In the wake of the release of his recent live CD and DVD, Back To Macon, Georgia, American rock and roll legend Gregg Allman remains adamant about touring. This go-around, the infamous musician will be taking the Doobie Brothers along with the Zac Brown Band for support. The Hall Of Famer got his start playing alongside his brother Duane in the revered and internationally renowned, Allman Brothers Band. With bluesy influences coupled with twangy guitars, the nature of their music became impossible to mistake. Gregg Allman has reinvented his signature sound in his solo act by adding eight players, including horns, to his stage performance. The recent live CD captures the best of this combination on tracks spanning across the years. Amidst his tour of the States, he will close out summertime shows with a set at his own Laid Back Festival, to which he has invited numerous artists as well.
In his down time, resting up, prepping for a nationwide tour, Gregg Allman set aside a few moments to school me on production, his vocal style, and the state of the industry today. Here following is what he had to say:
Back To Macon, Georgia, the live CD and DVD, was just released last week. Is Macon your favorite place to perform?
No, no. Actually, I like new places, places I’ve never played before. I just played this big festival in Amsterdam and another one in London. We were over there for about a week and a half. It was a lot of fun, you know? The Brothers never went to Europe. They went three times in 45 years. It was a management company we had. They had us playing around Atlanta or New York where we could make the most money. They just kind of kept us there, I bitched and moaned about it, but it didn’t seem to get through to them. We’re going to become regulars over there now.
I’ve just taken so many planes, it’s getting to where I hate to get on one. I try to get real tired before I get on it, so I could possibly sleep. Especially the long flights.
Are there any new locations you’ll be hitting on this upcoming tour Stateside?
Yeah, there are some new ones. Over the years, they build new places. When you get down to it, it ain’t really the place that you’re looking for. It’s the energy of the people. The people can get as good of a show as they want. If the reciprocate the music, if the music moves them, like movement in the audience, that’s wonderful. When they make noise between songs, that’s also wonderful. If they call out, “Play all night,” as they usually do (laughs), that’s always great, too.
The audience can make or break the performance; not totally, but they can take it from good to super. Hopefully they dig it, you know, but you got those who are just kind of mesmerized or are asleep (laughs).
How did the live CD/DVD come together?
Well, to tell you the truth, that particular DVD, we had been setting up for all day. There were like seven cameras, god knows how many microphones. Everything had to be hidden; if you notice, you can’t really tell that everything is mic’d.
The people that did it are just amazing. It used to be they would have somebody get way into your face, now with all of the technology they can zoom in from across the room. Before, I’d be looking left and I’m always stage-right, I’d be looking left at the band and the cat would have it just about where my head would be if I turned. That interferes with it and if there is any of that crap going on, I tell them, “Woah, back off.”
What really works for me was those robotic arms that have the camera on the end and they had those there. There is really nobody behind the camera that you can see. These guys were so pro about it that on that DVD, I did not become aware. When I get out there, I’m totally focused on what I am doing. I extend every bit of energy I have doing it. Thankfully, about the third from the last song, I went, “Oh, that’s right, we’re recording tonight.” I thought how nice that was. Man, sometimes you get into the music, in blending the music with each other, so deeply, you forget that the audience is even there. After the song, you’re like, “Oh, that’s right, we’re outside in front of a bunch of people.” You get so engrossed into it, when you play not for, but with the other guys in the band.
Somehow, by the grace of God, I got them all to use those earbuds. That is wireless and goes to the sound system. Before it gets to the sound system, it goes by the board. There is a sound check in the afternoon, you get the perfect mix that you want. Each guy gets his own mix, so there are none of those wedges on stage that play the music back to the musicians. Therefore, you have sound going one way, so there is absolutely no chance of any feedback. Feedback, I’ll tell you, it takes weeks off of my life (laughs). It drives me crazy, I have tender ears because I’ve worn ear plugs ever since the beginning. So, unlike other people in the Allman Brothers, I am not deaf.
What is the dynamic like with that many players on stage?
That’s a good question. You notice that the bigger the band gets, the least amount you play. Behind every instrumental solo, saxophone, guitar, bass, drum, you need every other instrument to go into a pattern. That’s how you create a groove (laughs). You don’t want anything fighting anything else.
Sometimes, you might be playing the exact same thing as somebody else in the band, but it’s just on two different instruments. Sometimes, me playing Hammond organ while the piano player will play the same thing. We play anything but something that gets in the way. It all fits together like a puzzle. Then, when you get to the jam part, hey, let it go, man (laughs), then tighten it back up.
Sounds like you’ve gotten that down to a science on this live record.
Well, thank you, thank you very much. That’s just what I was trying to do (laughs).
You’re scheduled to tour the U.S. from now through the fall. What are your plans after this tour cycle ends?
Another tour. I have a cruise going in January, it’s called the Classic Rock Legends Tour. It goes from Fort Lauderdale to the Turks and Caicos Islands. There’s a whole bunch of us on there, must be a huge ship. I do four shows and we’re on the boat for five days. The Doobie Brothers will be there with me. Matter of fact, we’re doing quite a long tour together. They’re good old buddies of mine.
We were sitting down, figuring out who to have for the Laid Back Festival, which is my festival; I own it along with Live Nation. We were deciding who to try to get, so we just reached out to a bunch of old buds, the Doobies, Bruce Hornsby, and a bunch of other folks. We’re doing that and then my tours never consist of more than two nights in a row. The first night, you go out there and give it all you got, right? Then, the second night, you try to outdo the first night. The third night, and this is an opinion now, it gets a little redundancy going, to tell you the truth. It usually doesn’t come out as well.
Any music that you are into right now aside from your own?
Well, there’s a bunch of it. Of course, I like Sam Smith, Kings Of Leon. There are so many different genres; everybody’s got to have a damn name explaining their music. What the hell is alternative music, what is it, an alternative to music? Well, that ain’t music at all, I don’t know. Like, you go on SiriusXM—don’t get me wrong, they’re great folks and I love them to death—but I mean, look at all of the different channels. When I was growing up there was rock and roll, blues, jazz, classical, folk, country, bluegrass, that’s it. Now we got, emotional, I don’t know, you know all of those crazy ones. If you ask me, it just makes life more confusing (laughs).
Any advice for up-and-coming musicians?
Stick to what you believe. Don’t let anybody try to take you away from what you’re doing. They’ll try to turn you into pop; they tried to turn the Allman Brothers into pop. We laughed at it, of course. Don’t worry about anybody labeling you, you know what you are. Just keep doing what you’re doing if you believe in it. Stick to your guns, be hard-headed about it. Yeah. Do it every day, you got to really get the fever to play as much and love it as much as I do.
Gregg Allman will be playing Aug. 28 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Aug. 29 at the Laid Back Festival at Nikon At Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY, and Aug. 30 at the Borgata in Atlantic City. Back To Macon, Georgia is available now. For more information, go to greggallman.com.