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The parted top of Gregg Allman's long, blond hair nearly touched the tour bus ceiling. His damaged but muscular body filled the narrow hallway in which he stood to greet us. Ancient tattoos covered the 58-year-old's long arms. We shook hands, traded salutations, and then — I froze. The music writer from the next town over, my friendly competition, stood next me, equally starstruck.
I figured a compliment wouldn't hurt. After all, Allman had just led his solo band through one of the most satisfying rock 'n' soul performances I had witnessed in recent memory. "That was great seeing you bring your son up there to perform 'Midnight Rider' with you," I mumbled.
"Oh, yeah, that was great, huh?" Allman replied with a smile. And then more silence.
Allman had just delivered a stirring 90-minute set in front of a crowd that included friends and family at the 2006 Sarasota Blues Festival. Gregg's triumphant return to the blues fest capped the daylong event that also featured a crowd-pleasing performance by son Devon Allman and his band, Honeytribe. I had spent the afternoon with Devon eating lunch and then discussing, among other things, what it's like having a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for a father.
"I remember the first time I heard that Dave Brubeck was going on the road and had two of his sons in his band," Gregg had told me by phone during an interview to advance his Sarasota date. "I thought, man, what a great thing, to have your kids play with you."
I have interviewed Gregg Allman twice by phone and met him once. I grew up with the Allman Brothers Band's music. I have vivid memories of Pops returning from a shitty day at his Italian restaurant — or after an argument with Mom — and losing himself in the definitive version of Gregg Allman's epic "Whipping Post" from 1971's At Fillmore East. That slab of vinyl my dad bought as a teenager is now in my possession, along with nearly every other Allman Brothers Band release — plus Gregg's superb 1970s solo albums Laid Back, The Gregg Allman Tour, and Playin' Up a Storm.
In the '90s, none of my high school and college peers cared for the Allman Brothers Band. Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and all the other classic-rock radio favorites were adored, but there wasn't much love or respect for the group that had that simplistic country-sounding hit "Ramblin' Man." Much to my happiness, in the past decade I have seen an increasing number of fresh young faces at ABB shows. The band's stop in Hollywood caps a highly successful 40th-anniversary tour.
"I'm looking down the barrel of 60 years old, I'm 58, people say there's gotta come a day," Allman told me before. "But retire from what? If the tour bus don't kill me, I'll do this as long as I can."