An Audience with Gregg Allman
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Warren Haynes and Allen Woody had just left The Allman Brothers Band to pursue Gov’t Mule full time, and Jack Pearson was in as guitarist and O'Teil Burbridge as bassist when we sat down with Gregg Allman in 1999. Gregg had recently released a solo album called Searching for Simplicity, and the Brothers were continuing their sellout shows at The Beacon in New York, The Fox in Atlanta, and nationwide.
You have so many classic songs that you have been singing for 25 - 30 years. Do you ever tire of singing the same songs? Also, what’s your favorite song to sing?
Well, when you do them night after night, you try to do them different each night. You couldn’t do them verbatim night after night, you’d go crazy. You’d probably run off howling into the night. (Laughs) With the band, it’s just a natural thing. It’s not like we’re trying any great experiments onstage. But there’s definitely some of that. When one guy starts going off in a certain direction, the rest of us will follow. As for my favorite song, I just finished a solo album, well, it’s been out for about a year now. It’s called Searching for Simplicity. I did a song on there for my brother. We cut “Dark End of the Street.” Duane had recorded it with Clarence Carter when he was working on the staff down there in Muscle Shoals. He was always on me to do that song, and my voice just wasn’t that thick. I mean, James Carr first did it-It takes a big, fat “Moon River” type voice.(Laughs) I didn’t have the voice for it at the time he wanted me to cut it.
Besides that one, what are your favorite tracks on the album? I know that’s like asking you which is your favorite child.
(Laughs) Yeah. I like the new version of “Whipping Post.” “Silence Ain’t Golden Anymore,” that’s a good ol’ Scott Boyer song. It’s like you said, it’s hard for me to name specific favorites.
I like the country one, “Memphis in the Meantime.” John Hiatt is a great songwriter too, isn’t he?
He is, and a helluva guy too.
Out of all the songs you’ve written, what is your favorite?
I guess it’s probably “Queen of Hearts.”
Favorite Allman Brothers album?
Probably Idlewild South. Lots of good songs on that one.
There’s a massive tape trading community happening these days. What are your feelings on the taping of shows for trade and the effect on record sales?
Well, at first we were kind of concerned about it. Then we did like a survey. It doesn’t hurt our record sales at all, and I think it’s really a great thing. I really do. It’s kind of like...Hell, it’s better than baseball cards, because you can listen to ‘em. Some of them are really great, and if you ran them through a compressor, you could probably release them. But the way people are going about it, just having them for there own listening use, I think it’s as cool as it can be.
I really believe it helps record sales in a way. It certainly helps build on the legend of the band.
With almost thirty years of gigging behind you, are there any shows that really stand out in your mind?
Yeah. A couple of ‘em stand out. Certainly the closing of the Fillmore stands out. I once took out a 28-piece orchestra and cut what became my second solo record. It was called Gregg Allman Tour ‘74. It was recorded at Carnegie Hall. And you put a Fender bass in Carnegie Hall-the place is built for the spoken word. You put an electric bass in there, you’ve got a problem, man. We used one 12” speaker cabinet for the bass. It was like a Vibrasonic. And one 8” speaker for the lead guitar. We had six horns, six violas, seven violins, seven cellos. We had the orchestra leader and everything. I want to do that again, now that I’m old enough to do it. I’d like to do it right. (Laughs) It didn’t make any money, but it was ballsy. (Laughs) They said, what’s Gregg doin’, is he out of his mind? But we had a helluva lot of fun doing that record. It did pretty good.
With the two (relatively) new guys, Jack and O’Teil, is the sound different on stage? How are they working out?
They are an enhancement. They enhance anything they touch, really. Both of the guys are terrific.
By now, everybody knows that Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Brothers to do their Mule gig full time. Would you comment on Gov’t Mule?
They are a terrific band. A killer band.
How about The Derek Trucks Band?
Also killer. And Derek has got some incredible, incredible musicians in his band. That drummer (Yonrico Scott) is awesome.
We just saw them here in Greenville. He put on a killer show.
Isn’t he great. Oh! God, if I could play with any drummer in the world, it would be him. You can print that. Someday, maybe.
The way the brotherhood is, it seems like you all end up jamming together at some point along the way anyhow.
