“This friend of T-Bone Burnett had this hard drive that had a collection of like eight or nine hundred blues songs on there.” Gregg Allman relaxes deep in his chair and flips his pony tail behind him as he discusses the blues influences that made his 2011 album, Low Country Blues a Grammy-nominated hit. “Most of these blues numbers were obscure, like album cuts. Some of them you can tell are just 78s, sound like those old cone jobs with the wax, Victrola, with the big horn and the spinner. There’s some tunes that maybe they only printed up two to three hundred records total, you know? But it’s on the books!”
When it comes to production, few in the world can claim the experience of twelve-time Grammy award winner T-Bone Burnett. “Good guitar player. He played a lot of guitar on the last album. He played 6 string bass like he played a guitar, played some mandolin… Every now and then he’d just pop out there and jam with us.”
The legendary Allman Brothers Band singer, B3 player, and guitarist has been a lifelong fan of blues music, and part of the Allman Brothers Band’s rocket to success in the early 70s was thanks to rollicking covers of B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Blind Willie McTell, and more. Now in his mid-sixties, Gregg has never stopped being a student of the blues. Nestled deep in the Georgia swamps, surrounded by ancient cypress trees and swallowed by endless spanish moss, Muddy Waters’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” blares from the speakers at his house on an otherwise quiet Monday afternoon.
“I listen to country blues, I listen to texas blues… a lot of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. Lots of Muddy. Muddy and the Wolf. And Sonny Boy,” he’s quick to add. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, Gregg’s Low Country Blues was a blues lover’s dream come true. An all-star cast including Colin Linden, Dr. John, Doyle Bramhall II, and T-Bone Burnett drew from a deep, deep well to cover songs from Skip James, Sleep John Estes, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Amos Milburn, and more.
Though he hold the blues legends in the highest esteem, Gregg continues to keep an observant ear for the greatest artists of today. “My latest real craze, I guess, would probably be Ray LaMontagne. He’s way past good. He is just, so subtly incredible. That one song he does, ‘Let It Be Me’… God! If you don’t have a bad case of the blues after listening to that!” he exclaims with a world-weary laugh.
After the success of Low Country, what comes next for the famed blues man and rock legend? “What I always wanted to do…” Allman starts off before pausing, deep in thought for a few seconds. “I always wanted to do a record merely called ’All Compositions By…’ and just have my name. I’d like to do a record where I wrote every one. It’s probably a goal of every songwriter in the world. Do one record that you totally create.”
“I mean, you have hundreds if you needed it, different players with you — but you write it all!”
Despite having a lifetime of songs, lyrics, and verses written, the task of an album entirely composed by ones’ self is more of a challenge than it might seem. “You go back and look at [past lyrics] and try to reinterpret it, and… Usually it’s just as bad as it was when you turned it away the first time!” Gregg proclaims with a gravely laugh before pausing to think of his many past lyrics.
According to Allman, sometimes songs can take months, years to ‘ooze out’. “It haunted me”, he recalls the well-worn story of Melissa. “I had one verse… And it hung me up so bad that I never went to the second verse until I finally heard it from that woman and it clicked man, I danced out of that store man.
“If I try to do it… it’s kind of like, you know, the donkey and the carrot. Something has to spark your interest. Could be, sometimes I just hear a rhyme in my head, you know? Where it comes from I don’t have the slightest idea. I could imagine they’re god-given.
“I do believe in my heart that the song’s gonna come out… it’s like anything else. You get out of it what you put into it… I guess. Some of them just come like gangbusters. Like ‘Midnight Rider’, less than an hour. And I never went back and changed one word. Just, bam bam. Showed it to the band the next day and boom. It’s done.” In the same breath, he talks about a song that took a year and a half to complete.
Gregg’s forthcoming solo album may be recorded as early as this year. “I had a date to do it with [Burnett] in May… we weren’t gonna do blues though. Anyways, I call him and talked to him about postponing it ’til September and looks like the 9th month is too much touring, so… November?”