Photo by Dean Budnick
It was a beautiful thing in 1989 to see The Allman Brothers Band rise from the ashes of the southern rock that they had pioneered to reunite and celebrate their 20th anniversary. Yet, Gregg Allman was still cursed by the demon of booze. To see him so healthy and full of life during the band’s 30th anniversary year has been as enjoyable as the sweet, strong brew of blues, country, jazz and rock for which the Brothers have become legendary.
Exchange the country element in the band’s sound for a down ‘n’ dirty dose of rhythm & blues and you’ve got Gregg Allman and Friends, an outfit featuring members of the Alameda All-Stars and .38 Special and the singer-organist’s lifelong friend Floyd Miles. A boyhood friend from Georgia, Miles turned the dirt bike-riding, surf-rocking Allman and his late, great brother Duane onto the blues of B.B. King and the soul of James Brown. Nearly 40 years later, Gregg Allman has earned his place as the greatest white blues singer in music history. Such masters as Little Milton Campbell come to pay their respects to him whether he’s out on the road with the Brothers or the Friends.
Then there’s the legion of young jam fans who’ve developed into the umpteenth generation of Allman admirers. Having just moved back home to Georgia with his fiancee, Stacey, after a decade in California, Allman could have just taken it easy in his new lakefront digs, maybe do some late-season fishing and ride his three “cherry” Harleys on the wide open spaces around his property. But he wanted to once again turn those fans onto the material that comprises his latest and best solo effort, 1997’s “Searching for Simplicity.” The raw, bluesy disc includes an acoustic version of “Whipping Post” that was inspired by Eric Clapton’s unplugged treatment of “Layla.” Recorded in the wake of a challenge by Brothers roadie Red Dog to treat the classic in a similar way, the acoustic, yet very funky “Whipping Post” only can be heard at Friends rather than Brothers shows. You can check it out as The Friends continue their month-long tour from Jersey to Atlanta through Jan. 1.
With the Clapton thing, I guess things have come full circle, because that dual guitar on the original “Layla” recording not only was inspired by the Allman Brothers Band, it features Duane jamming with Slowhand. Gregg says he thinks his brother would get a kick out of the growing jam band scene and the enormous impact their band has had on it. He also says that the fresh blood of new Brothers Derek Trucks on guitar and Oteil Burbridge on bass may keep the band around another 30 years. “Hell, John Lee Hooker’s still out there,” Allman says.
For starters, you just returned to Georgia after many years living out west. How do you like being back home?
I love it. It’s the greatest place, man. I hunted for it too. Damn. This has been a job. I’ve been at it since August, and I’m finally in there, man. I’m too old for this movin’ shit though. I’ll tell ya’, this is my last one, definitely. I’m on the river, and I’ve got a dock. It’s just beautiful.
You spent a number of years there living together with the members of The Allman Brothers Band. How did it feel this summer to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary?
It was good. It was business as usual except it had a little more celebration to it. It’s always a celebration. It was just a little more. It gave us a little bit more momentum, which is fine with me, man, because I’m going to play as long as the Good Lord will let me. Hell, John Lee Hooker’s still out there. He’s got to be as old as my mom. We’re talking, we’ve got 30 more years of playing (laughs).
Excellent. You’re in those circles with those guys like B.B. King. They consider you as much of a bluesman as they are.
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? That’s where I learned it from, those same guys. And I’ve met just about all of them, man. I mean the ones that are alive. I finally met Milton Campbell the other day. Little Milton. He’s my favorite singer of all of them. It was something else, man. And the thing about is that he’s a fan of mine too. And I swear, that was the incredible part. You don’t stop to think that (laughs) they know anything about you.
He especially came over to one of my gigs. And man, he was dressed to the nines. Let me tell ya’. That man’s dapper, jack. He had on a hat, a three-piece suit, a diamond watch and the whole nine yards, man. He is some kind of slick.
That is great. Tell me about Gregg Allman and Friends. How did this band come about?
I put it together, me and the Alameda All-Stars. They brought in Danny (Chauncey of .38 Special). I met him through them. He used to play with them before he left to play with .38 Special. He lived also in Alameda, which is right by Oakland.
Is that where you lived when you were in California?
No, I didn’t live in Oakland. No, no, no, noooo. No, I lived up in Marin County, about 40 miles north of the Golden Gate, up towards wine country, a place called San Rafael.
Cool. Grateful Dead country. How did you get together with the Alameda All-Stars?
Through this friend of mine in Oakland. He had grown up with these guys. One night, we went out clubbing, and I was looking to jam. He said I know these guys from Alameda. And so we jammed and it was really fun. Every time I felt like jamming, they’d say, ‘C’mon, come on over and play.’
I came off the road in early September from the Brothers tour, and it’s been that long since I played. I jammed with Gov’t Mule at The Fillmore West a few days before I left.
Yeah, that sounded awesome. I’ve got to get the tape.
It was wonderful. Real good, real good, exceptional jam we had. I haven’t played since, so I am hot to trot. I’m ready to go and so is everybody else. We start the day after Thanksgiving.
Comment on how your solo stuff is more blues and R&B without the country vibe of The Allman Brothers Band and compare the sound of the Friends to the Brothers.
Well, first of, there’s only one leader. It eliminates a lot of confusion.
In The Allman Brothers Band, you share the leadership role with Dickey Betts, whereas with Gregg Allman and Friends, you’re fully in charge.
Yeah, right. I’m not talking about fury or anything like that. With them, we stick more to the songs off my solo records. Other stuff we throw in, we play some Floyd (Miles’) stuff. He’s got two records out on Kingsnake Records.
So you share the spotlight with the Friends.
Oh yeah. It ain’t the Gregg Allman Show. It’s the Gregg Allman Revue. It’s a revue of a lot of fine players who I’ve known along the way. Floyd, of course, pretty much turned me on to black music in general. At the age of 11 — I don’t know why he did it — but he said he saw some kind of potential in me. We were playing this surfing music (laughs), and he came around and said, ‘Hey look, man, you’re going the wrong way.’ He turned me onto B.B. King. Man, I can’t tell you how I felt the first time I heard James Brown ‘Live at the Apollo Theater.’ I mean, Good God, I wore that thing out. The LP turned white (laughs). I wish I still had that record.
How come Floyd was never in The Allman Brothers Band?
He’s got his own band. I don’t know. Things happen like they’re supposed to happen, I guess.
How long has he been a part of Gregg Allman and Friends?
Since the beginning.