It is as obvious as anything could possibly be. It is engraved in the minds of anybody who’s ever given it any thought. Gregg Allman will go down as one of the undisputed great vocalists in Rock history. It can even be made into a legitimate argument that Gregg Allman may have been the greatest of all of them all. I honestly think nobody would ridicule you if you proposed it.
Gregg was one of the exceptional rare ones. One didn’t think of his form. The overwhelming thing about Gregg Allman was that when he sang, you could feel emotional pain coming from him unlike any other singer. It was the angle he or God chose that set him apart from others. His was from a combination of Blues and Soul which blended into his own unique vocal signature. What came out of him came from deep down within himself. He never had to contrive a feeling. His was the real deal.
The incredibly beautiful thing about Allman’s vocals was that he could take a basic theme within a song and make it come alive as his his own. By simply using that God-gifted voice of his to create an illustration of the depths of pain and sorrow that only the rare ones can pull off, he created a vocal take on the human condition that nobody else did. He could also do a take on somebody else’s song and make it as authentic in feeling as the original. The version of “Stormy Monday” (originally done by T-Bone Walker and then Bobby “Blue” Bland) from At Fillmore East jumps out at me.
Two more which spring to my mind immediately are “Dreams” from 1969 and his solo version of “Midnight Rider” from 1973. My God! He covered some tortured ground. In “Dreams”, he brought it home to everybody who has ever woken up knowing that the things they wanted to see at the end of the day were just going to be a repeat of what you saw the day before and the realization that the chase was futile. The merging of his voice (and his great organ work which should never be overlooked) with his late brother’s guitar (Duane) ended up creating one of the greatest expressions of disillusion I’ve ever heard in my life. Future generations of kids should be made to listen to this song and learn what it’s like to merge emotion with musical brilliance in order to create a timeless work. Rock, Soul, Blues and Jazz all merge into one during “Dreams”. Is it any wonder that Gregg managed to pull it off? Duane expected only the best from his brother and he got it.
Even after Gregg lost his brother, he managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and shake everybody to their core. Case in point. I was walking past the bedroom of my oldest brother in the house I lived in back in Santa Clara during the ’70s. He was playing the Laid Back album and I just happened to walk by just as “Midnight Rider” was on. I walked just a slight tad past his door and stopped dead in my tracks. I can still see it perfectly in my mind. It is often said that there’s the myth of being caught by a spirit or the devil at the crossroads. Well, something caught me. It was Gregg’s singing. It changed my outlook on vocalists. His voice helped me to come to the conclusion that I needed to never expect anything less than authenticity from a vocalist. It is on this particular version of the song that Gregg manages to convey the perfect encapsulation of what it is to want to escape from the trap of being the lonely outsider.
It goes way beyond just the three songs I have mentioned here. Just listen to all of the great Duane Allman Era Allman Brothers albums. Even on some of the post-Duane material over the years where I felt like the music wasn’t serving him as well as it could have, one could still find the gold in his voice. It is so easy to write about Gregg Allman tonight. It’s just too obvious. Really! It’s that simple.
It must be mentioned here as it is being mentioned in so many other music columns and music forums as this news has started sinking in. If there is one thing which we can all take away from the news of his passing is that we should all be happy that Gregg has now been reunited with his brother Duane and that they can now catch up on each other. Tonight, I feel especially sorrowful for Gregg’s niece, Galadrielle Allman. She was especially close to her Uncle Greggory (he preferred to be called Greggory in private). He was one of the people with whom she was able to learn more about her late father and develop an even deeper spiritual bond with him. She was still a baby when Duane passed away. Staying close to her Uncle made her become an even better Allman. For that, we should all be grateful. We can never forget that musicians are people too. If they are survivors and they have even half of a head left to use after all of the crazy years behind them, to help along someone who is close family is an accomplishment as great as their art.
It really hurts that we have lost someone as monumentally huge as Gregg Allman. However, I am so grateful tonight that I lived in a world that had a musically alive Gregg Allman in it.
Man! I am so damned lucky.