Gregg Allman talks Southern rock, raising musical children, turning his life into a movie and more
It’s almost impossible call the Allman Brothers Band anything other than Southern rock. And yet truth be told, Gregg Allman has never much cared for the term.
“The way I see it, there are four original basic kings of original rock and roll — and don’t confuse that with the crap you hear now,” Allman said by phone recently from his home in Savannah, Ga. “Jerry Lee Lewis from Ferriday, La. Little Richard Penniman from Macon, Ga. Elvis Aaron Presley from Tupelo, Miss. — I believe that’s as south as you can get. And of course there’s one on the borderline, St. Louis, and that’s Chuck Berry. That’s just the way I see it, and it’s just my opinion, but it’s rock rock, you know? This s--- was born down in the south, because it stemmed off of the blues.”
At 66, Allman is as qualified as any American singer to pontificate on the history of rock and roll. The Allman Brothers Band’s classic early-’70s albums At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach inspired a generation of down-home blues and jam artists, some of whom play with the band today, including Gov’t. Mule’s Warren Haynes and guitarist Derek Trucks, son of original Allmans drummer Butch Trucks. Several of Allman’s own children, including Devon, Elijah and Layla, have music careers of their own.
Allman is embarking on a new solo tour at a busy time in his life. Last year he released a memoir, My Cross to Bear, detailing his six marriages (most famously to Cher), struggles with drugs and alcohol and the deaths of his bandmates, including guitar-icon brother Duane. Next year the book will be turned into a film starring All-Ameican Rejects singer Tyson Ritter as Gregg and Wyatt Russell — the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn — as Duane.
As Allman comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Jan. 7 — three-days before a star-studded career retrospective tribute concert in Atlanta — he talked about the movie, his memoir, his legacy and more. Here are excerpts.
I hope you can hear me; my voice is a little shot today. Do you have any good remedies for that?
I tell you, man, my throat has been very, very, very good to me for the last — oh, God, I can’t remember the last time ... oh, I know. The last time was at a TV show in London, and you know how the weather is over there. It was in October, as I remember, and we were doing a bunch of stuff for the record release over there, and I lost it. It went away for a couple of days. But real strong tea with honey and lemon. Lots of honey. And lots of lemon. And real strong tea.
Given the type of music you play, does a raspy voice help you? Does it bring something new to the music, or do you prefer to have a crisp, clean voice when you sing?
Depending on how much time you’ve had off, I always rehearse the band when we go out. But when your voice is totally rested, it’s doesn’t seem to have much balls, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have any bite to it. I sing pretty hard at times, and it seems to work itself out. But the main thing, and what it took me years to finally get through my thick head, is if you don’t sleep, you don’t sing. (laughs) That’s just plain as day right there. Believe it.
Of all the places for you to pop up in pop culture, I just saw you on the Colbert Report, performing with The National and Stephen Colbert. How did you end up there?
I’d done the Colbert show before, when my book came out. He called me about a week ago and asked me to come up and sing a Christmas carol with him, and I said, “You’re kidding, right?” I just went. I thought it’d be fun, and it was.
Tyson Ritter from the All-American Rejects was just cast to play you in a biopic that’s filming next year. Are you a fan of the All-American Rejects?
Not too familiar with ’em. But Tyson has come to my house. We’ve hung out. Him and Wyatt both are nice guys. They flew out to Savannah and hung out with me for a couple of days, and they’re coming on the road with me this tour. They’re gonna hang out and just kind of find out what I smell like, I guess.
How did you settle on Tyson? Were you only looking at singers to play that role?
Well, it sure as hell helped, you know? Of course, they had to have the capacity to sing, anyway.
What characteristics were you looking for in somebody to play Duane?
There were no real certain things that we were looking for. There’s a lot out there about my brother — films, interviews, all kinds of stuff. I’m sure if one wanted to, they could sure as hell dig up enough research about him to have his mannerisms down. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have applied for the job, you know? But this cat, from what I’ve heard, passed up a role in The Hunger Games. So he was into it. So I would imagine he would have to know something about it before he even started.
Are you excited to see your life onscreen, or are you kind of afraid of what you’re going to see?
A little of both. A whole lot of both, actually.
When you’re writing a book like your memoir, how did you decide which salacious stories to include and which ones to leave out?
It was not meant to be a book. It was my journal. I started it in 1981, and just wrote it out longhand, and I wrote it as chapters — not that it was ever meant to be a book. I thought if I ever got old and decrepit and incapacitated and couldn’t play and sing, then I could sit in a rocking chair on the front porch and thumb through some pages of my journal and relive the whole thing, you know? That’s about as far as it went, though. Then I stopped writing them longhand and started recording them. Long story short, I had this duffel bag with 67 pounds of cassette tapes in the closet, right, and my manager got saw it and said, “What’s that?” And I just told him that’s my life. He thumbed through a few pages and said, “Boy, you gotta let this friend of mine, this publisher, look at this.” I thought, man, no, I would not be so bold as to think anybody’d want to read about my life. But they gave us a bunch of money for it.
Once you saw it all on paper, did you have to run any of it by your family, or your ex-family?
What was that process like?
It was very easy. After these many years, we all laugh about it, you know? I didn’t slander anybody in there.
Is there a reason so many of your children are drawn to music? Devon, Elijah, Layla — they’ve all had pretty good success in music. You must make it seem like an appealing career path.
It was absolutely their choice, all the way, every single time. Neither one of them did it because the other one did it, that’s for sure. They all have different mothers. They all made the decision on their own, because man, the worst thing you can do is push your kid into something. I mean, Elijah wanted this guitar, and I got it for him. Devon, one time, in a very drunken stupor, I told him, “If I had to start the business today, at your age, I think I’d go into another line of work.” (laughs) I really discouraged him at one point in my life. I guess at the time, I wasn’t sure that he was really into it. But he was, he’s dedicated, and he’s good. He’s very good and getting better every day.
They just announced next year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class — Nirvana, Kiss, Cat Stevens, some others. As a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, do you pay much attention to who gets in?
I do, you know? And they sure have gotten a bit loose. (laughs) They’ve let two or three of ’em in I’ve never even heard of. But I just chalk it up to, maybe I don’t get around that much. (laughs)
Is there somebody who’s not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that you’d like to see in?
I’m sure there is. Matter of fact, there’s two or three of ’em. Let me see. Is Professor Longhair in there? I know Muddy’s in there, right? And the Wolf?
Yeah. And Dr. John was induced a couple of years ago, so they’ve got some swamp-rock in there.
I cannot believe that I got in there before Dr. John. I just can’t believe it.
It’s been a long time since the Allman Brothers Band have come all the way down to Tampa Bay. I know you guys play Wanee a lot, but do you ever look at playing a little farther south in Florida?
Well, it’s pretty limited, the places that we play. But you can bet it’ll be on the east coast. The Brothers never go to the west coast anymore.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*