Monday, May 29, 2017

Gregg Allman, 1947-2017

In April of 1969 I was in my second year of law school, and visited my parents in Tampa during spring break. Paging through the Tampa Tribune I saw a review of a concert at a local venue. The headline act was a prominent Motown group, but the reviewer wrote that the loudest cheers came for the warm-up group, "the Allman Brothers, whom no one had heard of."

I likely would have forgotten this, but back in Cambridge in May I heard a local DJ announce a forthcoming Velvet Underground concert "with the Allman Brothers." Not long after that I began to hear their early recordings on "underground" or "AOR" stations like WBCN in Boston and WNEW in New York, to which I moved after graduation. I missed their great concert at Fillmore East in March of 1971, At the time I was more into the folk-into-country of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and their progeny, especially Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

The death of Duane Allman late in 1971 sent the group into a less hard-edged blues, more country influenced direction, led by by Dickey Betts. My first Allmans album was Brothers and Sisters, and my favorite song "Ramblin' Man," a Betts composition with a hook for me in the line, "I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rollin' down Highway 41." That road was the umbilical cord connecting Tampa to Atlanta, and ultimately to Detroit, which is why, entering Tampa on 41 from the north, one of the first things you would see was the Detroiter Motel.

Gregg was largely responsible for the breakup of the group in the late 1970s, caused in part by his distraction into Hollywood glitz following his marriage to Cher, and in large part by the Scooter Herring case. Still, he was instrumental in reuniting the group on several occasions, and did some very good work solo and in other groups.

I'm closing with a video, from Gregg's channel, of a live performance he did on January 14, 2014 in Macon, Georgia, where the Allmans had made their home in the early 1970s. The song is "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," written by Gregg, which was the opening track on Eat a Peach, the Allmans' first album following Duane's death. Gregg's performance is augmented by splendid solos on sax by Jay Collins, and on guitar by Scott Sharrard.

Photo of Gregg by Patricia O'Driscoll from Keeping the Blues Alive.

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