"Dangerous" Dan Toler: An Archival Interview
Mike Lawler, Dave Goldflies, Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Dickey Betts, Dan Toler, Dave Toler
What was the vibe like? Was it kind of like just going from clubs to arenas pretty quickly?
Well, yeah. I mean, I did that when I joined Dickey’s band. We played a few big places, Mile High Stadium and some shows like that, and the Palladium in New York and overseas, Rainbow Theatre in London and the Old Grey Whistle Test back then, I don’t know if it still exists today or not. But then we also played the Rockpalast Festival, I think we went on at three or four in the morning, which was prime time and it was prime for us too! [Laughs.] But it was kind of like that. And even from going from Great Southern into the Allman Brothers, it was no more clubs; it was all big shows. And that was neat too, but, after a while, [even though] the money’s great, you get kind of distanced from the crowd. Because the venues are so big and it seems like a lot of times there was a barrier in front of the stage where the people can’t really get up to you as much. Then a lot of police start enforcing power and try to keep people back and that becomes a mess at times, but you kind of lose touch with people. And so we were talking about how it would be nice to be able to play a smaller place so that you could get a closer, one-on-one relationship with the people and kind of work with the fans during the shows. But that didn’t happen a whole lot with the Brothers. But when the Brothers broke up and the Gregg Allman Band formed the day after the Brothers broke up–
Really? They were the next day?
Yes. We felt like that whole thing was over and apparently it was. It ended up being that way, unfortunately, over a political thing that I really can’t talk about. We instantly [developed] a close relationship with the crowd with the Gregg Allman Band because the Brothers were over and we were trying to get record deals with Gregg. Every record company passed on us three times for three years and they wouldn’t take a chance on Gregg because of his history with drugs and alcohol. They all felt that he had writer’s block, but we stuck to our ground and we kept scrapping and clawing, and we finally got a deal with Epic.
And then Gregg had his biggest hit.
Yes! And the I’m No Angel album was born and all of a sudden Gregg’s career was reborn. The next thing you know, we’re hitting big shows, working a lot with Stevie Ray [Vaughan] and people like that. Stevie was just one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever worked with in my life, and what a classy guy. So we did a lot of shows with Stevie, and a lot of festivals. We never really did any big arenas with the exception of the Pontiac Silverdome. We did that one day and had to fly to Nashville from there to do another show that night, so we were using backline gear up at the Silverdome. It was kind of a mess but that was one of the biggest ones we did with the Gregg Allman Band. That was a killer band and a lot of fun.
We kind of jumped ahead a little bit here, but going back to the years you were with the Allmans, can you talk a little bit about those times or any of the particular gigs that stick out in your mind? You recorded three albums together as well?
We did three albums and Enlightened Rogues, of course, was with Tom Dowd as producer, and that was just absolutely a ball, hanging with Tom. He was a brilliant man and very knowledgeable in the music world of course, and everybody loved him. If you didn’t like Tom Dowd, there was something wrong with you. He was just a beautiful person. To me, a producer’s job is to make the individual musician feel comfortable and feel like he’s actually pouring out his heart for the product. That’s what I love about him so much as a producer. Tom had a way of getting that out of you and getting what he wanted from you and making you feel like you created it. He was just a master at that. As you can tell, like what he did with the Derek & The Dominos album, I mean my goodness. The feels and the solos and everything that came to be in that album was just a monster.
Yeah, he’s one of those rare producers who’s a rock star himself.
Absolutely. Then the second album was Reach for the Sky. It was either that one or Brothers of the Road.
I think Brothers of the Road was the last one you guys did together.
Yes. “Two Rights” I think is what it is? “Two rights don’t make up one wrong,” or something?
What had happened in the Brothers, when we played shows, basically the record company and producers would try to modernize the band and make us sound Top 40 as much as possible, try to get a – quote, a hit song – and it was a really hard thing to do from that band. The band played for three hours. We played 8 to 10 songs in three hours and we went from doing that to playing 19 songs in an hour and a half. My god, I mean, to me it was like “Elizabeth Reed,” one solo, bam! Hit the amp, we’re out of here. And, you know, “Jessica” was shortened, “Ramblin’ Man” seemed shortened, all the tunes that have that life and the legacy of being a long song that’s jammed out seemed like it just didn’t exist anymore in that band. We basically turned that back around and went back to the longer songs in the last year, but that just didn’t work and unfortunately, Reach for the Sky and Brothers of the Road didn’t have as much success as Enlightened Rogues, but I think that a lot of that is due to production and material. Of course, Phil Walden was pretty smart about being able to get a song on the radio and getting an album promoted. There were a lot of brilliant people behind that company. But it was a great experience for me, I learned a lot about how to perform, how to try to get the best out of a tune, the best out of a solo, to try to get people into your palm of your hand, so to speak, to be able to take them some place and, you know, not leave them out to hang and bring them back and that kind of thing, but it was a lot of fun.
You mention improvisation, which is kind of the core of the Relix scene, would you say that kind of informed your improvisational abilities a lot [and] your own style of guitar playing?
Oh, I’ve always been interested in improvisation, for sure. You know, just being able to stretch, play your head, has always been my love. Sometimes it just takes some bands a little longer to say what they want to say [Laughs]. But when we tried to go back to the long jams, it didn’t seem like it was accepted as much as what it was. I don’t know if it was because we tried to go to the shorter shows and more, as what they call, professional, or whatever, I don’t know. But that band is known for its jams. I mean, if you go see The Allman Brothers Band, I have not seen the band in a few years, I’ve seen Derek [Trucks] and Warren [Haynes], of course, at different jams and stuff, but they don’t come down this way very much and it seems like the last two times they’ve been close down here, Tampa, I believe, I was in Indiana both times so I’ve missed them. So I really haven’t had the chance to see them lately, but I understand, of course I know, how Derek plays, he’s just absolutely kicking butt these days. I’m really proud of that guy. Everybody was worried about him when he was really young, “What’s he going to develop into? Of course he can play these Duane licks but what’s going to happen?” And he really has shined and I’ve very proud to know him and to have known him since he was about eight years old. His dad is just a great guy and I love him to death. But I don’t see them that much, I don’t get to see them enough, you know? When you get older, I don’t know how old you are young man, but–
You’ll find out that when you get older, a lot of your friends that you’ve run around with and stuff, when you split up and go different ways and do things, you just lose contact. I mean, I started playing with Dickey again in 2002. And prior to rejoining the band, I hadn’t talked to Dickey in 11 years. We live in the same town, but I had not seen him. I mean there were just so many times I’d be out playing somewhere and he’d be on the road. Once in a great while we’d run across each other, “Let’s go play golf!” And I’ve only beat him about two times and I want to beat him again, I need to get him again. He’s up on me, I gotta get back even. [Laughs.]
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