Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gregg Allman - RIP

I was following the Borussia Dortmund/Eintracht Frankfurt match for the 2017 German Cup.  I was also listening to the new stereo mix of the Beatles’ A Day in the Life when I saw this from writer Alan Paul on my Facebook page:

“With a heavy heart, I have to tell you that Gregg Allman has passed. Not much more to say now. Peace and love to his family and the whole extended community.”

Of all the passings of rock royalty over the last eighteen months [Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and just recently Chris Cornell], this one hurts the most.  Damn… The people I have listened to for most of my life are leaving.  For some of those people, time stopped.  They died young, some due to lifestyles of reckless abandon [like Janis, Jimi, and Jim Morrison], others because fate had another plan for them – circumstances beyond their control [like Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Lennon].  Their youth is frozen in time – they didn’t get old, and they never will.  Those that did survive are now passing the scene with such frequency that this blog has become an obituary column.  Time is catching up with the musical heroes of our youth.  As and it does, time is giving us reminders like this that it’ll catch up to us too someday, and probably sooner than we would like.

I was 19 years old, it was my freshman year in college.  The girl I wanted to marry all those years ago told me she had other plans and they didn’t include me.  People often seek out music for solace, and so it was [and still is] for me.  The music of the Beatles wasn’t enough to help ease the pain.  And then out of nowhere, I heard it on the radio.  It was the blues.  It wasn’t just any blues – it was the Allman Brothers Band.  The song was One Way Out from Eat a Peach.  That was the hook.  The first album [of many] that I bought was called Beginnings.  It was a repackaging of their first two albums into one, affordable set - The Allman Brothers Band [1969] and Idlewild South [1970].  Songs from these albums burrowed into my subconscious – Whipping Post, Dreams, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Please Call Home, Midnight RiderMelissa [from Eat a Peach] is on my list of favorite songs, right behind the Beatles’ Help! and Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb.  From the time I heard these songs made in his twenties, until the music he made in his sixties, Gregg Allman became my favorite singer.  I named my first son after him [and Eric Clapton], not for his off-stage behavior, but for his talent.  His voice moved me like no other, not even Paul Rodgers or John Lennon.

The Allman Brothers were a unique outfit.  They had two lead guitar players [Duane Allman and Dickey Betts], two drummers [Jaimoe and Butch Trucks], a bass player who played like a third guitarist [Berry Oakley], and a young singer in Gregg Allman who also played the Hammond B-3 organ.  As a world-weary singer who sounded like he was way beyond his early twenties, it was as if the proverbial hellhounds were always on his trail.  The Allman Brothers Band are credited with inventing a musical genre – Southern rock.  They didn’t like that tag because they were much more than that.  Gram Parson often talked about combining several kinds of music into a blend he called Cosmic American Music.  He talked about such a music, and was somewhat successful in making it, but his music was always pointed toward country music.  The music described by Gram Parsons was the music the Allman Brothers made.  They combined R&B, soul, gospel, blues, country, jazz and rock into something that was uniquely theirs, even more so than what their contemporaries the Grateful Dead did.  Some musicologists have referred to the Allman Brothers Band as a “jam band”.  Gregg Allman didn’t like the tag.  He said, “we’re not a jam band, but we are a band that jams”.  There is a difference.  Well-written songs were just the starting point for the Brothers to do their musical explorations into the stratosphere

Forty-five years after they came together, the Allman Brothers Band played their last show in New York, October 28, 2014.  The show started the evening of the 28th, but ended in the wee hours of October 29th, the 43rd anniversary of the death of Gregg’s brother, Duane.  It was fitting that it ended this way.  The circle was truly unbroken [the underlying theme of those last six shows].  The last song the band played was the also the first song they played as a band in March 1969.  It was the old Muddy Waters classic, Trouble No More.  Before the band played that last song, Gregg addressed the audience at the Beacon Theatre:

“A few years ago, just a few years ago, I was called to come and meet these guys in Jacksonville, Florida.  And it was kinda like, a little stiff in the room until one of them handed me a lyric sheet and said “Sing!”  And this was about 3:30 in the afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, March 26th, 1969.  Never did we have any idea that it would come to this.  We give you a heartfelt ‘thank you.’  And now we’re gonna end on the first song we ever played, that broke the ice.” 

I have no doubt that the person who told him to sing was Brother Duane. 

