One year ago, almost to the week, Gregg Allman took to the stage at the Grand Opera House in Macon, Ga., for a performance that was both a homecoming and a rediscovery.
Some 45 years earlier, Macon was the home base of the mighty Allman Brothers Band, the ensemble that infused blues, Southern soul and jazz-like jamming into a musical genre that became generically known as Southern rock. But with singer-organist Allman having long since established nearby Savannah as his current home, the opportunity to perform again in Macon in 2015 doubled as a chance to reintroduce himself as a solo artist, especially as the legendary band that bore his name had dissolved a year earlier.
The performance resulted in Back to Macon, Ga., a CD/DVD recording that was released in August. The first album since the split of the ABB, Back to Macon retooled several of the group’s more established concert pieces (Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’), a few diamonds of Allman’s solo career (Queen of Hearts, I’m No Angel) as well as a couple of R&B gems the singer grew up with (Brightest Smile in Town, I’ve Found a Love). But instead of recreating the twin guitar, triple percussion drive of the ABB, the new recording presented Allman as the head of a hearty Southern soul revue with a larger group that included a second keyboardist, a horn section and one ABB holdover, percussionist Marc Quinones.
“It’s very interesting having a larger band,” Allman, 68, says. “I’ve got people that are like my teachers. They might be a little bit younger than me, but they are way more accomplished musicians. I just happened to pick the right ones. Everybody gets along beautifully and everybody has got the same goal.”
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The latter quality, Allman intimated, was lacking in several of the ABB incarnations.
“It’s different from the Allman Brothers in that the Allman Brothers, after my brother died, never had a leader. Every organization needs a focal point. I mean, if it’s for nothing else, somebody to say ‘start’ and ‘stop.’ I’m just saying that it helps when the leader obtains a little bit of respect from all the rest of the band. That always helps. I’ve had a band on the side ever since the Laid Back record (Allman’s 1973 solo debut album). But this is by far the best arrangement of musicians I’ve ever played with.”
Older brother Duane Allman, the groundbreaking slide guitarist who founded the ABB in 1969, died in a 1971 motorcycle accident just as the group was achieving stardom.
Did the elder Allman’s long absence from stewardship of the ABB contribute to the group’s seemingly final dissolution (the band also split for extended periods in 1976 and 1982) in late 2014?
“Let’s just say there were just too many head chefs in the kitchen,” Allman says.
What Back to Macon also affirms is the emergence of a stronger, healthier Allman. A veteran of one of the more publicly excessive rock star lifestyles of the 1970s, Allman was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2007 and underwent a liver transplant in 2010. He has battled numerous ailments through the years, including respiratory infections.
“I still have my days, but for the most part I feel really good,” Allman says. “I say prayers of thanks every day. I’m a very blessed and fortunate person, I really am. So far, I’ve had a beautiful life.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.
If You Go
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 8
Where: Centre College Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville
Tickets: Sold out
Gregg Allman also is to perform at 7:30 p.m. April 7 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Jan. 15 at the Lexington Center Ticket Office and Ticketmaster outlets, Lexingtonoperahouse.com and at 859-233-3535. (Please note, the Opera House concert date was changed from an earlier edition.)