It was a scene played out many times in New Jersey: After Dickey Betts squeezed off stinging guitar notes as the Allman Brothers Band segued from its standard blues-jam opener “Don’t Want You No More” into “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” Gregg Allman reached into his deep vocal well to begin his confessional singing of the lyrics he wrote.
“I … have not come
About our bad misfortune
And I ain’t here wondering why …”
And so — whether in Jersey or elsewhere in the United States, or Europe, or Japan — the musical and tribal gathering was called to order yet again as a wave of applause and murmurs of approval began to rise from the locked-in audience of music lovers and devoted fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. The bond between the groundbreaking ensemble and its loyal following was established once more, as the blond-haired Allman delivered the vocals that made him famous and the band played the kind of music that established Southern Rock as an enduring genre and inspired numerous jam bands that followed.
Now, finally, the Allman Brothers Band story has come to a definitive end. Allman died on May 27 at home in Savannah, Ga. The Tennessee native, who was 69, had been battling health issues for several years; his manager said in news reports that he died of complications from liver cancer.
(See video below for a stellar version of “Don’t Want You No More” into “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” from Germany in 1991.)
Gregory LeNoir Allman — when in good voice — showed himself to be the rightful heir of the American blues tradition established by such luminaries as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, “Little Milton” Campbell and others. He growled, groaned, moaned and wailed — and when needed, sang ballads such as “Melissa” with the best of them.
He thus earned the frequently bestowed title of the “greatest white blues singer” of the last 50 years.
And Allman also enjoyed something not heard of frequently in the music business: a 50-year career that spanned from his earliest known recordings in 1966 to his touring and working on the to-be-released Southern Blood album with his solo band in the last year or two.
In addition to his vocal prowess, Allman provided keyboard solos that served as tasteful interludes between searing guitar solos by Betts, older brother Duane Allman, Warren Haynes and others during the band’s lengthy tenure.
Betts — whom Allman referred to as his “partner in crime” during a 1990s show at the Waterloo Village Concert Field in Allamuchy — was the one who most often embellished Gregg’s singing during the vocal build-ups that came at the end of ABB classics such as the blues standard “One Way Out” and the epic “Whipping Post.”
In 2000, Betts and Allman had a falling out and did not perform again together onstage. A recent reconciliation warmed the hearts of the band’s many fans.
“It’s too soon to properly process this,” Betts said in a statement after Allman’s passing. “I’m so glad I was able to have a couple good talks with him before he passed. In fact I was about to call him to check and see how he was when I got the call.”
With Betts often leading the way on stage, the ABB enjoyed a lengthy run in New Jersey and a deep bond with their fans in the Garden State. They played from one end of the state to the other, from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City to the Waterloo Village field. Other notable venues included the Capitol Theatre in Passaic; the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel; Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City; Convention Hall in Asbury Park; the Rutgers University gym in New Brunswick; the Camden amphitheater that has changed names many times; and the short-lived Meadowlands Amphitheater in East Rutherford.
In a nod to Betts, Allman in 2015 began playing the former’s “Southbound” as an encore with his solo band. It was the last song Allman played in his final New Jersey appearance on Aug. 28, 2015. (See video below).
After his band and three of the Doobie Brothers finished the song and walked off, Allman ambled slowly from left to right as he basked in the cheers and gave a few modest waves. As he strode off, I thought: Take a good look — you may not see him again.
The news of Allman’s death reminded me of another New Jersey gig. I had a chance encounter with him years ago in Asbury Park, where he and Betts appeared at the Stone Pony as part of a joint tour with their solo bands.
I was leaving the nightclub after three blistering sets, with the first by Betts, the second by Allman and the third by the by both bands on a crowded stage in a sweltering Pony. Allman was coming off a tour bus and heading back into the club with three burly guys surrounding him. They sized me up as I met eyes with Gregg — whom I came to learn was the least accessible of the Allman Brothers Band members. I casually put forth my left hand for a low-five, and he reciprocated.
I cannot say I haven’t washed my hand since. What I can say is that time never will wash away Gregg Allman’s one-of-a-kind voice and his pioneering music. For the Midnight Rider will ride on and his musical road will go on forever.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
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