It wasn’t his time to go: Gregg Allman says brother directed him to stay alive
January 17, 2013
Gregg Allman, who plays with his band on Saturday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, spoke by telephone from
San Francisco with Lake Tahoe Action’s Tim Parsons
on Tuesday. The 65-year-old has been bandleader of the pioneering jam band the Allman Brothers since his brother’s death in 1971. Slide guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley died in separate motorcycle accidents in the same year. Allman recently survived a liver transplant and three other major surgeries. He nearly died during one of the operations, during which he said he may have seen his brother.
I’ve been a little bit out of the whole scheme of things, I guess, the better part of three years. I had four serious operations.
I had complications after that. … My chest cavity kept filling up with water and they had to open me up and fix that. That was a helluva operation there, man. I was in the hospital about four weeks. During the whole thing my heart started beating, I had arterial fibrillation, it wasn’t beating right, and they got all of it fixed, man, and I feel like a million dollars today, man.
It was. I even coded a couple of times.
I was very aware of it. I had a nice dream, I guess you’d call it. I heard the most gorgeous music, man. The most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I can remember it happening but I don’t remember the sound of the music or how it went or anything. I saw a person who was waving me to go back.
I think it might have been my brother, but who’s to say?
No. That’s an old song written in 1918, I think.
I did. I recorded that and went straight to the hospital.
When the Allman Brothers formed, I was in the blues end of it. My brother was the rhythm and blues end of it. Dickey (Betts) was at the country end of it. Jaimoe (Johanson) was the jazz end of it. Butch (Trucks) was the, hmm. He was a drum teacher at FSU, so I don’t know. And (Berry) Oakley was blues. So it came out, Allman Brothers. So I just always wanted to cut a solid blues record, so I did. I am going into the studio the first part of this summer to do another one.
I am trying to do one where I write everything.
It’s a seven-piece band. We sew in the parts purposely to get a real funky groove and my stuff is all premeditated. We don’t go into just a free jam. But it’s good. I’ve got some killer players. We’ve been together since about ’05.
That’s right. Well, you know, everything you hear on the radio or in a nightclub, every piece of music you hear, you are going to get something out of it. It will open the door to something different. It might have an effect on your music, it might not. And I grew up listening to the blues. So that’s always what I wanted to play.
This is the way I see it. There are four kings of rock ‘n’ roll: two white, two black. Elvis Aaron Presley, Tupelo, Miss.; Jerry Lee Lewis, Ferriday, La.; Little Richard Penniman, Macon, Ga.; and Chuck Berry, East St. Louis, but they were kind of (inaudible) in the war. So rock ‘n’ roll was born in the South. It spread quick across the nation in 1952. In ’55 I was in military school in the third grade. Oh God, that was rough. I remember the first time I heard Elvis there was a skating rink on the edge of the campus and toward the spring they would open it up at night and you could hear the music blasting. The first music you ever heard and liked seems to be the root. That’s what you kind of build off of.
You got it, Bro.
We just played Los Angeles and there were some people out who wanted to do a movie. I thought it was all just a bunch of talk. It wasn’t even supposed to be a book. It was just a journal I used to keep because I thought when I’d get to be some 80-year-old man sitting on the porch, I’d pick up a few pages and relive it, you know? I started that in 1985. By the time I met Michael Lehman, my new manager, which has been since ’05, one day he was at my house. I showed it to him. I had a duffle bag full, stuffed full of cassette tapes that I had recorded and a big fat journal that was just full, man, of stuff that I wrote. He said, ‘What’s all this.’ I said, ‘My life.’ He said, ‘Damn, son. You ought to make a book out of it.’ I said, ‘Right.’ Sure enough. So their talking about the movie.
They told me, but I’d never heard of the guy. It’s too soon to even be talking about it, really.
No. It used to be a sign of the Black Muslims. I don’t know what possessed me to grow that thing. I guess it just grew real thick up under there when I was just a young lad. That’s where it would sprout.
I tried to discourage him from it because it’s gotten so crazy and so cutthroat. I mean, if I had to start off today, if I was 20 years old today and I had a brother who said, ‘Let’s go out and play.’ I’d say forget about it because the people today are either a flash in the pan or they don’t make it at all. Very few people now that come out and have staying power.
Derek is one of my dearest friends. I’ve heard that. I’ve heard it a bunch. But what happened was, he was in Jacksonville, Fla., where the Allman brothers actually, that’s where we all ended up in the same room for the first time. Actually, it was Arlington, which is a suburb of Jacksonville. Of course, his father was Butch Trucks’ brother. And, of course, our music was there in the house at all times. One day, as a child, Derek discovered it and got him a guitar and just started in. He just started playing slide. He couldn’t play the conventional way. The first time I played with him, he was 9 years old. He played just slide, and I thought, ‘How strange.’ But, boy, he was good at it, and now he’s off the charts.
I am telling you. I am telling you. I told him all along from when I first met him, I said, ‘Man, you’ve got to sing. If you sing, man, you’ve got it knocked.’ He said no. I said, just try scatting. … No. He’s got no eyes for the microphone.
I hope so. This whole tour has been freezing. I grew up in Florida and my blood is like water. People out here, they have blood like oatmeal.