Midnight Riding with the Allman Brothers Band – (final of four)

L-R: Jaimoe, Derek Trucks, Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Oteil Burbridge, Marc Quiῆones

(Pictured above: The Allman Brothers’ final night as a band at the Beacon Theater, Oct. 28, 2014. This show was originally supposed to happen earlier in the year and I had tickets for that final night. But Gregg’s health postponed that from March to October so I instead caught a show a few nights prior to what became the actual last show. That final concert went into the wee hours of the next morning, Oct. 29 which – by design or not – was 43 years to the day since Duane’s death.)

Charleston, SC. Neither of us having ever been there, Lana and I decide to take a walk around the city. My memory is dim but I recall it being a nice, old Southern city with a few unfortunate reminders of the antebellum days. (A slave auction site converted to a marketplace where they sold a sambo doll.)

We talk about the fact that I and some of the other bus guys have been jamming back at the hotel. And then one of us – I think it was Lana – says, “I wonder if we could find a place where you guys could play live.”

Personally, I’m not sure we’re ready for our close-up. But hey, I’m willing to give it a shot if the other guys are. So after checking a few restaurants, we find a place (Lite Bites) that has a back courtyard where bands play. Since it’s early in the week, there’s no band booked so they agree to let us play! (Accounts of how and when we found this place differ but this is my recollection.)

So we go back to the hotel, find Kevin and the other guys and that night, head over to the place. And – play! Yeah, that happened. We just jammed on all the tunes we knew (“Stormy Monday,” “Blue Sky,” “Loan Me a Dime,” “Can’t You See,” “Good Lovin'”) and then when we ran out of tunes, did them again. I was so busy looking at my hands that I didn’t realize we had attracted a crowd. Not just our busmates but some locals as well.

The highlight was “Elizabeth Reed” which we did totally acoustically then flipped our guitars over to drum on the back. I swear I didn’t think I even know the song to play it that well but we got through it. One of the guys had a brainstorm, grabbed the chalkboard out front and wrote down “Tonight – Brothers of The Road.” And so we were. Somehow the waiter got slipped a few tickets to the next night’s ABB show.

Now I don’t remember the exact night when this next thing happened. And since several of us were there and I have their reports, I have a few different perspectives but they all pretty much come out the same way. I know that it was later in the week because I’d gotten a little tired of the backstage scene and went back to the bus to chill out. There were only maybe two or three of us on the bus at the time.

From my diary: “There’s a table in the middle of the front of the bus and that’s where I was sitting. One of my fellow travelers, Bob, was looking for something in his bunk and I was enjoying a cold beverage and listening to the blues.  Next thing I know Paul K. gets on the bus.”

And so does Gregg Allman. I shit you not.

“I’m just sitting there looking at him stupefied. I have by now followed his career for 25 years and there he is, long blonde hair flowing like the gypsy he is. So I call out to Bob in the back and I say, ‘Bob, I think you outta come up here.’ Meanwhile, Paul is rummaging through the videotapes in the cabinet above the table to my left. Yes, Gregg came on the bus, supposedly, to get some videotapes to watch.

Paul is handing Gregg tapes and Gregg drawls in that Southern way, “Thassa a good ‘un.” And I stand up and grab Gregg’s hand and shake it and say “thanks.” I know I mumble something about what a musical hero he is and his brother was to me. (Number one reason I play guitar, Clapton #2.)  For the record, Gregg’s tall, maybe 6 feet. I’m about 5’10.

He says, to all of us, “I just wanted to thank you folks for comin’ on the bus and followin’ us around. In case nobody’s told you before, we really appreciate it.” Paul says something like, “Thanks for letting us be part of the family.” And just like that, Gregg is gone. Word has by now spread and the rest of the party comes running. But it’s too late. Ron says, “Gregg Allman was on this bus. Don’t forget that.” And we don’t.”

Memphis, TN. Beale Street Festival. The Allmans are headliners but by no means the only band appearing. (Dave Matthews, Joan Baez, Van Morrison. Not sure why I didn’t catch Van the Man.) Early in the day, we hit Sun Records, still there after all these years. Elvis. Sam Phillips. Shit. Damn. Small place but so epochal in its impact.

Elvis. We suddenly realize that we’re in the town where Graceland is. So a few of us go out there. You take a 15-minute bus ride from downtown to Elvis Presley Boulevard and there it is – Graceland, Graceland. Memphis, Tennessee. I’m goin’ to Graceland. Think of him what you will – King, movie star, bloated drug-addicted self-parody – he had an impact. “No Elvis, no Beatles,” John Lennon said.

Graceland, the building, is smaller than I expected and tackier than hell. Green carpets on the ceiling. That kind of tacky. ‘That’s what happens when you give a hillbilly money’, Kirk West told us later. I guess so. Pictures of Elvis with his daddy and mama are everywhere as are TV sets, seemingly in every corner.

