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The Road-Weathered Allman Brothers Band Make Their Way Back Through The Northeast

In the ’70s, the Allman Brothers got branded with the Southern Rock iron — the arguably unfortunate subgenre of music they created — by a callous music industry indifferent to subtlety, even if their own music sounded nothing like the guitar-heavy truck-rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas, Molly Hatchet, the Marshall Tucker Band and 38 Special. Maybe that was the cross to bear for being innovators, which is a strange thing to call a band who wore influences — British blues-based rock, San Francisco psychedelia, modal jazz from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, blues stylists B.B. King, Elmore James, and Muddy Waters, even western swing artists — outwardly, like elbow patches on cowboy shirts.

The sextet (or better-than-sextet) assembled in early 1969 at Jacksonville, Florida jam sessions organized by session hot-shot Duane Allman and quickly grew into one of the era’s great live acts. (Even now, you aren’t allowed into certain jam-band circles unless the 1971 four-sides-live masterpiece At Fillmore East permanently takes up two slots in your car’s 6-CD changer.) Under Gregg Allman and guitarist Dickey Betts’ leadership, they survived the deaths of founders Duane and original bassist Berry Oakley, even hitting a commercial peak with 1973’s Brothers and Sisters before a long, well-documented slide into drug- and alcohol-fueled decay.

The good news is that the current lineup — original members Gregg Allman and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, with guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones — is making some of the best, most dynamic live music out there. And they don’t seem to be slowing down.

The Advocate caught up with Gregg Allman, who’ll be in town with the rest of the Brothers when they play the Comcast Theatre in Hartford on Aug. 24. [This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.]

 

This tour starts out with a couple of two-day stops, in Scranton and Chicago, and then a series of one-off shows through the rest of the summer. Is that the kind of flow that you want when you go on tour with the Allmans?

It’s really a kick when you get to a town that you’ve never been to. That’s special. Then again, it’s also a kick to go to a place like Hartford that you’ve been to so many times before, and you know that the crowd’s going to be into it. You know that the crowd’s going to be good. For the Allman Brothers, the Northeast American crowd is the nucleus of our fanbase. As far as the way we go about it, that stays about the same. I’m going to Australia and New Zealand with my band, Gregg Allman and friends, next February, and I’m really excited about that. I’m taking my son and his band too, Devon Allman.

When’s the last time you went there?

Never. The Brothers have never been there. The Brothers live in Boston, Miami, New Orleans and Chicago. That’s where they live. I don’t like it any more than you, but the fact is we don’t even get to the West Coast that much. It seems like every four or five years we get out to the West Coast.

Are the Allmans planning to return to the studio anytime soon, or are you planning another solo record?

I’m planning on two more solo records, and I’ve been trying to get the Brothers back into the studio. A couple of them don’t think it’s worth it, but me being a writer, I do.

Do you have some songs that you’re eager to work out with the Brothers?

I have some, Warren [Haynes] has some, and me and Warren have some. We don’t have enough yet, but the law of averages says it shouldn’t be too much longer.

This lineup makes some of the best music ever by the Brothers. But there’s still a lasting fascination with the period between, say, 1970-73. Do you ever go back and listen to that music?

Yes. We just released this Brothers and Sisters remastered version. So yes, I spent a good bit of time listening to it.

What strikes you about that music when you hear it with fresh ears?

The exuberance we had. We still have it, but back then, that youth comes shining through. [Brothers and Sisters] was 1973, and it was a good year. I remember I wrote one song for the Brothers and it got turned down, which is the best thing they could have ever done, because me and my tight jaws went down and cut a little thing called Laid Back [released in 1973], which was my first solo record. It’s now Platinum, and it just opened up a whole new can of worms for me, you know? I knew then that I had the freedom to do both, and as far as my solo band goes, it’s at an all-time high. I just hired [Allman Brothers percussionist] Marc Quinones, and he was the catalyst I needed, man, and I’m telling you, my band is on fire. It gives you such a youthful feeling, every time you learn something new or you get a new member, it’s like, “Whoa, man, geez, it was good before, but yow.” Quinones was good. He put a fire, and when he and [drummer Steve] Potts get going, you know, ohhhh.

The process of writing your autobiography, My Cross To Bear [released in 2012]: was that fulfilling? Would you have written anything differently?

In the first place, it wasn’t supposed to be a book. It wasn’t written as a book. That’s not what I had in mind when I did it. Actually, that was a journal I started keeping in 1980 for the sole fact that I thought someday, maybe if I got too old to play or incapacitated, or whatever, in my front porch on a rocking chair, I could pick up a few pages and thumb through it and relive it again, and that’s as far as it went, bro. Then, I wrote out about four or five chapters worth, and I started recording it. Long story short: I have this duffle bag in my house with like 67.5 lbs. of cassette tapes. My manager came over one day, and he said, “What do you have in the bag?” I said, “Oh, that’s my life.” He said, “Do you mind if I take a peek?” I said, “Sure.” Of course, that was the unabridged version. He said, “Man, you gotta make a book out of this.” I said, “Come on, who the hell would want this? Everybody and their damn brother has an autobiography out, you know?” I thought it would get lost in the herd, but the son-of-a-bitch went to number two.

Concert attendances are strong, and when you come to Hartford a lot of people buy tickets. But there’s also this second tier of people now who tune in through streaming, YouTube and Twitter. People are having discussions in real-time. If the Brothers do a 30-minute “1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” > “Mountain Jam” > “1983...”, there are people online who will flip out. What are your thoughts about that second tier of audience members?

I think that this second tier of people have, at one time, experienced the band live, which is easier to broaden your scope than when you hear recorded music or off the stream. You get a leg up and you can imagine the whole thing. But thank god for communications. I love it. Hell, the more the merrier. The fact that they can they can then put their two cents-worth in about it — well, some people don’t like anything, but there’s always going to be those guys. But I read [the online chatter] sometimes.

If, for example, we had Twitter in 1970 and you guys did your 45-minute “Mountain Jam” at Ludlow Garage, I can just imagine how people would be reacting. Their minds would be blown.

I guess there are no mistakes. [Twitter] was supposed to happen when it happened. After this transplant [Allman underwent liver transplant surgery in 2010], I’ve gotten quite spiritual, quite a bit more spiritual than I was, brother, because it not only saved my life, I feel good every day, day and night. I love it. I don’t remember feeling as good as I do now. And I’m totally clean and sober, 20 years November. I came full circle.

The way you described dealing with addiction in your book: it’s food-for-thought for all of us.

If I help one up-and-coming musician through that, it would not have been in vain.

 

The Allman Brothers Band & Steve Winwood

Aug. 24, 7 p.m., $27.50-$75, Comcast Theatre, 61 Savitt Way, Hartford, livenation.com.

 

mhamad@hartfordadvocate.com

Follow @MikeHamad on Twitter

 

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