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Gregg Allman

SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN

For a short time Poco rehearsals moved to Jimmy’s place, a sprawling ranch style house he shared with another engineer from Sunset Sound. It had more room than Richie’s cottage and Jimmy’s neighbors hadn’t called the cops… yet.

Rehearsals started at a relaxed time because Jimmy was still working at Sunset Sound and late hours in the studio meant rehearsal couldn’t start before noon.

At first we all bought in to it. But when we saw girls sneaking out the back door every afternoon, there was some speculation about the late hours.

One afternoon I pulled up to Jimmy’s and a shiny Harley Davidson was sitting in the driveway. Jimmy rode motorcycles, so I figured he must have a new bike. I walked around to the back of the house and before I could push the sliding glass door open I could hear a Hammond organ playing.

My first thought was “Oh, no. They’ve replaced me.” One of the things I was doing was running the steel through a Leslie speaker and if I played the right notes it sounded like an organ. It was a unique sound and I thought it was working great, but they must have decided they liked the sound of a real Hammond organ.

I opened the door and stepped into the rehearsal room. Sure enough, there was a guy with a long blonde ponytail and neatly trimmed beard sitting behind a Hammond organ. The top of the organ was scarred with dozens of cigarette burns and a half-smoked Marlboro was dangling from his lips.

Richie introduced us. His name was Gregg Allman. Richie said he thought the combination steel and organ might be really interesting and it was.

I was just happy I wasn’t out of the band and for the next couple of weeks we tested the combination. It had some amazing moments, although it always seemed to break down into more jamming than rehearsing.

We could have been the original jam band!

One afternoon after rehearsal Gregg said,

“Hey there’s a pretty good Southern B-B-Que joint just across the street from my place.”

“Want to grab some dinner?”

“Sounds good,” I told him.

“Just follow me,” he said.

“I need to stop by the apartment on the way,”

I followed Gregg as his red Harley weaved through San Fernando Valley toward his apartment. Even though it was only a few minutes’ drive, there was a stark difference between where Jimmy lived and where Gregg was living. Gregg’s apartment was in a seedy part of the valley mostly inhabited by immigrants and day workers.

We pulled up to a two story building with a balcony stretching across the second story. The building appeared to be an old Holiday Inn that had been converted into apartments. I parked and followed Gregg up the cement and iron stairway to his apartment on the second story. He stopped outside a door halfway down the balcony and pulled out a long silver key chain. He pushed a key in the door lock and the door swung open.

It was late in the afternoon and the light in the apartment was dim. Once my eyes adapted to the light I couldn’t believe it. Just inside the door two massive Harley Davidsons sat leaning on their kick-stands. It didn’t seem possible!

Getting those monsters up the cement stairway to the second floor and then through the door had to be something to see. Getting them back down had to be even more amazing.

They virtually swallowed up the room. I squeezed by them and made my way into the apartment. Music was playing softly from a small stereo in the corner and a couple of disinterested girls lounged on a well-worn sofa against the wall.

Marijuana smoke floated in the air. A guy with long hair and sideburns was sitting at the kitchen table. A joint dangled from his lips. He looked up when we walked in and then went back to cleaning pot between the sleeves of an album jacket.

“That’s my brother Duane over there.”

Duane nodded his head, but didn’t look up. He couldn’t have been happy about the prospect of Gregg playing in our band and I couldn’t blame him.

I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Gregg said he’d be right back and slipped into the back bedroom. The chill in the room was palpable. Duane never looked away from the table and never offered a word. I decided to wait outside. After a few minutes Gregg came out and we ran across to the B-B-Que restaurant.

The next afternoon rehearsal started the same as always, but Gregg had to leave early because he had a gig that night with his brother. They were playing a Hollywood hotspot called The Hullabaloo. Although they sold drinks at The Hullabaloo it was more like a theater than a club. It had a giant stage with a long curtain that closed between acts and the acts that played there were usually well known. Gregg was opening for Arthur Brown, an Englishman with a hit called Fire.

I didn’t tell Gregg I was going to be there. It was a last minute decision. I got there early and wandered through the crowd. The usual pre-show music was blasting and a few people were dancing around when the lights went down and the curtain went up.

“Ladies and gentlemen…let’s hear it for the Hourglass,” boomed from the sound system.

Duane stepped up and began pounding out a classic R&B rhythm pattern punctuated by biting slide guitar riffs. Gregg came in right behind him with the Hammond blasting thick chord pads. The crowd started clapping and stomping along. Then Gregg’s smoky-bluesy voice joined the mix and the joint was rocking to good old Southern-Rock.

I knew at that moment Gregg was doing what he was meant to do. He didn’t fit with us. I didn’t go backstage to let Gregg know how much I enjoyed the set. After the reception I got from Duane earlier that week I knew better. And I wasn’t surprised the next afternoon when I got to rehearsal and there was no Harley in the driveway.

I didn’t see Gregg much after that. There would be times when we

would run into each other backstage at a festival. I remember the last time I saw him. It was quite a few years ago when we were both at the same rehearsal studio in Nashville.

I was rehearsing with my friends Foster and Lloyd for some upcoming concerts, when the door swung open and Gregg walked in. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing. Gregg had such a graceful presence, and through it all, you knew he carried his share of the blues.

We talked for a while about days gone by and laughed about those crazy motorcycles in the apartment. He said he still kept a Harley in his living room.

Gregg had a great smile. He was smiling a lot that afternoon and I could feel he wanted to tell me something.

“You’re not going to believe what my son Elijah just gave me,” he said.

“He gave me a brand new Cadillac!”

“Can you believe that?”

He was so excited he could hardly contain himself. He was so happy it made me happy. It was almost as if Elijah had given me a Cadillac too!

Greg Allman was a real Southern gentleman.

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