Music

IN THE FI­NAL YEAR OF HIS LIFE, THE SOUTH­ERN ROCK LEG­END DID WHAT HE LOVED MOST: HE PLAYED

Newsweek International - - NEWS - BY ZACH SCHONFELD @zzzza­aaac­c­c­chhh

In the nal year of his life, Gregg All­man did what he loved most

IN , Gregg All­man learned that he had a re­cur­rence of liver can­cer. The news was bleak: The dis­ease was ter­mi­nal. He was told he had 12 to 18 months to live. All­man’s best friend of nearly 50 years, Chank Mid­dle­ton, was puz­zled by All­man’s re­ac­tion. “Gregg didn’t com­plain,” he says. “He didn’t worry. If they had told me that, I would’ve gone into straight shock.”

In­stead, All­man, who founded the All­man Broth­ers Band in 1969 with his brother, Duane, reded­i­cated him­self to what he loved most. “Music was his life,” says Mid­dle­ton. “It never was about the money. It was al­ways about the music.” That’s why, when faced with the op­tion of ra­di­a­tion treat­ment, All­man said no. It might have af­fected his vo­cal cords, and there didn’t seem much point in ex­tend­ing his life if he couldn’t sing.

All­man, who died on May 27, out­lived that ini­tial prog­no­sis by ve years, enough time to make a nal al­bum. South­ern Blood, re­leased Septem­ber 8, is spir­ited, of­ten mov­ing and rooted in the South­ern rock—a fusion of rock, blues, jazz and coun­try—that he and Duane helped pi­o­neer, a sound im­mor­tal­ized on their al­bums Eat a Peach and Broth­ers and Sis­ters. The

new al­bum was recorded at FAME Stu­dios, in Mus­cle Shoals, Alabama, a place that re­minded All­man of his older brother. In the late ’60s, Duane was the pri­mary ses­sion gui­tarist there, record­ing with, among oth­ers, Aretha Franklin, King Cur­tis and Wil­son Pick­ett. (Duane taught “Hey Jude” to Pick­ett, and they recorded it to­gether in 1968.)

South­ern Blood is all cov­ers, ex­cept for one orig­i­nal song by All­man, with Don Was, of Was (Not Was) fame, serv­ing as pro­ducer. The ses­sions, which lasted just a lit­tle more than a week, were a joy­ful a air, says Mid­dle­ton, who was con­stantly by All­man’s side. The two be­came close friends in 1969, the year the All­man Broth­ers Band formed. By that time, they had set­tled in Ma­con, Ge­or­gia, to be closer to Capricorn Records, and Mid­dle­ton was work­ing at a bar­ber­shop next door to the studo. Re­call­ing the broth­ers, he says with his deep Ge­or­gian drawl, “When they go into the stu­dio, they were dogs, all them tails would be wag­gin’.” Mid­dle­ton would go on to be­come, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 pro le, an All­man “muse, cri­sis re­spon­der, aide-de-camp, valet, wing­man and con dante.”

Was learned of All­man’s health prob­lems while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a 2014 trib­ute con­cert in the rocker’s honor. After over­hear­ing a con­ver­sa­tion that wasn’t in­tended for him, “I got a sense of how se­ri­ous his ill­ness was,” he says. “When we started the record, I was aware that he prob­a­bly wouldn’t be around to do these kinds of [promotional] in­ter­views.”

Was re­calls the record­ing process. “It’s weird, man. There was a lot of du­al­ity to it. Clearly, we were do­ing some­thing im­por­tant that had over­tones of grav­i­tas—and a kind of somber [mood]. Even if he’d lived an­other 20 years, he was very fo­cused on get­ting that sound, and the group of songs that we’d set­tled on was mak­ing the state­ment that he wanted to make as a farewell. But at the same time,” Was adds, “we had a great time mak­ing the record. He was very up­beat.”

Among the high­lights are a gor­geous cover of Bob Dy­lan’s “Go­ing, Go­ing, Gone” and a cathar­tic “My Only True Friend,” an ode to life on the road, co-writ­ten by All­man and gui­tarist Scott Shar­rard. “You and I both know this river will surely ow to an end/keep me in your heart and keep your soul on the mend,” All­man sings, a line that re­calls War­ren Zevon’s wrench­ing farewell bal­lad “Keep Me in Your Heart.” Then, as the acous­tic chords rise, he sings, “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.”

The song re­minds Mid­dle­ton of Otis Red­ding’s “(Sit­tin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” which was also re­leased posthu­mously. “It’s like Gregg saw some­thing we didn’t see at that point,” says Mid­dle­ton, his voice heavy with emo­tion. He re­mem­bers hear­ing it in the stu­dio and be­ing unim­pressed. “That song didn’t reg­is­ter un­til he had passed.”

The al­bum’s nal track, a vul­ner­a­ble ren­di­tion of “Song for Adam” by Jack­son Browne, made the deep­est im­pact on Was. Browne, who duets with All­man on the record­ing, wrote the song in mem­ory of a friend who had died. But All­man sang it with his brother, Duane, in mind.

Browne and Gregg were quasi-room­mates in the late ’60s, crash­ing on the oor of the same house in Los An­ge­les. “Song for Adam” ap­peared on Browne’s 1971 de­but al­bum, re­leased a few months after Duane’s fa­tal mo­tor­cy­cle crash, when he was just 25. “Gregg al­ways loved that song,” Was says. “Once Duane passed away, I think it re­ally re­minded him of his brother. He’d al­ways wanted to record it.” Dur­ing the South­ern Blood ses­sions, All­man had a hard time singing it through. “When we got to the third verse, it seemed like he stopped singing in the mid­dle of the song. You can hear it on the record. Gregg got choked up. It was pretty heavy.”

That si­lence re­mains on the al­bum: All­man’s voice grows hoarse and abruptly trails o . The pro­ducer gured he would even­tu­ally sing those two miss­ing lines. “But that time never came,” Was says. “His health de­te­ri­o­rated shortly after that. Gregg stopped singing in the mid­dle of the song lit­er­ally and gu­ra­tively. We just left those two lines open.”

It was the last song recorded. All­man’s ill­ness soon pro­gressed, and he never vis­ited the stu­dio again. Coun­try singer and song­writer Buddy Miller, a friend of All­man’s, was even­tu­ally re­cruited to do the har­mony over­dubs that All­man had in­tended to sing.

“All the way up to the very end of his life, Gregg was not afraid of death,” Mid­dle­ton says. “He sat up on the sofa ev­ery day. He never was bedrid­den. He never com­plained. He never did seek any sym­pa­thy from no­body.”

Speak­ing about the record, All­man told Was, “You know what to do. You got it. I trust you to

nish this thing.” He was pleased with the nal mixes he heard, some of them on May 26, the night be­fore he died. “Me, him and [his wife], we sat up un­til 3:30, 4 in the morn­ing lis­ten­ing to some cuts,” says Mid­dle­ton. “We lis­tened to ‘Song for Adam’ about three times. He was so proud of it.” All­man was 69 when he died; he’d out­lived his friend Butch Trucks, the orig­i­nal drum­mer for The All­man Broth­ers, by four months.

Mid­dle­ton misses his friend, and he misses the music. “To me, los­ing Gregg is one thing. Los­ing his music is twice the hit.”

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MID­NIGHT RID­ERS: All­man with pro­ducer Don Was, left, and with his old friend Jack­son Browne, be­low, record­ing “Song for Adam.”

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