Dan Auerbach on Gregg Allman: 'The Foundation of What I Do'

"The Allmans were playing music I understood," Black Keys singer-guitarist says. "[They] resonated with me because it felt familiar"

Black Keys' Dan Auerbach tells us why Gregg Allman, who died last week at 69, was "the foundation of what I do." Credit: Erika Goldring/Getty, Christopher Polk/Getty

Given the Black Keys’ deep debt to the blues, it’s no surprise the music Gregg Allman made on his own and with the Allman Brothers Band deeply affected singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach

Numerous tributes from Allman's bandmates and peers came in following the musician's death last week at 69. "Gregg Allman was not only a friend and brother, but he was a strong inspiration to me very early on in my career," Allman Brothers Band keyboardist Chuck Leavell wrote. ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons called him a "brilliant and intuitive player with a depth of soul reflected in his works in a truly moving manner," While Allman's ex-wife Cher noted that "words are impossible." 

Auerbach spoke to Rolling Stone to add to the chorus of praise and discuss the impact Allman — and his legendary band — had on him from an early age.

The Allman Brothers were a part of my childhood and DNA. Eat a Peach, Brothers and Sisters and the live Fillmore album [At Fillmore East] were all in my dad’s record collection and they were always on in my house. I had family from Georgia and we had reunion photos that looked like the inside photo in Brothers and Sisters. So I always felt some sort of connection, along with the music being on all the time. This was all before I knew I wanted to be a musician.

The Allmans were playing music I understood; blues-based music. I loved soul music, folk and bluegrass and I fell in love with the blues. I was raised on so many different kinds of music, so the Allman Brothers resonated with me because it felt familiar. It was American roots music. They were the best of the best, not to mention being an interracial band that came from the South. They were open-minded just like they were in their music. They grew up on roots music and then expanded it.

One of the first songs my uncle Jack Quine taught me how to play was “Statesboro Blues,” a really old version. But then I heard the Allman Brothers do their version, and there was something I could relate to. I can remember trying to learn how to play the lick in “One Way Out” when I was in high school.

I only met Gregg in passing when [Black Keys drummer] Patrick [Carney] and I played a festival back in the day. But Gregg’s voice definitely influenced the way I sing. When you think about it, he was as great with his vocals as his brother was on the guitar. "Midnight Rider," in particular, had this mystical quality, that type of rolling rhythm with Gregg’s voice on top. Everything I’ve ever done is based on that — a funky groove with soulful singing. It’s the foundation of what I do.

I didn’t intentionally try to sound like that, but when I go back and listen now, I’m surprised by how much I was influenced by that sound, even subconsciously. Gregg was an old soul from the git-go. I don’t know how he did it. 

As told to David Browne