And you can’t help but be impressed by the row upon row of awards Elvis picked up. (As I recall, the picture of Elvis and Richard Nixon shaking hands was there. In perhaps the most ironic story in modern history, he told Tricky Dick he wanted to help “fight the war on illegal drugs.”)

His grave, along with those of his parents are out in front. The small house or shack out back where he died is still there. The place is preserved. Priscilla Presley runs the estate and she’s a sharp cookie, I’ll say that. Buses come and go into the night. Elvis died in 1977. He’s still the King. Ask Bruce. He (and Steve Van Zandt) tried to crash the place the previous year. Jumped the wall and ran to the front door. Security tossed them out.

We caught the show at the Beale Street Festival from the side of the stage in front of maybe 30-40,000 fans. Another stellar show. And since they did this song that night – and this was our last night – it seems appropriate to play “End Of the Line.”

Louisville, Kentucky. Early Sunday morning. Last day of the trip. I decided to walk over from the bus to the local Cracker Barrel restaurant. As luck would have it, drummer Jaimoe was walking in front of me. (Jaimoe, then Jai Johanny Johanson, was Duane’s first recruit for the band that would become the Allmans.) We both wandered around the gift shop looking at stuff. He looked over and nodded, recognizing me I guess from the week on the road.

We both wound up waiting for takeout so I figured well, might as well say something. “So after all these years how do you like life on the road?” “I don’t,” he said. “I love it.” Wouldn’t trade it for the world and couldn’t think of a better profession.

He talked about his love for jazz and how important that was to him. “But,” I protested. “You’re not playing jazz.” “Yes I am,” he said. “I play it every night.” I hadn’t thought about it that way but I guess he does. I was thinking of the Miles Davis type of stuff and he was talking about the spirit of it.

We bullshit about the life of a musician in general for a bit. I told him I gave it a shot once but it didn’t work out. He got that. Jaimoe talked to me straight up, with no discernible star attitude. When his food came, he looked me in the eye very sincerely, grabbed my hand with both of his and wished me well. What a gracious, soft-spoken humble person.

   Jaimoe and Duane

Monday morning, last day of the bus tour. We’re coming in to Atlanta and the trip is almost over. I wake up early and head to the front of the bus. Dave, the driver, is sitting there listening to Emmylou on the radio. I look out at the road. A light mist is coming down, “windshield wipers slappin’ time.” Kristofferson spent some time on the road, sure.

And suddenly we’re there. Back in Atlanta, Dave turns on the heat. Says it wakes everybody up. Best way, you know? Sure works because all of a sudden everybody is up and scrambling to get their gear and get off the bus. Party’s over.

Then we stand in the parking lot in Atlanta. “Did it really happen or did we dream it?” We pile up the leftover food in the parking lot where Ron’s wife will come by and pick it up later. We all hug, say our goodbyes and that’s it. It’s over for us.

And to think that all this started – for me anyway – by logging onto their web site to have a chat. And I wind up meeting not only a bunch of cool people but Jaimoe and Gregg Allman. Go figure.

__________________________________________________________________

Later that year, we went to see the band at Great Woods in Massachusetts. (Since six shows in one year is clearly not sufficient.) Now I’m sitting out in the audience just like the rest of the crowd where – let’s face it – I belong. I notice a couple of people onstage who won some radio contest to sit there.

Kirk West sets up their chairs on the side and I realize what a hassle it is for him and yet how hard he works to accommodate them. I also realize it’s the thrill of their lives. I know how they feel. I was on the bus, now I’m off it, back to reality. (“You’re either on the bus or off the bus” – Ken Kesey.) For them, and for the rest of us, the show will end in a couple hours, plus or minus an encore.

But for the guys in the band – and for all working musicians – the road goes on forever.

Note – Bassist Allen Woody and guitarist Warren Haynes at that time were two years into their side effort, Gov’t Mule. Allen died in 2000, cause unknown. Mule goes on.

Dedicated to the brothers, especially the ones we’ve lost: Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Lamar Williams, Dan Toler, Allen Woody. And this year, Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman.

 

 

 

 

54 thoughts on “Midnight Riding with the Allman Brothers Band – (final of four)

  1. Wow, it does sound like a rock & roll dream came true for you. I’m not sure what the equivalent experience would be for me.

    Don’t get me wrong, if the Allman Brothers would still be around, being part of such tour certainly would be a thrill ride. But unlike me who has only come to like their music over the past few years, you’ve listened to them for much longer and are a true fan.

    If I would have to name one artist who has truly touched me (and who is still alive!), it would be Paul McCartney. Getting a chance to meet him would mean the world. While Elvis was my first music hero when I was 9 or 10 years old, The Beatles and their music were a key motivation for me to learn the guitar and later the bass.

