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The essence of Gregg Allman: Remembering a rock and roll legend

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The essence of Gregg Allman: Remembering a rock and roll legend (photo courtesy of William Morrow/Danny Clinch)

There were a few things in Gregg Allman’s life that he could always count on – music, his family, his friends, his fans, and somewhere in there – his voice. 

If we could have somehow opened him up and looked inside, I’m almost certain we would have found some kind of cable connecting that otherworldly voice to the center of his heart. In high times and low, the voice was always there. Smokey yet clear, ethereal yet seemingly made of iron; it was the strongest part of a vessel that stopped last Saturday, after 69 years of service, silencing that precious organ forever.

With brother Duane, Gregg Allman headed one of rock’s fiercest fraternities in the Allman Brothers Band. When his older brother was killed in a freak motorcycle accident in the fall of 1971, barely eight months after recording the band’s make it or break it double live album - “At Fillmore East” - no one could have predicted that the band would survive through the end of the year, let alone another eight presidential administrations.

When the Allmans took their final bow on the stage of New York City’s Beacon Theatre on October 28, 2014 (one day shy of the 43rd anniversary of Duane’s death), “Baybrah” (Duane’s nickname for Gregg – an amalgam of “baby brother”) put together a setlist that paid special emphasis to his brother’s spirit over three sets.

The arc of the Allman Brothers Band is one of triumph, tragedy, rebirth, dissolution, an afterlife and a final farewell. Gregg wanted to record with them again and said as much when I was fortunate to spend a half hour on the phone with him in the summer of 2012 for a cover story in The Maine Edge.

Allman was promoting his autobiography “My Cross To Bear” (co-written with Alan Light and published by William Morrow), one of the more engrossing rock reads of recent vintage. After reading the book, I felt that I finally understood Gregg, Duane and the entire Allman Brothers saga for the first time after 35 years of listening.

And during the interview, I witnessed the true essence of Gregg Allman.

Knowing that he is an equally big fan of Gregg’s, I invited singer and songwriter Chris Ross to sit in on that call and talk to Allman. When the two of them were speaking, I listened as a fan to two of my favorite singers talk music, and I’d be willing to bet that this was Gregg’s favorite part of the interview. His voice perked up and he became truly engaged as he asked Chris about his music (Ross’s solo debut “The Steady Stumble” had been issued the previous year) and asked to hear it.

“That’s how I found my song ‘I’m No Angel,’” he said to Chris. He proceeded to give him his home address to send the disc.

While reflecting on Gregg’s life in the hours following the news that he had passed last Saturday, it occurred to me that I was a witness to the core of his spirit during that phone interview. Gregg Allman was an unfailingly committed lover of music who never lost the joy of discovery that comes from hearing something new that might touch him in a certain way.

There wasn’t room to include the entire interview in the July 25, 2012 cover story. Gregg spoke at length about legendary Allman Brothers Band producer Tom Dowd, his recent engagement to girlfriend Shannon (“She’s the one. It is really wonderful.”) and his desire to get “the Brothers” back into the studio. I’ll save it for an upcoming issue of The Maine Edge.

Rest easy, Baybrah. Thank you for the music. 

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