At 50, southern-rock legend Gregg Allman is Searching for Simplicity



By Steve Newton

Gregg Allman has released six solo albums over the years, but he never wanders too far away from the southern-rock sound he helped popularize as a founding member of the Allman Brothers. On his latest CD, Searching for Simplicity, Allman doesn’t even try to shake his roots; he opens the proceedings with a funkified version of “Whippin’ Post”, the Allman Brothers standard from 1971.

“That was kind of a dare,” explains Allman, over the phone from his home in Marin County, California. “It came from one of the roadies—pardon me, technicians—of the Allman Brothers, this guy that’s worked with us from the beginning called Red Dog. We were playing a show around the time that Clapton came out with the unplugged version of ‘Layla’, and he was sittin’ there talkin’ to me right before we were to walk out onstage. He said, ‘Hey there, man, Clapton did that thing with “Layla”, so why don’t you do that with one of your songs?’ And I said, ‘Bro, I don’t want to talk about it right now.’ We were gettin’ ready to go on and play, and I get real bad stage fright.

“And so anyway, the house lights went down, and I’m walking to sit down behind the organ and I hear him say, ‘I bet you can’t do it.’ So that did it. About four or five days later I knocked on his door and had my acoustic guitar on me, and I walked in there and laid it on him.”

The version of “Whippin’ Post” that opens the CD—and that will no doubt make the set list when Allman plays the Vogue Theatre on Saturday (February 14)—features the Dobro, slide, and acoustic guitar of Jack Pearson, known among the guitar cognoscenti for his work in Nashville. Pearson’s snaky slide slithers all over the new album, much to Allman’s delight. “I can only think of one other person that could have done any better,” he says, “and he’s not with us anymore.”

Allman is obviously referring to his older brother Duane, the gifted Allman Brothers guitarist, taken in his prime in a 1971 motorbike accident. Along with guitarist Dickie Betts, the brothers were instrumental in forging the southern-rock sound—growling vocals and soaring, twin lead guitars—favoured by biker types and good ol’ boys. But things will be a tad more sedate when Allman plays the Vogue, accompanied by the jazzy Alameda Allstars.

“We don’t play near as loud,” he says, “and it seems to go off a lot simpler. I mean, we play smaller places, and I love playin’ an opera house–like place, with a balcony. That’s the way the Fillmores were. As a matter of fact, we’re playin’ the Fillmore West when we come down through here.”

Ah, the Fillmores. What self-respecting ’70s rock hound hasn’t kicked back with a jigger of Southern Comfort and reveled in the bluesy splendour of The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East? Allman may still play the fabled venues once booked by Bill Graham, but the notorious substance abuse that accompanied those gigs is no more. Exactly one year ago, the 50-year-old rock legend got sober. “Now that the chemical thing is gone, it makes each day a little more precious.”

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