Dowling: Gregg Allman wore greatness like a jacket
By Blake Dowling
Special to BrianEdwardsSports.com
Technology has changed the way we enjoy concerts, music in the car and at home on the go. Picture a 14-year-old me getting on the plane with my tape case of 25 cassettes for my Walkman. I also made radical mix tapes, including a 10-tape series called Ultimate Rock; it was epic.
Anyway, times change but the song remains the same as far as the live performance goes and no one sang that song better than Mr. Gregg Allman. When I was an artist manager in the late 1990’s, we signed a band to Capital Records, and then label President, Andy Slater, sat the band and management in the conference room and had us go around the room and name our favorite bands. It was an awesome exercise and although my top 20 favorite artists bounces from the Grateful Dead to Motley Crue, number one is easy, the Allman Brothers Band.
The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1969 by brothers Duane (slide guitar and lead guitar) and Gregg Allman (vocals, organ, songwriting), Dickey Betts (lead guitar, vocals, songwriting), Berry Oakley (bass guitar), Butch Trucks (drums), and Jaimoe (drums). While the band has been called the principal architect of Southern rock, it also incorporated elements of blues, jazz, and country music, and their live shows have jam band-style improvisation and instrumentals. They were a jam band before they called them jam bands. (For a detailed historical view on the band check out, “Midnight Riders: The story of the Allman Brothers Band “by Scott Freeman).
I was lucky enough to meet the man and he was a true rock star. I read in Rolling Stone last week, how Derek Trucks (nephew of founding member Butch Trucks and future ABB member) described him “He just had that magnetism, and that fucking voice. They don’t hand those out often. He was the keeper of the mojo. It was just effortless for him, that part of it. He was just a bona fide fucking badass. There’s a lot of pretenders and a lot of people who think that those torches get passed, but there’s not another Gregg.”
I had a friend in college named Bonnie (she also made some radical mix tapes), she introduced me to the poetry of the Allman’s music (same with Dylan, thank you) while I already got the rock and roll side. It was like another layer of the onion was sonically and artistically peeled off. Perhaps a childhood of 80’s metal had my artistic blade less than fully sharpened? She played me the song Seven Turns for the first time. Gregg might have only had a small role vocally in that arrangement, but he crushed it and owned the song. That voice, did you see him in that drug dealing movie Rush? That man wore greatness like a jacket.
Why is Fillmore East Whipping Post clocking in at 30 minutes? Because it can. The original jam band don’t play minor league ball. Only the big leagues with ABB. They could take that living breathing snarling rocking bluestastic epic to an hour if they wanted. Gregg’s vocals enlighten and inspire while concurrently sharing the darkest angst of love and life via the up-and-down ride of that tune.
I got to chat with a few of the other Allman Brothers over the years, Warren Haynes a few times. He was always so cool, whether unloading after a Government Mule show or at the Capricorn Records Christmas Party (Allman’s label), or backstage at a Widespread Panic show, he was always down for a chat. We took future ABB member, Derek Trucks, and his band at the time, Frogwing, back to our house in college after one show at the Covered Dish. Derek was and is a class act, super nice. But Gregg man, there was no talking to Gregg, GREGG was the man. I think he merely nodded when I met him backstage at a show in G’ville. He was like some mythic alien from the planet Badass, and he was the Emperor of that planet, and they all wore cowboy boots.
I borrowed my grandparents’ van for the summer of ’94, as my car was sick — it caught the telephone pole fever if you dig? Nana asked me if I was going to drive it very much, and I told her I might drive it up the road for a spell. I borrowed it with 2,000 miles on it. I returned it 2 months later with 8,000 miles on it. So I did indeed head up the road for a spell. First stop, Birmingham for a Widespread Panic show, before venturing West to the mountains of Colorado. There was a mix tape for that trip of course. It was called, “Which Way to Aspen?”
Let me tell you campers the drive from Gainesville, Florida, to Aspen is not for the meek or timid. That was a haul — 34 hours straight through I think it was. Our mission was to see the some friends who were summering in the mountains and catch two Allman Brothers shows. One of those shows was in Vail and it was the greatest Allman’s performance I have ever seen. The band was peaking on that beautiful evening at the Gerald Ford Amphitheater (nestled in the mountains, next to a creek) and all was right in the world. The Allman Brothers were riding a massive wave of musical momentum in the 90’s. The shows were packed and awesome, albums like “Back Where it all Begins” were going Platinum (1,000,000 units sold). It was a second or third Golden Age for the band, plus I got to hear Seven Turns live for the first time that night in Vail, and a wicked Whipping Post (par for the course).
To all the musicians that give us the joy of music, thank you. A song can take you anywhere – back in time to a first love – a childhood home- a fraternity house and into the future to the unknown. A good song can comfort you when life knocks you on your ass and help you celebrate all that is good in life. This column is dedicated to Lemmy, Bowie, Gregg and all the other lost rockers. Thank you for the memories and for musical excellence.
Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org