The project involved dropping a few yards of crush and run into the holes in our driveway and using rakes, shovels and old peoples’ sweat to spread it smooth. The final step was cranking my ancient Highlander and slowly packing the gravel.
I rolled the windows down and energized the newly installed Alpine replacement radio. I am now using advanced technology and had filled a thumb drive with stuff from my youth. Up and down the driveway I slowly drove, trying to hit each spot of spread gravel. By random serendipity, the first tune was by an old group called the Hour Glass formed long ago by two brothers.
A song called Down in Texas began playing and the neck hairs below my collar straightened quickly. Weeks before the Hour Glass became an actual band, the group played at Fort Brandon; the National Guard Armory building in Tuscaloosa. My friends and I, struggling to create our own memorable musical performances, came to listen.
Their drummer was Bill Connell, a guy who went to high school with us. He had the reputation as the best drummer and coolest guy in Tuscaloosa County. His father worked with my dad but that never got an acknowledgement from him during class or at some Friday night dance while he was playing. He was now the drummer for the Allman Joys, who would ditch him in a couple of weeks for Johnny Sandlin and become the Hour Glass.
As I listened last week, primarily covers of hits from that time period, two things jumped out, much as it did all those decades ago: The singer’s voice and his brother’s guitar playing. As I finished my roadwork, the last cut began, something called B. B. King Medley.
The two brothers, Duane and Gregg Allman, gave a tiny glimpse of what they would become in that song. The guitar licks that would revolutionize rock and roll and disappear way too soon, and the soulful voice that would become so recognizable as the front man for the group that invented Southern Rock.
I have written about these guys before, and probably will again at some point. The music of The Allman Brothers’ Band was the most influential part of my life’s soundtrack. Every southern boy near my age will admit the same thing, or he isn’t a true southern boy.
And now the band is retiring, which means that voice, the greatest white blues voice, maybe ever, will soon be silenced. Maybe that’s better than hearing him trying to recapture his glory when it becomes obvious he can’t. That day isn’t here but it has to be close. If you remember Willie Mays trying to catch a fly ball for the Mets you know what I’m talking about.
The twin guitar sound perfected by Duane Allman and Dickie Betts has endured. Currently Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks handle the chore quite well. Finding someone who can sing like Gregg Allman is another matter entirely.
I heard him sing Love Makes the World Go Round and Keep on Trying, the great Impressions song, with Duane singing harmony. I heard them do Dionne Warwick’s Anyone Who Had a Heart. All live.
I’ve listened to the Allman Brothers Band more than anyone else and would love to hear them in their prime one more time. But as Bear Bryant said when he retired, “There comes a time when everyone has to hang it up.”
At least I can still crank up a recording and my memory. In my mind I’m still young and strong with my own rock and roll dream, and the Allman Brothers sound as sweet as candy.