Photo & Story by Scott A. Smith
With the recent, still-painful loss of music legends like David Bowie, Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey and multi-instrumentalist/producer Prince lingering in the mind and soul, the urge felt inside many of us to go see our other song-creating heroes while we still can continues to intensify.
When the news broke that Allman Brothers Band singer/keyboardist/songwriter Gregg Allman was set to bring his 9-piece solo band to the Joint inside Tulsa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on May 12, it was a no-brainer for this music fan and more than 2,500 others to catch the 68-year-old rock/blues/jam-band icon in person. We’ve all heard that Allman packs quite a delivery underneath a stage’s spotlights, and that’s exactly what the bearded, ponytail-wearing Allman did for the Tulsa audience.
“Statesboro Blues,” the Blind Willie McTell cover Allman Brothers almost made their own on their legendary “Live at the Fillmore” double LP back in the summer of 1971, came early in the set and was greeted by loud cheers and almost-piercing whistles from the near-capacity, 21-and-older spectators. The audience was a bit rowdier than many of the crowds who usually huddle inside the theater-esque Joint, but that rowdiness was in good, clean fun via loud clapping and random shouts of “We love you, Gregg!” from both female and male die-hards.
Stationed at stage right, Allman’s Hammond B-3 organ came to bluesy, gospel-like life courtesy of Allman’s still nimble fingers. And his voice – that voice, that haunting, wonderfully gruff, no-stranger-to-a-shot-of-whiskey voice – bore a strong resemblance to those terrific, prime-era Allman Brothers studio recordings.
Allman’s voice was effective and moving, both when it sang as the only voice from the stage and when Allman harmonized with guitarist/music director Scott Sharrard. An artist who could pass for former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick’s brother, Sharrard executed some outstanding, swampy guitar solos and textured patterns on a variety of guitars. His slide work proved brilliant without ever carbon-copying the late Duane Allman, Gregg’s brother and Allman Brothers co-founder.
Drummer Steve Potts, percussionist Marc Quinones and bassist Ron Johnson seized one of numerous moments when they locked into perfect formation for the Santana-esque, instrumental coda of “Black Hearted Woman.” All of Gregg’s solo band, which included keyboardist Peter Levin and horn players Marc Franklin, Art Edmaiston and Jay Collins, cooked great sounds for the perpetually appreciative on-lookers. Their solos spots were perfect without becoming too glossy, and they never committed the No. 1 sin in making music of playing over each other.
As great as “Statesboro” was in that Tulsa venue, “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider” brought even more favorable responses from the audience. At first, “Melissa” seemingly started at a lagging tempo, the pace quite a bit slower than the original version from Allman Brothers’ “Eat a Peach” long-player from early ’72. But Gregg’s live take in Tulsa concentrated on the song’s relaxed nature, and the slower beat retained in-the-pocket playing and enhanced the immortal beauty of the composition.
“Midnight Rider” showed up in a more up-tempo form, with Gregg’s acoustic guitar work shining alongside his strong vocals, while “I’m No Angel,” Gregg’s solo cut and MTV music-video hit from 1987, took on a little bit of a darker, edgier tone without losing the pop-oriented flavor of the original version.
Taking some patrons by surprise was Allman’s reading of perpetual crowd-pleaser “Whipping Post,” which breathed in a funkier, jazzier manner than its well-cherished “Live at the Fillmore” version. The night’s version, which toyed with the original’s arrangement, produced a winning interpretation, with Johnson’s bouncy bass and the two drummers’ driving beats and assertive cymbal work beautifully reinforcing Gregg as he let his wounded-but-not-completely-down narrator voice fly. “Whipping Post” capped off what basically was a 120-minute session of aural magic. It. Was. So. Good.