Greg — mining the blues
NEW YORK: The musical dichotomy within the Allman Brothers has been perfectly illustrated within the past few weeks with the individual appearances of, first, Richard Betts, and then Gregg Allman last week.
Whereas, Betts, playing at Radio City Music Hall, showed that his country preferences lie just beneath the surface, Allman is solidly into the blues and gospel bag, which is mainly the area worked by the Allman Brothers.
This may be an indication of the power centre within the band. Furthermore, whereas Betts’ performance, although well-executed, was only halfway-interesting, and indeed played to a less than full house, Brother Gregg struck up a much more spirited rapport at a boisterous Felt Forum last Wednesday.
If the implication of these solo concert tours across the States was that the Allmans are irrevocably splitting up, Gregg was anxious to quell such thoughts from the beginning of his set, announcing, to a fusillade of applause, that the whole band would be touring together in February.
There are strong contrasts between the onstage personalities of the two stars. Betts is dour and rather finicky. Allman comes on like an archetypal stoned Southern cat, with slurred vocals — he sounds sometimes as if he’s singing through his jawbone — and an altogether more hip stance. Betts is certainly a better musician, but he’s not particularly funky in the way he goes for clean, sweet guitar solos.
Gregg is better equipped to carry a show, and if his Felt Forum performance didn’t prompt me to light matches at the end, he nevertheless kept my interest flickering.
His musical environment was pretty standard. There were three black back-up chicks, under-used in the first half of his show — a horn section of two saxes, trombone and trumpet, and a four-piece accompaniment of bass, lead, rhythm and drums that was undertaken by Cowboy, the support act on the bill. Tommy Talton, the slide player with Cowboy, was a notable soloist.
Southern hyperbole, however, is not the style of Allman himself, who simply settles into a groove and mines it for what it’s worth, whether he’s on organ or rhythm guitar.
His songs, in the white blues/gospel strain, are not especially interesting, and his instrumental work is functional, so he relies on feel, as do most of those white Southern bands (Cowboy included).
The show was okay, you know, but I’d heard it somewhere before.
© Michael Watts, Melody Maker, 14 December 1974