Gregg Allman has passed. Another truly legendary figure in music is no longer with us.
I use the term “music” deliberately. It almost seems improbable these days to remember that when The Allman Brothers emerged in 1971 (that’s the year of their breakthrough album, At Fillmore East), it wasn’t as necessary to hyphenate music down to niche within genre. Indeed, The Allman Brothers – like many bands of that era – were racially diverse and their music was a melting pot.
Many of today’s biggest names in “music” are barely musical at all. Lip-synching has been elevated to an art form. Entire songs today sound like three minutes of non-stop autotune applied to the vocals which really don’t have a lot to say other than something about “get my drank on” or a host of profanities that pass for class in our time.
Gregg Allman was a musician. One that transcended genre. And time.
Like many of my vintage – I was born the year “At Fillmore East” was released – most likely The Allman Brothers and a dozen of their contemporaries were what my parents listened to on the radio. Those songs sunk in, ready to be rediscovered by the time I got to high school where the shop teacher didn’t mind if we played the local classic rock station while we did shop stuff. Those old songs were at once new and familiar as we learned electronics between ten and eleven every morning.
Like many, I played (still do, in fact) guitar and bass. There was no internet back then and my parents weren’t about to pay for me to take lessons. So I learned by emulating things I heard and liked. If I didn’t know where to start with a particular riff or song, I’d go to the grocery store and look at the guitar magazines to see if tablature* for the song might be in any of them. If it wasn’t, I’d go to the music store on the outskirts of town and see if they had the song in a tablature book. Since washing dishes didn’t pay a whole lot, I’d do my best to memorize what I saw in the book before the store owner walked over and asked, “Are you going to buy it or not?”.
“Midnight Rider” was one such song I struggled with initially. Then, once I learned how to play it – and it is remarkable for its simplicity – I used it as the basis for exploring all sorts of ideas I’d imagined but had no idea how to convey using six steel strings and maple.
While it’s easy to learn and repeat a guitar piece, lyrics are another matter entirely. The words to “Midnight Rider” are remarkably simple yet they convey so much. Despair. Isolation. Persistence. One can listen to those words and the way they are sung, and a stark mental image comes to mind.
Someday, when archaeologists of the future sift through our remains, the won’t spend a lot of time on Katy Perry or Jay-Z, for there is no poetry nor talent in either. Few songs in today’s music bring to mind much of anything – they are little more than background noise in an already noisy social media environment.
Those future archaeologists may find “Midnight Rider”. It will lead them to wonder about that road that goes on forever, and one more silver dollar delivered from this world to join his brother Duane in heaven back in 2017.
Thank you Gregg Allman for your time with us.
* For those that can’t read music, tablature graphically represents the guitar strings and the position on the fretboard one’s fingers are supposed to use to play a song.