The Allman Brothers Band

Gregg Allman Heeds the Call

Gene Stout
2 July 2004 – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Gregg Allman has always been a huge Ray Charles fan. His last solo album, “Searching for Simplicity,” included a bluesy rendition of the 1961 Charles R&B hit, “I’ve Got News for You.”

But the leader of the Allman Brothers Band wasn’t prepared for the soul legend’s death earlier this month.

“I really wasn’t ready for that,” Allman said in a phone call from his home in Savannah, Ga. “I thought the old boy had another 10 years in him. He was an alien, man. There’ll never be anybody like him, or even close. Did you ever hear the guy sing off-key?”

When Allman was married to Cher and living in the exclusive Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, she invited Charles to appear on her TV show at Allman’s suggestion. She called her husband when Charles arrived unexpectedly for rehearsals.

“I got in that Dino Ferrari of hers and made it from Holmby Hills to Fairfax Avenue in probably it was like I was doing the quarter mile,” Allman said with a guffaw.

“Brother Ray was in this airplane hangar, sitting at a white piano in a brown suit, with two big goons standing behind him on each side.”

Meeting Charles was quite a thrill for the veteran singer and organist. Allman saw his idol six times before he died.

“Nobody could scream like Ray,” he said. “Wooo!”

Allman and the famous Southern rock band that once featured his late brother, Duane, on guitar perform tomorrow night at The Gorge with The Dead and lyricist Robert Hunter. The concert is unique to The Gorge. It’s the only show the two bands will do together this summer.

In addition to Gregg Allman on vocals and Hammond B-3 organ, the Allman Brothers band features Butch Trucks (drums and tympani); Jaimoe (drums); Warren Hayes (vocals and lead and slide guitar); Marc Quinones (percussion and vocals); Oteil Burbridge (bass); and Derek Trucks (lead and slide guitar).

The band’s summer tour follows the release of the album “Hittin’ the Note,” featuring the Grammy-nominated track “Instrumental Illness,” as well as the group’s “One Way Out: Live at the Beacon Theatre” CD, a companion to the “Live at the Beacon Theatre” DVD released last year.

Among the songs featured on the Beacon Theatre collections are “Midnight Rider,” Desdemona,” “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Instrumental Illness,” “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” and “Worried Down With the Blues.”

Since 1989, the Allman Brothers Band has performed more than 150 times at the historic New York theater. The CD was recorded in March 2003.

“We were maybe subconsciously looking for a place that sounded like and felt like, vibe wise, the old Fillmore East,” Allman said.

The band hasn’t decided when it will record its next studio album.

“The record business has changed so much, just like the radio business,” Allman said. “Making records, you just don’t know what’s going to happen to them. People can burn a CD of anything you write and arrange and go over and over 50 times until it’s perfect. The thought of somebody just burning that right off is pretty discouraging. It doesn’t do much for us writers. It’s like, why? Why even bother?

“But the music still keeps coming and we’ll still keep recording it, but definitely on our own terms.”

Born in Nashville and raised in Daytona Beach, Fla., Allman went on the road with his brother as a teenager. When he was 21, he joined the Allman Brothers Band.

Allman played piano, but hadn’t played the Hammond B-3, the organ known for its rich, full, distinctive sound.

“They brought me a B-3 and they rolled me about five joints and put them on the keys and said, `We’ll see you in a few days after you learn how to play this thing,'” Allman recalled with a hearty laugh.

“Playing a piano and an organ are two totally different things. Playing a piano is like fighting Evander Holyfield, compared to playing an organ, which is like kissing a lady.”

The B-3 his brother gave him wore out years ago, but he currently owns four others.

“I just bought one on eBay that is just slick. I always take two with me on the road because if one of them breaks down, it’s like Chinese arithmetic back there. There aren’t any printed circuits,” he said.

The Allman Brothers Band was among the first recording acts to release an Instant Live album of one of its shows, allowing concertgoers to purchase a live recording of the concert they had just heard.

“I guess we were like the guinea pigs, but those machines they got are incredible. The sound quality is just perfect,” Allman said.

But Allman said live recordings – the Beacon Theatre releases notwithstanding – make him self-conscious, especially when he’s playing piano.

“I start thinking about that when I’m playing and it doesn’t help,” he said. “It’s like having your grandma in the audience – or the best piano player in the world in the audience.

“Dr. John walked into one of my shows one day while I was playing piano. I asked myself, why? Why didn’t he come in during one of the 18 organ songs?”

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