I never listened to the Allman Brothers much, which is probably not what you’d expect to hear from somebody who’s about to write 500 or so words about Gregg Allman. But as I reflected on his passing last week, I realized that Gregg and his brother Duane had a much greater impact on my life as a musician than I’d ever acknowledged.
I used to play in blues bars with my dad when I was a teenager. We’d round up a couple of local cats and play once or twice a month. All covers. We did everything from Muddy Waters to B.B. King. My dad was a huge Allman Brothers fan, and he would always introduce a couple of numbers into the set. We always did “One Way Out” and sometimes “Statesboro Blues” and “Whippin’ Post” if we had some time to kill and were feeling adventurous.
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I may not have realized it at the time, but those tunes were great teaching moments. The Allmans found a way to bring composed riffs and memorable choruses to the blues without compromising its integrity. The first time I heard slide guitar was when our friend Charlie Macarone sat in and played slide on “Statesboro Blues.” I remember retreating toward the back of the stage because I was so blown away by that sound; it intimidated me. I could never have imagined playing like that.
I find it really fascinating that I was moved initially by interpretations of the Allmans’ music as opposed to the original recordings themselves. I think that speaks volumes to the strength of the compositions — that the songs would have a more dramatic impact on me hearing them for the first time several “generations” removed.
Of course, I later went and listened to the recordings and was blown away by Gregg’s vocal performance, his organ fluidity, and the wall of sound on tracks like “Whippin’ Post” and everything else on Live at the Fillmore East. The tunes were strong enough to stand on their own but compiled together in this set, they earned a special place in the blues-rock lexicon.
Sitting here searching for inspiration for this article, I’m scrolling through pages of tributes and blog posts hailing the Allmans as trailblazers of the Southern rock arena. This could not have both inspired me to write this and disappointed me more. I will always look at the Allman Brothers as the quintessential blues-rock band. Without Gregg’s contribution, the sonic explorations of their psychedelic successors would not have been possible.*
Their first show at the Fillmore West was third on the bill to Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Gregg remembered it as a pivotal moment in his life:
My brother and I got to meet B.B. King when we opened for him. Between the two of us, we had worn out three of his records — played those LPs until they turned white.¹
The blues is a serious art form and has often been appropriated in popular music over the course of the past 50 years.
Gregg brought such a fire to his electric interpretation of the blues that he etched himself into a shortlist of white bluesmen who could hang with the real deal. He understood that the blues is not just a style of music, it’s the great medium through which we can view the development of the most significant cultural contribution America has provided to the rest of the world.
And that, in turn, is Gregg Allman’s greatest gift to us.
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— Glatt, John. Live at the Fillmore East and West: Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legends. Guilford, CT: LP, 2016. Print.
* A previous version of this article mentioned Led Zeppelin as having a secondary impact on US audiences nationally, after the Allman Brothers, but this has been amended thanks to one factually accurate commenter. Thanks!