Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge & More Remember Gregg Allman
Following Gregg Allman's death last weekend at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer, there has been an outpouring of tributes for the Allman Brothers Band frontman from the music community and fans alike.
Billboard spoke with Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Coy Bowles of the Zac Brown Band and Kenny Wayne Shepherd about the late music icon. Read their recollections and remembrances below.
I grew up playing music and learned how top lay guitar by playing Allman Brothers songs and learned a lot about singing from Gregg and just listening to his music.
In Muscle Shoals the Allman Brothers were a big deal. That's where they had their first rehearsal, at Fame Studios after Duane had come to play guitar there. So those legends made their way to my generation of musicians there. We all cut our teeth on that music.
Later on I wound up meeting Gregg. I met him and his agent at a little blues club that's not there anymore; Neither of us was in any condition to have a conversation in English. As time went on Gregg straightened his life out and really changed the kind of person he was, the priorities he had. He got sober, obviously, but I think it was probably too late for the damage to be undone; That's why he didn't get any older than 69. But I was always impressed and inspired by the way Gregg came back from the ledge -- he got about as close to dying as anybody could without going over, y'know?
My wife did a lot of touring opening for Gregg and I've got some friends in his band. While Amanda [Shires] was opening for him I got to know him a little bit. She probably spent more time than I did, but he was always really nice to her, really generous to her and really kind to me.
He had a delivery that was based in the blues but didn't sound like a white guy trying to sing the blues.... He had that soulfulness that he had obviously acquired from growing up listening to great blues singers, but you didn't get the sense he was trying to sound like a black guy singing the blues. I don't think anybody would accuse the Allman Brothers of trying to steal somebody else's culture musically, but they most certainly were inspired by African-American musicians out there. Gregg was to me a rock 'n' roll singer, but he definitely sang from a tradition of blues music and I think obviously that's how Duane played. I take issue with people describing the Allman Brothers as a Southern rock band. I feel like the Allmans transcended that and were doing something that was very experimental and very ahead of its time. I would put them more in cahoots with the Grateful Dead than I would with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Really one of my first big gigs and where I felt I belonged somewhere was on the HORDE tour in, I believe it was maybe 95 and it was us and the Allman Brothers and Big Head Todd and maybe Blues Traveler was on it maybe on and off again. I had grown up on the Allman Brothers. I mean that was just such a major sound of my childhood. I grew up with parents who listened to the Allman Brothers and they grew up on the Mississippi and that was our home kind of music, music that was blues-influenced and rock and roll and very Southern
So when I got to work with them they were, they could not have been more kind to me. In fact I think we did maybe two shows before Gregg invited me to come out and sing with him and then Dickey Betts asked me to come out and play piano on "Southbound." They just, they were like my older brothers kind of in the fact that I was like the new kid and they looked out for me in the way that only the Allman Brothers can do. And he was just, Gregg really was all through my career very supportive and invited me to come down to the Beacon and sing. Whenever we were within 100 mile radius of each other he was just always super kind and just generous, real generous.
And then musically what can I say? We were listening to him the other night before our gig in Arkansas and I told the band, "Man, while I'm listening to stuff I can still feel what it felt like to circle the A&M, drive up the strip, circle the Sonic." I mean that was what we did every summer, we listened to the Allman Brothers and circled the main strip and hooked up with friends and drank beer and it's just the sound of my whole upbringing.
I remember sitting on the bus with him one afternoon and asking him how in the world do you keep your voice so strong and so on every night? I mean for two, three hours. He wasn't completely sober yet but he was really trying. He was on methadone, he was on the trajectory to sobriety and one of the things that he said to me that I totally have taken to heart is that, "You have to get plenty of sleep. You have to get as much sleep as you can. If you don't feel like sleeping you've got to make yourself sleep." And y'know what, that is really the honest truth and that is what has kept me from having to cancel in 25 years only four gigs, especially in the early days when I used to drink and sometimes occasionally tardy smoke. It's all about sleep and that came from him, and when he said it I believe it.
He so represents sort of American music I think. He came, he was down that Southern just soup of music that was down there in the '50s and '60s and '70s that was just growing and him and his brother listening to all that soul music coming out of the South, all the blues and then they just started playing it. Country music came out of Allman Brothers, rock music, grunge, everything came out of the Allman Brothers, y'know?
