Gregg Allman’s house, in which he has now lived for six months, lies in an exclusive estate about 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Macon. It is the only house on his street, lying at the bottom of a slight incline completely surrounded by tall trees. Parked outside was a white Lincoln Continental.
The doorbell didn’t work and it took a few minutes of knocking before Jan Allman answered the door. She led us [me and a PR from Capricorn Records’ office] into a room to the right with a bar in one corner and a grand piano in another.
Gregg was playing some rock/blues on the piano and singing, accompanied by a bass player who turned out to be his brother-in-law and had worked on the Laid Back sessions. For about ten minutes Gregg failed to acknowledge our arrival, continuing to pound out the piano riff and make sure the bassist had his part right.
Actually the music had been clearly audible as I walked up the path to the front door; I learned that music almost always can be heard around this particular household.
When he came over to greet me, it turned out he had forgotten I was coming. He took me through into another room, only partially lit, which served as the living room and housed hi-fi equipment, albums and several basket chairs.
He produced his “little white wine, from Fraynse,” poured a couple of paper cups full and explained in no uncertain terms that I was lucky to be there, that he rarely gave interviews, and did not particularly like being interviewed at that particular moment, anyway.
He grimaced when I produced a Sony tape player and spent 15 minutes telling me about how American rock papers had printed a great deal of things recently that he did not enjoy reading one little bit. Once bitten, twice shy I suppose. Then he remembered I was from London and thawed somewhat, becoming almost humble.
A telephone repair man came to fix the ’phones, so I tried for a second time to get Gregg in one place for a chat. This time I was slightly more successful, though there were many times during the ensuing hour when his mannerisms indicated he was talking with a great deal of reluctance, his Southern drawl was difficult to understand and his mind wandered to topics foreign to me. He also explained that he hadn’t been to bed for the past 48 hours, but that was nothing unusual.
I opened on the cancellation of the British tour. I told him British fans were disappointed, even seething about the decision to cancel.
“We’re seething here in Georgia, too,” he replied quickly. “This is the fifth time we’ve been about to go over there and the fifth time it’s been cancelled. Sometimes it was cancelled because of a death in the family, sometimes other reasons.
“One time we were gonna go and an intense American tour came up. In England we might have been lucky to get a gig, but I really want to go. We ain’t ever been out of America. Went to Jamaica once,” he grinned.
I moved on to his Laid Back album and his reasons for making a record outside the close confines of the Allman Brothers Band.
“Now wait a minute,” he jumps in sharp again. “I’ve been three years making that album, so there was no idea of mine to break away from the Brothers. The Brothers had hardly started when I started on that album, and I cut it and mastered it three times before I released it.
“I worked with a band called Cowboy on the album, and a guy called Paul Hornsby who was in Hour-Glass. I skipped around a lot and used some very good bass players. It took so long because I was working my ass off with the Brothers Band. The only reason I got heavily into it at the end was because I wanted it out before last Christmas. It was really just a side-line thing.
“It would be ready to go and I’d decide to put another vocal track on until I finally gave it up and said ‘put it out’.
“When it came out there were only two things that I’d like to have changed. It turned out I really liked the album in the end.”
In February and March Gregg is undertaking a solo tour, using session musicians and an orchestra without the regular members of the Allman Brothers. Although this move could be re-construed as a sign of a split, he firmly emphasises this is not so. It’s the first time he’s done such a thing, and he admits he’s scared stiff at the prospect.
“There’s 46 instruments on the album and there’ll be 30 pieces behind me on the tour. The first show is in New York and we’re trying to get everybody from the album there, the chick singers and even down to the six black dudes from here, The Georgia All-Stars. They’re dynamite.”
The solo tour has been rushed ahead slightly because of the cancellation of the European tour, but even then the Brothers apparently had decided to take a rest from each other until May, a period away from each other which Greg considers to be too long and which has aroused further speculation about their future.
“It wasn’t my vote,” said Gregg emphatically. “I’ll say that because I think the band needs that. I’m itching to play now and taking that long a break could be risky for the band. I’ll say no more.”
The conversation was steered quickly back to the solo tour and Gregg revealed that he would be playing acoustic guitar instead of keyboards. The only other time he ever did that was after a show at the Academy of Music in New York. A friend bet him $1,000 that he wouldn’t go back on alone at the end of the set and play by himself.
“I forgot about the bet during the set and when it was over the roadies, started setting up mike stands around a stool for me. I remembered soon enough.
“I wanna tell ya,” he looked me in the eye. “I got the same response, as the Brothers. I couldn’t believe it. I never collected the $1,000 and I haven’t done that since.
“There was one time at the Mercer Arts centre in New York when Jackson Browne wanted me to go up and pick with him and when I got there he split and left me up there alone. I decided to play ‘Melissa’ and you know what, I forgot the chords. My mother was in the audience, and when I got to the bridge I stopped.
“I started again and stopped and started again and worked it out and got away with it. Phew.”
Next I asked whether Gregg looked on himself as a keyboard player or guitarist.
“Neither,” he replied. “I look on myself as a rehearser. I rehearse piano and guitar.”
He seemed disinclined to enlarge on that. I asked whether the band always played such long sets as the one I’d seen in Los Angeles.
“That started with Duane,” he replied, bringing his brother into the conversation for the first time.
“Duane would stay up six days at a time. It was nothing for him. He was an amazing cat. He had the strongest hands, like vices. He bit his finger nails all the way down to the bone. He would not wash his hands all day before a show in case the water made his fingers soft.
“Duane started it?” I repeated.
“Duane started everything man,” said Gregg. He grinned, looked at my tape recorder and said no more.