Of all the musicians that have come and gone since my first concert [The Who in 1982], Gregg Allman is the musician whom I have seen live the most.  I saw him six times with the Allman Brothers Band between 1989 and 1995, and four times as a solo performer between 1987 and 2012.  Carol and I saw him open for Stevie Ray Vaughan in Colorado in 1987 the week we got married.  After years of neglect, Gregg finally had radio exposure with I’m No Angel.  We didn't know the Allman Brothers Band would reunite just two years later [I don't think they did either].  Seeing Gregg live for the first time was the next best thing [we saw Dickey Betts a year earlier].  The last time we saw him in 2012, it was Greg and Mark’s first concert.  He was supporting his then-new Low Country Blues, an excellent tribute to his blues forbearers of which I recommend highly.

Gregg had been in bad health in recent years.  He had Hepatitis C, which he said he got from a dirty tattoo needle many years ago.  His Hepatitis led to liver cancer, which subsequently resulted in a liver transplant.  It was never the same for him after that.  He had given up the drugs and the booze, and even quit smoking.  He missed Allman Brothers shows in March 2014 due to bronchitis.  Afterward, he had lung surgery.  He began to cancel shows, then began to cancel entire tours.  About two or three weeks ago it was rumored that he was in hospice care.  He denied the rumors in the press, but in light of his passing today I guess the rumors were true.  As I began to write this, I found a Facebook post from Dickey Betts’ manager.  Gregg and Dickey had a blowout in 2000 [actually I think it was between Dickey and Butch Trucks, but I digress slightly], but according to David Spero he said Dickey and Gregg spoke to each other recently and put all the bad blood behind.  He also related that when he told Dickey of Gregg’s death “he got very quiet and after a moment”…and “was very saddened by the news” [I didn’t hear of any such thing after Butch Trucks killed himself, hence my conclusion about the 2000 feud].  I [and I am sure many fellow Peacheads] am glad that Gregg and Dickey were at peace with each other.

Warren Haynes, longtime on-stage foil for Gregg Allman and the leading light of Gov’t Mule, wrote the following today:

“RIP Gregg Allman - I am at a loss for words. I was moved by Gregg’s voice when I first heard the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. I was nine years old. I had not even picked up a guitar yet but thanks to my two older brothers I had been exposed to a lot of great soul music with the best singers in the world. But this was something different. This music was making a deep emotional connection with me even though it was too complex for me to really understand. Somehow, though, it had this "common man” quality that allowed that music to connect with people on so many different levels without analyzing the ingredients that went into it-soul, blues, rock, country, jazz-all mixed together in a way no one had ever done before. And on top of it all was this beautiful voice that could be soothing, terrifying, mellow, angry, and amazingly natural and soulful all at the same time-and instantly captivating. It drew me in. It drew us all in.

Over the next few years I would begin to play guitar as every one of my music loving friends became Allman Brothers’ freaks. That music spoke to anyone who heard it but in the South it resonated with us. It spoke volumes. It brought a voice to people like myself in the midst of some confusing, ever-changing times. Here was this group of Southern hippies with an integrated band coming out of the Deepest South with equally deep music on the heels of some extremely deep changes. We didn’t realize how heavy that was at the time but we sure realized how heavy the music was. Every guitar player in every Southern town was listening to the Live at Fillmore East record and worshipping at the altar of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. But the icing on the cake was always Gregg’s voice. That’s what separated the ABB from being a band that only connected with music freaks. Women whom previously had only listened to the radio would tolerate the long jams to get to the parts where Gregg melted their souls with that angelic voice. It turned casual music fans into fanatical fans who were discovering a new multi-dimensional music that a few years prior wasn’t even in existence. And it was all due to Gregg’s voice-and the songs.

He wrote these amazing songs that were as natural as his voice was. The words and melodies felt so perfectly unpretentious and, when delivered by him, made an emotional connection that only happens when music is genuine and honest. I learned an enormous amount about singing and songwriting from him-most of it before we ever met.

I am truly honored to have been fortunate enough to have written many songs with him and equally honored to have traveled the world with him while making the best music the world has ever known. I will never, ever take that for granted. And on top of all that-he was my dear friend.

My fondest memories will always be of Gregg, myself, and Allen Woody sharing a tour bus together-listening to great music and laughing our asses off mile after mile. Traveling- like life- is so much better when you’ve got friends to share the experience with. I’ve lost too many lately and this one is gonna be hard to get past. There is some comfort in knowing that millions of people all over the world feel the same way.

I love you Gregory – WH”

RIP Gregg. You’re with Duane and Mama A again.

Gregg and Duane Allman - together again

No comments:

Post a Comment