As pioneers of Southern rock, Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band took elements of blues, country, R&B and jazz that influenced them and spun them into a hot new hybrid. In turn, Allman’s work influenced generations of musicians to come — particularly in country music where the sound still thrives.
Last night, Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town convened with Allman and blues musician Taj Mahal in Nashville to pay tribute to Allman’s legacy for the third installment of the online concert series Skyville Live. Allman was humbled by the support and admitted it didn’t cross his mind in the beginning that what his band was doing would have such an impact.
“I had no idea,” Allman told Rolling Stone Country prior to the show, during which he sang some of his classic hits as well as Jackson Browne’s “These Days.” “When you’re in the process of learning, you don’t even think about somebody else picking up on you. Because you’re more focused on picking up from somebody else. It’s fathers and sons.”
A couple of those sons (and daughters) are now members of Little Big town, who sang their own hits “Girl Crush,” “Stay All Night” and “Boondocks,” in addition to backing up Allman on a slow and low version of “Midnight Rider.” Karen Fairchild cited the song as an early one to open her eyes and a big influence on the soulful style of harmony her current group practices.
“I was like, ‘Holy cow,'” she recalled. “When I die and go to heaven I want to sound like him, you know?”
Phillip Sweet touched on how Allman’s music represented freedom and rebellion for him. “I just remember going down a gravel road, me and and my brothers, with the windows down and ‘Midnight Rider’ turned up as loud as we could rock just blazing as fast as we could go,” he said. “That sounds really dangerous but it made us feel like we were real rebels.”
Blues singer Taj Mahal was a working musician when the Allman Brothers formed and became friends with Gregg. Both Taj Mahal and Allman recorded the blues tune “Statesboro Blues” — which they delivered last night with some help from Chris Stapleton — and he recalled how the band changed names a couple times before sticking with the one everyone knows.
“The next thing I heard it was the Allman Brothers, and it didn’t move. It didn’t change,” recalled Taj, who sang the Son House/Robert Johnson standard “Walkin’ Blues” and a tuba-assisted version of his own “Cakewalk.” “What I always liked about them was they had their way to play and that’s how they played it.”
Stapleton’s gritty, soulful singing is certainly descended from Allman’s blues-inflected style and the new CMA Awards king repaid the debt by singing a room-levitating version of “Whipping Post” that rivaled the intensity of his CMA performance with Justin Timberlake. (Watch the fan-filmed video above.) Even Allman gave a standing ovation.
The show closed with a celebratory, full-cast version of the Allmans’ “One Way Out” with the male singers taking turns on the verses. But it was Allman who got the last word, his powerful vocal improvisations on the ending line suggesting that he’s got plenty singing left to do.