By: Sean McCarthy
For South Coast Today
After more than 40 years of rigorous touring and performing, Gregg Allman has found a secret to staying fresh and inspired, still vital at 62.
Surround yourself with talented players.
"My band kicks my butt every night," the blues-rock legend says. "These guys knock me out. They're so much better than me that I'm always working to catch up with them."
And Allman will try to keep up once more when he brings his six-piece band to New Bedford's Zeiterion Performing Arts Center Saturday night. The show is the final date on a 16-stop tour that began in November. Saturday's show will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $48, $58, and $68.
"Gregg Allman is the ultimate road warrior," says Greg Morton of the Zeiterion. "After he returns from doing a zillion shows with the Allman Brothers he goes right back on the road with his solo shows."
"Since this is the last date of the tour, they'll be sure to put on a fantastic and memorable show."
Allman says that it's important to have a skilled band whose members can hold their own when it comes to improvisation and reinterpretations of songs. Allman is known for reworking songs in a live setting and giving his band a chance to cut loose, providing audiences with special spur-of-the-moment experiences.
"Some people see us as a blues band and a rock band but not everyone sees that there's a lot of jazz influence in what we do," Allman says. "That's what holds the blues and rock together."
Allman says that there is one quality shared by all of his fellow performers — having an "open mind."
"I don't tell the people in my band to play this or that," he says. "I have suggestions, of course, but we'll keep trying for as long as it takes to get something that we agree on."
Allman looks for an additional quality in choosing his bandmates — touring experience, the ability to deal with life on the road as well as the time between performances.
"The guys in my band have proven themselves on the road," Allman states. "It's very important to have people with you who aren't whiners, complaining if their bed's too soft or too hard, or if the food wasn't any good. I don't want people in my band who complain all of the time.
"One of the most important guys on any tour is the road manager. He knows what touring is like and he makes sure that everybody's comfortable. Touring is a lot easier than it was 30 years ago. I don't have to go downstairs to get my breakfast any more."
Allman claims that he puts his bands together through musician referrals. His current lineup includes keyboardist Bruce Katz, bassist Jerry Jemmott, drummer Steve Potts, guitarist Scott Sharrard, horn player Jay Collins and percussionist Floyd Miles.
Jemmott has played with Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Herbie Hancock, and George Benson, among many others. Famous jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius named Jemmott an important inspiration.
Katz played piano with the Allman Brothers Band on their 2009 tour and was a 2009 Blues Music Awards nominee for piano player of the year. Staying fresh is truly Allman's theme these days. After a battle with hepatitis C, he has taken on a new, cleaner approach to life, something in great contrast to the image of the hard-living bluesman that has been with him through much of his career. These days, Allman says, his daily regimen includes staying diet-conscious, taking vitamins and maintaining healthy sleeping patterns.
Allman's recent interest in staying on top of his game applies to the studio as well as the stage. He is preparing to release a new record, as yet untitled, in early April. It will be his first studio record since 1997's "Searching for Simplicity." The recording of the new album was a departure from the common modern approach of piling on layers of instrumentation, and being overly demanding on the details. Allman refers to the new record as being done by the "Sun Records approach."
Allman and his band recorded 14 songs in 11 days.
"This is the most different thing I've ever done in the studio," he says. "We rehearsed a lot of old blues songs and gave them a 21st-century feel. We didn't use any electric bass, all upright bass. We just put some microphones in the room and played. A lot of times staying fresh means keeping the same musicians, just giving them new material to play in a new way."