Two years after the death of Gregg Allman, the Gregg Allman Band will be offering up two shows at New York City’s City Winery. The shows, set for June 24th and 25th, will feature Scott Sharrard, longtime lead guitarist and musical director of the Gregg Allman Band, along with Brett Bass on bass, the horn section of Jay Collins, Art Edmaiston, and Marc Franklin, Peter Levin on keyboards, and Steve Potts and Bobby Allende playing drums and percussion. The June 24 show will feature special guests Luther Dickinson, James Maddock, Quinn Sullivan, Slam Allen, Deva Mahal, and more, while the June 25 show will include Tash Neal, Alan Paul, Deva Mahal, Jackson Kincheloe, Junior Mack, and other guests.
Live For Live Music contributor Brennan Carley caught up with Scott Sharrard and Chank Middleton, Gregg ’s best friend, to discuss the upcoming shows and the Gregg Allman Band.
Brennan Carley: You’ve got two shows coming up at City Winery.
Scott Sharrard: We’re playing the two albums that we recorded with Gregg. On June 24th we’re playing Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon and then Southern Blood on June 25th. We’re also offering a VIP package where people can see Alan Paul interview the band about the making of Southern Blood.
BC: Gregg recorded Low Country Blues with T-Bone Burnett’s band but used his touring band for Southern Blood and Live: Back to Macon.
SS: When T-Bone Burnett was tapped to produce, Gregg told T-Bone, “I want to bring my band.” But, T-Bone has musicians he likes to use and they’re great musicians. Gregg was upset, but felt it was the right thing to do. Of course they did get a Grammy nomination for Blues Album of the Year! It’s a great record, and it all worked out, but Gregg felt it was more T-Bone’s album than it was his album. No slight to T-Bone, it’s just that way. Also, T-Bone is such a hot producer that he didn’t have the time to spend with Gregg to develop a relationship. Gregg was dependent on having time with someone, so he could feel good and bring his “A” game. To T-Bone’s credit, he did a great job. Gregg was anxious to move on from that record.
Chank Middleton: Whenever we got on the bus, touring that CD, the band never did talk about it. They weren’t part of it. When the [Allman] Brothers used to go in the studio to record, every time they got together after the sessions, they talked about it. I told Gregg, “If this band is good enough to play behind you, they’re good enough to record.” He always said, “You don’t work for me, we all work together. When the guys are just part of your band, that kind of takes away from them, especially good musicians. They want to be a total part of the thing, not just a piece of thing.
SS: Live: Back to Macon was never supposed to happen, it was an afterthought by the label. The label put all the time and energy into the All My Friends Gregg Allman tribute, the week before our show in Macon. There were no rehearsals except for day of show and we were thrown in the deep end. I am so proud of the band, and especially Gregg, because that record is one night, one take, straight to the board. I have to give our front of house engineer Earl McCoy credit because Earl was a huge help making sure that that recording got done properly. That was one of the best nights we ever had in the history of the band. Gregg’s voice is phenomenal.
BC: Are there more like that?
SS: I’ve actually been tapped to work on some Gregg Allman Band live recordings from our last few years. Hopefully we’ll get that off the ground, because there are some great recordings. Gregg had all the shows multi-track recorded—you could and you can mix hundreds of Gregg Allman Band shows if you wanted.
BC: Back to Macon included a song of yours, “Love Like Kerosene”.
SS: Gregg asked me to put all of my solo albums on his phone. There were a number of songs he picked up on; a song called “Endless Road”, a song called “Save Me”, and one called “Shadow Blues”. We worked through all of them to figure out the best one to cover. I didn’t even think about “Kerosene”! But, one night he left me a voicemail in the middle of the night. “Kerosene” is blasting in the background and he’s saying, “I have to record this song!”
BC: Let’s talk about Southern Blood.
SS: We finally made the record he had been trying to make since Laid Back. Don Was was the missing link. I was telling Gregg about Don for years, saying if you really want to do this right, you should get Don. My producing partner Charlie Martin had engineered for Don at Dangerous Studios in the 90s, with the [Black] Crowes and The [Rolling] Stones. Charlie always said Don is great at working with bands. That stuck with me because Gregg kept saying, “I want my band to be on my record.” All My Friends was the first time Don and Gregg worked together, and really hit it off. With Gregg, it was all about vibe. Don is a super easygoing cat and they really liked each other. Don really put his heart into that record and he let the band have a lot of input. He treated us like we were the Crowes or the Stones, not a bunch of sidemen. He had the horn players do their own arrangement. I did my own guitar parts and layering. The writing I did with Gregg and the arranging I did for the rhythm section was used on the record. Don really respected the creative process of the group. There’s a vibe to Southern Blood—it’s a band of brothers. People have said, “It must have been so heavy.” It was completely the opposite. It was all about where we were going to get the best barbecue and cracking jokes. We were having the time of our lives in Muscle Shoals.
