Gregg Allman reminisces about the songs comprising his 2015 concert recording Back to Macon, Ga. the way one sifts through a scrapbook.
There are the original works (Midnight Rider, Melissa and Whipping Post) and blues covers (One Way Out, Statesboro Blues) the singer popularized with the vanguard Southern rock and jam unit that bore his name, The Allman Brothers Band. But the setlist is more of a life history, a script fleshed out by music formulated before and around his life as a Brother.
For starters, there is I Found a Love, the early ‘60s soul classic covered by, among others, Wilson Pickett and Etta James. Echoes of the tune take Allman back to his musical beginnings.
“Man, me and my brother (ABB guitarist and founder Duane Allman, who died in 1971) first started playing as we grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla. I was born in Nashville, Tenn., but we moved when I was nine and my brother was 10. We were born in Music City, right? But I didn’t learn how to play until I got to Florida. I went back to visit my grandmother one summer and this guy across the street had a guitar, and I just fell in love with this thing. I never picked one up before.
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“He only knew two or three songs, but he taught them to me. Let me tell you, I got so enchanted with that thing. My mother was really worried about me. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I didn’t go out with my friends. I just stayed home and played that damn guitar. I mean, so many mornings she would wake me up and I’d still have it strapped on.
“There was a black radio station across the river, ‘WBLE, the black spot on your dial.’ They played that song. I remember when I first heard I Found a Love, the original version of it. God, that was about 1961, maybe. I just loved it.”
Then there is Queen of Hearts, an original slice of forlorn, summery soul and swing cut in 1973 at the height of the ABB’s popularity. But the song eventually wound up on Allman’s debut solo album, Laid Back, a record born out of a creative rift with his then-bandmates.
“Laid Back… man, it took me about a year and a half to write it. I took it to the Brothers, who were rehearsing for the 1973 Brothers and Sisters record, and they turned it down. That’s probably the best thing that could have happened. It upset me pretty much, so I got the first flight to Miami and cut the Laid Back record, which is probably still my favorite one. That was my first attempt at cutting a record by myself and writing it. But I really was proud of the way it came out.”
Back to Macon, Ga. also makes a stop in the ‘80s with Before the Bullets Fly, the title song to Allman’s second album for the Epic label cut while the ABB had splintered. The tune was written by the guitarist who would become a vital member of the soon-to-be-reunited ABB for much of its final 25 year run, Warren Haynes.
“Yeah, I guess I had just met Warren Haynes by that point, and he had that song. I was in the middle of cutting it. I loved the song. I guess he just played it for me and I said, ‘Man, I’ve got to record this.’ He writes some good songs, Warren does. We’ve written some good ones together, too.”
But Back to Macon, Ga. chronicles, almost exclusively, Allman’s past. Not to rest completely on his own history, the singer and keyboardist, 68, is already deep into recording sessions at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios for his next solo album with producer Don Was. Allman doesn’t hesitate to compare Was to the late Tom Dowd, the famed soul and R&B journeyman who produced such seminal ABB albums as 1970’s Idlewild South, 1971’s The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East and 1972’s Eat a Peach.
“I loved working with Tom Dowd,” Allman said. “Just being around that guy was a learning experience. I learned so much from that old man, I’m telling you. I loved him like a father.
“Now we’ve got Don Was producing. This ought to be great. I tell you, when I was looking for a producer, I was trying to find somebody that was the closest thing to Tommy Dowd I could find. And I found him.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m., April 7
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short