Gregg Allman has spent the past 38 years getting by with the help of some Brothers. And some Friends.
He has, of course, been the main voice of the Allman Brothers Band since he and his late brother, guitarist Duane, formed the legendary Southern rock outfit in 1969. But Allman — who’s endured through a life checkered with substance addictions, multiple marriages (most famously to Cher) and Brotherly tumult — also has led his own band since 1973. And he’s happy to report that the latest incarnation, which for several years has been dubbed Gregg Allman & Friends, is “the best one yet.”
“It’s the funkiest one, that’s for sure,” says the Nashville-born, Georgia-raised Allman, 59, whose solo career has yielded hits such as “I’m No Angel” and his own version of the Allman Brothers’ favorite “Midnight Rider.” “It’s like a Rhythm ’n’ Blues
1 thing, that music that’s just in that 6 /2-foot groove.
“You look out there, and if the audience isn’t swaying back and forth or shaking some part of their body, then there’s something wrong with them, ’cause it’s really good.”
The current incarnation of Gregg Allman & Friends is fortified by longtime keyboardist Neil Larson and a particularly potent rhythm section. Drummer Steve Potts also plays with Booker T. & the MGs and Wynonna, and there’s also bassist Gerald Jemmott, a session great since 1966 whose credits include Nina Simone, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, B.B. King and scores more.
If Allman has his way, this group of Friends will do more than just play some shows, too. The Allman Brothers, he says, are planning a light schedule for 2007 — their traditional monthlong stand at New York’s Beacon Theatre in March and just one leg of touring in August and September. That means there will be more time to play with his Friends, which in turn means “going into the studio or going to Europe — or both. Probably both.”
A new album — Allman’s first solo outing since 1997’s “Searching For Simplicity” — is “almost there” he says.
“I just wait till I have enough material,” Allman explains, “and then you put ’em on the road and test them. My theory is you’ve got an audience out there, so somehow it just comes together like it’s supposed to.
“Then, by the time you get to the studio you just go there and bang, bang bing — you’ve done it.”
He also notes that this version of Friends is “still rather new” and could be tapped for even more material. “I’ve got writers,” Allman says, “but I haven’t sat down with them yet, so who knows what that could bring.”
It does put him in a unique position, however. The Allman Brothers Band also is making noise about a new album — its first since 2003. As the band’s lone Allman, does he have to struggle over whether to give a song to the band or keep it for himself?
“Not at all, man,” he says. “I try it with both of them — that’s what I usually do. But in the Allmans you’ve got a bunch of writers, so it’s not like they need me to write everything.
“It used to be the Brothers tried to put out a record every year, but that didn’t really work ’cause somewhere along the line you get some (stuff) that’s contrived. You get five good tunes so you put on three pieces of s---.
“That don’t work for me, brother. I want everything I do to blow me away, right? I’ll wait as long as I have to for that.”
A surname like Allman puts a degree of pressure on any musician — especially if it means they really are related to those Allmans.
But Devon Allman says he seldom trips on being the son of Allman Brothers Band co-founded Gregg Allman.
“I don’t ever really focus on it; I think if I thought about it all the time, it’d drive me crazy,” says Allman, 31, whose own band, Devon Allman’s Honeytribe, released its first album last year.
“Half the people out there think that I have it made because of my family name, and the other half think, ‘That guy’s probably gotta try 10 times harder to prove himself.’ I just try to grind my work out. As long as I’m trying to do the best work that I can do, that’s all I can really expect of myself.”
The younger Allman’s parents divorced when he was young, and he wound up in St. Louis when his mother married a TWA pilot. He didn’t get to know his father until he was a teenager, but notes that, given his troubled history with substance abuse, Gregg Allman “probably wasn’t the positive male role model I needed.”
Now, however, father and son are close. Devon Allman has recorded a version of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” for an upcoming Target collection called “A Song for My Father,” and the two usually sit in with each other’s bands when they’re touring together.
“I usually do ‘Midnight Rider’ when I sit in with the Allman Brothers or my dad’s solo bands, but I think we’re going to pull out a Derek & the Dominos tune this time,” says Allman, whose late uncle Duane Allman was part of that Eric Clapton-led group. “Often times my dad will come on stage with us and do ‘One Way Out.’
“So it should be great. You never know what to expect, and I prefer it that way.”
Gregg Allman & Friends and Devon Allman’s Honeytribe perform Wednesday (January 10th) at the Emerald Theatre, 31 N. Walnut St., Mount Clemens. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $38.50 reserved, $28.50 general admission. Call (586) 913-1920 or visit www. emeraldtheatre.com.
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