Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks tell the story of their band
By 1978, the musicians were sufficiently cleaned up to reunite, starting three interrupted decades of touring and recording, despite various members’ recurring drug problems; Betts was “suspended” in 2000 and remains bitterly estranged from the other three original members.
During the breakup years, Gregg focused on his solo career and his improbable marriage to Cher, with whom he recorded the abominable 1977 LP, Two The Hard Way, as Allman And Woman. Of his seven solo albums, starting with 1973’s Laid Back, the best of the batch may well be his latest, the T Bone Burnett-produced Low Country Blues (its title referring to Gregg’s present home in Savannah, on the Georgia coast). The idea came from Burnett; Gregg had little knowledge of the producer’s numerous artistic achievements when, near the end of 2009, he met with him in Memphis at the urging of his manager. “I said, ‘What brings him down there?’ He said, ‘He’s got two architects with him, and they’re measuring Sun Records Studio board by board, and he’s gonna recreate it in this big piece of land he has next to it. I mean, identical.’ I thought that was just one of the hippest things ever. Plus, he was trying to get the place reconverted back into a studio, and not just a place that sells T-shirts. We got to talkin’ about that in the meeting, and I thought, ‘Man, this guy just might do.’
“We talked and talked, and he seemed to be real excited about it. And shit, that’s all you need, man, to cut a record – as much excitement as you can. He said this guy gave him this hard drive that had a couple thousand old, obscure blues songs. He said, ‘These are old, old songs. They’re like album cuts. Some of them you might recognise; most of ’em you might not. I’m gonna peel off about 20 of these songs and send them to ya; you pick out about 14 or 15 of ’em and let me know which ones you like.’ And he did some great pickin’, is all I gotta say.”
Last January, Gregg hooked up with T Bone at the Village Recorder in West LA. “He had part of his band there, and he had Mac Rebennack playin’ piano and Doyle Bramhall II playin’ guitar. He had this stand-up bass player from Nashville [Burnett regular Dennis Crouch], who had the strongest set of hands, man. He had a big ol’ callous runnin’ all the way down the index finger of his right hand.”
They banged out 15 tracks, some of them first takes, in 11 days. “The communication was dynamite, and we all just got right in there and played,” he says of the sessions. “We got it on.” Allman claims he’s never heard Burnett’s definitive production, Raising Sand, but Low Country Blues stands as the stylistic and spiritual sequel to Plant & Krauss’ masterpiece.
Allman’s years of excess had brought on Hepatitis C, and soon after completing the album, the 62-year-old learned that he was a candidate for a new liver, which he received last June. The record, he says, “helped me get well from this damn operation ’cos the doctors told me it was the biggest operation a human being could get. It was heavy. And just knowing that you’ve got a record like this one in the can greatly helps when you’re convalescing.”
What would Duane have thought of Low Country Blues? He emits a grizzled laugh before replying. “He’d say, ‘Set me up a seat and a mic and I’ll bring my amp. I’ll be right there.’”
For Gregg, Duane’s spirit is ever-present. “I’ve always felt a connection with my brother,” he says. “Sometimes I can feel him onstage. Especially with Derek [Trucks]. I mean, where does he come from? He wasn’t even born when my brother passed away. He stands like Duane, he’s got that long blond hair, even the same type humour.”
“Derek basically picked up where Duane left off,” Butch says with avuncular pride. “Don’t forget, Duane had only been playin’ slide two years when he died.”
It does seem downright cosmic that Butch’s nephew should turn out to be the spitting image of Duane. Derek’s presence has given all three old-timers a new lease on life. “Some of the music we’re playin’ now is so much more complex and goes into places that original band could never have done,” says Butch Trucks, “but I don’t think we’ll ever approach that band in originality.”
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