“Every show I play is pretty much a dedication to Gregg,” says Scott Sharrard about Gregg Allman, who died in May at the age of 69.
For the last nine years, Sharrard — a singer-songwriter-guitarist who has released albums on his own and, before that, as a member of the New York-based group The Chesterfields — served as the guitarist and music director in the Gregg Allman Band. “I’m trying my best, with as much determination and humility as I can, to represent the values that Gregg instilled in me,” he says.
Sharrard and his own Brickyard Band will perform their own music — plus maybe an Allman song or two — at the Black Potatoe Music Festival at the Red Mill Museum in Clinton, July 14 at 9:30 p.m. The festival lasts from July 13 to 16; visit blackpotatoe.com for a complete schedule and more information.
I talked to Sharrard last week about Black Potatoe, Allman, his own recording plans and more.
Q: Let me offer my condolences, first of all. I’m sure it feels like a death in the family.
A: Yeah, it definitely is. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Q: We can talk more about that later but I wanted to ask you first about playing the Black Potatoe festival. I know you have some history with that event, and with (festival founder and organizer) Matt Angus. Can you tell me how you got involved with them and your experiences have been, playing at that festival?
A: My involvement with that festival actually came through a great friend of mine named Randy Ciarlante, who was the drummer in The Band in the ’90s. He’s an incredible cat, man. We had a band with Bruce Katz called the CKS Trio. It was an organ trio. And Randy used to do the Black Potatoe with Levon, way back when the festival started … and with Hubert Sumlin, who was actually a mentor of mine when I was a kid. When Hubert lived in Milwaukee, I was living there.
So I had a couple of connections to Matt through this world of Levon, who I also had the opportunity to work with, some, and Randy, and the CKS band was booked to play the Potatoe. I really loved the setting, and I love Matt’s vibe and his drive to curate and promote this festival in this cool little town that’s pretty close to my home. I live in New York City so it’s not that far a drive.
So anyway, we did it with CKS and then we also did it with my own band. There was one time when I also guested with Matt’s band. We also did a Christmas Black Potatoe party with Joe Louis Walker. So Matt’s given us quite a few gigs, and it’s become kind of a tradition to play there, so we’re happy to be available to come back.
Q: Will you do some kind of Gregg Allman tribute in your set?
A: Well, we’ve been playing one or two songs. We’ve been doing “Win, Lose or Draw,” which is a song from the Allman Brothers record that Gregg wrote, back in the ’70s (Note: It’s from the 1975 ABB album of the same name). The song was very rarely performed. In fact, I can’t even find a live version of it past the late ’70s. So I was actually trying to reintroduce that song into Gregg’s repertoire last year. We never got it to the stage. But it’s very meaningful for us to be playing it, ’cause it’s not a song that you hear anybody else really playing.
So we’ve been doing that as a tribute to Gregg. And occasionally we’ll pull out “Stand Back” or “One Way Out.”
Gregg was a big supporter of my songwriting. In fact, he covered a couple of my songs, and we wrote a couple of songs together over the past few years, and he always encouraged me to continue on my path as a singer and songwriter, because that’s what he considered himself to be most adept at. He felt I have something to say, and he tried to encourage that. I’m trying my best, with as much determination and humility as I can, to represent the values that Gregg instilled in me — from when I was 10, admiring his band, all the way up to my almost decade of work with him, as his guitarist and music director, and as a songwriter. I think every show I play is pretty much a dedication to Gregg, in some kind of deeper respect.
Q: How did you first meet him?
A: (Gregg Allman Band saxophonist-flutist) Jay Collins got me into Gregg’s band. He took me to an Allman Brothers show to sit in, and I met Gregg, and I played a couple of songs, and I got the job. It was pretty much that simple. It was in 2008.
Jay was trying to get me in the band for a couple of years. It was a long process to get me the audition. And the show went great, and Gregg and I really hit it off, on a personal level, right away. We definitely had the same values, when we met, of playing real rock ‘n’ roll with blues at the core, but also knowing how to stretch in different directions, and using the song as the vehicle, and making sure the song and the melody and the groove are important, and well-represented. More so than what you find in your typical … the Allman Brothers always get lumped in with “Southern-rock” or “jam,” and the reality is that they were neither of those things.
First of all, all rock is Southern-rock, because all music comes from the South. So that’s a bullshit tag, as it is. And as far as “jam” goes … the Allman Brothers Band, when they were “jamming,” they were coming out of listening to Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane and Miles Davis. They were chasing some real stuff down. But at the same time, if you listen to any of the classic Allman Brothers records, which represent the earliest part of Gregg’s career, the songs are what anchor every album and every show. “Midnight Rider,” “Whipping Post,” “Melissa” … eventually with Dickey’s contribution, “Blue Sky,” “Jessica,” as the band carried on past Duane’s influence … the songs are what defines the band, and I think that’s a distinct difference between what goes on now, in our musical genres: It seems like people lead with the style, and then they follow up with the song. And it was the opposite in the Allman Brothers
So, I think Gregg was very cognizant of that, and he saw it as a discord in music, and it was something that I was taking very special note of, and paying very special attention to, over the last decade, with my own band, as well — being very meticulous about the songcraft and the groove and the setting, and then knowing how to veer off and improvise as a band live, on top of it. It’s a very tricky, extremely difficult fusion of skills. But that’s what the Allman Brothers embodied, as a band.
