Thinking it was perhaps wise to change the subject, I remarked that there was a similarity between the Brothers and the Grateful Dead in some respects, and he agreed but said there was never any intention of copying them. He loved the Dead, and respected Garcia a lot.
“We always have an interval during the sets now,” said Gregg, starting on another tack. We do that mostly for the drummers. Jamoe [Jai Johanny Johanson] has got a bad back and he plays all the time and it’s a strain for him on stage. He’s ridiculous man, he never ever stops playing anywhere. On the bus, in a bar, everywhere he goes he keeps tapping away. Now he wears a brace around his back.
“He’s the most different, strange and lovable boy I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve met a lot of people.
“So we take a break for a smoke and a drink. Usually we put the mellower stuff in the first half of the show and start kicking later on. It’s the best way.”
I mentioned that Gregg tucked himself away from view.
“I’ve always been a pacifist,” he said. “I sing a lot of songs. It’s a good job I do. Y’know I never played a Hammond before I got into this band. When I got the damn thing I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. I looked at the pedals and got hip to taking them off... and I still don’t know what to do with them.
“Remember I was the last in this band. Duane called me and said he was putting a band together and going into the studio. I was on a strange, starving trip out in LA at the time, and I told him I needed some time to get to play the organ. He said you don’t have to play an organ, just look great, and that’s what it was. And I had to sing.
“I remember seeing Traffic in Jacksonville once and saw Steve Winwood. That cat is incredible, man. He can do everything. He wrote ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ when he was fifteen-years-old.
“Wow. I love that cat next to Ray Charles. You know, my brother always had a very high regard for Cat Stevens. There’s three people who have never made a song I didn’t like – Traffic, Cat Stevens and Van Morrison.
“I wish to hell I could work with Winwood but I’ve never met the cat.”
I asked whether Gregg could offer his own explanation for the band’s current immense popularity. He didn’t seem to be able to. “It could be that Betts has finally started writing. Had that song ‘Ramblin’ Man’ for ages and he comes up to me and plays it for me and says he’s thinking of doing a country album and sticking it on that. Hell, that song cooked. Anything cooks if you get the right people.
“Also, the kind of organisation we have had together is such that if anybody has an idea we all listen to it and that’s good.
“You know, I have tapes here in the house of songs that Duane made and they’ve never been recorded or performed on stage ever. And some of those are so good.”
Again he stopped, seemingly unwilling to talk further on this subject, so I asked whether the band saw a great deal of each other off-stage and whether the stories about them frequently turning up at local clubs for a blow together were true.
“I can go for two months without seeing Richard Betts or Butch Trucks, but I see a lot of Chuck Leavell and the other two,” he said candidly, almost ignoring the real question.
So I asked whether the band was closer when they were struggling than they were today.
“It had nothing to do with struggling,” said Gregg. “It had to do with working our asses off for so long together. It was the programmed sets that we didn’t enjoy.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing every concert we’ve ever done unless it was out in the rain and we might have got electrocuted. In 1970 we worked 256 dates and neither one of us made 1,600 dollars.
“I remember we did three nights at Ungano’s in New York with an English band called Fat Mattress, and one of them came up and wanted to jam with us, and Duane looked at this cat and told him to get the hell out of it.
“But I don’t wanna say much about other bands. Everybody’s got their own little scene man. Alice [Cooper] is a nice guy but I’d walk out of one of his shows. Iggy’s a fine cat but on stage he’s another person. Everybody’s to their own hit though.”
So I asked who Gregg would choose to go and watch. His answer surprised me.
“The Moody Blues,” he said without any hesitation whatsoever. “They blew my head off the last time they played in Chicago. It was the first stereo show I’d seen and the cat that played that Mellotron knocked me out.
“Taj Mahal is another. We had to follow that cat one night and there were heel marks all over the stage. There was Howard Johnson once and man, he came up with a rusty old dobro and blew us off that stage before we knew it. Little Richard too, he blew us off stage.”
But Gregg listed Chuck Berry as his first major influence.
“I was 12 years old and the first guitar I ever got was in 1960. Duane got one a little later. It was in Florida, where the white cats surfed and the black cats made music.
“Y’know, I was going to be a dentist, fixing teeth?” He opened his mouth wide and pointed to a back tooth and grinned.
The success had changed the band? “Not a damn bit,” he said suddenly.
“Off the set, maybe, but on the set we’re the same as we’ve always been. I’ve never thought about the bread. In fact, I feel a little guilty about the bread at times.”
It was at Watkins Glen earlier this year that the Allmans – and the Grateful Dead – attracted an audience of 600,000, the largest gathering of rock fans ever.
“I was kinda sick with the heat that day,” said Gregg. “And I was petrified, ’cos we had to go in a helicopter and I’d rather travel by camel than a helicopter. The high point of that scene was The Band. They got the right name: THE Band, ‘cos that’s what they are.”
I wondered whether Gregg enjoyed being on the road.
“My last few tours have been pretty eventful. It’s very strange going back on the road after being at home for a while. The throat needs some action so I’ll maybe sit here and bellow for a while before setting out.
“Alternatively, I’ll stay up whole days before the first gig which means I’m going on stage not having slept for 48 hours. I work best when I’m totally beat.”
I mentioned Eric Clapton, and Gregg recalled the sessions when Duane played on the Layla album. “I wish he’d come over here and play with me. Gawd, I’d love to play with that cat. If you come across him tell him that. He’s been a recluse too long, and if the boogie is in the boy it’s got to come out.”
And Hendrix? “Now there was one of a kind. I think everybody in the world should have been into Hendrix. There never has been and never will be one like him. That first album... wow, nobody’s ever cut an album like that.”
The Brothers have just been awarded various Playboy awards, including a posthumous one for Duane as the musician of the year. They’re also the top vocal group, an award which Gregg shrugs off easily.
“Listen, I can’t get any of those asses to sing. Print that. It could be a great vocal band. They all sing but they don’t want to. Duane could sing good, too. “I have some tapes of him you wouldn’t believe. I’ve written songs for the band with vocals that have been turned down.
“Listen,” he said. “Turn that recorder off and I’ll play you something....”
Then Gregg shouldered the acoustic Gibson and began to play. I wish now I’d left the recorder running.