Band of brothers: After 144 shows, the Allman Brothers Band is still peakin’ at the Beacon
By Steve Knopper
19 March 2004, Newsday
Copyright 2004, Newsday. All Rights Reserved.
Gregg Allman’s voice, on the phone, is a slur. His style is a ramble. He sticks to one topic for about 30 seconds, maximum, then launches onto a tangent that’s less focused but far more interesting. He has played the southern-rock blues for more than 30 years, in smoke-filled theaters all over the world, and chronicled his rock-star excesses in recent songs such as “Old Before My Time” and “High Cost of Low Living.”
But don’t underestimate him. When it’s suggested the Allman Brothers Band has performed at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre more than 140 times, he sharply delivers a correction. “A hundred and forty-four,” he says, from his home in Savannah, Ga. “We were looking for a place that had the vibe and the sound quality of the Fillmore. It didn’t have to be in the East Village. Every year we play [The Beacon] and it’s like, ‘OK, it’s time to do the Fillmore,’ because that’s the place the Fillmore was.”
This leads to a long recollection of the Fillmore East, the late rock promoter Bill Graham’s famous New York theater, which survived only three years but gave the Allmans one of the best live albums ever. In 1971, “At Fillmore East” established Gregg Allman’s late brother, Duane, as a guitarist worthy of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. “Once a year or twice a year we’d go there and invade the place for the whole weekend. Tickets were about $8,” he says. “We always were the opening act until right at the last.”
In the Fillmore tradition, the Allmans show up at the Beacon every year for more than a week’s worth of shows. Gregg Allman, 56, remains the band’s anchor, setting the stretched-out tone with his smoke-worn lead vocals and understated organ playing. The Allmans’ latest live CD, “One Way Out,” is filled with the usual improvisational ’70s rock and concludes with the signature “Whippin’ Post.” It also opens with the band’s well-worn version of Blind Willie McTell’s Mississippi Delta classic “Statesboro Blues.”
Asked about the song, Allman answers in his typical pattern. He begins by explaining it’s the first song the band ever learned – no wait, that was Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More,” but they played it the day they first met in 1969. Then he goes someplace with the anecdote that no interviewer would ever expect.
“I’m living in Savannah, Ga., and Statesboro’s just . . . hell, it’s a good ride for your motorcycle. It’s about 18 miles. So we ride over all the time. It’s got incredible antiques.”
Antiques? Really? Does Allman collect?
“I’m building me a new house that’s just a few blocks away from this one right here on the river,” he says. “I love shopping for furniture. I can’t be buying a T-shirt!”
So what are some of the highlights of your antique collection?
“I got a pair of my father’s glasses,” he says. “I got some of my brother’s stuff.”
“A picture of me sitting in his lap. It was at . . . what’s that hotel . . . the Chelsea Hotel. I’m sitting on his lap and we’re both just smiling,” he recalls. “It’s a black-and-white picture and I hang it up in the bathroom, so when I get out of the shower I have to look right at it. And it makes me feel real good.”
WHEN&WHEREThe Allman Brothers, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and March 26-28, at the Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway, Manhattan. Tickets: $49.99, $54.99 and $74.99. Call Ticketmaster at 631-888- 9000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.