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Gregg Allman: Last blast from the Southern man

August 12, 2017

IMG_7964 2So close to death was blues rocker Gregg Allman when he was making his final album, the cover photographer did not get to his Savannah, Georgia, house in time.

Instead, “Southern Blood”, Allman’s posthumous paean to his life and music to be released in September, is adorned with a sepia shot of the grounds, a wooden boardwalk heading away under the shade of Spanish Moss.

There probably could not be a more appropriate symbol for Allman, who died from cancer in May, aged 69. From the early days with his late brother Duane onwards, Tennessee-born Allman was the epitome of Southern rock and blues.

“Southern Blood” is not about the South per se for that, skip back an album to the 2011 Grammy-nominated “Low Country Blues”. This one is about Allman.

“(Gregg) was acutely aware that his time was limited,” Allman’s manager and friend Michael Lehman told me when asked about the recording session.

“These compositions, they are all poignant and meaningful and talk about his life’s journey. Everyone of them had meaning (for him).”

For his last hurrah, Allman chose a number of songs written by friends and favorite artists including Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, Jerry Garcia and Lowell George.

Each song, including those written by Allman himself, touch on something of the man — who led a difficult life with the early death of his brother, six divorces including from his celebrity marriage to Cher, drug addiction, hepatitis C, a liver transplant and, ultimately, cancer.

George’s “Willin'”, for example, is the tale of a hard-times Southwestern truck driver who keeps on the road against all the odds, a hint at Allman’s near continual touring.

Another song — written by Mississippi bluesman Wilie Dixon — needs no explanation:

I Love The Life I Live/ I Live The Life I Love

In a similar vein a lot of the songs are basically goodbyes. One such is Allman’s sweet rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone” with it’s starting lyrics:

I’ve just reached a place/Where the willow don’t bend/There’s not much more to be said/It’s the top of the end

Perhaps most poignant of all is the opening track, Allman’s own “My Only True Friend” in which he calls on the people who have followed his music since before 1969, the year the Allman Brothers hit the road, to remember him.

You and I both know this river must surely flow to an end/Keep me in your heart, keep your soul on the mend/I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone/Please don’t fly away to find a new love

(This is an edited version of a story I wrote for my main employer, Reuters. The photo is mine from when I met him in 2011)
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From → Music, Music Review

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