Q: Is there unreleased Gregg Allman Band stuff that might come out at some point?
A: We have one last album coming out. It was recorded with Gregg’s touring band. I’m playing guitar on it. Gregg and I put most of the record together with Don Was, who produced it, and we had some input from Gregg’s band as well. It was a very special and collaborative process. All the vocals were cut live on the floor, and I think Gregg wanted to redo them, but we didn’t get that chance, because of his illness. But I can tell you that the stuff that I have — the roughs and a couple of the final mixes — sounds just spectacular.
There’s a song that Gregg and I wrote together, on the record, that I think is going to be really special for his fans. The song is a very deep piece of work, lyrically. It definitely reads and listens as a sort of farewell.
I think it’s going to be a very poignant record. It’s a very deep record. It’s very heavy. It’s called Southern Blood, and it’s going to come out in the fall on Rounder. So you’ll see me around as well, helping out here and there with promotion of the record.
Gregg actually recorded one of my songs, “Love Like Kerosene,” on the record, along with the song that he wrote together, which, as it turns out, is his last original composition. Gregg and I did write two songs together, though, that got finished. I actually have another one that Gregg and I finished that I’m trying to find a home for.
Q: The song you wrote together that’s on the album … what’s its title?
A: The title is “My Only True Friend.” We performed it live one time, but I honestly think … I didn’t press Gregg too hard on it, but I think the song was very personal for him, and I think he had a hard time performing it live, because of the nature of that. But I know that he really loved the song, and he was proud of the work we did together on it. So I think it will be a centerpiece of the record.
There’s a lot of other really special stuff on the record. It’s all cover material, but it’s all very Gregg: very individual interpretations of music, and I think people are going to really love it. I hope his fans — and, shit, his friend, his family — I hope they find it to be a kind of catharsis, listening to the record. I really do believe that the story of his life is in all these songs. I think he knew — I know he knew — his time was running out, when we were making the record. That’s a very special dynamic. Warren Zevon had that with his last record; there was a documentary about that. I’m a big fan of Warren Zevon’s songwriting, and I think that documentary I saw about his last record, and him knowing about his imminent death, and the recording of it … there were aspects of that that reminded me of the vibe to this whole process.
Q: Do you have an album of your own that you’re working on, too?
A: I have four or five records that I’ve released over the last 15 years, and I’ve got one in the pipeline called Saving Grace that we recorded in Fame Studios (in Muscle Shoals, Ala.) with some of the original Swampers, the rhythm section: David Hood, Spooner Oldham, the guys who played on all the Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers … all that stuff. And then the other half of the record we recorded in Memphis with the Hi rhythm section. Those are the guys who played on all the Al Green, O.V. Wright, Ann Peebles … all that Hi Records stuff. So Howard Grimes, Charles Hodges, Leroy Hodges. It’s 10 original songs of mine, and a couple of covers thrown in for good measure.
It’s a really special record for me, and I’m going to share it with the world, but at the right time. Gregg passing away has derailed our Plan A for that record. Without Gregg here, and with the fact that his label and management are proceeding with the release of his final album, I feel an obligation to put my weight behind his final work. To be honest with you, as music director and collaborator, I was constantly shepherding Gregg through processes, and it’s been very emotional to know that he’s no longer with us, and I’m still shepherding him (laughs). That’s kind of where we’re at now. I’ve been kind of left as one of the people, along with Don Was, and (Allman’s close friend) Chank Middleton and (manager) Michael Lehman … we’re the people who are left to ferry this man’s legacy across, with this final album. So I’m putting my energy there and I’m going to hold my record for a little while.
There’s also a lot of other things going on with remembering Gregg this year. I did a benefit for the Big House Museum (in Macon, Ga.) at Rockwood Music Hall (in New York) shortly after Gregg’s funeral, and it was a very emotional concert. It was just me, solo acoustic. We raised a few thousand dollars for the Big House Museum but we filmed it. We had our friend Scott Rosenbaum, who’s a wonderful filmmaker here from New York … he did a multi-camera, HD shoot of that performance. So now we found out that Scott wants to make it into a concert film, because I did a lot of storytelling, where I’m telling stories about my time with Gregg. Gregg and I did a lot of duo acoustic shows over the years, and I play songs and tell stories about my time with Gregg, and talk about the songs, and just try to really let the fans in.
Being so close to his funeral … there were 60 people packed into this little room, and everyone was just crying the whole time. It was like being at the service, all over again.
I just heard the audio from it the other day, and I’m extremely proud of the whole concert and how it came off. I was very nervous about doing it. So that’s something else that we’re going to be doing: film screenings of that that may also coincide with performances from my band.
I’ve been offered a ton of Gregg Allman tribute shows, as you can imagine, and I’m keeping it very low-key. So far, the only official tribute I’ve done is that solo acoustic performance. Moving forward, there’s going to be definitely one, maybe two more big tribute shows where I’m going to bring in the whole Gregg Allman Band, and we’re going to back a variety of artists, who are gonna play and sing his material. So keep your eyes peeled for that.
I can’t reveal much more than that at this point, but trust that that will be a reality this year. Our hope is to do maybe something in New York and something in Atlanta. We’ll see how everything plays out. But Live Nation is involved, and we’re pursuing a very meaningful and well thought out tribute to Gregg, before the year is out.