By: Robert DiGiacomo
For The Press of Atlantic City
Gregg Allman has lived the high drama of a rock ‘n’ roll life. A founding member of the influential Southern rock group, the Allman Brothers Band, he has suffered the untimely deaths of his brother and bandmate, Duane Allman, and band co-founder Berry Oakley — both to early 1970s motorcycle accidents.
He’s been the stuff of tabloids in part due to his brief late-1970s marriage to Cher and the band’s internal struggles. And he’s had to overcome addictions to alcohol and heroin. With “Hittin’ the Note” (Sanctuary), the Allman Brothers’ first studio album in nearly a decade, he has put his turbulent past to good artistic use. The album has earned good notices, with one critic describing Allman’s vocals as “pain never sounded so good.”
“Everybody has their skeletons, everybody has their 40 miles of bad road, everybody has their bumps in the road,” says Allman, appearing with the Allman Brothers Band, 8 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at the Atlantic City Hilton.”Somehow, singing about them kind of gets them out and gets them off your chest. When it’s set by music and it runs by you again, it doesn’t seem so bad.”
These are good times — personally and professionally — for Allman, who is happily married and living in his native South.
“Nowadays, I got a good woman,” Allman says, calling from his home in Savannah, Ga. “Two lots away, I’m building my first house and probably my last house. It’s going to be beautiful. I love it. I got these big, huge virgin oaks, 70-foot oaks around the house. This was an old plantation, they cut pieces of it up and sold it to two different people. It’s like the total opposite of Times Square. You can’t hear traffic, just birds.”
This sense of domestic stability helped Allman creatively as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member approached the band’s 24th album “It really clears your head,” he says of his rural home life. “We’re left alone here totally. You got all our toys, the doggies and the whole bit. I love it here. I finally found where I belong. It’s taken me a long time.”
For the band’s first studio release in nine years, it also was a matter of getting together the right personalities. Co-founder Dickey Betts — the writer and voice behind “Ramblin’ Man,” the group’s biggest hit — departed several years ago, leaving Allman and drummer Butch Trucks as the sole original members.
“We had some personnel problems,” Allman says. “We call it our dark cloud. We didn’t realize how stagnant everything had gotten. You don’t know how dirty your car is until you see a picture when it’s clean.” The band’s 2003 line up mixes veterans Allman, Trucks and guitarist Warren Haynes, with newcomers including guitarist Derek Trucks (Butch Trucks’ nephew) and bassist Oteil Burbridge. “Well, the players were there, and everything just got back to such a great camaraderie,” Allman says. “We started laughing again. Things got back to the way they used to be. We got Haynes back, and him and Derek worked out perfect. Haynes and I got together in my house way out in the woods. We wrote some things, and went out on the road and tested them.”
From there the band headed to the studio to record the self-produced album– the first one in the Allman Brothers’ history. The process went so smoothly that Allman jokes they didn’t even take a bathroom break. “It was such a groove,” Allman recalls. “I got the best groove I ever had in the studio. It was a natural thing of sitting down and really, really passionately playing some music with the other guys. I didn’t know I had it in me. You do something and you do it and you do it. I’m not saying the fun goes out of it. But there’s a good chance the variety part may go out of it.”
The band keeps the “variety part” each night in concert by playing every song differently. But don’t confuse the Allman Brothers with a jam band.
Although the new album contains one extended jam — “Instrumental Illness”– Allman sees a distinction. “We just automatically play everything different every night,” Allman says. “If we didn’t, we’d go nuts. It’s not terribly different. We’re not trying things at (the audience’s) expense. We’re not a jam band. We’re a band that jams. I love to jam as much as the next guy. You got to have a landmark in it, or it would be a free-for-all. There’s really an art to jamming.”