BC: What was Gregg trying to achieve?
SS: With the exception of Laid Back, I think the rest of Gregg’s solo albums are uneven and they tend to be cover song-heavy. There’s no doubt Gregg struggled with songwriting in the last 30 years of his life. Before Duane died, he was quite prolific. But, once Duane passed away, you get a “Queen of Hearts” here and a “Win, Lose or Draw” [written about Chank] there, and “I’m No Angel”, which he wrote with Tony Colton and Phil Palmer. After Laid Back, every other record became an LA record. Playin’ Up a Storm has great production and a few amazing tracks, I love like half that record. Russ Titelman has told some stories about how Gregg just wasn’t there, because he was strung out. When he got into the 80s my favorite version of the Gregg Allman Band was when he had Danny and Frankie Toler and the great bass player David Goldflies, along with Johnny Neel.
BC: Those guys played in the Brothers as well.
SS: That band was phenomenal, but he was chasing hits, he didn’t get a chance to really dig deep like he did on Laid Back. Southern Blood was his first chance to dig deep again, because he knew he was going to die. He was only supposed to live for several months or a year. He ended up living three more years, and that’s when we conceived and recorded this record. It took us two and a half years to write “My Only True Friend”. That song is the only Gregg Allman composition credit on the whole record.
The song had two verses and I added a third verse at the suggestion of Mark Quiñones. Q said, “Man, try to write us a third verse.” He had scrawled some ideas on a piece of paper and I went back to my room and finished it. That’s the third verse that’s on the record, written the night before the session.
BC: How did Gregg pick the songs?
SS: “My Only True Friend” was the big project Gregg and I had going for years, which is the first track.
The second track is “Once I Was”. I kept hearing Gregg warm up with it and I asked if he would record it. He was reticent about it, but once we got that down it was like, “that’s my favorite song on the record.” He was a huge fan of Tim Buckley. That track really lets the fans in to what a deep appreciator of song he was. That’s what this whole record is about. You listen to every song now as an expression of his mortality and his love letter to the world. But there’s also a big appreciation of song craft.
“Going, Going, Gone” is from Planet Waves, which has become my favorite Bob Dylan record. Don Was brought that one.
“Black Muddy River” came from Don Was, because Gregg, as much as he was good friends with the Grateful Dead and appreciated them, wasn’t running to record their songs. Robert Hunter is just an absolutely incredible lyricist and the lyrics speak volumes to Gregg’s personal struggle at the time. It was a brilliant choice by Don.
“Live the Life I Love”, Gregg brought that in. We’d been playing that live. You can’t lose with Muddy Waters.
“Willin’ “was a Don Was choice. Gregg really loved Lowell George. Lowell George is one of my all-time musical heroes and Gregg had a great personal relationship with Lowell.
“Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”, Gregg brought wholeheartedly. That was from that Johnny Jenkins record that Duane Allman produced [Ton-Ton Macoute!] That record was cut in the same studio where we cut Southern Blood, F.A.M.E. in Muscle Shoals.
“Out of Left Field” was also cut in Muscle Shoals, but it may not have been in F.A.M.E [it was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio], by Percy Sledge. It’s an old Spooner Oldham song. Don brought that one to the table.
“Love Like Kerosene”. I had made a setlist for this acoustic set, and Gregg asked, “Can we play Kerosene?” I said, “Gregg, it’s way too up tempo.” He said, “well, think about it.” I racked my brain and came up with this slow swing arrangement, kind of like “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf. When Gregg walked into the venue, I showed it to him. He goes, “That’s it. That’s the only way we’re playing this song from now on!” When we were going to do Southern Blood, he came to me and he said, “Scott, we gotta redo ‘Kerosene’. We got to do it with this tempo and feel.”
“Song For Adam”. That’s a Chank Middleton production! Gregg was excited about cutting the song, but Chank really lobbied to get that song on the record.
CM: When me and Gregg started living together in 1974, I didn’t know much about Jackson Browne. Gregg was always singing “Song for Adam” and it sounded like a song he had written about Duane. Then I asked, “Did you write this song?” and he said “No, this is a Jackson Browne song. He wrote it about a friend that died.” When we were putting songs together for Southern Blood, we met over breakfast to go over the songs. We sit down, they go through the songs and listen to them. Right before we got ready to wrap things up, Don asked, “Chank, what would you like him to record on the new CD?” I told him, “Song for Adam.”
