Lucky for us, Gregg Allman is largely at peace with his past, present and future.
By Steve Houk
Last fall, when the sun finally set and the legendary churning rock and roll steam train that was The Allman Brothers Band pulled into its last station, at least Gregg Allman knew it was coming.
The band desperately wanted to go out with a bang and not a whimper, and thanks to Allman, his longest standing brothers-in-arms Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks, and his superb newer additions, the dynamic duo of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, they did just that, closing out an unparalleled 40-year run with a full compliment of grace, power and dignity. It wasn’t an easy close, as Trucks has told me himself, but after facing some hard realities, they managed to usher the band out beautifully.
So when the last notes of “Trouble No More” — the first song the band ever played, and now the last — echoed through New York City’s Beacon Theater, was Allman full of sadness, weepy nostalgia and even some regret? Not on your life.
“I was at peace with it long before that last show, so that night I was completely relaxed, man,” Allman told me recently as he continued on his solo tour which stops at The Birchmere August 25th and 26th. “I just wanted us to go out on top, and the other guys also felt that way, too. We really cut loose during that show, we played three sets man, and we left it all on the stage. We were laughing and having fun. I couldn’t be prouder of how the Brothers closed it out.”
And very proud is how he should feel. Allman’s legacy will surely be one that will last into future generations, especially when they talk about spectacular, groundbreaking bands that changed the face of not only blues-based, country glazed rock and roll, but of the whole live performance experience in general.
But just because The Allman Brothers have stopped playing together doesn’t mean that their leader, their namesake, their heart and soul, goes away quietly. On the contrary, Allman has been getting raves for what’s been happening in this next phase of his career, as he finally transitions from Allman Brother to just Gregg Allman. He’s toured solo many times before, but this time, it’s all there is, and he’s as jazzed about it as he’s ever been.
“Well, it’s not like I just put this band together,” said Allman, 67, with a likely smile. “I’ve been working on this lineup for years, and now I have one of the finest bands I’ve ever played with. When we get up there, we just smoke it, boy. These cats can flat-out play, and I’m really enjoying every minute of it.”
There have to be at least some moments here and there when Allman is perhaps sitting out on the porch, the wind blowing through the trees and thus through his long blonde locks, maybe an ol’ hound dog sitting at his feet, when he reminisces about the greatest moments in The Allmans’ storied career. And surely one particular moment in time comes to mind, when the magic coalesced, when everything fell together perfectly, when he realized that he was a part of something very, very special.
“I’d have to say when we recorded the Fillmore East album,” Allman said reflectively. “We had a few nights to do it, and by the last show I knew. We all knew, that we had done something very special, man.”
Amidst the glory, Allman’s memories of his past also must inevitably lean sometimes toward the sad and bittersweet, as in some that come to him of his cherished and supremely talented older brother Duane, who died at 24 just as the band was hitting its stride. In fact, when he is asked who influenced him the most musically, personally, whatever, it’s a short, easy and poignant answer as to who was his true mentor.
“My brother, in both regards. He kept me from giving up on music. Because he believed in me, before I believed in myself.”
Allman may not have his beloved Allman Brothers to play with anymore, but he certainly has many cherished memories, as well as a shimmering present and hopeful future that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Despite past health problems that almost killed him, he appears vital and excited for this next chapter, luckily for us baby boomers who have grown up with his music. Heck, I took my now 19 year-old son Ben to see the Brothers back when he was 4, and even he appreciates their legacy and his part in it, even if he did fall asleep in my arms as I carried him to the car during the encore of “Revival.”
And when those aforementioned future generations, maybe even Ben’s grandkids and their grandkids, when they talk about Gregg Allman and his legendary career, he truly hopes they remember how deeply he cared — whether he was with it or not — every time he stepped on stage to play that exceptional music.
“Maybe the fact that I always showed up and played, man. I gave it my all, every night, even when I wasn’t at my best. Now that I’m feeling good, I plan on doing this for a long, long time, brother.”
Yes, he did call me…brother.