Ain't Wastin' Time No More

The legendary Gregg Allman and Friends head to the Rialto

Gregg Allman was on the horn, calling from a hotel gym in Oregon. Yep, it was Gregg Allman, of the legendary Allman Brothers Band, jam-band godfather and easily one of the finest white blues and soul singers ever.

He was calling me on my home phone, polite as a refined Southern gentleman, asking after someone named Mr. Armstrong. Took me a second before I realized that was me.

Granted, he was calling at the behest of his publicist, mustering up some press for his concert with Gregg Allman and Friends on Monday night, June 4, at the Rialto Theatre.

Allman and his band are going to be running around the western United States for the next month or so. Then it's off to Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom in July, after which he'll hook up again with the Allman Brothers Band for a tour of outdoor festivals in August.

"I guess you could say the Allman Brothers have slowed it down a little this year," he said. "We did our regular annual series of shows in March at the Beacon (Theatre, in New York City), and we'll be apart until August. Until then, pretty much everybody else has got their own band on the side."

Allman, though, doesn't want anybody thinking the Allman Brothers are going anywhere. "Don't get me wrong; the Brothers will keep going out year after year until we drop dead, I'm telling you that now. But it's always best to strike a good balance."

That balance means Allman usually plays less than half as many concerts with each of his bands than he used to do in the old days.

"This year, between my band and the Brothers, I'd say I'll do about 100 dates. That's enough for me. I'll be 60 in December, and I've gotta watch out for my health. I mean, I've been sober since 1996, and I'm back down to a good weight, about 170 pounds. I've been working out and eating healthy.

"I think the first muscle you have to get in shape is your ass. You gotta get your ass down there. In fact, I am calling you from the gym during a workout today."

At the Tucson show, Gregg Allman and Friends will perform a variety of his material, he said.

"We do stuff off my six solo records. We do some good old ethnic blues tunes; we do a Dylan song. I'm not telling you which one; you'll have to wait and see. We'll do some of my songs that were recorded by the Allman Brothers--it's kind of funny to be talking like they're another entity. Anyway, the songs that people will recognize from the Brothers will have totally different arrangements."

Anybody familiar with classic rock 'n' roll is familiar with at least part of the Allman Brothers legend.

Allman and his older brother Duane--an amazing session guitarist who played with such artists as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, John Hammond and King Curtis, as well as on Derek and the Dominos' "Layla"--formed the Allman Brothers Band in 1969 and immediately became one of the most popular North American roots-rock bands. Rivaled only by The Band and the Grateful Dead, the Allmans drew from folk, soul, R&B, blues, jazz, rockabilly and old-time country.

Then, the band lost Duane Allman to a motorcycle accident only two weeks after the release of its third album, At Fillmore East. A year later, bassist Berry Oakley died, also as a result of injuries from a motorcycle accident.

The band soldiered on, playing in Duane's memory and changing the musical landscape in the 1970s. Drugs, legal troubles and internal tensions caused the Allman Brothers Band to disband several times in the late '70s and '80s. Since 1989, though, they've been going strong with an amazing lineup that currently includes the dual-guitar attack of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.

I wondered when Allman first became enamored of music and wanted to play it for a living. He remembered exactly when.

"It was in Nashville, Tenn., where I was born. To let you know how long ago it was, my mama dropped my brother and me off and picked us up in her '55 Oldsmobile. It was one of those (concerts) in the Nashville Memorial Auditorium. First up was this fellow named Jackie Wilson, then came Otis Redding and B.B. King. My brother just loved him, and that was when I saw my first Hammond organs. And there was Patti LaBelle, and her group--the Bluebelles, I think she called them. Our lives were totally changed when we came out of that building.

"This was about 1959. That was about the same time me and my brother started getting into music. I was playing the guitar first, and he started, too. But he just passed me up, so I figured the organ was the instrument for me. And singing, of course. That boy could play the guitar, so I had to sing or hit the bricks."

When Allman appears in Tucson this week, he'll spend about half of the time behind either the organ or the piano, and the other half on acoustic or electric guitar. His band will include keyboardist Bruce Katz, bassist Jerry Jemmott, drummer Steve Potts, guitarist Mark McGee, saxophonist Jay Collins and percussionist Floyd Miles.

He said that fans shouldn't expect a brief show.

"Well, we're contracted for an hour and a half. But we usually try to put in a good two hours. If the audience is raising Cain, you gotta keep on going. You can't just walk off.

"You can try, but you may have to do it a couple of times. It could take two or three times to walk off before it'll take and everybody is ready to go home."