SS: Chank was in the room with us, almost holding Gregg’s hand on a stool while we cut it. Don Was is a master at reading the emotional architecture of a situation to get a performance out of it. “Song For Adam” was the last song cut. It was the song that Gregg was the most reticent about singing because of the association with Duane. Also, because he really respects Jackson as a songwriter. They had sent the horns and Quiñones home and after eight days in the studio as a gang, we walk into the studio and it’s Ron Johnson, Steve Potts, Peter Levin and I. The air was out of the room man, this is only half the band! Don Was set the four of us up in a circle, with Gregg in the middle with a microphone. That was the most painful day in the studio I have ever done. We worked on that song for several hours, trying to get the arrangement, getting the basic take and the vocal, then Gregg went home and I stayed for a few more hours doing all that guitar layering. Jackson Browne put his vocal on later, then Val McCallum did some atmospheric delay guitar stuff on it to shade Jackson’s voice and play off all those acoustic parts. I couldn’t get that song out of my head for weeks.
BC: It must have been emotional.
SS: It’s interesting how he didn’t get that last line. He thought he was singing guide vocals. Every vocal on that record that Gregg did is a live on the floor vocal. He did the “Low Country Blues” mostly live too and I think those are some of his best vocals in his history of singing.
BC: The best Allman Brothers recordings are live, with Gregg singing live. But in the studio, he tended to overdub.
SS: He did. To be fair, we tried to redo his vocals, but we were doing so much touring, we could never get him and Don together again. I did two days with him in Savannah, trying to get his vocals. But, Gregg couldn’t sing. He couldn’t hit the note anymore.
BC: The bonus tracks on Southern Blood were live versions of “Love the Life I Live” and “Kerosene”, but the strength of his voice was not there for those songs.
SS: We had finished tracks, with overdubs, of “Pack it Up” by Freddie King, “Hummingbird” by Leon Russell, and we had “Everything That a Good Man Needs”, the other song Gregg and I wrote, but had not finished recording. I wanted to get Gregg ’s favorite people to sing them. The label went with the soundboard recordings instead. So, I took “Everything That a Good Man Needs” to Taj, and he ended up cutting that song for my record.
CM: Taj and I, we’ve been friends for 20 years. When Scott told me about the song, he said, “Taj would kill it.” I called Taj and told him that Gregg and Scott had written this song, and Scott wanted Taj to sing on it. Taj just loved the idea.
SS: I certainly got lucky that he wanted to do it—I’m still shocked that happened.
On June 25th, when we play Southern Blood at City Winery, we’re going to open with “Pack It Up”, “Hummingbird”, and “Everything A Good Man Needs”, and then we’re going to play the album. People are going to hear what the album could have been.
BC: How did Muscle Shoals affect the album?
SS: I’d encourage anyone to see that Muscle Shoals documentary, that says it all. There’s something there, like an Indian burial ground, with a super heavy vibe on that land. The records that we all revere are part of it. We were all like kids in a candy store, Don Was and Gregg included. Here’s two guys who’ve done everything with everyone and they’re completely intimidated by the level of vibe that they’re having to deal with! We all knew we’d really have to rise to the occasion.
BC: Like you step on stage at Madison Square Garden, you’ve got to step up your game?
SS: The Gregg Allman Band is not a band where you ever get to phone it in. Gregg would hear every note that everyone played. Sometimes you’d be thinking, he’s just coasting, and then he’d come up and be like, “Hey, man, trumpet player was off on ‘Dreams’. He wasn’t reaching that note when we got to the bridge.” That environment was “A” game every time you go on stage and recording in the studio was no different.
BC: Why the Gregg Allman “Band”?
SS: When I joined the band, it was Gregg Allman & Friends and that had to do with the fact that we had people like his mentor Floyd Miles in the band, and Floyd would sing a couple songs. Jerry Jemmott and Bruce Katz were there, legends in their own right. When I first joined I was so intimidated, because it was a collection of my heroes.
CM: Gregg put the right band together. This was the cream of the crop. Both of us felt the with this band we were going to go far. But his life just didn’t last that long. Who knows what it would have come to, with the horn section and everything. You think back to the 70s when the Brothers were playing stadiums and festivals. That disappeared with time. There’s very few bands that have longevity. If Duane had been alive the whole while, The Rolling Stones would have been the second-best band in the world. Man, the Allman Brothers would have been the best! But I think he really would have enjoyed for the Gregg Allman Band to play Carnegie Hall and sell it out.
