Gregg Allman & Paul McCartney: Cementing the Fan Base
Response to the ABB’s recent Win Lose Or Draw album was not positive. The loyal fans were not disappointed; they were enraged. They knew Duane Allman would have never allowed his band to release such a halfhearted effort. Yet atonement awaited. The Allman Brothers Band was back on the road. Fans were hoping for more of the legendary concerts that brought the group wide acclaim. On Sunday night, October 5, 1975, the ABB was to play the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, roughly 80 miles north of their Macon, Georgia base. As with Macon, Atlanta was considered home.
In May ’69 the Allman Brothers Band gave a free concert in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, the gathering spot for the city’s hippie community. Word about the band spread like wildfire. Within 6 months, their first album, “The Allman Brothers Band,” was released. They followed that with their first appearance at Fillmore East in New York. Fame and fortune awaited, as did tragedy. But the band regrouped and hit the road once again, all the while producing great albums that were heralded by critics and fans alike. Upon releasing the “Brothers and Sisters” album in summer ’73, it appeared the band could do no wrong. But shortly thereafter, things did go wrong. The music didn’t seem as important to the Allman Brothers Band anymore. Win Lose Or Draw was confirmation of that.
Redemption could be earned in friendly territory, however. And not only would they perform in Atlanta that Sunday evening, they would also appear at the Peaches Records and Tapes on Peachtree that afternoon to meet and greet the fans. They would ceremoniously put their hands and feet in cement to add to the Peaches collection of concrete prints. Forgiveness for “Win Lose Or Draw” could be granted. The prodigal musicians were back home. What could be more perfect? The Allman Brothers Band at the hottest scene in Atlanta. Let’s roast the fatted calf and shake Gregg Allman’s hand.
But soon it was Gregg Allman that Atlanta rock fans wanted to roast. With hundreds of people waiting inside the super-sized record store and more outside on that rainy afternoon, it was learned the Allman Brothers Band might be a no-show. After all, they had to play that evening. It was an important concert in a very important market. Former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, then far less known nationally than numerous rock groups, would introduce the band on stage. The show had to be perfect. Besides, it was raining and it could be the guys preferred staying in their hotel rooms doing whatever rock stars do in their hotel rooms. One can rightfully assume, however, that the hundreds gathered to see their heroes could care less about all that. They wanted to meet the members of the Allman Brothers Band. They wanted to see Gregg, Dickey and the rest put their hands and feet in cement, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre-style. That was the show the people at Peaches were counting on. So were they coming or not?
Things were crazy for the Peaches employees. Most of the store’s large staff was on hand to help manage the crowd, and it was an unhappy crowd. Calls were made back and forth. Well, yes, they were coming after all. Then, no, they’re not coming. On and on it went.
One Peaches manager told employees to tell ABB fans calling the store that plans had changed. Irritated employees told callers and customers at the store that the Allman Brothers Band was throwing a party for their fans at Stouffer’s Inn downtown, where the band was staying. That sounded like great fun to many of them and off they went.
Eventually that afternoon, most members of the band made it to Peaches. They signed some autographs, did the prints, but did not appear fan-friendly. One Peaches employee said he wanted “to shove Gregg’s face in the cement” because of his rudeness toward the fans.
That evening, the Allman Brothers Band appeared over their indifference and gave the people of Atlanta a great show. Scott Freeman, author of Midnight Riders, The Story of the Allman Brothers Band, remembers the concert well, saying, “Cher was standing on the stage, just behind Gregg, and that was electrifying. Cher was the biggest television star in the country, a true celebrity in a time when celebrities had to have actually accomplished something in order to be a celebrity….The band was on fire that night. It was a great concert.”
Three years later, The Allman Brothers Band made an appearance at another Peaches in Atlanta. Everything went as planned. The fans were happy. Perhaps Gregg and the others heard of how even Paul McCartney knew to go the extra mile for the fans.
