Tuesday, January 2, 2018


I actually chanced upon the music of the grizzled and younger member of the eponymous brothers band via his solo work, which may be the exception proving the rule. It was about 1974, maybe 3, and I was "out of bounds", visiting a newly opened record shop in Eastbourne, a town on the south coast of England, where I had been sent away to school. It was just over the borderline of Terminus Road, whereby I would be gated (aka grounded) if caught there by a prefect or a teacher. It had been commended to me by my study-mate Nige, a 15 year old with a ridiculously large and precocious record collection, usually involving gritty singers like Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Captain Beefheart. He had a copy of 'Laid Back', by Allman, and had been ramming it into my ears on rotation. I liked and he told me where to buy it. I was entranced by the maudlin, hoarse drawl, ever a moment just behind the beat, and drenched in a spicy southern stew of country, soul and blues. I was not caught that day and bought a copy I still own, unplayable from day 1 due to some pressing error. I never had the opportunity to again to sneak out and get it changed, so had to rely on playing Nige's copy to death. My entry, probably, to much of the music of the southern states, as I was soon gorging on he and his brothers, blood and otherwise, at the Fillmore East, as well as all the other vivid colours coming up out of the Capricorn label, with which I became swiftly acquainted. Hell, if the South was going to rise again, did Eastbourne count?

It was easy to be drawn into the fantasy. Short haired adolescent schoolboys in uniforms will always be drawn into outlaw vibes, and I was no different. Gregg Allman was one step better than the rest as he played the organ: my earlier musical infatuation was with E.L.P., so I was still more comfortable, then at least, with a keyboard than a fretboard. (And I say the brief solo in Stormy Monday remains one of the most consummate few bars in my heart, at about 5.12.)

I never knew much of his backstory, relying on the inkies and upon record sleeves for my information. I thus followed the tragic death of his brother and of other band member Berry Oakley with interest, if, truth, preferring the more melodic direction led by Dickey Betts, centred upon his chiming guitar and the rippling piano of Chuck Leavell. Indeed, Allman seemed increasingly sidelined, renowned more for marriages and for snitching on his dealer, in the music press of the day a despicable deed. I lost interest and the decades went by.

Fast forward into this century and, whilst the Allman Brothers Band were still on the road, give or take a break or two, they were making little impact on my musical tastes of the moment. That is until I foolishly decided I might like the Grateful Dead and to investigate their oeuvre. Part of this involved looking at whatever other near apocryphal forever bands were up to. Like Govt. Mule. And, via Warren Haynes, guitarist thereof and also of the post Grateful and post Jerry band, the Dead, listening to a couple of his solo efforts, I got drawn back to his other other band, the Allmans. It was as if I had never been away, the sound an amalgam of my memories and my fantasies. Then two years or so ago, which I now discover was 2011, Allman brought out one of the comeback albums of the age, 'Low Country Blues', a mere 16 years after his last solo recording. (OK, strictly speaking, he hadn't been away, even if the stories similarly suggested he hadn't been all here either. A liver transplant had been involved.)

'Low Country Blues' caught my imagination, sonically and symbolically, the old ranch hand coming again good with the album of his life, looking and sounding fit, raring to go, with a fresh complexion belying his years. This time, rather than awaiting his 3rd wind, I went back and researched out his intervening years, yes, even the Cher ones. Suddenly he was, in my eyes, a colossus and unimpeachable until came the news. At 69 his liver cancer was back, a complication of Hepatitis C unappreciated at the time of initial surgery, and he died in May, with the last hurrah provided by his final record, the posthumous 'Southern States', another cracker, following 4 months later. What better legacy? Listen to the words.

Or his own words, when asked about what may lie next:
"Music is my life's blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it's all said and done, I'll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, "Nice work, little brother—you did all right." I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast."

Dig in here!!

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