Gregg Allman: Another hero lost

 

The older you get the more you start to understand your own mortality.

It may sound silly, but I started to realise my own as the albums of my youth started to be referred to as the “classics” from yesterday.

 

In recent years though - especially the last 18 months - an even scarier and more real reflection of my stage of life has come with the passing of many of my teen idols.

We've lost a heck of a lot of musical heroes in recent times and today comes news that we've lost another in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and one of my favourites, Gregg Allman.

 

The legendary founder of The Allman Brothers Band died at age 69 on Saturday at his home in Savannah, Georgia.

Allman had suffered the effects of hepatitis C for many years, leading to a liver transplant in 2010.

 

It was eight months after his surgery, on the eve of the release of his comeback solo album, Low Country Blues, that I had the chance to interview the man.

Allman, a singer, songwriter and proficient organ player, will be remembered as one of the world's most gifted and truly natural interpreters of the blues.

 

With his band - The Allman Brothers Band - he is credited for creating one of the world's first southern rock acts, known for such tracks as Melissa, Ramblin' Man, Statesboro Blues, Midnight Rider and Whipping Post.

 

The extent of the band's influence is beyond measure.

Much of the credit can be claimed by Allman, who together with guitarist brother Duane and musicians, including Dickey Betts, created a fresh sound which fused elements of blues, rock and country.

 

In his 2011 interview Allman told me a great deal of the sound could be attributed to the group's long time producer Tommy Dowd.

''He was more than just a producer for me, he was like a father figure almost,'' Allman said. ''Just about every album The Allman Brothers ever cut they did it with him, as well as a few of my solo records.''

 

From the point of Dowd's 2002 passing, Allman spent little time in the recording studio. He said he had to be persuaded to meet T-Bone Burnett for the Low Country Blues sessions.

 

''I was out on tour with the Brothers and the end of the tour came and my manager calls me and says, 'listen on your way home to Savannah, Georgia, we want you to stop off in Memphis and meet this guy called T-Bone Burnett,'' he said. ''I didn't really want to, I was tired and I wanted to go home and see my pups. I'd never heard the name before. I don't know why. Producer-wise I'd always thought Tommy Dowd.''

Allman cited the decision to make good with the meeting as a real second coming for himself as an artist.

 

''We got to talking and I was just making conversation and said, 'well what brings you to Memphis bro', and he said, 'well actually I'm glad you asked, I'm here with two builders and we're down at the Sun Records Studio and we're measuring board for board because I'm gonna go back to my house in Santa Barbara, I have a piece of land next to it and I'm gonna build a Sun Records right next to it, absolutely identical','' Allman said. ''I thought that's the hippest thing I've ever heard.''

 

Of course, it wasn't all smooth-sailing. Allman was known for his loyalty to his players and Burnett's recording suggestion was nearly a deal breaker.

''This almost cancelled the whole thing right here - he said, 'by the way, you can't bring you're band', and I've got a kick-ass band,'' Allman told me.

 

''So I said I might have to sleep on this. I talked to my manager and even talked to my mother about it. It's like two clicks from a damn insult and he knew it when he said it.

''Then I remembered something that my brother [Duane] had said when we first met Dowd. They had just finished Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia - and that was a great studio with all of 12 tracks - and I said we've got a perfectly good studio here. I said why the hell do we have to go to Miama. And he said, 'well listen man, it's his sandbox, it's his toys, maybe he can do it better down there'. So I thought about that and I called him [Burnett] back and said alright what time do you want me to be there?''

 

At the time of the interview Allman was still very much in recovery mode, but he had already performed again, both solo and with the brothers.

 

He said it was the stage that always offered the ultimate high.

"It just wakes up things in your soul that you never knew were there," he said. "After a while you would think it would get a little repetitious, but every night is totally different. They're similar songs but we try to play the songs different every time."

 

Of course anyone who has heard an Allman Brothers live recording will be aware of the band's ability to cut loose and jam, something Allman said were the real money moments.

"They're great because that's when you're learning and you're also putting it out and its coming together and all that good spontaneity is kick-ass man."

 

In a career of many highs and lows, Allman told me he would always hold a special place for The Allman Brothers Band track Whipping Post, a song he penned for band's debut release in 1969.

 

The track is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 songs that shaped rock and roll, and it is one of the few songs covered by fellow influential artist Frank Zappa.

Allman said he was most impressed by the latter fact.

 

''I had met Frank a couple of times and I was awestruck,'' Allman said. ''My brother went up and said 'hey partner', because they had the six-string in common. I didn't believe it for a long time until somebody shoved it [Zappa's recording] right in front of my face and said here play it yourself. I can't think of a better man to cover one of my songs.''

 

Allman's family will release an official statement in coming days.

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