I was super young cos one, on the radio station, we had one awesome radio station in Kansas City, KY102 and it was just, it was that FM rock station of the '70s that was just, you turned it on and you go whoa, what's this? And I'm 12, 13 years old and I'm hearing "Eat a Peach" and listening to the King Biscuit Flower Hour that's playing the Allman Brothers and it's just, what is that sound and that song? Hearing "One Way Out" live and just freaking. And then my sister bought Eat a Peach and I stole it from her and would just listen from beginning to end and just went from there.
You know in this musical community out here... Some people you know really, really well and some you kind of know and some not at all, he was in the kinda know place. I had met him a few times. Our paths crossed a lot. The first time I met him was very early on, like 1988. I was brand new on the scene and he was very kind to me and as I like to say he was still kind even when I told him I wasn't so interested. When he learned where my priorities lie or whatever he was still very kind. Some guys just kind of get this very weird look on their face, like what is she saying? But he was like, Oh, that. That's fine and then we were friends, so it didn't take long.
As someone who was musical and who had been through it, who had been through really tough times and was coming out on the other end, he was very inspirational. His voice and his love of soul music and him playing the organ, he's taking the torch of soul music and good god, singing tied to the whipping post and you believe it and the road he went down and paved for us, he was a pioneer. I don't know how else to say how inspirational he was.
Coy Bowles, Zac Brown Band
Duane Allman is basically the Michael Jordan of slide guitar. I mean Derek Trucks has picked up where he left off and took it a lot further and whatnot but ... When they said Gregg is coming to sit in, what tunes do you guys want to play? I said is there any way we can play "Statesboro Blues" and they said yeah, let's ask Gregg and Gregg said, "Yeah, I love playing that song."
So man I went home and I sat before the show for five hours and played that opening line, the [sings], I played that for five hours straight knowing that when I got on stage with Gregg Allman I was not gonna be nervous cos I could play this thing backwards and forwards in my sleep. And he came up and...We're all from the South. I grew up about 40 miles from Macon, Georgia, in a small town outside of it. So for my mom and dad, like Gregg Allman's this legendary guy they all hung out with, or went to see when the Allman Brothers were just a baby band getting started and whatnot. When we drank beer around the fire and stuff when I was a kid everybody has like Allman Brothers stories, so it's really close to my home and how I was raised and Allman Brothers were always playing and stuff. So for him to walk up and start hanging out and saying hey and chatting and stuff like that, he just had this Southern swagger about him that, it's only a certain person that's in that rock 'n' roll and hippie middle Georgia kind of thing, it's hard to explain.
And as soon as I saw him I was like, "Oh man, that's that Southern rock thing. That's that old thing that only those cats have. It's a certain laid back attitude and the way they talk, the way they play music and how deep it goes into their soul and everything. It was really cool. And then he sat down at the organ and one note came out of his mouth and you're like, holy shit this dude can still sing as good as he ever could. And we just ripped it through a handful of tunes and later on he came back and played some more and then we did "Georgia On My Mind" on an awards show with him. And every time, man, he would sit down at the organ and he would sing and you would just look at him in amazement like There it is, dude. There it is, that's the real thing, you know. That's 100 percent right there.
When he passed away, I had heard from friends who were close to him that he wasn't doing well so I started preparing myself. I guess it was when I heard the news I was thinking about what he means to me and what I'd say about him passing away or what else, and I think it came down to is as a songwriter, singer and musician he might be my single biggest influence, especially him and his brother for sure. I mean, I can die a happy man for sure knowing I got to play "Statesboro Blues" with Gregg Allman. For a slide guitar player there's not a better slide guitar song and there's not a better person to play it with than him. It was like an absolute dream come true. And he was so cool and sounded so great and the band was... everybody was so stoked to do it. But, man, he's been rockin' and rollin' for a long time, you know and done nothing but music for years. He loved playing music and you could tell. When he got on stage his vibe changed. He felt at home.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd:
We toured with those guys on and off a ton over they years, so I've been fortunate enough to get to know him, to a degree. Obviously an extremely talented man and a big loss to the music industry. That band came up with some timeless music. Some of those songs you'll hear forever and as a musician that's the goal, really. He was obviously tremendously talented as a songwriter, a singer, a musician -- all those things. On a personal level, when I hung around him he seemed like a really nice guy. Other people have had different experiences, but many times in my life I'll hear somebody say, "This guy's an asshole," and he's really nice to me. My own personal experience is all I have to go with, and in my experience Gregg Allman was a really nice dude.