A Conversation with Gregg Allman
Mike Ragogna: Gregg, congratulations on your first album in fourteen years debuting at #5. It's the highest charting record of your career, a solid comeback.
Gregg Allman: I love it, I really do. It was so much fun to do, it was all real spontaneous.
MR: You were with the late producer Tom Dowd for many years. How did you hook up with T-Bone Burnett for this record?
GA: I was on the road with the brothers, and it was the end of the tour. My manager Michael Lehman called me and said, "Listen, I want you to meet somebody." I said, "Do you want me to put them on the list or what?" He said, "No, I want you to go to Memphis, I want you to meet this guy T-Bone Burnett." I didn't know what a T-Bone Burnett was, I'd never heard of him. Everybody else seemed to have, but I'd never heard the man's name. But he said, "Go to Memphis, check into Peabody, and he'll be there." So I went there, we met and started talking. One of the first things I asked him was, "What brought you to Memphis." He said...this hooked me in right here. He said, "I'm here with these two architects, and we are over at the Sun Records place measuring it board for board. I'm going to duplicate it in this piece of land by my house." I thought, man, that was the hippest thing I'd ever heard. All they were doing was selling t-shirts in that studio, but that was like a magic room. I don't know why they just throw those rooms away--like Hitsville, Motown. I don't know if it's still there or not, I think it's just another t-shirt place.
MR: (laughs) So, after you and T-Bone bonded, you went into this project together with a hard drive that contained 10,000 blues songs on it.
GA: He said, "Well, how about we peel you off about twenty-five of them and I send them to you, you listen to them over and over, then you pick fifteen of them that you wouldn't mind recording."
MR: What made you choose such a strict blues album this time out?
GA: T-Bone is pretty into the blues himself, and this band is out of sight man. They didn't tell me 'til about a week and a half before I was supposed to be there, they said, "By the way you can't bring your band." That almost just cut the whole thing right then. It's almost an insult that I couldn't bring my band, but it's not really. He had in mind what he wanted to do, and I had in mind what I wanted to do. I sat home and arranged fifteen of those songs--well, actually thirteen of them, one I wrote and then another one I threw in there called "I Can't Be Satisfied."
MR: Dr. John is on the album, right?
GA: Yeah, the other album of mine that he played on...was in '76, Playing Up A Storm. It didn't get much action.
MR: That's one of the Arista albums.
GA: I think it sold as many as are in my family.
MR: (laughs) When you performed these songs in the studio, how did it go? How do feel about it?
GA: I feel great about it man. I put all of my licks into it, it's the way I interpret it. The session was so right on, it was so pleasurable. Everybody played their best, they had to because it was so much fun. I packed enough clothes for three weeks...three weeks for an album that's about average. I was there eleven days.
MR: You recorded it at Village Recorders right?
MR: When you were there, did you feel the vibe of everybody that came before you?
GA: Yeah man, it used to be the Maharishi's building, and before that, it was the Free Masons' building. That's all it's ever been. The vibes in there are just after the reign.
MR: Are you touring separately as The Allman Brothers Band and as Gregg Allman.
MR: Do you crossbreed the material when you do that?
GA: Yeah, a little bit. In my band and in my solo band, there are certain tunes that I wrote. I wont do any of the other brothers' songs unless I wrote it. We do "Dreams" but we put another slant on it. We haven't been together since this record came out. I guess the next order of business is The Beacon. We will see if we play any of these songs.
MR: With The Allman Brothers Band, is there also a new project coming up?
GA: Oh, I certainly hope so man.
MR: Have you also been writing up a storm?
GA: I don't know about a storm, but I've been eking a few out there.
MR: Are you collaborating with any folks lately?
GA: Me and Warren Haynes work well together.
MR: Right. Has anybody been whispering in your ear about who you should write with additionally?
GA: No, I don't get much of that. I used to, I don't know why it went away, but I'm sort of glad it did.
MR: (laughs) What do you think is the biggest growth in Gregg Allman's life from your Laid Back album to now?
GA: My vocals have come quite a ways. I used to have this thing about singing sharp and there is nothing worse than singing flat except singing sharp. You can't hear it as much with the naked ear when I'm singing flat, but it's just being a little too over-zealous when I start singing. Or it comes from having too big amplifiers and guitars behind you when you're trying to sing. The wall of amps we used to use, we just don't do that anymore. I guess I can hear myself a lot better, therefore I don't sing sharp anymore.
MR: Are there any opening acts you tour with that you are mentoring or proud of?
GA: My son Devon's band plays with us from time to time, The Honeytribe. He comes on the road with us every now and then. With The Allman Brothers, it's usually just an evening with us and there is no opening act at all.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
GA: Don't drink and don't take drugs.
MR: Fair enough. What is your favorite Gregg Allman recording or song?
GA: It might be "Queen Of Hearts."
MR: Nice. What's your favorite Allman Brothers track?
GA: Probably "Dreams," I'm not sure.
MR: What are you playing these days?
GA: I have a Hammond B3, a la 1969. I have two of them that I take on tour with my band and two more that I take on the road with the brothers--you have to have a back up to those if one them breaks down. I don't know if you've ever seen the back of one those, but it looks like Chinese arithmetic. It's like colored spaghetti, they didn't have any printed circuits at all. All the wires are in order, but they don't look that way.
MR: Gregg, all the best, and thanks so much for stopping by.
GA: Alright, my man.
1. Floating Bridge
2. Little By Little
3. Devil Got My Woman
4. I Can't Be Satisfied
5. Blind Man
6. Just Another Rider
7. Please Accept My Love
8. I Believe I'll Go Back Home
9. Tears, Tears, Tears
10. My Love Is Your Love
11. Checking On My Baby
12. Rolling Stone
(Transcribed by Theo Shier)