Rant ‘N’ Roll: Gregg Allman

Last year, ubiquitous producer T-Bone Burnett and Rock Legend Gregg Allman, 65, teamed up for Low Country Blues (Rounder). It turned out to be one of 2011’s best albums. On the phone, Allman sounds weak, strained, his voice a whispery wheeze. But he seemed in good spirits. Dude’s lucky to be alive. After epic battles with cocaine, heroin and alcohol, he was diagnosed with Hepatitus C in 2007 and underwent a liver transplant in 2010. On Low Country Blues, he transcends his mortality to morph into one of those rural bluesman he once emulated. Add the fact that he and The Allman Brothers Band, from 1969 on, had more to do with the invention of the rock ‘n’ roll jam band than any other singular entity. Talk about changing the face of American pop culture! Live At The Fillmore East (1971) is arguably the greatest live album in history. I was there, at the Fillmore, the night before it was recorded. By the time they finished, the sun had risen, and we walked out onto Second Avenue, dazed and confused, into a blazing sunshine. I’ll never forget it. Below is the conversation between Allman and myself.

I understand you had reservations about working with any other producer since the death of Tom Dowd. T-Bone Burnett is such a cool guy, though.

I was leaving a Brothers run. I think it stopped somewhere up around Detroit. My manager says to me, “I want you to go to Memphis and meet this guy.” Well, I knew what it was about the whole damn time. Since Tommy [Dowd] passed away in ’02, I hadn’t really even thought about recording, y’know? Anyhow, he said, “Just go meet the guy.” So we met in Memphis. Dig it—the first thing I found out was that he was there with a couple of architects measuring out the original Sun Records studio and I mean board for board. They want to rebuild it on this piece of land next to his down in Santa Barbara, California. I thought, “Man, that’s like one of the hippest things I’ve ever heard!” After that, we started talking about different recording techniques. We seemed to click right on. He just turned me around totally, and I thought, “Yeah, I’ll work with this guy.” I didn’t know he was so famous. I never heard his name before in my life.

You’ve become a legend because…

You’ll have to pardon me. I’m not being a smart-ass but I don’t feel legendary. I just feel like the same Southern boy I used to be.

We almost thought we lost you there during the liver transplant.

I’m feeling pretty good. Every day.

So you got along with T-Bone, eh?

He got such an old-school sound out of that record of mine. He had these real old microphones. You’ve probably see them before. They say RCA over the top of them and they have these huge holes. Those old street ribbon mics, man. Look at some old rock ‘n’ roll films. He placed four of ‘em around the whole studio. They’re so nasty that they’re actually pretty good (laughs).

Dr. John [Mac Rebennack] is also on the album. He’s a real character. How was it working him?

He’s great. Yes sir, he had played on my second solo record [Playin’ Up A Storm, 1977] and just played his ass off. In fact, we wrote a song together for that record [“Let This Be A Lesson To Ya”]. Oh god, he is funny (starts laughing). We did this new record real fast. He played piano on the whole thing. Usually, y’know, when you cut a record, you go into, uh, like another state-of-mind. You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout? I mean, damn, I usually pack my clothes and all for about three weeks. And that’s about the least amount of time it usually takes. Most of the time, it takes even longer, over a month usually. Shit man, with Mac and T-Bone? We zipped right through it in less than a week.