So many great musicians have passed away over the past few years. I haven’t blogged about them all because I usually am so bummed out that I can’t think of words to say. I also start thinking about my own mortality. It really stinks when you get to that age when your past is longer than your future.
It is with great sadness that I now write about the passing of Greg Allman. When I was teenager, I nearly wore out my copy of Live at Fillmore East. This was one record that all my friends could agree on, so, it was in heavy rotation when we got together. Even friends who were not into long instrumental jams liked it. Back then, live albums were not all that popular. I can only think of a few that got any radio play: Band of Gypsies, Live at Leeds and Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out were among them – but, these were from major artists (Hendrix, The Who and The Rolling Stones). You have to remember that the Allman’s first album was barely noticed and Idlewild South received some FM airplay and was (like the first album) a great record, but it didn’t sell well. At Fillmore East changed all that and firmly established the group in the Pantheon of rock music.
As an amateur guitarist, I, of course, loved Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. But, I also admired Greg. His voice brought an authenticity to the group that was unique at the time – at least for a white singer. His soulful phrasing and gritty tone never sounded forced or affected. His organ playing was always just what was needed, never showy or overpowering. This is not to say that he didn’t provide tasty solos – he did. But, he was more like Booker T Jones than Keith Emerson. His keyboard playing was subtle and understated, as his vocals could also be. And, his songwriting was straightforward and moving, just like the soul music both he and his brother Duane knew well. He wrote Whipping Post, Dreams, Midnight Rider, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, and, Melissa among others.
I feel privileged to have seen Greg Allman with the Allman Brothers Band during their first few years as a group. This was a band that was doing what other great artists of their time were also doing; playing the blues in a new way. More than that they were mixing genres like a painter mixes colors. They were never about having a hit single, although Ramblin’ Man reached number two on the Billboard top ten and Brothers and Sisters was a number one album.
Greg Allman, like many great artists of his generation, has gone too soon. I will miss him.