Gregg Allman Helped The South Rise Again



The building blocks of Rock – blues, soul, rhythm & blues, country, rockabilly – all originated in the American South. These styles were adopted and adapted by young musicians all over the world and turned into something new. The Allman Brothers Band in a sense represented the second wave of Rock innovation coming out of the South, absorbing the first wave and turning it into something new: Southern Rock and what would evolve into the Jam Band vibe.

The Allman Brothers Band were full of great talents, and it’s hard to separate Gregg Allman’s contributions from those of Duane Allman, Dickie Betts and Warren Haynes. But we do know that the band rose to fame on the strength of songs written by Gregg Allman, making him the heart and the soul of the band, at least at the beginning. He wrote every single original song on the band’s 1969 debut album.

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And there were some real beauties, including maybe the band’s signature track “Whipping Post”, which didn’t really hit its legendary status until the 22-minute version on the 1971 live At Fillmore East album came out. People always talk about the country and blues sound of the Allmans, but I’m always knocked out by the jazz influences they brought into the mix. Listen to “Whipping Post” and its complex 12/8 time signature, or even “Dreams” from that debut album and its dominant jazz vibe. People don’t give them enough credit for being Jazz-Rock pioneers but they should.

Gregg Allman was also one of the greatest vocalists in Rock history. He could croon, growl or blast it with the best of them. He had a definite, primary source inspiration for his vocals too, Mississippi blues man Little Milton Campbell. In his 2012 autobiography My Cross To Bear Allman said that Little Milton “inspired me all my life to get my voice crisper, get my diaphragm harder, use less air and just spit it out. He taught me to be absolutely sure of every note you hit, and to hit it solid.” Listen to this 1965 Little Milton track and dig how it influenced Allman’s vocal style.

As the Seventies rolled on, Gregg Allman wrote fewer songs for the band as he battled with his grief and his addictions and his fellow band members. His solo albums were generally smushy affairs, lacking the punch of Allmans sound. But to the band’s great credit they bounced back in the early Nineties with a couple of albums of really strong material, check out “End Of The Line” from 1991’s Shades Of Two Worlds. It was so great to see Gregg Allman back in form again.

But if I had to pick one clip showcasing the best of Gregg Allman it would be this one, an acoustic treatment of “Melissa” recorded in the early 90s. Now that is songwriting, and that is singing, and that is a great talent, one we lost this week but one never to be forgotten.

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