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Some immediate words on the passing of a legend…
I knew who Gregg Allman was decades before I ever met him. In my experience Gregg was one of the first superstars of Rock and Roll: I first heard about him because he was marrying Cher and I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old when he became front page news because of this union of celebrities.
And I mention Gregg and Cher’s nuptials not to lessen the impact his music and the impact he himself would eventually have on me but to illustrate the fact that Gregg was one of an elite group that included Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and David Bowie: they were actual newsmakers. Newsworthy enough to have left an impression on a young boy from Virginia whose best friend was already that Rock and Roll sound despite being a full 8 or nine years out from buying my first Allman Brothers LP (Fillmore East of course).
Of course I heard Midnight Rider and One Way Out on the local radio but it wasn’t until I received a well loved copy of the Fillmore East live record that my ground was literally shaken. The album was in constant rotation as I played my little beginner’s Hondo P-bass copy and tried to keep up with that fierce locomotive of a rhythm section. And yes, the band sure could hit that note.
But it was Gregg’s voice that really got me. It carried the burden of all human experience: pain, sadness, joy, world weariness and love. It seemed like a mismatch that this pseudo-elfin wisp of a blonde man could put forth such a powerful sound fraught with the weight of the world and do it night after night. I can’t imagine the burden he bore in order to sing with such intent.
And years later, when I wound up meeting Gregg in person I was surprised at how cowed I was despite his naturally disarming personality. To my core I was shaken by being in the presence of his greatness…he was so much more than an elder statesman and fellow musician. His effect on me took some time to get over.
Bits and pieces of the “Gregg effect” lingered in me when I was lucky enough to sit in with ABB. All it took was the first line of Dreams to rattle me off of that repetitive goose egg of a bass line and elicit looks of amusement and “gotcha” from Derek or Butch. And Jaimoe would just laugh and laugh and laugh.
I will recount one of my favorite Gregg moments: I had gone to Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta to see ABB and, as it often happened, Oteil Burbridge sauntered offstage between songs and handed me his bass. So onstage I went to play the tune Rockin’ Horse. We were deep into the jam when Gregg finally looked over my way, saw me, looked back at his keys, then looked back again with shock and surprise on his normally stoic face. An actual double take! For once I got him. Later Gregg told Warren Haynes, “I like the way that big ol’ boy plays the bass.” SCORE! It’s a precious moment I will always treasure it along with so many more too numerous to mention.
So to Gregg: thank you for the music and thank you for teaching me about the blues. More importantly thank you for being a brother. You were always welcoming and sweet to me. You were always thoughtful and soft spoken and carried yourself with an aloofness that only your closest friends knew was an actual shyness (and perhaps a bit of amusement at how ludicrous the hugeness of the whole “rock star thing” really was – but like it or not you were the epitome of a rock star). Thank you for trying to come down to my level even though I will never be able to see you as anything other than a superstar – one of the brightest in my sky. Thank you for guiding me in your own way as a teacher whether you knew it or not. The impact you have had upon my life and the way I work my music is undeniable.
And to those who loved Gregg: my heart is with you. I have no other words that can temper or lessen the pain that you must be feeling today.
In closing I will say that Gregg holds a special place amongst another elite group: Those who have written songs that are guaranteed to make me cry. There are only four in this group and without mentioning the other three I will say that it’s Melissa that starts the waterworks. Every single time I hear this beautiful song the tears just come. I think I’ll go listen to it now.