Having seen Gregg Allman play many times over the years with his solo band, there was something very noticeable about their performance recently in Baton Rouge: the total connectivity of the players to music that has been around long before any of them were a part of the group. These songs – which make up the very fiber of southern rock roots – fans know every note, every word, every minute detail. When something shifts in the tectonic plates of a composition, they notice. As I watched the crowd and listened to their comments, the elevation of the band’s energy and musicianship caused a sweet ripple through them that culminated in numerous standing ovations. Gregg Allman at sixty-eight has gotten better with age and that did not go unnoticed by those in attendance at the River Center Little Theater.
Take the 1972 Allman Brothers classic “One Way Out.” Gregg likes to close out many of his shows with this old Elmore James/Sonny Boy Williamson blues numnrt. All three versions – James, Williamson, ABB – have different interpretations that are pleasing to the ear. Here, Gregg allows this number to become a showcase for his band – Steve Potts, Ron Johnson and Marc Quinones on rhythm, Pete Levin on keys, Scott Sharrard on guitar, and Jay Collins, Marc Franklin and Art Edmaiston making up the horn section – highlighting individuality and giving Allman another chance to step away from his Hammond B3 organ and pick up the electric guitar. Fans gravitated to the front, no one remained sitting, everyone was having a good time. That’s how you want to end a show.
When Allman picked up a lovely acoustic to sing “Melissa,” a collective sigh reverberated across the rows, allowing Gregg’s husky voice to filter through unobstructed. Another standing ovation. When the band opened with “Statesboro Blues,” the fans cheered, recognizing those opening chords from the Brothers 1971 holy grail of live albums, At Fillmore East. Even “Midnight Rider” has failed to become stale and boring. Chalk up yet another standing ovation.
In 2011, Allman released one of the best showcases for his voice with an album called Low Country Blues, produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring Dr John, Doyle Bramhall II and Jay Bellerose. “Floating Bridge,” “Just Another Rider,” “Devil Got My Woman” and “Blind Man” were spine-tingling to say the least. When he performed a few of the tracks live over the coming years, it was like the man and the voice had been rejuvenated by old blues. In Sharrard’s opinion, Gregg is “the best soul and white soul and blues singer of his generation.” So when Allman slipped into T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” in honor of his late friend Bobby Blue Bland, who gained notoriety for his version of the song in the early 1960’s, it was a spiritually divine moment.
Another supreme highlight was the inclusion of a funky instrumental by Levin called “Got A Light.” What an invigorating good time that tune brings about, not only for the audience but for the band members themselves. As Allman exited the stage for a short break during this time, he left his band to just go wild. This is definitely not the time to run to the beer stand or the restroom as it truly electrifies the joint.
So if you’re sitting there and wondering if you should go see another Gregg Allman show, the answer is quite simple: Yes. Better sounding than ever, Allman and his band have many more shows and a lot more years ahead of them. Going to one – or two or three – more shows will be one of the best decisions you won’t regret making.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough