Remembering Gregg Allman, storyteller

This a guest post from Kevin Rose, owner of Elevated Basement Studio here in Savannah.

When Bill asked me to write about my work relationship with Gregg Allman for hissing lawns, I was honored, but this is probably the 50th draft of this post since Saturday afternoon. What more is there to say? Gregg Allman was an icon, he wrote an autobiography, and myriad famous friends have already flooded the media with tributes and farewells. Gregg was responsible for one of my studio’s Grammy nominations, and his work with Mindi Abair was about as close to a statue as you could get without winning. But after 50 versions the fog cleared, and as much as I’d like to name drop, the bottom line remains that I was blessed to see a side of Gregg that many people didn’t, Gregg the storyteller.

All of the best songwriters are storytellers, but Gregg had a way of speaking that drew you in and lacked pretense and braggadocio — because he was an icon, he was Gregg freaking Allman, the foundation of southern rock.

Before my first session with Gregg, Jason Anderson and I were waiting at a gas station for Gregg and his assistant to follow us to the studio. We were nervous — tales of his reckless years were scary — but from the first moment his laid back and kind smile put us at ease until we turned onto Waters Avenue and “Midnight Rider” came on the radio. I’ve been reading a lot of prescient posts online where people dreamt of his passing, others listening to Eat A Peach this morning before they heard the news, and it’s clear to me that Gregg created a cosmic connection with everyone touched by his soulful music.

Gregg’s storytelling came out of nowhere. In some ways I think reliving past experiences helped calm whatever studio jitters he might have had and helped connect those of us privileged to work with him. The first thing he said as he walked into Elevated Basement Studio with me was: “Man, 20 years ago the band would’ve chewed through the wall to get into that pharmacy next door.” He’d seen it all, lived a life most of us dreamt of, even married my first childhood crush, Cher, although he disliked discussing it. One of the first zingers Gregg orated to us, half to make us comfortable and the other half possibly to calm his nerves, revolved around a trip to Japan where his narcotics addiction couldn’t be quelled except for cough syrup with Codeine in it. After a short tour in the East, he was getting on the plane and the dog gave him a sniff so a search ensued. As they checked his ID, the officer asked if he was the same Gregg that was Cher’s husband. He gleefully denied it. The officer then asked him, “Where’s the shit?” Gregg after much prodding exclaimed: “Let’s crack open your head and see if it’s there.” He pointed out that he had bought the cough syrup there so it had to be legal, but since it wasn’t legal in the U.S., the Japanese officer confiscated it and Gregg flew home.

One of my favorite stories revolved around his attempts at avoiding the draft. He gave his reasons but the methods were pure gold. His first attempt began by checking every condition on the sign up form. When the attendant insisted Gregg could not possibly have all of the conditions on the form, Gregg pushed back. Finally, the attendant agreed to sign off on his ineligibility if he would tell him how many months he was pregnant. Gregg’s second attempt for draft disqualification came in the form of a bullet to his foot, which Gregg explained didn’t appear to be an accident to the doctor who was cutting off his boot, which had a target painted on it.

Gregg was a kind and gentle soul, although the day we met he had just fired Dickey Betts. I learned later on that everyone in the band and crew except for Dickey was happy about the decision. We spent that first day in the studio on lockdown. Gregg insisted it was a last resort and his guys ultra confirmed that.

Gregg was in love with the Savannah area. That love meant that we were able to work with him here because he hated to leave his home to do projects. He brought Muscle Shoals producers to work here so he could record with a green tea in one hand and check playback with his best friend/poodle Jasmine.

After recording his solo album with T Bone Burnett, he hired us to record their rehearsals for their online press kit — his band was amazing but the hang with his crew was even moreso. Gregg’s monitor guy who worked with him for 20+ years was as big as Texas and had a heart that was bigger. I’d read the monitor guy’s book in a heartbeat if he ever wrote one because I know the time spent on lunch breaks was chock full with amazing stories about Gregg and the band. Gregg Allman and Friends was not just a band, they were indeed friends. My favorite quote of the 3 days was when Gregg said: “Damn wish we got that take, it was great, T Bone said in Rolling Stone he got every first take, but he didn’t get one.” When I told Gregg we recorded the take he freaked out, like a songwriter in the studio for the first time. One of the tunes made it the the video.

When you lose a brother, as both Gregg and I did, you become part of a brotherhood. Gregg and I discussed how it changes you — we shared stories about our brothers and that’s when I knew he wasn’t just a client, an icon and a rock star, he was human, as human as any character in one of his songs. That is the Gregg I feel privileged to have met, the one who told stories, was quick to laugh but like any true blues man, could show you his heart without effort or pretense. He was a natural, true talent and his ability to channel the human spirit was super human.

Gregg Allman and band perform “Floating Bridge” at Elevated Basement Studio in 2011: