Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gregg Allman

I have a line I've been using for decades. It goes like this:

"1969 was the best year of my life. I got laid for the first time, I got drunk for the first time, I got high for the first time. It has been downhill ever since."

The one thing I leave out is that 1969 is also the year I discovered The Allman Brothers Band.

Gregg Allman's death knocked my feet out from under me. Took my breath away.

Not that it was a surprise - he has been sick for a while and I have been expecting it. Still, the man means too much to me - I do not want to accept that he is gone.

Been taking some body blows lately. When Leonard Cohen died last year I was devastated. I worshiped the man. He was a whole different animal from Gregg Allman but I loved his words - his poetry, his books, his song lyrics. And the songs themselves.

The way he lived his life. He was a fascinating man and an inspiration to me.

Butch Trucks - another founding father of The Allman Brothers - committed suicide on January 24, 2017.

That one crushed me too. My friend Phil and I had just seen Butch's band in August of 2016 in a small venue and they rocked the house. We both agreed it was every bit as good as any Allman Brothers concert we had ever seen.

I could not tell you the exact moment I first experienced The Allman Brothers Band.  But I can picture it in my head. I am sure I stopped whatever it is I was doing and said "Who the hell is this?" Because their music communicates directly with my soul.

I have been trying to explain this in here for a long time because I am sure there are many people who just don't understand. The Allman Brothers music is not just entertainment to me, it is not just something to enjoy - The Allman Brothers music is me.

Somehow, someway, it connects with who I am and releases my emotions, my humanity, my essence. They expressed my feelings better than I could myself.

They opened up a whole new world to me. I bought that first album and, after experiencing an epiphany of pure joy from listening to it, I checked out the songwriting credits and noticed that "Trouble No More" was not written by ABB. It was credited to McKinley Morganfield.

Who the hell is McKinley Morganfield? Turns out he was a blues dude nicknamed Muddy Waters. Also turned out his version was a re-working of a song written by a dude named Sleepy John Estes. Another blues dude.

I checked these guys out, loved what I heard, and just kept walking down the road to the blues, which I continue to love deeply today. Everything you love connects you to other things you can love.

Very cool fact: I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight and remembered I have The Allman Brothers first album in a frame upstairs. I brought it down, and took it out of the frame. Held the album cover in my hands. Pulled out the album and held that in my hands.

I held this album in my hands when I was 15 years old. I am now 63. It is blowing my mind. I have it sitting next to me right now. A direct connection to my youth; a direct connection to the birth of my love for this band and this music.

Fucking unbelievable.

I have been to many Allman Brothers concerts. I estimate somewhere around 30 or 40. I have so many memories of those times, so many stories, so much happiness.

One thing I always loved about the concerts was the pre-gaming in the parking lot. There were people my age and older, and a lot of people 20 years younger. We connected with those young people who wanted to know what concerts we had been to, who wanted to know how we got into the band, who wanted to know what the band meant to us.

We shared beers and joints and talked and laughed. And I was happy to know that another generation of fans dug the band for their legacy and their chops.

I have introduced people to The Allman Brothers in concert many times. Nephews, friends, my brother. A swirling network of people in my life that I have attended concerts with.

But there was a hardcore group of guys who went to Allman Brothers concerts every summer for a long time. Sometimes 10 or 15 guys, sometimes three or four. Always complete madness and joy.

I once went to a concert in Manchester NH alone because I could not get any of my friends to go. I sat next to some young people and we got along so well. Talking, laughing, digging the music.

Anyway, the die hards of the core group were me and Phil Camerlengo, a friend in my life since the second grade. Almost all of my concert memories are connected with Phil. Including two trips to New York City to see The Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre, which was a holy experience for true ABB fans.

We would usually gather at Phil's house for a pre-concert barbecue, and then motor on down to Great Woods for the show. We always had one friend who was the DD and thank God because we partied like there was no tomorrow.

The last trip to the Beacon was on October 27, 2014 - the second to last show The Allman Brothers ever played. Phil and I were able to go because my sons - Keith and Craig - bought me two tickets. For which I am eternally grateful - it is one of the greatest musical memories in my life.

Two old friends, Allman Brothers fanatics, set loose in NYC to worship in The Allman Brothers church and then party our way through the night in The Big Apple.

Fucking fantastic.

Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1972, one year after the band finally made it big time. So fucking sad. Since then Gregg has carried the mantel of The Allman Brothers on his shoulders.

Gregg's death closes the door on The Allman Brothers history with finality. That is what hurts so much. After they broke up in 2014 I held out hope that I would see them in one form or another. Then Butch Trucks died. Now Gregg.

The man with the ultimate blues voice. The ultimate in soulfulness. A voice that got better with age. Whiskey soaked. Reflecting the scars of a life hard lived.

Duane was the tough guy. Gregg was the sensitive one. Gregg did not want to lead the band, he did not want to make the decisions. That role was thrust upon him.

He protected the legacy in style.

Please know the six original members of The Allman Brothers Band: Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dicky Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson ( known as Jaimoe).

These six men came into my life and changed it. In 1969. When I was 15 years old. They made my life deeper, made it more enjoyable, they inspired me and made me feel alive.

Over and over again.

Dicky Betts and Jaimoe are the only surviving members. May they live forever.

To the rest I say requiescat in pace.

And to Gregg Allman I say thank you, man. For the passion, the commitment, the dedication to the blues, for continuing to get up every time you or the band were down, for reinventing yourself and the music continuously.

For keeping the music relevant and mind blowingly intense. For maintaining such a high level of quality in the songs your band performed.

Thank you Gregg for giving me something in my life I will never have again.

I will never love another band the way I love The Allman Brothers Band. No band will ever mean to me what The Allman Brothers Band did. It's impossible.

Thank you Gregg for coming into my life. I have always appreciated you and I will never forget you.

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