By: Ray Weiss
DAYTONA BEACH — As the sun set, Allman Brothers tunes blared across the Ocean Center parking lot.
Paul Burke met Gregg Allman around town in 1977 during a low point in Allman’s life. Burke managed Allman’s comeback in 1977-78.
With beer cans and car trunks popped, the concert-goers on Sunday night resembled football fans before a big game as they celebrated the return of a hometown musical hero, Gregg Allman, and the band that carries his name, one with deep roots in Daytona Beach.
“My God, they’re legendary,” said 30-year-old Stacey Cowart, who drove down from Jacksonville Beach to meet friends for the show. “I could have gone to Savannah to see the band. It’s just about as far. But I said we have to see the Allman Brothers in Daytona. A concert with them here has so much more potential.”
The anticipation was even higher in the clubs along Main Street. At the Pit Stop, 56-year-old Jerry Zimmer, a retired steel worker, and 52-year-old Glenn Ring, a rock musician, recalled old stories with Gregg and his late brother Duane, as the middle-aged men sipped beers and thumbed through a 1965 Seabreeze High School yearbook.
“We used to party in their garage in the Shores,” said Zimmer, who graduated from Seabreeze the same year as Gregg. “We were all kids together, growing up. I raised hell with them right out on Main Street. It just amazes me how far they went. They used to play the high-school cafeteria from 9 to11 at night.”
Ring smiled and remembered the nights when Duane sat in with his own Southern rock band, the Newports, back in the late ’60s. The connections forged between the Allman Brothers and Daytona Beach were never broken. Gregg’s mother still lives here. That’s why Ring expected that Sunday’s concert would be special for Gregg after touring since June.
“I hope it will because he has lots of friends here,” Ring said. “Gregg has a whole lot of people he knows.”
About 150 fans packed the Pit Stop, a beachfront bar on the pier, 90 minutes before the concert began. They were hoping to land one of the free tickets being given away in a drawing by a local rock radio station, WHOG-FM. Ring and Zimmer didn’t win, but they were leaning toward buying a $46 ticket, anyway.
“I won’t be wearing one of their T-shirts, although I have quite a few,” Zimmer said, laughing. “I’ve gone from 190 to 250 pounds in the last few years. So they don’t fit.”
Donna Leach of Daytona Beach proudly wore hers, bought at a 1979 concert in Syracuse.
“I’ve seen them at least a dozen times,” she said. “It’s great that they’re coming home. They’re the best band.”
Paul Burke, the 63-year-old owner of Native Tan, agrees with that assessment. But he is somewhat biased. Burke managed Gregg Allman in 1977 and 1978, helping the musician regain his confidence after a nasty split with then-wife Cher and a career-threatening battle with drug addiction.
The men met in the Martinique Bar in Daytona Beach when a “flat broke” Gregg was sitting in with local bands making $20 a night. A friendship developed. Within a few months, Burke and drug-clean Gregg were on the road playing clubs, and Gregg was making $3,500 to $5,000 a night.
Eventually, the Allman Brothers Band reunited, and Burke returned to his suntan-lotion company.
“I never took a penny from Gregg,” Burke said at a back table in Froggy’s Saloon, an engraved Rolex watch from Gregg on his wrist and a small suitcase full of memorabilia lying on the bar in front of him. “It was fun, a challenge. He was a friend.”
Like others, Burke looked forward to seeing Sunday’s concert and Gregg backstage. The musician had left Burke a couple of passes.
“I’m just going to listen to some good music and stay out of the way,” he said, smiling. “This guy’s a musical genius, an American icon. He always will be. Gregg has the kind of voice that doesn’t change. The music doesn’t change. Only the public does.”