By: Mike Kerwick
South of Savannah, a few miles from his home in Richmond Hill, Ga., Gregg Allman loves cruising around on his motorcycle at a relaxed 55 mph. Oak trees line the roads. Occasionally the sun peeks through the trees.
“Suddenly any aches and pains you’ve got are gone,” Allman said during a recent phone interview. “Or at least you don’t notice them.”
Thirty-six years after losing his older brother, Duane, to a motorcycle accident, Gregg Allman is still out there riding and performing, toting the Allman Brothers Band legacy from one generation to the next. The 59-year-old music legend is battling arthritis. A temperamental neck forces him into a chiropractor’s office three days a week.
But beginning Tuesday, the Allman Brothers will play 14 shows over a 19-day stretch at the Beacon Theater, performing on a stage Allman affectionately calls his “second home.”
“It’s action central for the Allman Brothers,” he said. “Let me put it another way: We probably have our biggest fan base up around New York. And that’s why we come back every year.”
Regulars at the Fillmore East, the Allmans began hunting for a new place to play when the rock venue closed in 1971.
“We tried Radio City,” Allman said. “We tried the Academy of Music. We tried Avery Fisher Hall. Then we found the Beacon. Man, it almost smelled like the Fillmore. It has one more balcony and uncle Bill [Graham, Fillmore East owner] is not there, but you can’t have everything.”
Allman tries his best to stay current. A newcomer to the Internet, he is addicted to some sites that sell motorcycles, others that sell thousand-dollar knives.
He pays no mind to the dozens of Web sites that insist on ranking the greatest guitar players of all time.
Clapton vs. Hendrix? “Who’s better?” Allman asked. “They’re both better. They’re different styles but they both kick ass.
“I don’t know why everyone pits guitar players against another one,” he added. “This ain’t no horse race. Each horse is about a whole different thing. It’s about whatever style you like. Out of all the guitar players who ever lived, of course my brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan, man. … We had the same manager. We did a lot of tours. I got to know him real well, played with him. He was just incredible, just like my brother.”
With the music industry changing one download at a time, Allman wonders whether his group would have made it if the 1969 lineup started from scratch in 2007.
“I don’t know if we would’ve,” Allman said. “It’s hard to say. That’s really hard to say. If we put the same amount of energy in as we did back then, I think we’d do all right.”
But the band — a 1995 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — has made it. Even with 14 shows in the city, it’s not an easy ticket. Age has not stopped the crowds from pouring into the Beacon.
“Next year I’ll be 60 years old and I just cannot believe it,” Allman said. “I thought 50 was rugged. I don’t know what it is about a number. My brain still feels like it’s 30. I don’t know, you get out onstage, that wonderful warm wave of energy hits you.”
It makes him feel like he’s on a motorcycle, easing down a Georgia highway.