Gregg Allman: The Closer

Gregg Allman is heading into the SD County Fair on June 18

Gregg Allman could be one of those infomercial guys.

You know the kind who whisper (read: bark) sweet nothings into your ears during late-night TV binge-watching and somehow convince you to buy newfangled things you’ll never use and that most likely don’t work. He’s that good. Dude sold me on juicing in less than two minutes during a recent morning phone call.

“I eat healthy now,” the legendary singer-songwriter told me in his warm, measured Southern cadence. “I’m gluten free, and I juice every day. Totally organic. It might seem like a fad, but it’s not. If you juice every day for seven days, you’re gonna feel like a new person. In the morning, I use some kale, beets, carrots, celery, parsley -- and don’t forget the Granny Smith apples. Kale juice is not the most tastiest thing in the world. You can’t get it past your throat if you don’t got those two Granny Smith apples [laughs]. I’m not a salesman or a spokesperson or anything, but Breville makes the best juicer around.”

Before I lumbered off to my nearest farmers market, I remembered why I called him in the first place: Gregg Allman -- and his band filled to the brim with all-star musicians -- is scheduled to play the San Diego County Fair on June 18, and I wanted to pick his brain about it. After all, it’s not too often you get to talk one-on-one with one of the original founding members of the Allman Brothers Band -- which he refers to as "the Brothers."

“I don’t think we’ve played San Diego’s fair before,” he said. “The Brothers used to play the Sports Arena when we went out that way. But San Diego? It ranks very good in the list of places I’ve played. It ranks very good. The Brothers didn’t frequent the West Coast as much as I would’ve liked. So I wanna riddle it with shows now. I basically wanna hit the places the Brothers may have slighted. Not by choice, mind you -- we had a booking agent that mainly put us in the NYC area, and the South, of course.”

It was strange talking to one of rock & roll’s iconic voices from one of the world’s most beloved bands; I admit, I was a bit starstruck. What do you ask a guy that’s basically done everything? I mean, “At Fillmore East,” “Eat a Peach” and “Brothers and Sisters” are inarguably three of the greatest rock records to ever get laid to tape. I felt like Chris Farley during his "Saturday Night Live" talk-show host segments, where he’d say to someone like Paul McCartney, “Remember when you played in the Beatles? That was cool.”

So I dove into what I know best: the music. Allman and his band are releasing a new live album, “Back to Macon, GA” on Aug. 7, which captures them onstage ripping out Allman Brothers Band classics like “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post,” Allman’s solo material such as “I’m No Angel” and “Queen of Hearts” and a couple of Ray Charles and Muddy Waters covers. Did he feel any extra pressure onstage that night knowing the band was being recorded?

“For some reason, I didn’t even remember we were recording until the third to the last song [laughs]. But you know, I’ve had some practice too: The Brothers had four nights to cut [“At the Fillmore East”]. And we only had one night to cut this one. It came out just wonderful. After it was over, I thought, ‘Hey, that was a really great set.’ And you know, I OK’d it to be released, so it passed my standards. When I cut something new, I wait about two weeks and then I sit down in the La-Z-Boy and turn on my headphones, sit back and search for mistakes. This one passed.”

We ended up talking about playing fairs (“Outside concerts are just fine -- as long as you don’t have any wind blowing”), enlisting musicians in his band (“I got to try to out-do the Brothers. If I go in with a half-assed show, fans are gonna go, ‘Hey, wait! I thought you were good!”) and sleep, of all things (“If you don’t sleep, you don’t sing. There ain’t no pills, no shots, no gargles, nothing you can do to help your voice but sleep”). When our talk turned to touring, we discussed the differences of playing at home versus abroad.

“It used to be a lot different overseas. Japan especially. You’d listen to a concert over there, and at the end, that’s when they’d applaud. During the third or fourth song, you started to feel like a monkey in a cage. I’d be playing, thinkin’, ‘No applause? Y’all didn’t like that one either, huh?’ Then at the end, they go apes--t [laughs]. It’s different now though.”

At the end of our call, I asked him: After playing music all these years and traveling all over the world, is there anything he’d like to do that he hasn’t done yet? The thought seemed to catch him off guard a bit.

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” he said.

After thinking about it for a while, he told me: “I am totally satisfied doing what I’m doing, and I pray I can do it as long as possible. If I can play and die on the same day, that’d be quite all right with me.”

Gregg Allman headlines the San Diego County Fair on Thursday, June 18. The show is free with fair admission, or tickets range from $25-$45. They are available online here.

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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