Los Angeles—Gregg Allman says he’ll never return to Macon, Georgia, his home for the past seven years. But finally free of drugs and alcohol, he is ready to return to music. His 15-month-old marriage to Cher Bono, helped along by the birth of a son, Elijah Blue Allman, seems strong and stable; the couple is planning a musical partnership, with Gregg producing Cher’s next album. After that, Gregory, as he prefers to be called, says he will begin an album of his own, tentatively titled Playing Up a Storm, on Capricorn Records.
It’s generally agreed that the Allman Brothers Band is no more, though Capricorn does plan to release a double live album in November from concerts dating back to 1972, titled Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas. Still, there are almost as many conflicting stories about why and when the band broke up as there are characters involved. According to Allman, the group’s final troubles began after their tour last winter when, after five months on the road, they returned to Macon with a net profit of only $100,000. Costs had risen outrageously: a 34-member crew traveled with the band in its private jet and each band member had his own private suite and limousine at each tour stop. Excess and indulgence became the bywords of the band.
There’s no question the members had grown apart musically and personally; drummer Butch Trucks described them as “stagnant.” It all culminated on May 28th of this year, when the band’s longtime road manager, Willie Perkins, resigned “because of the turmoil … we had just broken down” and, late in the afternoon, police arrived at the Capricorn offices to arrest John “Scooter” Herring, Allman’s personal road manager and valet, charging him with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
Allman testified last January before a Macon grand jury which indicted Herring; he was called to the stand again in June, during Herring’s trial, for which Gregg was granted immunity from prosecution. Herring was found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison; his partner in the conspiracy, Macon pharmacist Joe Fuchs, pleaded guilty and received a ten-year sentence. As Cher said in People: “Our whole world was shot to ratshit … I ought to write a soap opera.”
Allman was interviewed in a half-furnished room in his new house. He appeared weary, with an edge of pain in his soft drawl. Gregg is through with the doses of methadone which he took for two years but still takes Anta-buse, which induces nausea when mixed with alcohol, daily. He looks overweight and says he wants to be a musician again. “I’m tired,” says Gregg, “of being an actor in a soap opera.”
One magazine’s cover pictured you, Phil Walden and Jimmy Carter with you holding a spoon of coke. How does it feel to be known as a notorious coke freak?
It was a terrible thing to do to the three people on the cover. I’m sure Republicans were probably behind that. They had to use me and Walden as their whipping boys. I’m not going to deny that I had a rather long hard bout with drugs. I’m not trying to say that it was right in any way, but I am saying that it’s over. I’m now a father, I’ve got a family, I’m still in music. My motto has always been, anybody should do whatever they want to do, as long as they don’t hurt anybody. I don’t believe that I have. You’ll notice in all these articles that have come out, nowhere has Scooter said anything bad about me.
Have you two spoken since the trial?
No, we haven’t at all, under the advice of both lawyers.
Where did you first meet him?
I met Scooter in the summer of ’73 and he started working for me the next spring, on my first solo tour. I took him in because he wanted to learn about the business and he had an incredible mathematical mind. So we called him my valet. He’s a very big man, a very strong man, and he helped me through a lot of crowds. He worked through that tour and through my next solo tour as road manager.
Articles have implied that Scooter was hired to supply drugs.
It’s not true at all, though I knew him almost a year before he started working for me. We met and became acquaintances on the subject of drugs and later on we became friends. … I lent him and his wife $4700, which I never asked for back, to get his house, the down payment. He insisted then that I hold the mortgage on the house. I guess it was on that day of the house transaction that we became real good friends, ’cause he and his wife both came over to my house and she was really happy to tears. It made me feel good doing it.
How was it for you to testify against him in the grand jury?
It was terrible. I was up against the wall, I was in the corner, backed in the corner.
When did that come down?
January of this year, I was in Macon rehearsing with the Allman Brothers for an album and my lawyer called me and said, “Gregory, they’ve elected a new D. A. in Macon and he’s trying to make a big name for himself” —in so many words—”They think that there’s a big, A-1 drug ring in Macon, and they think there is a ‘big boss’ in back of it. And because of past publicity through magazines such as Rolling Stone they believe that you know and can tell something about the cocaine traffic here in Macon. They are holding a federal grand jury and they’ve asked me if you would come, not to be asked questions but just to corroborate things they already know for sure.” And he says, “I have told them absolutely no. We’re not coming.” And I said, “Okay, it’s groovy.” End of conversation. Two days later he calls me back: “Gregory, they’re not buying it.”
What was your reaction?
I thought, “Oh, shit.” I didn’t foresee all this. Not yet. He says, “They want you to come in or they say they’ve got enough testimony from people like your exwife to put you away for a few years.” A lot of people had testified already. And so he said, “We are going to go in there, but we are going to get a grant of immunity, because you can’t just go in there and say anything if it’s going to possibly lead to your indictment.”
