I suppose I ought to write about Gregg today. Saddened to see that Gregg Allman had passed away this morning. I thought about it and then returned to it as one thing and then another happened during my Sunday. You can point to a few but certainly not many white men who could channel the blues the way Gregg Allman could. I think of the many, many times I empathized “pools of sorrow and waves of joy” with that man, when I was down. Mostly when I was I was twenty or so and had the blues bad and didn’t know what the hell to do about it. I played those first two albums so many times my final year of college I’m afraid I ruined them for most of my housemates.
I had no time for the Allmans in high school. I think I swiped a copy of “Beginnings” from my mom and played it a bit when I was thirteen or so. But once the Clash and the Sex Pistols commanded my consciousness everything that proceeded such immediacy was the enemy. Later though, somewhere around eighteen, when tastes broadened and mastering blues licks became one of the most important things there was to do, Duane and Dickey trading runs suddenly seemed vital.
It was Gregg though, who most often told the stories. And of course, it wasn’t so much what he said, but the growling, defeated way he called out. When he was down, which was most of the time, you had to believe the man. When he said he was going up on the mountain, you knew you had to head up there with him.
Duane died at the tender age of twenty-four and like Jimi he was never tarnished with the indignity of ageing. I wasn’t one of those who followed Gregg and the rest of the surviving members progression, through addiction, glitz, anonymity, resurrection, though I can respect those that did. I was fan of the first half a dozen albums or so but after “Win Loose or Draw” I suppose I couldn’t be bothered, though I’m sure there were no shortage of pieces worth contending with.
I had the first album on at the gym today and it sounded fresh as ever. “Every Hungry Woman” straight into “Dreams.” Damn. And I must thank Gregg now for introducing me to Little Milton as well. Reading the New York Times obit this morning I took note of the bluesman to whom Gregg said he most achingly aspired.
“ ‘Little Milton’ Campbell had the strongest set of pipes I ever heard on a human being,” Mr. Allman wrote in his autobiography, “My Cross to Bear,” written with Alan Light (2012). “That man inspired me all my life to get my voice crisper, get my diaphragm harder, use less air and just spit it out. He taught me to be absolutely sure of every note you hit, and to hit it solid.”
I’ve been listening to Little Milton Campbell all day, on a Youtube list of some 300 songs, sampling an oeuvre that spans many decades imagining what it would be like to get a diaphragm tough enough to sound like either one of those gentlemen.
Thoughts idly drifting south, by southeast this afternoon. Rest in peace, Gregg Allman.