By: Sean Douglas
For: The Pensacola News Journal
Ticket to see the Allman Brothers Band with Phil Lesh & Friends: $26 to $56, plus service charges.
Watching two rock masters perform the same night: PRICELESS.
Allman Brothers Band frontman Gregg Allman didn’t hesitate when asked what fans could expect during the band’s Wednesday show at the Amphitheater at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Ala.
“They’re in for one hell of a show,” he said, a smile evident in his voice. “No doubt they’ll get their money’s worth.”
For nearly 40 years, the Allman Brothers Band has toured the world playing some of the funkiest, hardest-hitting and most gritty Southern-style rock. When Allman and his band are joined by Phil Lesh and Friends, led by former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, the musical possibilities are endless.
After more than six months of down time, the Allman Brothers Band began their most recent tour in August and plan to play eight shows from Alabama to Virginia during the month of October.
From his Savannah, Ga., home, Allman spoke openly with the News Journal about his battle with Hepatitis C, a blood-borne infectious disease that attacks the liver and forced the band to stop touring earlier this year.
“At the first of the year, we had to cancel everything because I have Hep C, and I had to go through the treatment, which took 24 weeks,” Allman said.
Despite Allman’s daily battle with the debilitating disease, the Allman Brothers Band was determined to get back on the road. But it takes time for a band to recover its chops after months with no gigs.
“You think those lyrics are part of your skin, but they’re really not,” Allman said remembering the process of relearning a lifetime of music.
When asked how long it took the band to regroup and rework the show for their summer tour, Allman quickly responded, “Two days.”
Not a surprise when you consider the band — whose members also include musical greats Butch and Derek Trucks, Jai Johanny Johanson, Warren Haynes, Marc Quiñones and Oteil Burbridge — has been awarded eleven gold and five platinum albums since 1971.
Formed in Jacksonville in 1969, the Allman Brothers Band was named after brothers Gregg and Duane Allman. What the brothers Allman started as a garage band and a dream would grow to be recognized in 2004 as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
“We did our thing, and we stuck to our guns,” Gregg Allman said when asked why the band succeeded where others failed. “We never let anybody, anything, any business, any manager, any record company change our music. And I would recommend the same thing to any up and coming band.”
In order to keep the music fresh after playing many of the same songs for four decades, Allman said the band often tries different musical arrangements and compositions.
“You never play the same song the same way twice,” he said. “What we do is go into some of the songs we already have and segue into other music. Like, we’ll be doing ‘Black Hearted Woman’ and we’ll segue into the (Led) Zeppelin song ‘Dazed and Confused,’ and we come back into Black Hearted Woman.’ “
The Allman Brothers Band also plays what some call jam-band rock, which has no specific lyrical or rhythmic pattern to contain the music, making it a type of free-form musical expressionism.
Allman — who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 along with the original members of the Allman Brothers Band — admitted he has not always been a fan of the jam-band style.
“When we first started doing it, I was going to go out and buy everybody one of those white lab coats, because it sounds like experimenting on stage to me,” he said with a chuckle. “I thought we might as well have them look like scientists. But it got to where I thought to myself, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’ So, I got into it.
“It did help me with my keyboard playing, and it helped my throat because I didn’t have to sing,” he admitted.
Allman said he wrote much of the band’s music and lyrics while relaxing at his Georgia home. Guitarist Warren Haynes, also a member of the band Gov’t Mule, sometimes flies in to work with Allman on a new song.
Allman’s living room was the birthplace of the song “Good Clean Fun,” he said, but Allman admitted songwriting isn’t always a nine-to-five job completed with the help of friends.
He said at times, the need to write a song can be so powerful it will snatch him from a deep sleep and drag him out of bed. Allman discovered the best way to keep his creativity from devouring his life was to never be without a recording device.
“I keep those microcassettes all over the house,” he said. “I keep one in the bathroom; I keep one right by my bed; I keep one by the phone; I keep one right here on the coffee table; and I keep one in the garage.”
However, a few years ago, Allman did suffer writer’s block and was unable to connect with his muse. Then after months of drought, inspiration struck while Allman was waiting at a drive-through bank teller.
Sitting in his car, Allman told the teller to wait a minute while he scribbled what would later become lyrics to the 1991 song, “Get On With Your Life.”
“She kept asking, ‘Can I help you,’ ” Allman said of the teller. “I finally had to roll up my window until I could get the basic part of it down. When you’re done, you actually get a physical youthful felling. It’s like, ‘Hey man, I still got it.’ “
And why does Allman continue to pursue his musical career when many of his peers are looking forward to their retirement years? His answer was as simple and honest as his lyrics.
“It’s a hell of a lot more rewarding then crosswords,” he said.