Had you in fact stopped doing drugs?
Yeah, I had at the time. As of today, I haven’t had a drink in about nine weeks. Alcohol was the last drug I took. So he called me back a few days after that and said, “Well, you got to go, they gave us immunity.” When I went in the grand jury, it wasn’t like a question-and-answer thing. They’d make a statement and they’d say, as far as you know, is this what happened? And they kept reminding me, “Listen, if you tell any lies, we’re going to get you for perjury and give you three to five years.” By this time, I was scared out of my wits. I knew I was going to jail. I went to Scooter and I said, “Scooter, what in hell am I going to do now? What happens when they ask about you and me?”
Scooter said to me, “Look, a number of people here are going to go through all this talking bullshit, and the buck is going to have to stop being passed some where. It’s going to be stopped with me. ‘Cause I’m going to go in there and plead the Fifth Amendment; they ain’t going to get shit out of me. Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it covered.” I said, “All right.” I was scared to death to go in there and have them ask me these things and tell me these things they knew about my best friend, and me having to corroborate it. It was either that or go to jail. My lawyer kept assuring me, and they kept assuring Scooter, that before I went in there that they already had enough to send him up. They wouldn’t even have had to subpoena me in there, yet they wanted my testimony to lock the case in. To make it totally foolproof they’d go after the guy’s best friend.
When did drugs become a problem?
I started getting heavy into drugs between the time Duane [Allman] died [October 1971] and the time [bassist Berry] Oakley died [November 1972]. About six months after Duane died.
Did you begin shooting then?
That shooting part of it didn’t last very long, because needles are just such a hideous thing. They make you just hate yourself. I guess the reason that people start using needles is because it doesn’t take as much dope to get you high when you use a needle.
Did you spend a lot of money on drugs?
I spent quite a bit. Dealers that like musicians, they’ll come and just lay anything on you. “Wow man, I dig your music … here’s three or four grams of coke, or here’s a couple grams of smack.” That’s the way it was in the beginning. Just like the little rhyme goes: “The first One’s free and the second one’s on me.” And the third one, you pay for.
I understand you went into a clinic in Buffalo. What form did the rehabilitation take?
The drug part was painless. It was getting down to the reason why. It was the talks that were painful and we talked every day. I was there for about four weeks just before Watkins Glen in ’73 and back again recently. I plan to keep going back there, like maybe just for a few days, ’cause I’m not going to get back into it again.
The stories have hinted that you were the only one in the band who had a drug problem … is that true?
It’s not true at all. At one time or another, everyone in the band was taking drugs.
It seems Dickie [Betts] has gotten very estranged from the band. Why?
Since Duane had passed away he got compared to Duane in so many articles and everything. A lot of people didn’t even notice him until long after Duane had been gone. They said, who’s the new guitar player in the Allman Brothers? It used to just really kill him. I can see how it would, you know, it would have gotten me. But he got really crazy about it. All these rumors I’ve heard about me doing strange things out on the road and being fucked up. You never heard about the thousands and thousands of dollars that the Allman Brothers had to put out because of motel rooms Dickie and Butch had torn up because of women and drinking.
I remember Dickie saying, very seriously, to our PR man, “Why in the fuck ain’t I as big as Eric Clapton?” Lots of nights onstage he was always dueling with somebody, trying to prove something, and when he would just relax he played so well. They are all such good players and they are all basically good people. I figured when the chips were down, if they were brothers, that they wouldn’t have turned me out like they did.
In retrospect, do you think Phil Walden did what he could to help?
He never stepped in at any time. He just sat back and chopped off his cut.
Do you think he could have helped?
I know he could’ve. I think a lot of this shit just could have been avoided if Phil had stepped in … he’d call meetings but then just a very few of them and it was just about, “Well, look, we gotta get things together so we can get in the studio and cut.” And then right at the very last he started making some pretty feeble attempts, but by this time, everybody was so crazy because they didn’t have any money.
We had some meetings with him during the Win, Lose or Draw album. It seems like nothing was ever solved. It’s just that it seemed to me that we were just a dollar mark to him.
Do you see any chance of the Allmans ever playing again?
I believe anything’s possible.
Would you like to see it happen? If not now, two years from now?
I don’t see how it could now, but I would like to see it happen. When I came back from the trial, I called back to Macon to try to set up more meetings. They wouldn’t talk to me.
Must have hurt.
Yeah, it did. Especially because the fact is, not one of the Allman Brothers Band, not one of the men in the band, was at that trial. Therefore, I can only believe that they made up their minds on hearsay alone. They weren’t there to see the pressure. They weren’t there to see the cat holding my manuscript right in my nose just daring me, just fucking daring me, to swerve off of it just enough to get me on a perjury charge.