Before making his T Bone Burnett-produced comeback in 2011, Allman Brothers Band leader and master of the Hammond B3 Gregg Allman lived a life devoted to playing music for five decades, during which he also lived through a wilderness year or two. Here we catch up with him post-'80s Allman Brothers reunion: It's the early '90s, and he's coming off his acting turn in the film Rush. He wasn't doing much solo recording at this stage, nor was he exactly at the top of his game when he put in this roughshod appearance at San Quentin Prison in Northern California.
"It's a little early in the day for me, you know, night time is the right time," he joked nervously, and he had good reason to be jittery: The set starts out on the rocks when he opens with a wildly out-of-tune "Rock Me Baby." He pauses for a serious tune-up, only to get heckled by inmates. By the second song, he's probably experiencing déjà vu, as if he's at an Allman Brothers show, while random guys yell for "Whipping Post." "This ain't the Brothers," says Allman, calming the mood by opting for the slow blues, "Stormy Monday." "Dickie and all them Allman Brothers send their love, by the way," he says, offering up goodwill to the max---but the calls for "Whipping Post" just keep on coming. He holds steady for a solo acoustic version of "Midnight Rider" on guitar and even collects some cheers of recognition for it (as he also does for the Allmans classic, "Melissa"). "If I had a band I'd do 'Whipping Post,' ok, I promise ya. How you gonna do 'Whipping Post' without a bass? Think about it," he says. Signing off with a love song of sorts, "Come and Go Blues," Allman's outta there, and not a minute too soon. Admitting his nervousness at gigging on the inside, he tried keeping it real. "Y'all are used to this place; I ain't, man." Recovering his composure, he gave the convicts reason to cheer when he told them, "You still got your heart. That's good to see. Hold on it to, baby, hold on to it." Back at ya, Mr. Allman, back at ya.