Gregg Allman at Harrah's

Rock legend Gregg Allman’s been through some throes, but now he’s livin’ and lovin’ a sober life at 62

By Ray Schweibert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 7, 2010

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The last time Gregg Allman visited Atlantic City he tried his hand at the gaming tables.

Now you might envision the rock ‘n’ roll legend plunking down fists full of C-notes on high-stakes poker, blackjack or craps, but no. As a gambler he’s cautious, conservative, knows his limitations and avoids being reckless. “I’ve always had a certain order, a certain plan,” Allman tells AC Weekly in a phone conversation. “I’ll take $300 with me and if I lose that I go back to my room. The last time I won $2,200, and $2,700 the time before that. I’ll tell ya, I can play the hell out of roulette.”

There’s an amiable tone to his southern accent when he says all this. He laughs as he recounts watching little old ladies playing penny slots in the casinos. “How much can they win if they hit the jackpot playing penny slots? Maybe five hundred dollars?”

Somehow this does not sound like a person whose monumental contributions to the world of music once seemed at risk of being eclipsed by inauspicious appearances in the tabloids. “Gambling’s not really a vice that ever got me,” he says. “Alcohol got me. Cocaine got me. But they finally let me go.”

It’s been over 13 years since Allman — who visits The Concert Venue at Harrah’s on Saturday night, Jan. 9, with his solo band — was a substance abuser, and now over 40 years since he and his brother Duane co-founded the group that kicked off the so-called “Southern rock movement” in 1969, the Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman died tragically in a motorcycle crash at age 24 in 1971, and last year the Allman Brothers Band dedicated a string of sold-out shows to him on a 40th anniversary tour that included appearances by music luminaries Levon Helm, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton and others. Despite his short life, Duane Allman is considered one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. To perhaps a slightly lesser degree, former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts (who penned the hits “Rambling Man” and “Blue Sky”) can also lay claim to that distinction.

While the Brothers have about a half dozen gigs lined up for 2010, Gregg Allman is pouring most of his energies into his solo band this year, which includes keyboardist Bruce Katz, drummer Steve Potts, bassist Jerry Jemmott, saxophonist Jay Collins, guitarist Scott Sharrard and percussionist Floyd Miles. Allman supplements his soulful voice by playing guitar and occasional Hammond B3 organ. Along with the title track from his 1987 gold-selling solo record I’m No Angel, the band will perform several of the hits Gregg Allman penned for the Brothers such as “Whipping Post,” “Sweet Melissa,” “Midnight Rider” and others.

How long have you been touring with your current band?

We’ve been together about three years. We just finished a brand-new record. There’s 14 songs on it that we recorded in 11 days — we just got into a groove and ripped it on out. If I get the OK in writing from Allstate Insurance, it’ll be called You’re in Good Hands with Allman

You need approval since you’re putting a twist on their slogan?

Absolutely, if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in court. There’s a fine line there. You’ve got to be careful or, to borrow a line from Lionel Richie, it’ll be “Sue You, Sue Me.” [laughs]. I mean personally, if it were me, I wouldn’t care, but you can’t risk it. [Culinary TV star] Paula Deen lives in my hometown [Savannah, Georgia, where Allman’s lived for 11 years] and across the street from her restaurant is a pizza place called Sweet Melissa’s. In Atlanta there’s a bar called the Whipping Post, but that doesn’t bother me.

You and your solo band will be performing a lot of Allman Brothers material in Atlantic City?

Yeah, the stuff I wrote. We do “Whipping Post” but we do it with a sort of reggae twist. When I wrote “Midnight Rider” and other songs for the Allman Brothers, I always tried to write in the most skeletal form that I could so that the others in the band could sort of add their own expertise to it.

Will you perform [the Grammy Award-winning instrumental] “Jessica”?

Nope. That’s strictly an Allman Brothers number.

I imagine that, as successful as you’ve been as a musician, you’re touring primarily out of love for the music more than a need for the income.

I love it more every day. I love it just as much as I did when I was 17, and even more now since I’ve been sober. I haven’t drank for 13½ years. I haven’t smoked, drank, snorted — nothing. I don’t even smoke pot anymore. I mean, I’m not being judgmental and I’m not putting down reefer. In fact I think they should go ahead and legalize it. But you never know, if you’re a singer, what a world of good it does for your singing pipes until you’re rid of it — and I’m talking about smoking in general, even cigarettes. I stopped smoking about four months before I went to cut this record, and the singing part was effortless. There wasn’t a note I reached for that I didn’t get. Of course, you know what notes not to reach for too. A man needs to know his limits.

Was your whole family musically oriented?

No, just me and my brother. I checked our family tree — they either made whiskey or sold bibles [laughs]. Duane and I were the only ones who made music. 

What’s your take on the assertion that modern music was influenced more by the “British Invasion’”of the 1960s than anything else?

That’s bullshit. This is the way I see it, alright? There are four kings of rock ‘n’ roll, two black, two white. That would be Jerry Lee Lewis of Ferriday, Louisiana; Little Richard Penniman of Macon, Georgia; Elvis Aaron Presley of Tupelo, Mississippi and Chuck Berry of St. Louis, Missouri. Rock music evolved largely out of the deep south, which is why “southern rock” is redundant. That’s like saying “rock rock.” During Allman Brothers’ concerts we’ll play film footage of (southern blues greats) Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and others (as a concert backdrop). I’m sure a lot of people are wondering who they are. Well, they’re rock ‘n’ roll. You take about six parts blues, one part country, hand it to a poor white boy — hey, rock ‘n’ roll!”

Gregg Allman & Friends
Where: The Concert Venue, Harrah’s A.C.
When: Saturday, Jan. 9, 9pm (doors 8pm)
Price: $35, $40, $45
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