American Culture

Some wasted words about Gregg Allman

By blending rock and roll, soul, country, blues, and jazz, the Allmans created a brand of music that nearly 50 years later sounds as fresh and original as it did when it first appeared.

“I ain’t no saint, and you sure as hell ain’t no savior… Don’t ask me to be Mr. Clean, cause Baby I don’t know how….” – Gregg Allman, “Wasted Words”

The original Allman Brothers Band, Gregg on the left in the middle row (image courtesy Fanart.tv)

Gregg Allman’s death Saturday of liver cancer brought to a close the colorful, tragic story of the group more responsible than any other for creating the genre known as Southern Rock.

Duane Allman brought jazz and rock and roll to the table (and his work with R&B and soul artists led to his bringing drummer Jaimoe Johnson to the band who added jazz style drumming). Drummer Butch Trucks and guitarist Dickey Betts came to the band from more conventional rock bands, though they brought with them a bassist, Berry Oakley, who quickly grasped Duane Allman’s vision of a band playing soul/R&B inflected blues rock with twinges of country and extended improvisations in jazz style.

But they needed a singer. Gregg Allman, who’d steeped himself in soul and R&B as well as rock and blues, provided that. He also became the band’s main songwriter. 

The list of Gregg Allman penned classics is impressive: “Not My Cross to Bear,” “Whipping Post,” “Midnight Rider,” “Dreams,” “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” and a personal favorite of mine, “Wasted Words.” Gregg wrote and sang all of these, primer texts of Southern Rock, with the conviction of a Southern boy repenting at a church revival, his slightly nasal wail cutting through the powerhouse that was the Allman Brothers Band in full flight. Here’s a sample:

While his work with the Allman Brothers Band is enough to have garnered him Hall of Fame status, Allman also had a solo career. His first solo album, Laid Back, is a gem that any fan of great rock music should own. My favorite track is Gregg’s cover of Jackson Brown’s “These Days,” a cover that, like Jim Hendrix’s treatment of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” surpasses the original:

Other writers have, in tributes and critiques, said much about Gregg Allman’s difficult upbringing, his deep love for brother Duane and the grief that followed him for decades after his brother’s untimely death, his marriages (including his tabloid material union with Cher), and, of course, his battles with alcoholism and addiction which contributed to his (for our times) premature death at 69. There are useful facts in these and I encourage anyone interested in a full picture of Gregg Allman the person to consult them. They’re readily available via your favorite search engine.

But in the end, when a great artist is gone, what we have left is the art. The quality of that art can be measured various ways. If you were a musician at the time the great classic rock artists like the Allman Brothers Band strode the earth, your worth could be measured by colleagues and competitors’ estimation of your competence playing and singing specific songs.

Here’s the Allman Brothers Band portion of the exam. Bass players and vocalists will find this portion of the exam particularly challenging:

Nothing more to say – anything more would be wasted words.

3 replies »

  1. I was at those every one of those Fillmore East concerts that ended up being that album. The first time I saw them, though, was in 1970 when I was at Ft Meade, and had stumbled over “Dreams” on the radio and immediately went out and bought the album. They were opening for some band (Rare Earth?) at a Saturday afternoon concert at some auditorium somewhere in suburban Virginia, of all things. The audience was mostly 11 year old girls with their dads. I went with another guy who was a genuine guitar player, and we just sat there, fifteen feet away, stunned. The remarkable thing wasn’t even Duane’s playing, which was pretty damn remarkable in and of itself. It was the fact that even then they were a true ensemble, with everything melding perfectly, all revolving around Gregg’s vocals and Duane’s guitar work. And this was before Gregg’s songwriting burst that crystallized in the next couple of albums, particularly Eat a Peach. Really, one of the four or five best (as in best technically, but also in terms of their influence) bands ever, by any assessment.

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