BC: How did the band change over the nine years you were there?
SS: Gregg was looking for the right vibe in the band. Brett [Bass] was the perfect bass player for Gregg. He gelled the best in the rhythm section. It’s not a slight to anybody else, but his style was what we needed. Brett flew in to some casino gig, no rehearsal, half hour soundcheck, and played a 90-minute show with us. We got to the end of the gig and Gregg pulled me aside and he goes, “This is the guy. We have the perfect band.” Unfortunately, that was after we recorded the last two albums. We were at 99% on those records, but night to night it would fluctuate. When Brett was there, we were 100% every time.
BC: The Brothers didn’t have a horn section, why did Gregg?
CM: Greggory cut his teeth on black R&B bands—Jackie Wilson was his favorite musician. I always thought Sam Cooke was the best, but Gregg went with Jackie Wilson. A lot of the black bands had horns and he liked that. In the 70s he tried to get the Brothers to hire a horn section, but they wouldn’t do it. So every time he formed a solo band, he wanted horns. He had Jay Collins for some years, just Jay playing sax. I wanted to get more horns and I wanted him to hire Quiñones too. I was afraid and Derek [Trucks] and Susan [Tedeschi] or Warren [Haynes] were going to hire Quiñones into their solo bands. Quiñones is like having three other people in the band. Me and Gregg and Michael [Lehman] were standing in a room and somebody started talking about the horn section, and I looked at Gregg and said ,“You need to have a horn section now and you need to hire Quiñones.“ He looked at Michael and said, “Call Quiñones.” We had stolen JJ Grey’s trumpet player, Dennis [Marion]. Dennis eventually decided to go back to JJ Grey. Either Jay or Art brought Mark [Franklin] in and when we heard Mark play. He is one hell of a horn player!
BC: Why didn’t Gregg bring in any other guys from the Brothers?
CM: Oteil [Burbridge] was doing stuff with the Dead already. Derek already had in mind the band he’s got today. The Brothers had been talking about breaking up about two years before they did. I was at the Beacon and Derek told me what he was planning on doing. Warren Haynes had Gov’t Mule at that point. Then he put this soul band together. When they were doing “the talk” at the Beacon, me and Gregg were in the dressing room and I told him, “What do you think about Quiñones in your solo band?” and Gregg said, “Quiñones ain’t gonna want to work for me.” I went upstairs to where Quiñones was and told him, “What do you think about working with Greggory?” and he said, “He don’t want me working with him.” So, the next two years, that’s what I harped on, “You need to hire Quiñones.”
BC: What was Gregg trying to do with the band that he couldn’t do with the Allman Brothers?
SS: Gregg felt the Allman Brothers were his brother’s band. Every Allman Brothers gig was like carrying the flag for Duane. It wasn’t Gregg ’s band. Gregg had creative differences with Butch and with some of the guys. They were still able to play amazing shows and make amazing music. With the Allman Brothers, you had a bunch of guys with no leader. Once Duane was gone Dickie [Betts] stepped in, and Dickie and cocaine and alcohol combined with success was a powder keg. It threw them to the top of the stadium circuit and the top of the charts, but it destroyed them. The Gregg Allman Band was his chance to do his own thing. But even though he was one of the greatest singer-songwriters in history, he was not a bandleader. That’s the reason he always had a music director in his band. When he asked me to take over as MD, he made it very clear, he said “I want to have the band that Duane and I originally talked about doing, which had horns, and it was about songs, before Duane got into all that English music!”
BC: The blues based English guys in the ‘60s?
SS: Yeah, the psychedelic rock. Duane got into [Jimi] Hendrix and Cream and we all love that. One of Gregg’s favorite band’s was Pink Floyd. But, Gregg wanted to have a song-oriented band. Listen to Hourglass and their early stuff. They were three- minutes, bang, that was the vision. Gregg wanted to get back to that. He wanted to have the band that he and his brother had swore they would put together. He asked me and the guys in the band to help him do it.
CM: With Gregg’s band, we called it structured music, not a jam band. Not a lot of long solos. You know what song you were listening to the whole time while they were playing. Sometimes the Brothers get off into a jam, even a person like me who heard a song a thousand times, they would get off on a jam so long you would wonder what song they were playing! I asked Gregg once, “How long have you felt this way about the guitar solos?” He looked at me and he went “Ever since Duane was in the band.” He never really liked it, but he was too afraid to stand up to Duane. It was Duane’s band and he was just a part of it.
BC: The Gregg Allman Band arrangements of songs like “Midnight Rider”, “Whipping Post”, and “Melissa” were very different from the Allman Brothers versions.
