Friday, December 12, 1997

Gregg Allman

Harris: Gregg Allman is on the line now from Lafayette, Louisiana. He's coming to our town this Saturday to play at the Ballroom and he's got a new album out called Searching for Simplicity, and I'm happy to have him. Hi, Gregg!

Allman: Hi! How ya doing, Paul?

Harris: Thanks for taking some time out to do this. I know you have to get ready for your gig tonight, and I know you have been busy lately. By the way, while I was listening to One Way Out, I was wondering, when was the last time you had to sneak out the back door?

Allman: [Laughing]

Harris: Can you remember?

Allman: Oh, well, let me see. I never practiced back-dooring anybody which is what the song is about, but the last time I had to sneak out the back door was to go somewhere that my mother told me not to go.

Harris: Okay. While we're talking about things from awhile back, my favorite memory of you is, I guess, about 19 or 20 years ago. I went to see you guys play at the Palladium in New York City, and it was just at the time when the Blues Brothers were hot. Belushi and Aykroyd came down to the Palladium dressed in their Blues Brothers outfits, and you brought Belushi out for your encore.

Allman: And he sang, Hey Bartender.

Harris: That's right! What was your relationship like with those guys? Did you know them or was this something that was just shoved on you by someone at NBC?

Allman: That was...no, they just came because...they just came. It wasn't planned or anything. They just did it because they were out roaring through the town.

Harris: Did you hang with them at all? Did you know them at all?

Allman: After that we did. Nice people. Belushi was just a nice guy.

Harris: Was that a time in your life where you were partying as much as he was? Or did anybody ever party as much as he did?

Allman: That was his own business, bro. I don't really want to talk about that.

Harris: All right. Now, you were in town a couple of weeks ago to do the Muddy Waters tribute here and Washington has always been a good town for you. When you come to town this Saturday night billed as Gregg Allman and Friends, who are the friends?

Allman: Let's see. I got Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie and he also plays now with Hank Williams Jr. Remember that song, Keep on Smilin'? He plays tenor sax and harmonica and he also sings. I've got Danny Chauncey from .38 Special playing guitar. I've got Floyd Miles who I grew up with and literally turned me on to music about 35 years ago, or 37 years ago, anyway a few years ago. He's playing percussion and singing. Then, I also have a band within a band I met when I moved out to California. They were called the Alameda All-Stars, which consists of Tommy Miller on the bass, Tommy Thompson on the keyboards, Preston Thrall on the drums, and Mark McGee on the slide and lead guitar.

Harris: Those are the guys that are on the new album, right?

Allman: Yessir.

Harris: You like a big band, don't you? You like to be surrounded by a wall of sound?

Allman: Well, I like a variety. You know, at the Muddy Waters thing, I played the first song by myself on an acoustic guitar. And that was really fun, by the way. I thought that was great that y'all did that tribute to Muddy Waters. I had a real good time.

Harris: We had great reports from that night, that everyone who was at the theater that night, really enjoyed themselves. Let me ask you about movies, because I know you've dabbled. You did the movie Rush and the Superboy TV series a couple of years ago, and I know you have let some of your music be used for movies. One of my favorites is when Willie Nelson did Midnight Rider for The Electric Horseman.

Allman: Oh, yeah.

Harris: Are you going to be doing any more movie stuff? Do you have the acting bug any more?

Allman: Yeah, if they call me, I'll go. That's why I have been going to the gym instead of the bar, trying to get back down to my fighting weight. Because you got to be pretty thin to be in the movies, or it helps. I mean, I would actually love to do it. I'm a little short of time right now. I was a little short of time back then too. Actually, the Allman Brothers were in Memphis at the time when I was filming for Rush, and doing The Shades of Two Worlds. And so I would do 12 days in Memphis recording with them, and then I would get on a plane, go to Houston and do 12 days behind the camera. I mean, in front of the camera. [laughs] I wasn't doing any directing.

Harris: One movie and they're not making any directing offers, are they?

Allman: Just a little slip of the tongue. So, I went back and forth, back and forth and that lasted 14 weeks.

Harris: Wow, that's a busy schedule.

Allman: It was, it really was.

Harris: Let me ask you about another side career if I may, and I have heard this rumor for a long time, and I have no idea if this is true or not. Is it true that when you were young, you wanted to be a dentist?

Allman: Dental surgeon! Right. Because I didn't think we would ever make enough money to pay rent by playing music. Because, the Beatles had just come out in '62 or '63. [loud barking sound in background] That's my dog, excuse me.

Harris: I hope so!