Right. And all is fair too...(Laughs)
As a singer, who are your favorite vocalists?
I guess my favorite one was Little Milton Campbell. I don’t know. It’s between him and Bobby Bland and Ray Charles. I mean, there’s a lot of good singers, and it’s hard to say one is better than the other. You can’t say Hendrix is better than Clapton. Both of ‘em are number one.
And the great thing about it is, we don’t have to choose. We can have it all.
Any comment on your guest spot on Toy Caldwell’s 1992 solo album?
Oh yeah. Toy Caldwell was a good ol’ guy. I played on his last record, and I never got to see him after that. I really enjoyed it. “Midnight Promises.” We recorded down at Mud Island in Memphis. In that old firehouse they made into a studio. They had a B-3 set up and hell, I was out of there in two hours. I was in the moooood!
We’ve heard great reports on the Gregg Allman and Friends tour. I spoke with Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie) the other day, and he said it had been lots of fun. How have you enjoyed the tour, and how does that band compare to playing with the Brothers?
There’s not even a cross word in this band. They’re wonderful people. I ran into the Alameda All-Stars. Tommy Miller, the bass player, Tommy Thompson, the keyboard player, Preston Thrall, the drummer and Mark McGee, he plays slide and lead guitar. Those four I’ve been playing with off and on for about seven years I guess. I started jamming with ‘em and then I added Floyd Miles, who I had grown up with on percussion and vocals. He pretty much turned me on to rhythm and blues and black music and Motown. And Jimmy Hall, and last but not least, Danny Chauncey from .38 Special. It really is one hell of a band. It’s an eight-piece, and it smokes. We just finished our tour in Chicago of all places. We stayed at the House of Blues and played at the House of Blues. The House of Blues Hotel. If you’re ever in Chicago, stay there, man. It’s decorated just like the clubs are.
I was discussing the book, Midnight Riders, (by Scott Freeman, Little, Brown & Co.) with your manager, Bert Holman. What are your feelings regarding the book?
I think it’s bad toilet paper. That was just some asshole that was out of a job that used to work with the Macon Telegraph. It’s just one big, thick National Enquirer. There are a lot of things in there that are just way off.
(At this point, Gregg is “attacked” by his dogs. He has an English Springer Spaniel & miniature poodle, “without the weird hair cut” he says. One of the pouches is named Delta Blue.)
Yeah, you know, people think they can just sit down and write a bunch of crap. The guy probably just collected a bunch of newspapers and stuff.
How would you describe your long-term relationship with Dickey Betts?
Off and on, just like anybody else. We have our ups and our downs.
Well, thirty years is a long time for anybody to be together.
Yes, it is. We all have our demons, and we all have to deal with them in our own ways. I think he’s great, and always wish him the very best.
I know you are mostly associated with the B-3 organ, but I’ve seen you play some pretty hot guitars over the years. What have been some of your favorite guitars?
Washburn makes a Gregg Allman signature model acoustic now. Each one is numbered and signed. They’re on sale now, but they made one before that. It was called the Melissa model. I don’t know if they still make that one or not. It’s a black one, they had a 12 and a 6-string. It had Melissa written up the fret board. It was really pretty. These new ones have a mushroom on the head. They are really nice. They’re nice and simple. They have an Equis-2 in them, for the electronics, which is almost like a Fishman. That’s what I play. I have a J-200 that I play. Gibson acoustics are about the only other acoustics that I can tell you about. I have another good one. It’s a Taylor. Those are incredible guitars. They’re making new ones each day that are great. They’ve really got it down. They surgically took a Martin apart, and put it back together, but using lighter wood. I mean, if you dropped it, it’d break like an egg shell, but it is something else, I’ll tell you.
What about electrics?
Probably just a Strat. The one with the least amount of knobs on it. (Laughs) A Strat or a Telecaster. They have two knobs and a toggle switch. That’s about all I can handle.
What would you say is the most important lesson that you learned from your brother Duane?
I think it would be to stick to your guns, and not to let anybody weasel you into their pattern, you know? Like trying to get you to play some other kind of music, or sign something by hook or crook, you know? I learned a lot of things from my brother, and I think I can safely say, vice-versa. But that’s one that really sticks out. Stick to how you really feel about things. Keep your own mind about things.