Seven and a half months after the disappointing event with the Allman Brothers Band, Peaches management began plotting ways to add Paul McCartney and the other members of Wings to the Atlanta store’s collection of concrete prints. Besides ABB, Roger Daltrey, Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Billy Preston, The Isley Brothers and others had put their hands, feet and signatures in the Peaches cement. Those were all big names, yet working through the various labels and management groups to arrange the in-store appearances wasn’t that difficult. But Paul McCartney? He used to be a Beatle, after all. The communication process would be more challenging.
Having McCartney in the same town made for a good start. On May 18 & 19, 1976, Wings would be appearing in concert at the Omni. Still, even though Peaches was only 15 minutes north up Peachtree from the hotel (The Peachtree Plaza) where the band was staying, getting McCartney and company to the store would be problematic at best. Gregg Biggs, a buyer for Peaches and the one who handled the physical aspects of the concrete prints, said, “Having McCartney at the store would have shut down Peachtree.” Concerns about crowd control and security made the Peaches people think outside the box. They would have to deliver the cement to McCartney in a private setting for the prints to be made. And of course, they would have to get through to McCartney’s people to see if he and the band would like to do the prints.
Biggs said they “contacted the promoter to see what could be done.” After a few calls back and forth, it was finally declared, “Paul McCartney would not be interested in doing this.” Biggs remembers thinking he would bet his car “that McCartney was never told about the prints and that the decision was made by someone else.”
By chance, on the day of the second concert, a McCartney roadie came by Peaches to buy some blank cassettes. Before the roadie could make his purchase, Biggs and other employees surrounded him. They took the roadie to the back room and showed him the mold they had produced (complete with accurate Wings logo in the center made from dyed concrete by store artist John Campbell).
The roadie was impressed. Biggs gave him a tour of the prints on display outside the store. He was particularly impressed that Peaches had acquired Roger Daltrey’s prints. “We told him,” Biggs recalled, “about being shot down by McCartney’s promoters and he said he’d see what could be done.”
The guy kept his word. It was time to get busy. Fast. “Within the next hour,” Biggs said, “I got a call from Brian Lane, McCartney’s tour manager, and he asked me to state all the details for doing the prints. He was impressed with our concerns about security and that we had planned to bring the prints to McCartney in a large rental truck. He then told me I could bring three others with me and to drive to the back door of the Omni at 10 PM. They would pull us into the building and we would do the prints there. So we got the concrete into the mold, after moving it into the truck, and did our best to keep it moist.” Then it was off to the Omni.
Things went smoothly from there. Wings finished its set, came offstage, walked in front of the truck and then went back for encores. Afterward, the band members rested in their dressing rooms for a few minutes and were then led to the truck. Introductions were made all around. Then Biggs explained how Peaches was creating its own version of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre print collection, but with stars from the world of music. Paul McCartney told them how “honored” he was to do the prints. Then he and the other members of Wings, including his wife, Linda McCartney, put their hands in the concrete.
Paul was impressed with the colored concrete Wings logo and the determination of the Peaches crew. There was spirited conversation with the other members of Wings as well. Biggs remembers a discussion with Wings guitarist Jimmy McCulloch about his former band, Thunderclap Newman. A splendid time was had by all.
There was still much work to be done before the prints could be unveiled to the public. To begin with, according to Biggs, “the prints weighed a ton.” Back at the store, they lifted the prints and prepared them for a big party on Peachtree.
The Atlanta Peaches store went on to add prints by other big acts such as The Beach Boys, James Brown, The Kinks and at least two dozen more, but the McCartney/Wings prints always left the greatest impression. McCartney himself made quite an impression as well.
“Every story I ever heard about Paul being a gentleman to people was more than evident to me that night,” said Biggs, still amazed that McCartney said he was “honored” to do the prints.
33 years later, Gregg Biggs remembers how touching it was “the way McCartney acted toward us that night.” Although he had been a Beatle and was one of the most famous musicians of all time, Biggs says, “he didn’t forget his roots.”
Photos: Top — Paul and Linda McCartney doing the cement prints for Peaches Records and Tapes after the second Wings concert at the Omni. Behind Paul and Linda are Peaches employees Gregg Biggs (on far left), Rex Patton and Ric Burnett (on far right). Bottom: Paul McCartney on stage at the Omni in May ’76. (Photo by Diana Desern.)