Without fanfare the bass player, Bob Keller, stepped to a microphone and introduced the first song.
Here’s something by Bob Dylan.”
The wall of sound unleashed from those speakers was unlike anything we’d ever heard. Maybe like a two by four upside the head. I swear the wind from their opening notes blew my hair.
Keller was the best bass player we’d yet heard live and Bill Connell, a local Tuscaloosa boy, was as good a drummer as anyone around. Neither of these two would last long with the two blonde brothers named Allman.
The guitar player worked effortlessly on an old Telecaster. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and let his fingers work independently of any semblance of process or defined guitar rules. But my attention was on the younger of the two; the singer.
I’d never heard a voice like this before. The sound rose from the source effortlessly with a soulful depth I couldn’t imagine coming from a white throat. The chills rose on my neck and arms and I realized I needed to find another life’s work. If this was what a Rock Star sounded like, I was way over matched. This was like watching Mickey Mantle play baseball; Sophia Loren look beautiful.
For fifty years I’ve been haunted by that voice. As the Allman Joys became Hourglass and finally the Allman Brothers Band and invented Southern Rock, as Duane and Berry died, and others morphed into different versions of the same people, one thing never changed.
That voice remained as stunning as the first time I heard it. The last time I heard him live was in Birmingham at a Five Points Blues venue, at the turn of the century. We were likely the oldest two guys there. The chills rose instantly as always.
On a Saturday morning during Memorial Day Weekend, that voice was silenced forever. Quietly Gregg Allman’s gift to the world slipped away as he slept. I had no warning, no sense of what was coming; just like the first time I heard it.
I mourned quietly but earnestly, deeply affected by his passing. Rock and rollers have been dropping like flies lately and most pass without any emotional reaction from me. A few, David Ruffin, Leon Russell, and Gregg Allman, filled me with deep sadness that lasted all summer.
Then I heard about the record. Southern Blood an album by Allman just released in September. The primary work was likely done with the knowledge he wasn’t long for this world. I loaded it on my phone as soon as it was available.
This collection of songs chosen by Allman for their link to his life isn’t his strongest work. His voice is not the same as it once was. Still, it is obviously Gregg Allman. I thought of the final Warren Zevon album where he spent his last heartbeats crafting a goodbye note.
This was different. The songs are emotional but not sad; moving but not melancholy. A movie from my youth called The Vikings came to mind. Earnest Borgnine as Ragnar, the captured Viking leader. He was doomed to die in a wolf pit but talked the executioner into giving him a sword. He jumped into the pit laughing but destined for Valhalla because of the sword in his hand as he breathed his last.
After hearing Southern Blood a couple of times, this was the way I took the songs enclosed there. Still leaving but going down fighting. A warrior still wielding his sword.
That great white Blues voice heading for Valhalla.