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Published: Saturday, 7/6/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Gregg Allman has spent nearly a lifetime on stage

BY SCOTT MERVIS
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Rock legend Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Rock legend Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band.
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The Allman Brothers Band will convene in August for a handful of shows, but for now its principals are on their own trips.

Warren Haynes is busy with Gov’t Mule and Jerry Garcia symphony shows. Derek Trucks is on tour with wife Susan Tedeschi in Tedeschi Trucks.

That leaves namesake Gregg Allman free to do shows with his solo band. The 65-year-old singer-keyboardist has a rich catalog to draw upon, ranging from the Allman Brothers’ 1969 debut (which included the classic “Whipping Post”) to 2011’s “Low Country Blues.” His first solo album in 14 years, it’s a typically soulful collection of mostly obscure blues covers produced by T-Bone Burnett.

Allman is also proud of his 2012 memoir, My Cross to Bear, which reflects on the formation on the Allmans, who lost brother Duane in 1971, and the highs and lows of his life and career since then.

Here’s what he had to say in a recent phone interview:

Q: You’re 65 now. You must have been like a young pup in that late-’60s music scene.

A: Yeah, I was always the youngest in the band. I graduated high school in ’65, and by ’69 the Brothers had started. So during the time in between there we played the chitlin circuit — you know, clubs, roadhouses. I was like 18, 19.

Q: How did you have such a feel for blues and soul at that young age?

A: I don’t know, man, it almost seemed like it was in me and all it needed was some catalyst to spark it off. I used to listen to WLAC radio at night. It was right outside Nashville in Gallatin, Tennessee. At night, you could get it from New York to Miami. The thing didn’t come on till about 9 o’clock at night and it went till about 3 in the morning, and, riding from gig to gig, we listened to that.

They introduced me to Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon — all of them. The last show was (deejay) Herman Grizzard. He was into blues, but leaned a little bit toward jazz, and every now and then he’d play this music from a guy named Jimmy Smith, and I thought, “What in the world is making that sound?” And it turned out to be a Hammond B-3 organ.

And I was talking about this to a friend of mine the other day. It all just seemed to fall in line for me, like, if that hadn’t happened, then this wouldn’t have happened, and if that hadn’t happened, these three things wouldn’t have happened. My whole life has been like that, almost like it’s been planned.

Q: You were this blond white kid. Did you feel like “How am I going to imitate these guys, or be in the same genre as them?”

A: (Laughs) “How” never entered into it. I’m gonna imitate these guys. Then, finally, you find your own voice, and that took many years. In fact, I hadn’t realized that I had a voice that you could tell who it was by hearing it myself. I’ve only known that for 10, 11 years. Because I thought I sounded like everyone else. Most singers do. But you find yourself after a while.

Q: You have played with four guys on the Rolling Stone list of greatest guitarists. Duane was No. 2. What made Duane so great? And did Hendrix deserve that top slot?

A: I don’t know, man. To me, they’re all different. They’re all the best. It’s like apples and oranges. I’m partial to my brother because I grew up with him, I taught him how to play. I showed him the original map back in 1960 and he took it from there. He quit school a year later, in his sophomore year. I mean, every lick I ever learned was with him. Hendrix, I mean, my God, they all were just lightning.

Q: You went 14 years without doing a solo album. What brought you back to it for “Low Country Blues”?

A: Probably T-Bone Burnett. Tommy Dowd died in ’02. We were scheduled to cut something around that time, and then after he died, I just thought, “Man, breaking in another producer ...” Tommy Dowd was like a father figure to me. He taught me more about music than any other one person did. I don’t know. It just seemed like a sacrilege to go and record with someone else until I met T-Bone Burnett, and he’s like Tommy Dowd reincarnate.

Q: How did you go about choosing the songs on the album?

A: He had a friend who had this (hard drive) that had some 300, 400 old obscure album cuts of these old blues masters. He sent me one. He said pick out about 15 that you can listen to and you can make into your own song, bring it up to date, and put your signature on. I did that with 12 of them, three of them didn’t do that much for me. Then I wrote one of them.

Q: How did you come to write “My Cross to Bear,” and why was it important to you to tell those stories?

A: All it was supposed to be was a journal that I kept. I started it in about 1981. I figured if I get to be an 80-year-old on a rocking chair on the porch, I can thumb through the pages and relive it. That’s as far as it went, buddy. So, I started writing it, and I wrote about four or five chapters. It got to be a time-consuming thing pushing that pencil so much. So then I just recorded it. I had this partner and he’d set up his recording stuff. He came over every Thursday, and we’d sit upstairs and yak.

Q: Was it emotional for you to go back over that?

A: Not too bad, because I leaned on the happy stuff, the funny stuff. Those other books that came out on us, “Midnight Rider” and “Skydog,” that’s just about six dudes going around the country sowing their wild oats. Well, (b.s.)! There was a lot more to it than that. I tried to keep on the real good, happy stuff, because, of course, we had some hardships, deaths in the family, deaths in the band. But we also had a blast, man, you understand. I wouldn’t trade this life for nothing.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Scott Mervis is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: smervis@post-gazette.com.



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