By: Jenny Byrd
For South Magazine
Gregg Allman trades his outlaw past for the quiet life—and discovers harmony along the way.
“Hang on to your ears,” he mumbles. The engine of the custom Arlen Ness motorcycle roars to life, rumbling and revving to fill the cavernous garage like a mechanized crescendo. From the seat of the bike, Gregg Allman looks up and grins.
Allman bought his first motorcycle in 1965, at the age of 17. “It just fulfilled something inside of me that was not there,” Allman says softly. “It’s almost medicinal.” With a little chuckle, he describes the feeling: “You got this huge engine between your legs—it all starts [laughs] between your legs. I’m really not trying to be cute here!” he exclaims apologetically. “But you got all this power down there, and it’s surging and you’re moving along, ’bout 55, watching God’s green earth go by; it just blows all your cares away.”
His eyes drift up and his voice gets quieter. “It’s an excellent cure for loneliness, heartbreak, boredom, sadness, lethargy,” he says. “You get on a motorcycle, and it’ll take all that away.
The living room of his Richmond Hill waterfront home is filled with books and art about bikes, mostly Harley Davidsons. A framed photograph of Allman’s mother, circa 1945, shows her proudly sitting atop her first motorcycle, which she bought when Allman’s father went off to war. His Grammy, won by the Allman Brothers Band in 1995 for its instrumental hit “Jessica,” rests on the mantle next to his awards for inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Mushroom statuettes—long the symbol of the ABB—dot the room, and a framed record of “Spoonful,” a song released by Gregg and brother Duane’s early band, The Allman Joys, sits haphazardly on a shelf.
There’s a piano, of course. Scribbles of music notes peek out from a yellow pad on the music rack, primitive hieroglyphics for a future song. Allman does a lot of his writing here. “I’ve got thousands of pieces,” he says with a roll of his eyes. “You have to deal with that piece, though, until the music comes along to join it. And it may never come, but when it does, it’ll hit like a streak of lightning.”
Fortunately for Allman, lightning strikes in the same place more than once. The first song he wrote—and kept—was “Melissa,” now a staple of every ABB fan’s music catalogue. Allman penned that tune 40 years ago, but every time he sits down to write, he feels humbled by the task ahead of him. “That’s the thing about songwriting: It’s an adventure because every time you write a song you feel like a rookie. You feel like it’s your first. It’s just as difficult, just as adventurous,” Allman explains.
“A wise man once said, ‘If it’s a hit here [places his hand over his heart], it’s a hit.’ That’s your toughest crowd right there.”
Want to read more? Check out the full article in the February/March issue of South Magazine.