Greg Allman Live: Back To Macon, GA on 2LP + Download
Live at The Grand Opera House - January 2014!
It seems that Gregg Allman and the city of Macon, GA, will remain inexorably linked together; it is a history that spans over four decades, and one that Gregg is well aware of. “Macon is a beautiful, enchanting place, and it truly was home for the Allman Brothers Band,” stated Gregg. “We played, lived, laughed and cried there, and I wrote many, many songs in that town. It’s always good to play Macon, man.” On January 14, 2014, Gregg brought his solo band to Macon for a performance at the venerable Grand Opera House, a 1,000 seat jewel of a theatre that was built in 1884. It was in this intimate setting that Live: Back To Macon, GA was recorded.
Gregg took to the Grand Opera House stage with a group that, as he put it, “is a real kick-ass band.” Featuring Scott Sharrard on guitar, bassist Ron Johnson, Ben Stivers on keyboards, drummer Steve Potts, Allman Brothers veteran Marc Quinones on percussion, saxophonists Jay Collins and Art Edmaiston and Dennis Marion on trumpet, these eight players formed one of the best solo units Allman had fronted in years. With Gregg settled in behind his familiar Hammond B-3, Live: Back to Macon, GA kicks off with the familiar strains of “Statesboro Blues,” this time delivered with a horn-influenced sway. “I love having a horn section, man; it adds a real swing to the band,” Gregg noted. The crowd energy amped up another notch when Sharrard picked out the opening licks to “I’m No Angel,” the title track to Gregg’s 1986 comeback album.
The mood then shifted when Gregg led the band into the shimmering and lovely “Queen of Hearts,” off of 1973’s Laid Back, Allman’s first solo release. “That song means so much to me, because I slaved over it, only to have someone tell me it wasn’t good enough to be on an Allman Brothers record,” Gregg recalled. “Boy, that’s all it took; my solo career was born right then and there. That was the best rejection I ever received, thank you very much!”
The tempo picked back up on “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the Muddy Waters composition that Gregg covered on Low Country Blues, his critically-acclaimed 2011 recording. Sharrrard delivered some nasty slide work, backed by some timely timbale fills from Marc Quinones and a rollicking piano solo from Ben Stivers. Gregg again dipped into Laid Back for his touching version of “These Days,” written by his old friend and roommate Jackson Browne. “I watched Jackson just write and write for hours – I learned so much from that man,” Gregg said.
“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” was the first song Gregg wrote after his brother Duane died in a motorcycle crash on October 29, 1971 in Macon, and this powerful arrangement was enhanced by extended solos from Art Edmaiston and Scott Sharrard. The late Ray Charles had a huge impact on Gregg’s singing, and Ray’s “Brightest Smile in Town,” which was included on Allman’s Playin’ Up a Storm album, received a soulful rendering here, with Jay Collins and Ben Stivers adding some nice flavor to Gregg’s dynamic vocals.
Gregg’s quick-fingered run on the B-3 launched the group into “Hot ’lanta,” a fiery instrumental that originally appeared on the ABB’s landmark live release, At Fillmore East. Everyone contributed on this take, especially the jazzy work of the horn trio and the rock-solid rhythm foundation laid down by Steve Potts, Marc Quinones and Ron Johnson. Wilson Pickett was another artist of influence in Gregg’s career, and Live: Back to Macon, GA features a tremendous delivery of Pickett’s “I Found a Love.” Gregg was at his blues-growling best on this one, validating his standing as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock music.
Up next was “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” from the Allman Brothers Idlewild South album, which was named for the rustic lakeside cabin where Allman penned this tune. “I wrote that one with my brother’s slide work in mind,” Gregg noted, and Scott Sharrard certainly did a commendable job channeling Duane Allman on this version. Of special note is the Collins/Edmaiston/Marion horn section, who added a big dose of R&B to the song, making for a very cool change up from the original.
Composed by longtime ABB guitarist Warren Haynes for Gregg’s highly underrated Just Before the Bullets Fly record, the hard-driving “Before the Bullets Fly” flat-out rocks. Sharrard delivers some ripping lines, Stivers glides his way down the keys and the horns provide some funk behind Gregg’s earthy vocals. The gentle strumming of Gregg’s acoustic guitar took the band into a warm and touching “Melissa,” which was, as Gregg stated, “the first song I ever wrote and actually kept, after about 700 tries. ‘Melissa’ was my brother’s favorite song of mine.” Much beloved by fans since being released on Eat a Peach in 1972, this rendition brought the Opera House crowd to its feet.
“Midnight Rider” is the song that Gregg is most proud of in his career, and the arrangement for Live: Back to Macon, GA is an interesting amalgamation of the original from the ABB’s Idlewild South and Gregg’s swampy, haunting interpretation on Laid Back. The result was sparkling perfection, Gregg’s vocal work at its world-weary best. The energy level ratcheted up several levels with the country/rock stomp of “Love Like Kerosene,” a number from Sharrard’s album Scott Sharrard and the Brickyard Band. Steve Potts frenetic drumming and Ron Johnson’s pulsing bass line pushed the band along, and Gregg sang with an unabated fury on this one.
The set closed out with Gregg strapping on a Fender Stratocaster and taking the band into a funky and grooving “Whipping Post,” a version that is in stark contrast to the Allman Brothers driving, guitar monster classic. As Gregg related, “I re-arranged ‘Whipping Post’ some years back, on a bet. An old running partner of mine challenged me to do it, telling me there was no way I penned this tune. I wrote that one with my brother’s slide work in mind,” Gregg noted, and Sharrard certainly did a commendable job channeling Duane Allman on this version. Of special note is the Collins/Edmaiston/Marion horn section, who added a big dose of R&B to the song, making for a very cool change up from the original.
The band returned for encore with a full-speed ahead delivery of “One Way Out,” and this version was close to the Eat a Peach original in tempo, but the staccato horn work of Collins, Edmonson and Marion added a nice twist. The band pulled back to give Steve Potts a turn in the spotlight, and he entertained the audience with an old school crash/bang solo. A flurry of sax notes and slide guitar fills brought the group back in, and Gregg’s muscular vocals drove the song and the 90-minute show to a climbing, drawn-out conclusion.
Gregg summarized the experience of recording Live: Back to Macon, GA thusly: “Macon is a wonderful town with wonderful people, and I still have some dear, dear friends there. Macon holds a special place in my heart; it comes with a lot of different memories, but the good ones are all that matter to me now. I’m so proud of this album; boy, we were smokin’ that night.” So sit back, relax and enjoy the magic that is Gregg Allman!