GREGG ALLMAN, the usually shy keyboards wizard, emerges into the limelight at last. Chris Charlesworth was there…
“I WANNA stamp a little rumour. The Allman Brothers band is alive and well in Maykin Jawjar” mumbled Gregg Allman after the second song in his solo concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Allman is a man of few words and his pronouncement was greeted with sustained applause. Whether it’ll stop the rumours about the band breaking is another thing altogether but, as manager Phil Walden says: “The Allman Brothers have split up more times than the Beatles have gotten back together”.
Gregg is midway through his lengthy solo tour of the States and last night’s show at Carnegie Hall was one of two sell-outs in New York. It’s a lavish production: including Gregg there are 29 musicians on the stage as well as backdrops and scenery all designed to give a feeling of country life inside the busiest of cities.
It’s been tastefully done too. The show was produced by Shep Gordon, who is Alice Cooper’s manager and who knows a great deal about putting on concerts that are a little different from the norm. My only complaint in this direction was that the show started almost an hour late due to stage hands setting up this painted foliage.
Although the now legendary group take their name from Gregg’s surname, Gregg is not the front man for the band. When I last saw the Allman Brothers, it was Richard Betts who shone like a star and consequently received the accolades for the evening. Gregg hid behind his Hammond to stage left shyly taking an occasional bow and happy not to have the limelight.
For the solo show, all this is changed. This Hammond stands in the centre of the stage decked out with flowers and lightened candles. And the show is specifically aimed at pushing him forward, thus acting against his natural shyness. As a result, he looks a trifle uncomfortable amid all the grandeur of orchestras and smart suited back-up men.
In effect we were seeing half of the Allman Brothers Band on stage. There was Chuck Leavell in his straw hat playing a grand piano at stage left, and Jai Johnny Johanssen alternating between bongos and a regular kit. The rhythm section was Cowboy who, apart from being the studio men from the Capricorn Studio in Macon, are a group themselves. Tommy Talton played lead guitar, Scott Boyer played rhythm and pedal steel, Kenny Tibbits played bass, and Bill Stewart played drums. All the rest were string, brass, and backing singers while comic Martin Mull brought the complement up to 30 by acting as MC.
The show opened with an orchestral piece which featured Leavell at the piano. As the strings and brass came on stronger, the rhythm section joined in and Allman made his entry to the delight of the crowd and chagrin of the Carnegie Hall staff who were kept busy returning fans to their seats throughout the entire show.
Dressed in denims and looking his usual dishevelled self, Allman appeared somewhat out of place. His long blonde hair covered his features and even though the spotlight shone firmly down on him, he still managed to hide away behind his instrument for most of the time. He sways on the stool that much, one imagines that any moment he’s likely to slip off on the floor. It never actually happens though.
The music was mainly material from his solo album and Gregg’s contributions to the Allman Brothers song catalogue.
With such a huge band, the music sounded not unlike Joe Coker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen band. It was all very well rehearsed, but Allman’s voice was frequently drowned out by the force of everything else. He doesn’t have the strongest of voices, but when it does shine through, he sings with a loping, casual Southern accent, slurring words together and rather like a mean gun slinger.
During the entire show, he picked up the guitar only once – to sing ‘Midnight Rider’. This was a shame. He’s as good a guitar picker as you’ll find anywhere, and I’d have preferred to hear him on either the acoustic or electric instrument instead of endlessly pumping away on the organ.
He’s a competent, if not brilliant organist but he was given few opportunities to solo and when he did it was nothing too spectacular.
The second half of the show featured Cowboy on their own. David Brown, who played reeds with the band, took over his rightful role as bassist in the band for this bit which actually sounded considerably cleaner than the whole band. They’re worth catching in concert any day.
Allman rejoined them for the finale and the concert ended with ‘Shine on your lovelight’, a giant celebration of rock with one and all chanting away. It really came over as the best pice of the evening, highlighting the three girl singers and the horn section. For an encore he did a new, unaccompanied piece at the piano before one and all joined again for ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’.
It was an enjoyable show but I’d have preferred the Allman Brothers Band any time. It seems that Gregg is better fitted in the context of a group rather than as a solo artist, but it was the guitar work of Betts that I missed the most. I sincerely hope the Allman Brothers Band are alive and well in “Maykin, Jowjar”.
© Chris Charlesworth, Melody Maker, 20 April 1974