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Scott Sharrard Gives an Inside Look at Gregg Allman's Farewell, 'Southern Blood'

Scott Sharrard Gives an Inside Look at Gregg Allman's Farewell, 'Southern Blood'

Scott Sharrard joined Gregg Allman’s band as guitarist in 2008 and became its Musical Director in 2014. His first run as MD was at the Macon Opera House, shows captured on the Back To Macon, GA live album and DVD.

“We had been spending a lot of time writing together, developing this relationship as collaborators and he determined that the best way going forward was for me to be his MD,” Sharrard said.

Over the last few years of Allman’s life, he and Sharrard became increasingly close. Sharrard was behind the only two original songs on Allman’s final album, Southern Blood, which is being released Friday, September 8: he wrote “Love Like Kerosene” and the two co-wrote ”My Only True Friend,” the lead single, a profoundly moving farewell.

In a recent conversation, Sharrard went deep on the origins of that song, his relationship with Allman and how Southern Blood came to be. The album was recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Duane Allman first made his mark as session musician working with Wilson Pickett and others. Don Was produced the album.

Gregg was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013, but almost no one knew about it. When did you find out?

He was doing his second–to-last Allman Brothers run at the Beacon [in March 2014] and I went over to his hotel for a writing session. We had been working on “My Only True Friend” and we were trying to come up with a pre-chorus. He sat me down and told me this news about his terminal illness and I said, “Look Gregg if you want to work, we can work. But we can take the day off, too.”

And he said, “No, this is the time to work.” And that’s when he changed the line to “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.”

Wow. What a heavy moment. Can you describe the process of the songwriting before and after that?

The song started about six months before that when I was at his house for a songwriting session and I had a dream where Duane was talking to Gregg. I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record. I had the first two lines and the chorus line: “You and I both know the road is my only true friend.”

When Gregg woke up I showed it to him right away and he loved it. We worked on it back and forth over the next few months. And when he shared that diagnosis and he added the pre-chorus line, I realized that what we started writing from a dream I had about Duane giving Gregg advice from the beyond became Gregg saying good bye to everyone as he was going into this battle.

Although I never told Gregg the story of Duane, he could feel I was tapped into his energy. Honestly, that was the magic of our collaboration: as music director, guitarist, songwriting partner and friend, I was basically ferrying him across the end of his career and life. That was kind of my job and it’s all in that song, which we basically wrote together over the last few years.

Did the song fall into place when Gregg added that line that changed the focus to a farewell?

Honestly, we were writing that song right up to the final take. We put it off all week in Muscle Shoals because Gregg kept saying, “The song needs something else.” And [percussionist] Marc Quinones suggested that I write a third verse. I always listen when Marc speaks, because he’s never wrong, so I went back to my hotel and worked on the lyrics and wrote that third verse.

The next day I came into the studio and handed it to him. He read it right there standing in front of the Neumann mic getting ready to cut the song. He sat down, read it again and said, “This is it. Let’s go.” I told the band, “Guys, we added another verse, this is how it’s going to go.” We got the horn arrangement adjusted.

Don made sure everyone was on the same page and then we cut the song you hear on the record. It was literally down to the last minute. 

That’s amazing, and it doesn’t sound like that at all. You would never know he hadn’t been singing those words for a very long time.

Honestly, man, it’s one of those recording moments that you can’t explain because they are just magical. We played it a few times live and rehearsed it many, many times and Gregg was never really getting all the way in and I swear to God he inhabited the song as we cut it.

What you hear was a first or second take, cut live on the floor with the band, and he just was inside the song, or it was inside him. He found his home in the song just in time and I’d like to think the third verse helped him. I think the stumbling block was he didn’t see the end of the story and I’m really thankful to Marc for his suggestion, which put me to work.

I was up all night working on different ideas for a third verse and I ended up with: “On and on I roam/it feels like home is just around the bend. I’ve got so much left to give but I’m running out of time, my friend.” It’s the goodbye letter.

Amazing. And it’s an illustration of when desperation and inspiration meet. You think about all the times you can struggle to come up with a line or a verse for months but you nailed that verse perfectly in one night – because you had to.

Thanks. I’ve written hundreds of songs, but over the course of working with Gregg for almost a decade I learned what he wanted to sing: the words he would fall on, the rhythms he liked. It wasn’t always conscious that he was showing me this, but as we were writing that song, he was hipping me to all these turns of phrases he preferred for vocal phrasing.

We were working on two other songs and we actually finished one, which I am going to put on my solo record coming out next spring. We ran out of time and to cut it for this record and honestly the tune didn’t really fit what we were doing. It’s a funky upbeat, twisted blues tune. We actually wrote it before his terminal diagnosis and it really didn’t fit the vibe of Southern Blood, as much as he wanted to do it.

I had really grasped what he wanted to sing and say because I had spent so much time writing with him and he had a very, very specific approach. He knew exactly what he wanted as a vocalist, a songwriter and a lyricist: understanding how to match all those things up and make them fit who he was is the mark of a great interpreter of songs. We’re talking Nina Simone and Frank Sinatra territory.

Right. And it’s fascinating because early in his career he was such a terrific songwriter as well as interpreter and as his songwriting slowed down his interpretive skills grew to the point where everything he sang became a Gregg Allman song. I think that’s partly because he always retained a composer’s sense of song.

Yes. His songwriting would still stand out though obviously with less frequency. He was very gun shy about writing anything. He was a master editor, both as a writer and singer. One of the great things about Gregg was his economy of phrasing when he sings and he brought that into his aesthetic choices. He was extremely critical when it came to “Is this song ready?” Gregg was a guy who saved his bullets.

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