SS: “Whipping Post” is a great example because he wrote that in four-four, like the way we played it in the Gregg Allman Band, and recorded on Back to Macon Live. He also recorded that on a great record called Searching for Simplicity. Jack Pearson’s on that, one of my favorite guitar players. Gregg always told us he brought “Whipping Post” in exactly like that to the Allman Brothers Band, they took a break, he came back, and Berry [Oakley] was doing that baseline in nine. He liked that version, but he wanted to get back to how he originally wrote it.
CM: He was trying to get more of an R&B feel. The majority of the changes were that he slowed it down. Even with Scott’s songs, like “Kerosene”. In Muscle Shoals when they slowed it down, it sounded soooo good.
BC: Was there anything Gregg wanted to do musically that he left unexplored?
SS: I think he still had a couple more songs in him. Imagine if he wasn’t terminally ill. There was no question of time and money, like when he made records in the 60s, 70s and 80s. They would take their time and make records. If you could have done a record like that with him, you would have a few more Gregg Allman originals. But, that would have meant that we would have had to take our band and put us all in a house for a year, because that’s how Gregg worked best. That’s how The Beatles and Led Zeppelin worked best. If I could change history, I would have done that with the band. I don’t know if it would have been more historic or would have been better, but it would have been more artistically prolific.
BC: It holds up though.
SS: Some people thought he’s just out there doing it because he has to do it, he’s not at 100%. Even when he slowed down, I never heard him sing or play a note that he didn’t feel into the ground through his feet. There was never a moment when this man phoned it in. He was great right until I was with him on his last show in Atlanta, on the anniversary of his brother’s death. The last half of the show got kind of rough when he started to run out of wind, but the first four or five songs were some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in my life.
BC: What’s your favorite Gregg song to play?
SS: :Win, Lose or Draw”. That song is a masterpiece of songwriting. That song could have been written by John Prine or Bob Dylan. I was trying to get him to record it and we had been working hard on an arrangement for it. I felt that was going to be a really important piece of the show once we went to tour Southern Blood, which never happened. When Gregg passed away, that was the first song I added to my show, even before I started playing “My Only True Friend”. We’ve also been playing Buddy Miles’ version of “Dreams”. That is a funk masterpiece. It’s in four instead of six, like what Gregg did with “Whipping Post”, where he took it from a waltz feel to a straight four-four funk feel.
BC: What are you looking forward to playing at City Winery?
SS: When I played with Gregg, there was never a night where I was like, “there we go, another show.” I have never once played “Melissa” and thought, “I’m just playing a song.” Every time you pay tribute to Gregg, you’ve gotta mean every note.
But, the most emotional song for me to play is “Once I Was”. When we were doing writing sessions, he used to warm up with it and get a feel for his guitar and his voice. There’s something about the sentiment, the melody, the chords, and the vibe. That song is the most Gregg song in the world to me, outside of “Midnight Rider” and “Melissa”. “Once I Was” is brutal for me and I’m going to sing it because I don’t want anyone else to sing it—because I feel an emotional ownership over that song. That’s the hardest one for me. Everything else is a celebration. But every time I play I have to take a deep breath. I’ve played that song on stage about three times. Every time I have ended up crying at the end. Now that it’s been two years, I’m hoping I will finally be able to get through it without breaking down.
BC: What do you most miss about Gregg?
SS: All the things you would miss about a loved one. I miss his laugh. I miss his friendship. I miss his advice. I miss going out to dinner with him. I miss living on a bus with him. After that, I miss what we all miss. I miss that guy who had that magic that only certain people have. Every time he performed he was a perfect channel of energy. As a musician that’s what I tried to learn from and try to hold and perfect the best I can. When I was sharing the stage with him, writing with him, living with him, and now living without him, I try to carry that energy. Even though he was a perfect channel of energy, he had a freewheeling spirit. He would just bring people up to sit-in and change the setlist. It wasn’t like it was all serious. This is a jam, this is fun! Then he would have you on the edge of tears. And then he’d turn around and have you laughing. I’m trying to embody that the best I can. The man was pure magic. He was a great guy. He was a conflicted guy and he had his problems. I really love the guy on all levels. What I miss the most about him is really hanging out with him.
CM: Talking to him on the phone, hearing him laugh… everything. But, he’s right here in Macon, Georgia, I can go see him any time I want.
BC: Thanks, we’re all really looking forward to the shows!
Grab your tickets for the Gregg Allman Band 10th anniversary shows at City Winery on June 24th and June 25th here.