pausing longer. “We won’t go there. If you listen to the whole record there’s another song, ‘I Believe I’ll Go Back Home,’ that also touches on that. It was a very emotional recording session.”
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.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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