Gregg Allman Still Dreams (Relix Revisited)
With the Allman Brothers band set to open their Beacon Theatre run on Friday and with Gregg Allman’s autobiography set for a May 1 release, today we revisit Jaan Uhelszki’s conversation with Allman. This is an expanded version of a piece that appeared in the April-May 2009 issue of the magazine.
Almost single-handedly, The Allman Brothers Band revolutionized southern music, giving it a pride, luster and identity that it never had before—if you don’t count Stephen Foster (and he was born in Pennsylvania).
But not only was Southern pride restored, but rock history made on March 23, 1969 when Duane Allman called his younger brother Gregg and asked him to come home. Gregg had been living in Los Angeles waiting for a contract with Liberty Records to run out, and the way he explains it, “just about to put the pistol to his head” when the phone rang.
While he initially was a “Doubting Thomas” about his brother’s new endeavor (Duane promised him a new B-3 Hammond organ if he’d make the trip back to Georgia), a week later he became one of the architects of southern rock, penning songs for a band that was destined to become one of the most influential rock groups in America. Their unexpected synthesis of blues, jazz, folk, rock and country along with the dual percussive thunder and intricate, almost supernatural, guitar interplay between Duane and Dickey Betts assured them a sacred place in rock’s mighty canon. The guitar battles were so heated some nights that a listener couldn’t tell where one started and the other left off.
They released three albums in quick succession, but when they began recording their fourth, Eat a Peach, tragedy struck, turning their story into a Southern Gothic tale, with its requisite triumphs, tragedies, annihilation and eventual redemption.
First Duane perished in a motorcycle accident in downtown Macon, Georgia on October 29, 1971, and was buried in the city’s Rose Hill Cemetery, the very place that the band penned its first songs, including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Dazed, the band decided to carry on, despite their massive loss, vowing to finish the album without Duane, and to make the best of things. But only 13 months later, bassist Berry Oakley died in an uncannily similar motorcycle mishap, less than a mile from where Duane went down for the last time, and the Brothers—as they were always called—were dealt a second deadly blow.
By rights the band should have perished in 1972, when tragedy picked off their second member, but instead they carried on, persevering through two break-ups, drug addictions, feuds, and a myriad of lineup changes due to death, discontent, or just plain orneriness. Now 40 years later they’re celebrating that propitious anniversary with a lengthy stint at New York’s Beacon Theater—something they’ve done every year since 1989, save last year, when Gregg was undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C.
We spoke to Allman while he was in Savannah, Ga., about to leave for the Beacon rehearsals in Atlanta. He was eloquent and more forthcoming than usual as we spoke about the early beginnings of the band, how the tragedies changed him, and the lyrics that he just unearthed from the instrumental “Little Martha” that Duane wrote.
Barack Obama has been president for an hour, can you tell me about playing the campaign rally?
We’re all into change, and if he’s sincere about this MLK thing, he’s going to be fully gray in eight years, but I think he can keep out spirits up, I don’t think he can pull us out of this financial thing, but I think he can keep our spirits up while we pull ourselves out of it.
The first time [The Allman Brothers] backed a presidential candidate was Jimmy Carter. I’ve never seen anyone age so much in office as Jimmy Carter.
Oh they were showing that, the night before last, I was in Atlanta, I finally came home last night. I went straight from my tour with my band straight to the rehearsing for the Beacon, and man did we ever have some, “god what in the world are we gonna do.” Then stuff just started comin’ to us and I mean, the gods were so good to us. I can’t tell you about it but it’s going to be incredible, it really is.
The month of March always seems to be very good to you.
Yeah, you’re right.
The phone call from Duane where he said come home, was in March. Do you feel like that phone call saved your life?
Oh no, I didn’t mean that in a literal sense.
But that phone call must have changed the whole course your life?
Oh absolutely did because I had just tried out for the musical “Hair.” They needed somebody that sang tenor that was white. They had these four guys from Watts. I thought, “What the hell do they want me for?” Oh god I was just in Buffalo. N.Y. this time last week, then I was in Atlanta and it was cold, then I got here and it’s just damn cold. I’m finally home with my dogs.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
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.
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