Monday, May 29, 2017

Remembering Gregg Allman



Again the morning's come,
Again he's on the run,
Sunbeams shining through his hair,
Appearing not to have a care.
Well, pick up your gear and Gypsy roll on, roll on.
When I was 19 years old I moved from South Carolina to Oklahoma. I grew up in the south as a counter-cultural punk rocker with a chip on my shoulder towards the bigotry associated with the region. My behavior spiraled out of control in the summer of ‘07 to the point that I needed some rehabilitation so I asked my brother if I could come stay with him in Tulsa for a while. I left with the clothes I was wearing, my guitar & amp, and $20 from a junkie friend of mine. I left my music collection behind because I decided it would be a sober decision not to have a reminder of what I was trying to get away from.

Within a few days of my arrival in Tulsa, I started getting antsy so I asked Mark what kind of music he recommended. I was open to new possibilities. He gave me three records, “Amorica,” by the Black Crowes, “Live at the Fillmore East,” and “Eat A Peach” by the Allman Brothers. When I popped in Fillmore East and heard the introduction to Statesboro Blues I was hooked. Being from the school of punk rock I wanted my music to be fast and loud. I lived under the impression that blues was slow with improvised riffs that made no reference to any melody. The Allman Brothers changed that for me. Statesboro Blues was fast and a band with two drummers has no choice but to play as loud as they fucking can. Where melody is concerned, just listen to the call and response between Gregg and Duane when Gregg sings a line and Duane emulates that with his slide guitar. It’s nothing short of supernatural.

The Allman Brothers were a huge turning point for me. They introduced me to Blind Willie McTell, Elmore James, Miles Davis, and a slew of other blues and jazz artists no one before them had dared try and intertwine. They were kids when those records hit the shelves. They didn’t know any better. When I started researching their history I read about how they had to sign contracts stating venues weren’t liable for any violence because they had a black guy (Jaimoe) in their band. Not only were they loud and fast, but here was a band from the same region as me that was trying to put a stop to the same bigotry I hated but in a gentler way. They taught me to embrace where I was from. They showed me to look past the prejudice and embrace the beauty of the rich cultural tapestry which lies underneath.

I’m not trying to subtract from the integral role Dickey Betts played in the Allman Brothers because there was a time early on when, if not for Dickey Betts, the Allman Brothers would’ve ceased to exist but Gregg’s voice dominated for the first three albums (save a song here or there for Berry Oakley). You heard instrumental contributions like Liz Reed from Dickey but Gregg’s voice was the lightning that prefaced Duane and Dickey’s thunder on “Trouble No More,” “Dreams,” “Whipping Post,” “Revival,” and “Midnight Rider.” Dickey Betts didn’t make a lead vocal presence on an album until “Blue Sky” on Eat A Peach. Again, I’m not denying Dickey’s contribution, just saying Gregg was everyone’s first impression.

I read several times Gregg Allman was very insecure about the way he sang. He never thought his voice stood out. That used to blow my mind. In a testosterone driven era of rock and roll where people like Robert Plant came out with these high-pitched squeals, here was this fucking 20-year-old who sounded like the Johnny Cash of blues rock. His voice was deep and menacing but it demanded your respect and attention. He could sing the blues but he was equally capable of sentimental moments like Melissa. It unnerves me when people say Duane Allman was the lifeblood of the Allman Brothers. The Allman Brothers were a very complex band with a lot of moving parts, each one as important as the other. Gregg’s voice was a huge and necessary part of that.

When Mark texted me on May 27 to tell me Gregg was gone I experienced a plethora of emotions in a single second. I was sad because Butch Trucks passed away earlier that year. I also hoped to see Gregg and Dickey Betts make amends one day and possibly perform on the same stage together again. I mean, Axl and Slash buried the hatchet, right? At the same time, I was happy because now I know that any time I hear a thunderstorm that’s Gregg and Duane working out new material. There’s a hell of a reunion taking place on the other side of this mortal life. One day I’ll get to see it but today it feels sort of empty. Gregg, you were my fucking hero. Your legacy hasn’t escaped my heart! I’m really going to miss your voice. You taught me so much about the south and what there is to love. Thank you for helping me fall in love with where I’m from again. “Please call home if you change your mind.”

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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