Gregg Allman had a surprise up his sleeve for the 600 guests who had gathered at the Grammy Foundation’s Living Histories event in Los Angeles. The music icon and special guest Eric Church would be performing “Midnight Rider” the way he’d originally written it — not the way the Allman Brothers Band recorded it in 1970. Unfortunately for Church, he had been rehearsing the wrong version.
“Last night, I worked on ‘Midnight Rider,’ which I’ve played a hundred times. Maybe a thousand,” he told the sold-out crowd at the Skirball Cultural Center. “So I’m getting ready to walk up on stage, and Gregg goes, ‘Hey, we’re not going to do it the way the Brothers do it.’ I about shit in my pants!”
The acoustic song — performed by Allman, Church and guitarist Scott Sharrard — felt more freeform than the familiar version, thanks to several musical interludes and a good amount of finger-picking. It wasn’t spit-shined or overly rehearsed, and the room responded with a thunderous standing ovation. Sometimes there’s perfection in imperfection, as Church explained earlier in the Q&A.
“I love mistakes. I love ’em. That’s what music is,” said the singer-songwriter, who heads into this year’s CMA Awards with five nominations, including Entertainer of the Year.
Allman nodded in agreement. “You don’t want ’em perfect,” he added. “So it speeds up a bit. So it slows down. A song breathes.”
In a two-hour program that also paid tribute to legendary concert promoter Bill Graham (an early Allman supporter), the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer treated fans to a sweet rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa,” as well as “These Days,” a tale of loss and regret from his debut solo album.
Church also performed a pair of crowd-pleasers: “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” off his current LP, The Outsiders, and a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Win, Lose or Draw” — which he deemed “one of the best country songs I ever heard.” In fact, Church recorded it for last year’s homage album All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman.
“Every time I heard anything Gregg had written, I believed it. It translated to me,” Church told the crowd. “My musical DNA cannot be explained without Gregg and the Brothers. I play country music, but that has nothing to do with genre — country, rock, whatever. Music’s music. And for me, growing up, there was a freedom that these guys provided me; an escapism that I didn’t find anywhere else. At times it saved my life. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.”