The Allman Brothers Band have been dishing out a stew of Southern Rock for nearly 30 years -- on and off. The group, known best for their passionate, rootsy rock, first formed in 1968, and since then has made it through a series of personnel changes and tragedies, including the deaths of founder Duane Allman in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley in 1972.
After an acrimonious split led to a nine-year layoff, the group reformed in 1989, and has enjoyed rekindled popularity since then. In 1994, they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. The same year they played Woodstock II and the H.O.R.D.E. tour to rabid crowds of fans. And in 1996 they took home their first Grammy, for a live performance of the tune ``Jessica.''
Gregg Allman took time out from the band's current tour to talk with us about his fascinating career, his music and his life.
QUESTION: You have so much soul in your organ playing, your voice, just as your brother Duane did on guitar. Who did you both listen to in particular early on, that influenced your style as both a keyboard player and vocalist, and for Duane as a guitarist?
ANSWER: Of course you pick your favorites, you know, throughout your musical career. Everything musically that hits you has an influence on your style, but it takes something heavy to affect your basic style. Until my brother (Duane) heard Jessie Ed Davis playin' slide on the first Taj Mahal album, he'd never really heard anyone play slide guitar. I took him out horseback riding, and he broke his elbow. Guess you know whose fault that was (Allman says with a warm smile in his voice). He had his arm up in a sling, and I gave him a bottle of Coricidin pills and that record. He poured out the pills, washed off the label, and listened to that record all weekend...
(Note: Slide guitar players have long used Coricidan pill bottles for glass finger slides.) Tone-wise and lick-wise there is only one organ player alive -- Jimmy Smith. Of course, it wasn't that many years ago, until I played on the same stage with the man, that I realized how Booker T. (of Booker T. and the MGs fame) probably had the most influence on my playing. Just kinda' puttin' the gravy on the meat, you know...
Q: The ABB was really the first band to blend southern rock and the blues into a new original signature style, before the blues had attained the widespread popularity it enjoys now. What's your take on the blues scene today, and the young artists out there performing the music? Any particular favorites?
A: Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- I'm tellin' you, he's good! And those other three young, little guys in Hanson...they sing and play...I was just sittin' here watchin' them on TV. All that talent, just pourin' out, and there ain't 20 years between 'em! It's incredible...that little drummer is kickin' some fast-back drums. He's kickin' some Memphis-type stuff there, man. They're not messin' around!
Q: I first met you back in 1986, when the Gregg Allman Band played here in Davenport on a show with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Stevie Ray was almost a year clean and sober at the time, and had a totally different outlook on his life and his music. How are things different now for Gregg Allman than they were, say back then, in '86?
A: I got sober, man. That's what happened. And it helped -- I tell you that. I guess the liquor is what really got me, like a whole lot of vodka a day. The worse thing it did was make it so I didn't care if we played or not. I started losin' my interest in playing. The realization of that hit me one day, and that's probably what did it. (That one day was Oct. 29, 1996, to be exact -- and was also the 25th Anniversary of his brother Duane's death.) I had all the music cut for (his album) ``Searching for Simplicity,'' but I had to put it on the shelf for a while, because (emotionally) I just couldn't sing it. It took almost two-and-one-half years to complete.
Q: What future plans are there for recording and/or continued touring for the Allman Brothers Band, and the Gregg Allman Band?
A: It's back and forth between the Allman Brothers and my band until New Year's Eve. Then I'm takin' a couple of months off. After that, I'll probably be heading back into the studio to work on music for a new Allman Brothers album.
Q: Is there anyone in particular you'd like to do a collaborative effort with that you've never had the chance to work with?
A: Someone else asked me that just the other day, and I told them it would probably be Jackson Browne. We're old friends. But we're both short of time. Maybe sometime.
Q: My favorite lyric off the ``Searching for Simplicity'' album is from the cut ``Wolf's A Howlin''' where you sing, ``It's hard to live your life in color, and tell the truth in black and white.'' That's got to be a new classic Gregg Allman line. What's it really mean to you?
A: That's the truth, brother! But, you can't talk about nasty stuff like that here. (Allman laughs under his breath.) No, let me see -- how can I best put it? It's about people sayin' one thing, and meanin' the other -- you know.
Q: Any advance message to all the Allman Brothers fans of the Midwest, who are waiting to see you at The Mark on Aug. 4?
A: We're lookin' forward to bein' there and to playin' for y'all!
Ellis Kell writes about music for the Dispatch, Rock Island Argus and Leader. His column, True Blue, runs the first Sunday of every month in The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus.