Judging by the recent activity of the Allman Brothers Band's principle members, the legendary Southern rock veterans did not break up in 2014 because they wanted to retire from music. Guitarist Warren Haynes has spent the last two years recording with Railroad Earth, touring in various groups, and running his own record label, Evil Teen Records. Guitarist Derek Trucks has just released a new album with the band he co-leads with wife Susan Tedeschi, percussionist Jaimoe is leading his own jazz-rock combo, and Gregg Allman, the man upon whose shoulders the Allman legacy fell when his guitarist brother Duane died in 1971, is more excited about his music than ever. And he's once again hitting the road with his solo band in tow and his raspy blues howl intact, to prove it.
In fact, Allman sounds positively giddy about what he's working on. "We're actually putting the finishing touches on my next solo album," Allman says, "which we recorded down at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. I'm not going to give too much away, but I will tell you that there are new songs on it and some really neat cover songs as well. We worked with Don Was, who's one of the best producers in the business. Don's so easy to work with because he really knows how to communicate. And I got to record in the studio with my live band for the first time since (1988's) Just Before the Bullets Fly album, and I loved that. It was one of the greatest sessions I've ever done, hands down. The album should be out by next January, and we're touring all summer, so I'm really busy and really happy." He adds, "Life is good, man, and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Just Before The Bullets Fly, his sixth solo album, is an interesting touchstone for Allman. It closely followed his surprise 1987 hit I'm No Angel, but without the same attention. "I thought it was a very strong album, maybe even stronger than I'm No Angel," he says. "Angel sold very well, and the Bullets album should have, but for whatever reason it just didn't get the support from the record company that it deserved. It's a damn shame, because some of my favorite songs are on that album."
So are there any other hidden gems out there in the Gregg Allman catalog, ripe for rediscovery? "I think I'd go with 'Oncoming Traffic,'" Allman says. "I really love that song, but it was never on a studio record; it was only on The Gregg Allman Tour live album. It's a special song to me, but a lot of people aren't that familiar with it."
One of the hallmarks of Allman's solo career has been his inventive re-arrangements of classic Allman Brothers tunes. His 1997 album Searching For Simplicity is a sparse, groove-heavy (and considerably shorter) version of the band's marathon concert staple "Whipping Post," while his first album, Laid Back, somehow made "Midnight Rider" even darker and more weary than the original. "I'll change things up for a number of reasons, but it's usually to have the song better fit the sound of my solo band," Allman says. "Now, 'Whipping Post' got re-arranged because a running buddy of mine bet me that I couldn't do it; I won the bet and got a pretty funky version of the song to boot!"
For this tour, Allman is stepping out from behind his trademark Hammond B-3 organ and playing a lot more guitar than before, which harkens back to his time before the Allman Brothers formed. "People are used to seeing me behind the Hammond because of all those years with the Brothers," he says. "But the funny thing is, I hadn't really played a B-3 very much until I joined the band in March 1969. I'd been a guitar player, but my brother went out and spent all this money we didn't have to get a Hammond, so I sure as hell was gonna learn how to play it. I really didn't play much guitar after that. With the players in that band, they didn't need me. I play a pretty fair amount of guitar with my band now, and I enjoy it, but no one is ever going to mistake me for my brother."
So Allman clearly is still enthusiastic about his music and has a lot of affection for his old band. So why end one of the greatest American rock bands of the past 40 years? Perhaps it was just time to go — maybe even past time, in Allman's view. "Oh yeah, man, we all knew it was coming," he says. "I had thought about shutting it down back in 2009, when we did the 40th-anniversary run, but we kept it going for five more years. I was more than ready for it to end, but I am proud of how we closed it out with the Brothers. We went out on top, man. We never became a parody of ourselves, and I think my brother would have approved."