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Allman Brothers Road Goes On, Bumps And All
They sing that the road goes on forever, but the Allman Brothers Band has experienced a few bumps along the way.
This year, the group — which has survived the deaths of key band members, substance addictions and internal bickering — was laid temporarily dormant by founding member Gregg Allman’s battle with Hepatitis C. Allman, 60, has had it for years (“They think it’s from my first tattoo,” he says), but earlier this year it became active, and the treatment was debilitating enough that the Allmans had to call off all their performances, including an annual 15-night stand at the Beacon Theatre in New York City and the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee.
“I’ve never done that,” the singer and keyboardist notes, “and had it not been a total emergency, I wouldn’t have done it this time. But I just flat couldn’t make it, man. They make you take this (medication), you might as well plan on staying home for half a year.
“It’s hell, man. It’s really hell, but it worked.”
Guitarist Derek Trucks, the nephew of founding Allmans drummer Butch Trucks, recalls Allman calling the band together a few days into rehearsing for the Beacon shows to deliver the bad news. “It was obviously not something he wanted to do,” recalls Trucks, 29, “but he realized he needed to just rest up, thinking longterm instead of short term. Obviously everybody’s first thought was, ‘Do what you gotta do for your health, man.’ ”
The good news is that the treatment worked, and the Allmans are back on the road for a spate of late summer shows. Allman says he’s still sleeping eight to 11 hours a day and “getting totally back on my feet again,” but he’s been rejuvenated not only by the support of his bandmates but also the fans, who’s enthusiasm has not been deterred by the Allmans’ absence during the first part of the year.
“It’s amazing to me that the band’s still doing as well as it is,” Allman says. “I thought if I take ... half a year off, you always have in the back of your mind that, ‘What if I come back and there’ll be 1,300 people or something in the audience. And it’s been quite the opposite; the last few gigs have been just topped-off, man.
“So I was very thankful.”
Allmans fans, meanwhile are appreciating the presence of some new material that’s creeping into the sets. Allman says there are two or three new songs in the repertoire right now, and that the band has “embellished on a couple of tunes that go into these pretty wild jams.”
Guitarist Warren Haynes, meanwhile, says the band “probably has about half an album done,” and there are hopes of getting into the studio in early 2009 to make a followup to 2003’s “Hittin’ the Note.”
“I know everybody really loved making the last record,” notes Haynes, 48, who also leads the band Gov’t Mule. “We just want to make sure that the next record is on par with that. It’s a great challenge to have.”
Trucks, who also leads his own band as well as the Soul Stew Revival with his wife, fellow musician Susan Tedeschi, adds that “there’s a lot of ideas rolling around. Every time we get together to rehearse there’s always seeds of tunes laying around, and it’s just a matter of taking the time to put them together. I think there’s probably one more (album) in the group.”
Next year will also mark the Allmans’ 40th anniversary, which is further fueling the desire to make some new music. The focus of the celebration, however, will be a return to the Beacon, where Allman says the band is “trying to get all the people we know that we’ve played with over the years to come and sit in” — though he’s not naming names at this point.
“I can’t tell you all the secrets,” he says with a laugh. “But it’ll be a big one, I can promise that. It’s gonna be a great party.”
The Allman Brothers Band and Bob Weir & Ratdog perform at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 27) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $49.50 pavilion, $29 lawn with a $60 lawn four-pack available. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. The Derek Trucks Band performs at 6 p.m. Monday (Sept. 1) on the Chase Main Stage at the Detroit International Jazz Festival in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. Visit www. detroitjazzfest.com for details.
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