Gregg Allman on the Allman Brothers Band’s First Two Albums and His Favorite Songwriters
After 45 years, the Allman Brothers Band are calling time on their legendary career. In October, they will wrap it all up with six shows at a place that has become a second home to them, the Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Before that, however, there is the 10th annual Mountain Jam festival at Hunter Mountain, N.Y. Not only will they close out the four-day event on Sunday, June 8, but they will play their first two albums, ‘The Allman Brothers Band’ and ‘Idlewild South,’ in their entirety.
As keyboardist/singer Gregg Allman heads into the last five months of leading the band that bears his name, he took some time to speak with us about those first two albums, their history at the Beacon and what music he’s listening to these days.
The band is celebrating 45 years this year with a number of shows, including a special performance at Mountain Jam. At the fest, the band will perform the first two albums in their entirety. Can you tell us what went into the decision-making process to perform those particular two albums?
Well, I’ll tell ya. We do these two albums about once in a blue moon. It has to be a really special occasion, so the 45th anniversary of the Allman Brothers and the 10th anniversary of Mountain Jam made sense. The last time we played our first two albums was on the 40th anniversary of the band at the Beacon Theatre. We recently put out a DVD of that night, and it is a kick-ass performance. If you haven’t seen it, you should; we played as well as this line-up ever did, man – except for the encore! ‘Statesboro Blues’ was a bit of a train wreck, but the rest of the night went so well we all just laughed about the mistakes at the end! Check it out, brother.
It’s been said many times that you have your entire life to make your first album and along those lines, it certainly seems like the band had no shortage of material going into the sessions for that first album. What comes to mind when you think about that time period when the band was working on the first album?
What I remember about recording our first album was feeling like we were swimming upstream the whole time, man. First off, Tom Dowd was supposed to produce it, but a conflict came up and the project got handed off to Adrian Barber, an English gentleman who didn’t completely understand where we coming from. We only had about a week to cut the album, and some of the other guys didn’t have much studio experience, and that made it even tougher. Personally, I didn’t like the vocal sound on the record at all, but we did the best we could. When the album was released, it hit the charts with anchor. It came in at No. 188 and just sank.
After that first album was released, the band toured a lot and really built a reputation, one city and one gig at a time, which is, of course, the way that bands had to do it back in those days. It seems like things were pretty chaotic and in the midst of it all, the band had a second album to make. How much pressure was there going into that second album?
There was a great deal of pressure around the second album, man. We were in debt to the record company, and we were touring so much that it was hard to set aside time to even get into the studio. That is why ‘Idlewild South’ was recorded in spurts between Macon, Miami and New York. The good news was that the songs certainly were road-tested — I mean, we were on the road for 300 days in 1970, man — and the better news was Tom Dowd was behind the board this time. ‘Idlewild’ did much better than our first album; I believe it broke into the Top 30, but I still didn’t believe we were going to make it. I was always the Doubting Thomas of the bunch, and I don’t think I was convinced about the Allman Brothers until ‘Fillmore East’ hit – that one removed all doubt!
You’ve done a lot of musical soul searching in recent years, releasing your seventh solo album ‘Low Country Blues’ a few years ago in addition to your autobiography, which came out a short time later.The ‘All My Friends’ tribute concert earlier this year took stock of your life’s work with an impressive evening of music featuring a bunch of your friends, both past and present. Creatively, has all of that driven you in any interesting directions as a songwriter?
It has indeed. My goal is to put out an album with every song being an original composition of mine. I want the credits to read, “All songs written by Gregory L. Allman” – that is something I really want to make happen.
What’s a song from your catalog that you’re particularly proud of?
I got several, actually. ‘Queen of Hearts’ is one I’m really proud of, because I worked so hard on it and then I was told it wasn’t good enough to be included on an Allman Brothers album. That directly led me to go into the studio and cut ‘Laid Back,’ my first solo release. So ‘Queen of Hearts’ is special to me.
‘Oncoming Traffic’ is another song I’m really proud of. It was only on my first live record and some people aren’t familiar with it, but I love that tune.
What music and bands are you listening to these days? What kind of stuff really inspires you?
When you travel on a bus with guys who love all kinds of music, you get exposed to some great stuff, man. The new Johnny Winter box set is very cool, and I’m looking forward to hearing the new albums from Ray LaMontagne and Neil Young. I love singer/songwriters, man, and Neil had a huge influence on me; ‘Expecting to Fly’ is a favorite of mine. I also learned a lot from Jackson Browne and Tim Buckley, and you know who else I always liked? The guys from America. They write great songs, man.
Do you have a favorite moment from the Beacon shows that the Allmans have done over the years?
We’ve done over 200 shows at the Beacon, so picking out one moment from so many nights is almost impossible, man, but I’ll tell you this: 2009 was an amazing run for us. All those guests, coming out to honor my brother — we played our asses off during those shows. Having Eric Clapton sit in for two nights; now it is hard to top that, isn’t it?
Hear ‘Queen of Hearts’
Hear ‘Oncoming Traffic’