As far as the canon of rock icons go, Gregg Allman is undoubtedly in a league all his own: The self-described “meat-and-taters type blues man” has just about seen it all in his 57 years. The band that shares his name — the literal founding fathers of the continually regenerating Southern-rock genre — has often reverberated a degree of turbulence worthy of a Boeing 747.
In 30-plus years, the Allman Brothers have survived a slew of near-impossible peaks and valleys — including multiple breakups, infighting of severe soap opera-quality, fistfuls of major lineup changes, and tragic death, perhaps most notably of Gregg’s big brother/slide prodigy Duane, in 1971.
Gregg’s personal life has also long served as a favorite point of public discourse. The Hammond B-3 organ master has shed multiple wives in his time (including the unlikely Cher), and, of course, produced multiple children (not all of them with his wives). He’s also narrowly escaped trouble with the law, as well as brushes with his own death, mostly via well-documented bouts with serious narcotic addiction.
But despite all these unfortunately deserved rock-star cliches haunting Gregg Allman’s past, he and his longstanding band of Brothers — as well as the new batch of “Friends” he’s currently touring with on the side — still resemble a rather wily cat with nine incredible lives to play with. It would be hard to figure which of the nine Gregg himself is on to now — but it’s certainly one of the luckiest so far. Now happily married, certified clean and sober, and with the newly revived Allmans clicking on all cylinders (especially with the help of Asheville’s Warren Haynes on guitar), Gregg seems to be taking a bit of his own advice from one of his very first Brothers-penned tunes, the beautiful epic “Dreams”:
“Pull myself together/ Put on a new face/ Climb down off the hilltop, baby/ Get back in the race.”
Asked about Warren’s role in the Allmans’ latest, and perhaps greatest, race — cemented by a superb Grammy-nominated 2003 studio record, Hittin’ the Note (the first ever minus founding guitarist Dickey Betts) — Gregg told Xpress the secret by phone from NYC: “It’s [Warren]. It’s everybody … and I hate to bring this up even, but, of course, the member we had to get rid of …
“That didn’t sound too nice,” adds Gregg after a pause. “Let’s just say that the bad apple is gone. Things are back to normal, and they have been for some time now — it feels so good.”
Betts’ oft-discussed firing from the Allmans ironically marked yet another new beginning for the band, as Warren stepped in to fill that substantial void in 2001 alongside young prodigy Derek Trucks, the nephew of founding member Butch Trucks. The elder Trucks, along with co-drummer Jaimoe and Gregg, mark the only original members remaining today, while space-bass master Oteil Burbridge and yet another percussionist, Marc Quinones, round out the new lineup.
Haynes left the Allmans in 1997 (after a career-launching, multi-year tenure with Gregg and Co.) to pursue Gov’t Mule full time. But since coming back into the fold, he’s helped return the band’s performances and songwriting to levels that many long-time fans agree are the best since Duane’s days. New Gregg/Warren tracks from Hittin’ the Note such as “High Cost of Low Living” recall hard-learned lessons both men know all too well.
Despite his current outing with a new batch of Friends — including veteran players like guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Willie Weeks and pianist Neil Larsen, plus a three-piece horn section — Gregg’s mind seems never to stray far from his beloved Brothers. Asked about any new material with the Friends outfit, Gregg diverted back to Allman Brothers musings, noting that he and Warren were getting together immediately after the Friends tour “to work on some new stuff,” just before the group’s 15-years-running “March Madness” marathon at the Beacon Theatre, also in NYC.
He did say about the current Friends tour: “It’s one of the best ones I’ve ever had,” adding that his band mates “are very, very accomplished. I’m up in a bigger league, it looks like.”
[Freelance writer and editor Stuart Gaines can be reached at email@example.com]
Gregg Allman and Friends play The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Thursday, Feb. 3. Tickets are $30 ($28/advance). Banjo emissary Tony Furtado opens. 9 p.m. 225-5851.