Originally published in encore magazine, July 26, 2016
Gregg Allman is feeling under the weather and will not be able to perform. However, his band will still be performing for free with local artist Travis Shallow opening at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Doors will remain at 6 p.m. with show time at 7 p.m.
“He said, ‘What you got there, little brother?’” Gregg Allman chuckles over the phone, remembering his brother Duane’s response when Gregg brought home his first guitar as an early teen. His answer sounds familiar to anyone with a sibling.
“‘This is capital M, capital Y—MY guitar,’” he replied. “I had gotten it from Sears and Roebuck for $21.95—that would literally make your fingers on your left hand bleed.”
Gregg and his late brother shared a passion for music from early childhood, and both would come to practice tirelessly. During their youth nothing seemed more important.
“Mom would go wake [Duane] up in the morning for school and he’d still have his guitar wrapped around his neck,” he tells. “I woke up many mornings still playing. . . . She got worried about us; we were losing weight, we didn’t go out anywhere, we just sat home and played and played and played some more. Then we started going out a lot because we had a band. And we had the best band in Daytona Beach, and I’m thinking we still do!”
What became famously known as The Allman Brothers grew in Macon, Georgia. Gregg played off and on with the band for more than four decades, even after Duane died in a motorcycle crash in 1971. Gregg has carried on their shared love for music with a new project and bigger sound, as reflected in his upcoming album, “Southern Blood.” His summer tour will bring him to Greenfield Lake on July 29.
It took about seven years for Gregg to find his new outfit of talent after he started building his current band in 2009—right around the 40th anniversary of The Allman Brothers. “I thought [the Brothers] were gonna call it quits after 40 years—because God knows that’s enough right there,” he quips. “But it was going on so well, I thought I’d hang on for another five years—we all did, brother. We’ll probably get back together and do a tour sometime, but it won’t be this year.”
Gregg’s new nine-piece is complete with Scott Sharrard (guitar), Peter Levin (keyboards), Steve Potts (drums, percussion), Marc Quiñones (drums, percussion), Brett Bass (bass), Jay Collins (horns), Art Edmaiston (horns), and Marc Franklin (horns). Despite a relatively short period of time, the communication Gregg and his band share is unparalleled. He continues to learn from them in the process.
“I’ve been asked many times whether I like playing live or recording best,” he tells. “I say, ‘Neither is my favorite.’ My favorite is rehearsal because that’s when all the real magic happens. That’s when everything gels or doesn’t. You keep changing it until it does and that’s what I like.”
After releasing a live album “Back to Macon, GA” in 2015, “Southern Blood” offers new tunes and cover songs, as well as tracks from way back. Folks at the Greenfield Lake show can also expect to hear Brothers’ tunes he’s written over the years, though they’ve been updated to fit his new band’s big sound. In some ways, they’re being played as they were originally meant to be.
“When I would write a song for the Brothers, I would show it to them in its basic form,” he explains. “Now, I just had to rearrange them so I could get the horns in there. Now they’re the way they were actually written, like ‘Midnight Rider.’”
Gregg wrote “Midnight Rider” on the guitar, which he still plays for the reboot, but Sharrard takes on slide guitar and there’s an added trumpet part. “It gets real cosmic at the end,” Gregg describes. “Real swampy sounding, and that goes on for a long jam. It’s pretty out there, but that’s the way it was really written.”
Before playing guitar, Gregg remembers his first introduction to big-band instrumentals and their effect of breathing more soul and life into music. His mother dropped off him and Duane to his first concert, a rhythm and blue review, at 9 years old. The big-band orchestra featured horns and backup singers for various artists, including Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, and “some cat named” B.B. King—who was the only performer there with his own band.
“One of them had a big piece of ‘furniture’ onstage that he was playing,” Gregg remembers. “It looked like there might have been some keyboards attached to the other side of it, and the sound that came out of it was just incredible. I looked at my brother and said, ‘Man, that real mellow sound? Is that coming out of that piece of furniture?’ Finally, someone told me that it was a Hammond organ.”
Now Gregg has six Hammond organs he’s played throughout his tenure. The first of his collection was a gift from Duane. The instrument’s craftsmanship and evolution cannot be matched—an artistry seemingly lost in time and progress.
“Nowadays they make synthesizers that cover one sound,” Gregg says. “I don’t know why someone doesn’t start making them again—but why don’t they make ‘66 Thunderbirds anymore? Why don’t they make ‘58 Corvettes? I don’t know, they just don’t. They just throw stuff together nowadays and hope it sticks.”
Gregg never envisioned any fame or measurable success when he set out to learn to pick his first guitar. He was simply driven by passion. He discovered music could heal a hurting soul or mend a lovesick heart. He was intrigued by how those six silver strings could take him away. “The big blessing is to have your undying passion also be the way make your living,” Gregg says.