[8 March 2007]
While greeting a newly-born Georgian afternoon, Gregg Allman casually prepares for an extended dialog focused on the legacy of one of America’s most beloved and influential creative achievements, the Allman Brothers Band. From his home, settled in as part of Savannah’s picturesque countryside, Allman charmingly requests another cup of coffee before sharing his mind and explaining the mechanism behind why music has captivated this southern son’s soul.
“Like it says in the Bible, music soothes the savage beast,” he says. “It could take you back to a time or place in your life that you would like to remember, or it might even remind you of an old girlfriend.”
“God,” he says, “can you imagine a world without music?”
“It happened little by little by little,” Allman explains of his music. “When I first picked up a guitar, I had absolutely no inclination about being in a band; the thought never crossed my mind. All I wanted to do was mess around with it because it brought me a lot of happiness.”
“When I was ever in doubt ... well, when in doubt play,” he remarks. “If I ever had heartache or was bummed out I could just go play something on the piano and everything would be alright. My grandmother used to tell me stories about other people in the family who were bible layers, preachers, or moon shiners but she never mentioned any musicians. Music was just my diversion if anything was every bothering my heart.”
Allman’s southern drawl then shifts from ancestry to the origins of the band.
“In the beginning everybody would bring their own music, the music they liked of course. So when we first got a bus, if you would even call it that, it was a place where everybody was kind of forced to listen to the same music. We were trapped you know,” he laughs.
“When we were on the way to gigs we were listening to all of this jazz, like we had Stanley Turrentine and Leon Thomas. That is really where all the influential stuff started happening.”
“It came down to spontaneity,” says Allman, “‘cause when you start playing and jamming on a tune things start to happen, real magical things. You certainly wouldn’t stop playing the song! So from that came the jams that the Allman Brothers do and became famous for.”
Thinking back on that time, Allman considers the migration of Southern artists. “Back then it seemed like anybody that got into the music business and made any headway moved to New York or Los Angeles,” he says. “So everybody thought that music just came out of those two cities. I bet you that they didn’t stop and think that all of these people were not born in the two hubs of the entertainment industry. I always thought that The Band living in upstate New York was bullshit because half of them were from the South,” Allman says with playful reverence. “Levon Helm was from Arkansas and you could tell in a second from just talking to him.”
Allman’s ideology on music is pure as he relates to the trends that he watched the American arts constantly endure. “The only time I have looked at rock ‘n’ roll and said that is not what this is supposed to be was when everyone started teasing up their blonde hair and putting on black leather pants. It was like the uniform of the day.
“When you are first starting out, and what the lasting musician ultimately has going for them is passion, the passion for the music. If you can’t keep that, then you got nothing. It will make you want to go out and play and it will make you want to better yourself. When that stops you have had it, it’s over, goodbye.
“I think what I am trying to say here is that it has never been about fashion or any of that stuff with us. It has always been about the music,” he says.
With 30 years in the business behind him, Allman’s opinion on how the industry has changed and transcended is next on the list of topics; as he touches on subjects of listening formats and integrity. “Well, I would say a big difference or change would be that you don’t have LPs anymore. No more pictures to look at or any kind of extended information included with your music. The transition from LP to CD made everything more limited and now it’s the iPod and nobody knows shit about the damn artist anymore,” says Allman.
“Now people just download music and people miss out on the larger statement. I mean they could sift through and see if there were any others songs they wanted but people don’t usually do that. I would like to think that it is going to be better in the long run because there are so many different ways to listen to music these days with your computer or telephone. That I think is a good thing, but what is not a good thing is all of the piracy that is going on,” he admits.
“As far as the business goes if I had to start over today, I think I would take a different kind of work. I wanted to be a dentist before this all happened.”
Considering Allman’s thoughts on the business and its recent changes, conversation drifts to the compromised integrity of Ashlee Simpson, and Allman responds without hesitating..
“Ashlee who, who is this? Well a musician is going to want to go out there and play, why they would want to go out there and lip synch is beyond me.”
After a short gasp he continues, “Good God, make up your mind, either you want to go out and play or you don’t. Anybody who thinks they could actually fool everyone out in the audience should be considered crazy. That is your moment of truth you better show the people what you got.”
At least somebody still cares, but shouldn’t the daunting task of preserving the arts as sacred be the burden of journalists and media outlets? Shouldn’t rock fans be able look to the giants of MTV and VH1 to bring principles back to modern musicians, whose programming in the past used to contribute really cool things for music?
“That’s right, they sure did,” replies Allman. “I remember when Rolling Stone was really an amazing music magazine. Now they got in there all politics and all kinds of shit, you got to dig around a little to find some music. They still do some good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t read it. Mojo is a good one, though.”
But in the midst of mainstream smothering Allman has found an artist that has touched his soul.
“I greatly respect Ray Lamontagne’s music. Warren [Haynes] knows him and turned me on to him. He has been trying to get us to meet. I would love to play and work with him sometime. I love his voice and his attack. It is not like a frontal attack; he kind of comes up around ya and caresses your soul.”
Recently coming off a summer tour with the Allman Brothers Band the lifetime musician has found creative artistry in a side project that has been harboring his energies outside of the larger entity since 1973. Like his current bandmates, Derek Trucks (Derek Trucks Band) and Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule), who are heavily involved in highly successful side projects of their own, Allman is embarking on solo dates before the highly anticipated annual March Madness Beacon Theatre run.
As far as continuing to stay on the road Allman’s response graciously ends the interview, “As far as I know, with God willing and if the creek doesn’t dry, we will see you.”