    Like

    1. I am totally 100% on the same page with you in regards to the Beatles. My favorite band of all time. If I met Paul I know that one of two things would happen which is that 1) I would spontaneously combust or 2) melt into a little puddle. Then I would die but happily so.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, Graceland seems to have a magic power over people. I found it kinda hokey but then I’m not a major-league rock and roll star except in my fantasies where I’m Angus Young. Or even better, Geddy Lee.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Clapton and Cale teamed up. You and I can do that. I’ll play the hot licks, you sing about cheatin’ and boozin’ and brawlin.’ They must do some of that stuff up in the Great White North.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been a great series, sir, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. A real glimpse into a side of life on the road that many music fans would love to experience but few do. Wasn’t really familiar with the Allman Brothers Band – I get the feeling they’re a very American proposition – but dug those tunes you posted throughout so will endeavour to educate myself

    Like

    1. Glad you dug it. As to the ABB, they were actually pretty popular internationally at their original height in the ’70’s and then again somewhat on their return in the late ’80’s. But I think they were popular in pockets, not universally like a Queen or Bowie. But you’d be surprised about their broad popularity outside the US. Two albums that are representative – “At Fillmore East” (bluesier) and “Brothers and Sisters,” (poppier, countryish.) Those are arguably their greatest albums. “Fillmore” is widely considered to be one of the – if not THE – greatest live album of all time.

      Like

    2. BTW, you lot have a show called “Top Gear.” The theme song is called “Jessica.” It’s an Allman Brothers song and the original is on “Brothers and Sisters.”

      Like

  3. Really enjoyed this series, Jim. Can’t imagine what it would be like to follow a band / artist that I love around for a week… and then have them drop by (even if it was a brief visit!).

    Like

    1. Yeah, it was pretty incredible, J. Especially when you consider that in no way, shape or form was this trip sold to us as any sort of VIP meet ‘n greet. We just figured we’d hang out backstage and maybe we’d get lucky. Boy did we ever. As cool as it was to meet Gregg, in some ways my meet with Jaimoe was even cooler. Twenty-one years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Hmm, maybe twice in a lifetime. I should do a Bruce tribute, then maybe I’ll get invited on that tour. Then I can jam with him, Van Zandt and Nils and maybe even give him a few songwriting tips! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        1. The Allmans were like pretty much every band of the Seventies. When on the road back then, golf was not their game. They probably would have sneered at it. Age, kids, bad scenes. It all adds up. But for those who wanted it on this trip, there was no lack of drugs.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. As for the drugs on the trip, I would have behaved. Not as young as I think I am.
          I would not have wanted to be that guy, that gets woken up by Graceland security as the tour bus beeps as they drive by.

          Like

        3. I had no preconceived notions of what I would do in that respect. Once I got there, that guy Kevin – somewhat of a health nut – said he was done with all that. I liked that idea and went with it. A couple of times maybe I could have bent because Warren Haynes came on the bus and I know he was partying back there. But it is what it is.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I probably would have bent the rules, so long as to go with the flow, and not become “that guy”.
          It could become a long bus ride if the others in the group, and even worse, the band were pissed at me.

          Like

        5. Oh, nobody noticed or gave a shit if you got high. All were adults, individual choice. As a matter of fact, I didn’t mention it but the Allmans buses were divided into druggies (Betts, Haynes) and non-druggies (Gregg, maybe Butch.) Totally a non-issue. And had it been, fuck them. I do what I want.

          Like

        6. I’m referring to anyone that would get hammered/high and act like a complete idiot, cause a fight etc. etc. and piss everyone off.

          I assume most bands have designated sections.
          I’ve witnessed it numerous times while chatting with bands. You get to know the hierarchy of the band, and who does what. Who stays sober, and who cam barely stand.

          Like

        7. Oh, I hear you. I misunderstood. No, we were all picked because we were older and it was assumed we’d be cool. Kirk West laid the law down on Day One – be cool or walk home. Nobody fucked up, trust me on that.

          Like

        8. Like getting thrown off Survivor or some other reality show week 1. In reading the diaries, I discovered that one of the guys was late getting back to the bus and almost got tossed. Seems harsh but they saved him. Overall the whole vibe was, frankly, super-chill.

          Like

  4. Really enjoyed the series. In regards to them golfing it kind of makes since. The older they have gotten and the less drugs and alcohol to pass the time why not take 4 to 6 hours out of the day to hit those stupid little white balls.

    Like

    1. Although it would be cool to have met him, maybe under other circumstances. Yeah, that trip was quite the thing. I mentioned to another commenter that even though it was 20 year ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. And having those diaries made it all tangible again. Anyway, glad you dug it. Who plays me in the movie?

      Like

        1. I’m going for a Clooney/Pitt type with just a touch of young Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Frankly, I don’t look like any of those guys but so what? It’s a movie!

          Like

What would you say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s