Gregg Allman happy to be back in Tahoe
June 5, 2007
The music bug bit Gregg Allman in a most peculiar way, thanks in part to his grandmother, and a car adorned with house paint.
“There was this guy who lived across the street from my grandmother’s house in Nashville,” said Allman, who was born in that Tennessee city in 1947. “I was about 9 years old I guess, and I remember that I got interested in watching him because one day he was painting his car with house paint. Chrome and all, everything but the windshield.
“His name was Jimmy Bain, and I guess he wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but he had a special talent,” Allman said. “He could play the guitar. One day I saw it up on his porch, and I asked him what it was. ‘That’s my gee-tar,’ he said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘What does it do?’ So Jimmy picked it up and played a song, ‘I’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Man, if this poor guy can do that, then by God I can do it too.'”
And so a rock ‘n’ roll legend was born. Gregg Allman, who turns 60 this December, is a founding member of one of the biggest and most important American bands of all time – the Allman Brothers Band – which has spawned a unique blend of rock, blues, country and jazz that extended the boundaries of rock music and raised the bar for live concert performances.
But for the past 10 years Allman has been fronting another band, Greg Allman and Friends, which has an entirely different lineup. Allman will be performing with the band on Friday, June 8, at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Allman has persevered through a number of personal tragedies and the vagaries of the music industry to emerge as one of rock’s true survivors; a success story in a landscape littered with broken wills and stalled careers. He started in music when as children, he and his brother, Duane, attended a rock show in he late 1950s, and saw B.B. King perform. “The music just entered every fiber of my being,” Gregg Allman said. “And my brother told me, Gregg, we have got to get into that.”
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Allman bought his first guitar at the age of 10 with money from a paper route.
“It was 284 papers, twice a day,” he said. “I saved up to buy a Sears & Roebuck Silvertone guitar. It was painful at first. Jimmy Bain had showed me three chords, and that’s all I knew. But I came to find out later that those were the same three chords that Elvis used in “Hound Dog,” and Buddy Holly in “Rock Around the Clock.” You could do a lot with those three chords.”
The brothers were also influenced by Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Little Milton, and one of the Allman Brothers’ most notable hits, Statesboro Blues, was written in 1928 by another musical hero of Allman’s, Atlanta 12-string guitarist Blind Willie McTell.
“Ironically, I live very close to Statesboro right now,” said Allman, who helps to sponsor the Joseph Home For Boys there. “I live in Richmond Hill, Ga., which I just love.”
That’s a long way in years and miles from where he grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla. (the family moved there before Gregg entered high school). It was in many ways a difficult life; His father was killed by a robber when Gregg was very young, and his mother raised both boys by herself. His brother, Duane, died in 1971. And it’s no secret that Gregg has had his struggles with drugs and alcohol, although he has been clean and sober now for 10 years.
He has been married six times, most infamously to singer/actress Cher (1975-79), which produced one son, Elijah Blue Allman, himself a musician. Gregg’s son Devon, from his first marriage, is a musician as well, leading the band Honeytribe, which has appeared with the Allman Brothers Band on many occasions.
He is now married to Julie, who have a daughter, Delilah Island Allman.
“I don’t have as much energy as I did when I was 25, but otherwise I’m loving what I do,” Allman said. “The guys I play with now are just incredible. It’s the band I started just before I got sober.
“The music is just great,” he said. “Since I’ve been sober, it’s like a veil has been lifted from my eyes. I’m not trying to get cosmic on you here, but everything sounds better, food tastes better, life is just fantastic.”
Gregg Allman and friends also includes Bruce Katz (keyboard), Jerry Jemmott (bass), Steve Potts (drums), Mark McGee (guitar), Jay Collins (sax) and Floyd Miles (percussion).
“I’m really looking forward to being back at Tahoe,” said Allman, who was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in September 2006. “We used to play there a lot with the Alameda All-Stars, and Tommy Thompson and those boys. I have a lot of great memories there.
“I’m almost 60, but I feel young,” he said. “It’s like I’m starting everything anew.”