One thing young artists can learn from Gregg Allman
We lost a giant over the weekend.
Gregg Allman was a pure, unbridled rock and roll icon whose talent and contributions to music cannot be overstated. His work inspired and will continue to inspire generations of musicians to find their own sound in a world increasingly driven by trends.
I am sad to say I only realized how true all of this was in recent months. Back in February I participated in an annual month-long writing challenge that tasks music critics with listening to and reviewing a different album every day for a month that they have never previously heard. It’s something I’ve grown to look forward to as it gives me an excuse to step away from the constant stream of new material hitting my inbox to explore the corners of music history my ears have yet to discover. For reasons I still do not fully understand, the first artist that came to mind for this year’s event was The Allman Brothers, so that’s where I started:
Allman Brothers – Idlewild South (DAY 1)
Like most people born after the band had already peaked I learned about The Allman Brothers through infomercials for classic rock compilations. Songs like “Ramblin’ Man” and “Midnight Rider” were staples of those collections, and the short clips that would play during those extended advertisements were burned into my memory from an early age. Idlewild South (1970) features “Midnight Rider,” but it is far from the best song on the record. I think “Don’t Keep Me Wondering’” could and should have been just as big of a hit for the group. This album is good for car rides and relaxed jam sessions with you and your air guitar while no one is looking. The groove is deep and calming. Let go and ride the wave.
Idlewild South was the first album The Allman Brothers released. It’s a studio album where only one of the seven song lasted longer than five minutes (“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”). It’s a fantastic record whose groove has not been duplicated by any other artist, but I soon learned that the album did not showcase the group in their purest form. While the slick studio production went a long way to proving the band’s talent as musicians and budding songwriters it’s the raw, loose feel of their next release, The 1971 live album At Filmore East, that reveals the Allman Brothers Band’s true color. There are once again just seven tracks, but there is an electricity to ever moment that packs a punch to this day. It’s the kind of recording that lights a fire in your soul and makes you feel alive. I swear you may never know how good a guitar can make you feel until you hear this recording of “You Don’t Love Me.”
After I heard At Filmore East for the first time I knew my course in life had shifted. You know the sensation I’m speaking of, or at least I hope you do. It’s the kind of thing that happens once in a great while when a moment, encounter, interaction, or piece of art moves you in such a way that you feel like you see the world through fresh eyes. You at once have a slightly better understand of the universe and once again realize how much there is left to be explored. After all, you never knew you needed this thing that has just irreversibly changed you, yet here you are happy for the change. It’s the kind of thing you cannot predict or force, which is what makes it so magical.
Since that early February day I have slowly found myself consuming more and more of The Allman Brothers music. The band’s entire catalog is on Spotify, including every deluxe reissue, super deluxe reissue, and numerous live recordings. I don’t know exactly how much music there is to be heard in full, but killing a full day with strictly Allman Brothers material would not be difficult. You might be able to do it without hearing the same recording twice, but I’m not sure. My longest stretch was eight hours – a full work day – just three days before Gregg Allman passed.
The funny thing about these moments when our life shifts is that once they happen it can be hard to remember how you felt before they occurred. When I saw news of Allman’s passing my heart ached the way it had when Prince passed a year prior, or even Bowie before him. The difference being, Bowie and Prince made music I had known my entire life. Their careers provided the soundtrack to many childhood and teenage memories, but not Allman. At best Gregg Allman had been a part of my life for just three months. 90 days, maybe 91, yet that was all he needed to leave an impression on me that I know I will never be able to shake.
There is a lesson here for artists in every medium. Whether your work is discovered upon released or forty years down the line, quality art will still make an impact on the consumer. Quality art is one of the few thing time cannot fully ravage, or at least not for much longer than virtually everything else on Earth. Great Songs and paintings and films will always outlast their creators, and in turn will serve as something of a time capsule for future generations to experience. But you don’t have to worry about all that right now. All you have to do is making the best art you can, telling your story how you want it told. The rest is not entirely in your control, so don’t fret it. I can assure you Gregg Allman never did. He lived and created on his own terms, and I can only hope the rest of us find a way to follow his lead.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the host of the Inside Music podcast and a ten-year music business veteran. You should follow him on Twitter.