Today, December 8th, 2017, would have been Gregg Allman’s 70th birthday. A few months back, the mayor of Macon, GA pronounced the day to henceforth and forever be known as “Gregg Allman Day.” So this seemed like as good a time as any to review and discuss Gregg’s final album, Southern Blood, which has gotten a Grammy nomination for best “Americana” album.
Like Bowie when he recorded Blackstar, when Gregg recorded this album he knew his time on earth was limited. Due to his ill health, Gregg was only able to record for a few hours each day. Don Was produced the album and said, “Gregg was explaining his life and making sense of it, both for the fans who stood with him for decades and for himself. The album was everything he hoped for and then some.”
Gregg recorded the album at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the same studio where brother Duane first made his reputation as an ace studio player. It was also where the Allmans did some of their early rehearsals. There was a nice sense of coming full circle on this album.
The album consists largely of covers by some of Gregg’s musical heroes – Dylan, Lowell George, Willie Dixon – and his longtime friend Jackson Browne. One of the few original tunes on the album is one that Gregg co-wrote with his guitarist Scott Sharrard.
It’s called “My Only True Friend,” and it’s Gregg talking about how his life is that life on the road of the true musician. Sharrard says he wrote it in the voice of Duane speaking to him. It kicks the album off and has a real nice soulful feel to it. Nothing you haven’t heard Gregg due a thousand times but I instantly dug it:
I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul
When I’m gone
Please don’t fly away and find you a new love
I just can’t face living this life alone
I can’t bear to think this might be the end
But you and I both know the road is my only true friend
There are probably a few too many slow, elegiac songs to call this album anything like a rocker or a blues raver. But Gregg was first and foremost a blues singer. And here he pulls off (in a lower register) the Willie Dixon tune, “I Love the Life I Live.” Gregg always had a thing for horns and here there’s a nice horn section with a baritone solo.
Per Sharrard, “The Allman Brothers Band was his brother’s vision. Gregg would frequently say to me that he and his brother had a vision together for another Little Milton, Bobby Bland sort of band with horns when they were teenagers.” (There are horns on some of the outtakes from At Fillmore East. Duane loved a good sax.) This is the kind of tune the ladies sway to in the clubs.
The whole purpose of this recording was not just another album but a meditation on Gregg’s life. Even though he didn’t write most of the tunes, these songs are pieces of him that together tell a story.
Another nice uptempo song is Sharrard’s “Love Like Kerosene.”
Well I know I’m not a young man
And it’s time to settle down
But oh my mind gets so messed up
Every time she comes around
She’s like bad, bad whiskey
The devil in a feverish dream
Well I’m not sleepin’ near the fire
Her love’s like kerosene
The final song on the album is called “Song for Adam.” It’s a Jackson Browne tune from his debut 1972 album. (Browne sings harmony on this.) While the song had nothing to do with Duane, according to Was, Gregg was clearly thinking of his brother when he sang it.
In fact, he chokes up at about 4:20, unable to sing the next lines. Gregg never got to re-record the lines and so it was left in as is:
What can I say? This is a really fine album, closer to Laid Back than to any Allmans album and a nice remembrance of Gregg.
Rest in peace, brother.