Allman: Gotta take my puppy on the road with me. They're pickin' up my bags. [more barking] That's all right, Killer. So, the Beatles had just come out in '62 or '63 and everybody had a band. And it was just like incredible competition out there. When I got out of high school, I thought, well, I'll take a year or two off and go out and play the clubs and get this out of my system and then go on back to med school. And so after that year went by, I was so in debt, trying to buy amps and guitars and what have you, because we got, I think $440 a night, 6 nights a week, 6 sets a night, 45 minutes a set, and...

Harris: Wow!

Allman: Yeah, and the booking agent had the audacity to take 10% of that and so we wound up with about $100 a week a piece. So anyway, what really won me over, or changed me over, was that I got tired of playing other people's songs. And you couldn't get a job playing in a club unless you played so much Top 40 and so many Beatles songs. I just went into a sort of revolt. I said, other people can write songs, and if they can do it, let's see if I can. So I sat down, and started doing it and the first four or five hundred wound up on the floor somewhere. And then I wrote one called Melissa. And it was about three years before I even showed it to anybody because the other ones were so rotten. I spent two days on this one, and I had it! Oh, boy, I really had it. This was in 1966. And the next morning -- I mean I stayed up all night -- I took it to my brother and I said, "Man, check out this song I've written, I think I've got the hang of it." So, I sat down and played it for him, right? And he looks at it and says, "Baby brother, I've got some very bad news for you." And so I look at him and I say, "What?" He says, "You have just written the words to an obscure Rolling Stones song." And it was, it was the same thing! In my subconscious, I didn't realize it was one of the album cuts off, you know, when Brian Jones was still around. Remember that song that goes, "I'm free to do what I want, any old time..." Well, it goes way back.

Harris: That's funny.

Allman: So, yeah, I wrote another set of words to that and I ripped that up to confetti.

Harris: But Melissa certainly paid off for you. And just about the time when you guys were just getting going, is that about the time when your brother Duane, went off to play with Clapton in Derek and the Dominoes?

Allman: Well, yes, let me see. That was right about the time of the closing of the Fillmore, the Fillmore East.

Harris: Was there some sibling rivalry going on there, were you jealous that he was going off with Clapton and leaving you alone?

Allman: Absolutely not, man! I was damn proud as punch. I was really proud.

Harris: Did you go see those guys?

Allman: Because Clapton asked my brother to come and play on his record, I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world.

Harris: You didn't ask, "By the way, you don't need anyone to play organ in the background, do you?"

Allman: Well, no. They had Bobby Whitlock playing organ and piano but at the end, we had the jams. It's on record, you can buy it. The Layla Jams, you can buy it. We put both bands together and did some jams there in the studio. My brother played slide, Eric played guitar, Oakley and the bass player from Derek and the Dominoes that I don't remember played bass, Jim Gordon played drums and Butch played drums, and Jaimoe played percussion, and it was a real good jam.

Harris: I don't think that is in print anymore, that's a real rock rarity there.

Allman: That is.

Harris: Speaking of old stuff, on your new album, Searching For Simplicity, you do a remake of Whipping Post. What made you decide to do that?

Allman: That was a dare.

Harris: What do you mean?

Allman: You may have heard of one of our roadies -- excuse me, technicians -- named The Red Dog. You've probably heard of him, but anyway, I was getting ready to go on stage one night at the Beacon Theater in New York City. This is about the time when Clapton re-did Layla.

Harris: On his Unplugged album.

Allman: Right. And he said, "Why don't you do something like that with one of your tunes? You could do the hell out of that!" He says, "Something like Whipping Post, you could do that." And I'm getting ready to walk on stage, so I say, Hound -- I call him Hound for short -- Red Dog, I ain't got time to talk about that right now, you know? Plus, I think it's a stupid idea. I mean the song's been written and god knows we've played it enough times. And so, I'm walking on stage and he says, "I dare ya!" I said, "Red Dog, will you come off this thing? Come on, gimme a break." So they announce us and I am walking out the stage and sit behind the piano he says, "I'll bet you CAN'T!" That did it. And so, 4 days later I knocked on his hotel room door with my acoustic guitar tucked under my arm and I say, "Sit down and listen." And I laid it on him.

Harris: And it's cool. It's a funky version of it. It's very nice.

Allman: Thank you very much.

Harris: The new album is called Searching For Simplicity and it's his first solo album in like 10 years or so. Gregg, have a good show tonight and thanks for checking in!

Allman: Certainly, Paul, thank you.

Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Phil Egenthal.