When discussing the merits of Southern rock and roll, the talk almost inevitably comes back to the holy trinity of that genre; Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and The Allman Brothers Band. Yeah, I know, go ahead and throw in whatever Southern rock band you think deserves equal billing, be it The Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, or even more recent entries such as Widespread Panic, but none of those great acts can measure up to Skynyrd, The Allmans, and “that lil’ ole band from Texas.” Time hasn’t been kind to the line-ups of two of those three bands. The Allman Brothers lost founding member and Southern guitar god Duane Allman in 1971 to a motorcycle crash, and Skynyrd lost Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines in a plane crash in 1977. Only ZZ Top has a line-up that hasn’t changed in more than four decades.
By all accounts, including his own, Gregg Allman should have joined his brother, Duane, long ago. From the ridiculous amount of drugging and boozing to contracting Hepatitus C and undergoing a liver transplant, Gregg Allman is the Keith Richards of Southern rock. Seriously, they should study the guy’s DNA, because a lesser man would have been six feet under decades ago.
I first saw The Allman Brothers Band back in the early 90s, when it resumed touring after a lengthy hiatus. The North Charleston Coliseum was packed with a rowdy crowd back then, and the band was benefitting from the inclusion of guitarist Warren Haynes, keyboardist Johnny Neel, and bassist Oteil Burbridge (Burbridge had replaced Allen Woody prior to the tour I saw). Since I was working in radio at the time, I got to go backstage and meet a few of the band members. I even got my picture taken with Haynes, and Gregg Allman signed my backstage pass. I still have it. I’d listened to the Allmans while in high school, but it took seeing them live to really appreciate the band. I’ve had the chance to see Gregg Allman perform as a solo artist over the years at venues such as the Charleston Music Hall and the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. Although time and punishment has left him looking pretty frail, once Allman opens his mouth, it’s usually like being transported back to the days when his brother Duane was still in the band and known for his tendency to speed on his motorcycle.
Tuesday night’s stop at the North Charleston PAC started with a performance by Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. Led by Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, percussionist and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, JJB got the crowd into the mood with a solid set of music that drifted between jazz, R&B, and jam rock. Especially impressive was the band’s horn section, which later made an appearance during Allman’s set.
JJB was well received by the crowd of about 1,300, but you could tell that most folks were chomping at the bit to see Allman himself. After a short intermission, the lights went down and Gregg Allman led his band onto the stage. Instead of taking a seat at his Hammond organ, Allman strapped on an acoustic guitar and kicked off the set with a cover of Sleepy John Estes’ blues classic “Floating Bridge.” Although Allman seemed to be reading words from a nearby music stand, it was a decent opening performance. With the lead-off song done, Allman took a seat behind his Hammond, which looks more like an old-fashioned roll top desk than a musical instrument. Allman kicked into “I’m No Angel,” his solo hit from the 80s, and the crowd came alive. Allman and his band alternated between Allman and Allman Brothers originals and blues covers from his recent solo album, “Lowcountry Blues.” Twice during the show, Allman turned over vocal duties to singer Floyd Miles, who belted out great versions of songs like “Lucille” and “Goin’ Back to Daytona.”
The biggest crowd reactions obviously came when Allman played the classic Allman Brothers Band stuff, and he didn’t hold back. “Statesboro Blues,” “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider,” “Whipping Post,” and an encore of “One Way Out?” Yes, please. Allman continued to go between organ and guitar. The arrangements of his songs at Tuesday night’s concert had a bit more of a jazzy feel to them, possibly due to the influence of his opening act. I thought that the flute solos on “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider” were a bit over the top, but interesting nonetheless. The couple sitting, er, standing in front of me danced through most of Allman’s set. Normally that would annoy me, but in this case their tipsy jitterbugging amused me. All in all, a good night of music from one of Southern rock’s elder statesmen. Certainly more interesting than Allman’s recent autobiography, which basically recaps everything we already knew about him.
I’m No Angel
Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
Tears, Tears, Tears
Lucille (Floyd Miles lead vocals)
You Must Be Crazy (Floyd Miles lead vocals)
Queen of Hearts
Before the Bullets Fly
Can’t Be Satisfied
Goin’ Back to Daytona (Floyd Miles lead vocals)
One Way Out