What’s my favorite concert? The Allman Brothers in 1971 at St. Kate’s O’Shaughnessy Auditorium. It featured the same material that’s heard on their landmark “Live at the Fillmore East” – only the performances were better, a lot better.
That was the answer to the favorite concert question for 30-some years. The Allman Brothers were one of my favorite live bands. They were magnificent with Duane Allman, exchanging guitar passages with Dickey Betts. The double, often jazzy drums and Gregg Allman’s swirling organ added to the stew. But as important as Duane’s expressive guitar were the vocals of Gregg, a slurring Southern bluesman with rock instincts and jazz ambitions.
I always thought of Gregg Allman, who died Saturday at age 69, as the best white blues vocalist. He lived the blues – his father was murdered when Gregg was 2, his brother Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash the next year, drummer Butch Trucks committed suicide earlier this year and Gregg lived through drug problems, hepatitis C, a liver transplant, six marriages (including one to Cher) and other misfortunes and misdeeds.
In conversation, Gregg wasn’t the most articulate music star. In interviews, I found him to be laconic and low-key, speaking in a soft monotone. However, his 2012 autobiography, “My Cross To Bear,” found him owning up to all his demons and issues in a remarkably frank and unvarnished way. (Give credit to co-writer Alan Light, the veteran music journalist.)
In 2003, I got to observe Gregg up close in action with the Allman Brothers at the inaugural 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes. Despite various personnel changes over the years, he always managed to find terrific players and create a magical, mystical vibe. In this era, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were the knockout guitar combo.
I had a seat at the side of the stage, perhaps 15 feet from where Gregg was perched at his organ. He seemed so effortless, so unanimated yet so passionate of voice. Hearing “One Way Out” and “Statesboro Blues” up close was a treat that brought me back to my first Allman Brothers concert at St. Kate’s in 1971.
I last saw Allman, with his familiar long blond ponytail, perform on May 21, 2016, at Mystic Lake Casino. Working with his own R&B-inclined band, not the Allmans who disbanded in 2014, he was in good voice, more forceful than he’d been in March 2015 at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis.
“Dreams” was trippy and “Hot Lanta” was smokin.’ But, for some reason, Allman did not perform “Whipping Post” even though it was on his prepared set list as his final song.
That’s like a Stones’ show without “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Aretha’s without “Respect,” Sting’s without “Roxanne.”
Maybe they’ll perform “Whipping Post” at Gregg Allman’s funeral.