Guitarist Scott Sharrard's fingerprints are all over the recent excellent live CD/DVD Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA.
The recording highlights not only Sharrard's tasty, blues-inflected playing but also his excellent work as musical director.
"I just love this band I've got now," Allman says. "It took me years to put it together just so, and I just love playing with them. Scott's done a great job getting this to a very good place."
Allman went on to single out every single band member for praise and told me several times how disappointed he was that current keyboardist Pete Levin wasn't yet in the band when they recorded the live album.
To get a little deeper into all this, I got in touch with Sharrard, who called in from a Brooklyn studio.
GUITAR WORLD: How long have you played with Gregg?
I joined the band in the fall of 2008, so about seven years.
How have you seen him change in his approach?
Gregg’s health was in jeopardy the first few years I was in the band. Even once he got his liver transplant there were unforeseen complications afterwards. Through all of it, Gregg gave some incredible performances and we had some amazing tours.
As far as changing his approach to music, I think Gregg has had a process that works for a long time. Like all the great band leaders, he knows how to surround himself with talented people who help him to sound his best and push him at the same time. His health now is really good and his energy is very positive so the sky’s the limit once that happens.
Does he seem more confident?
Have you noticed any changes in his approach since the ABB are gone and GAB is his full-time gig?
Gregg loves the Brothers and his band. As far as why those guys retired now, you’d have to ask them, but it would seem self-evident that now would be the time to focus their creative energies on solo pursuits. Gregg has gone headlong into his band. He’s writing and we are adding songs to our repertoire all the time, especially some gems from his back catalog for our live show.
As MD, you hire the band. How involved is he in the decision making?
I make suggestions and so do guys from within the band. Gregg then checks out the player and gives his blessing or asks me to keep looking for another guy. The band we have right now seems to be the perfect fit.
What is something musical about Gregg that people would be surprised to learn?
I don’t know if people would be surprised but Gregg is always checking out the masters and listening constantly. The other day I went to his room and he was blasting Pharaoh Sanders! He also always goes to the deep blues well and finds constant inspiration. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bobby "Blue" Bland—those guys are constant. Gregg is part of that generation of rock and roll innovators that always build off the blues. That’s why we love them!
How are you feeling about the chances of recording with this band in Muscle Shoals?
Well, there are a lot of variables; we are talking about the music business here! But Gregg and I have written a couple of tunes and he has a couple in the chamber as well as some great cover ideas. I’ve heard that Don Was might be involved, which would be fantastic. Whatever happens I sure hope someone records this band because it is very special and, given the chance, I think we could help Gregg make a great record—maybe the best of this period if we are lucky!
Anyway, for now we are just happy to play and grow as a band under Gregg’s direction. Its always a ball traveling and playing with these guys, it's become like a family out here.
How did you first hook up with Gregg?
I was playing guitar in Jay Collins’ band around New York City for a few years and he was trying to convince Gregg to hire me for a while. At the time Gregg had no idea who I was but eventually I got my shot to play with him when I sat in with the Allman Brothers at a shed in Camden, New Jersey. It was very last minute. Jay called me up the day before and told me to meet him and we would head out.
I met Gregg before we jammed, of course, and we really hit it off from jump street. I think he really liked the fact that I knew who Wayne Bennett was, to be honest! Wayne was the guitarist for Bobby "Blue" Bland for many years. The interplay between Bobby’s voice and Wayne’s guitar on some of those early recordings was a big inspiration for that call-and-response style of guitar and voice you can hear Duane and Gregg doing on the early Allmans records. I was very familiar with Wayne’s licks, and that was a bonus. Then I sat in and we just took it from there. That was in the fall of 2008 and it's been full steam ahead ever since…
What's the latest with your own band?
We are based in New York City, and we have residency at a great little spot in Brooklyn called Bar Chord, where we play every Thursday night when I’m not on the road. Man, we have had some great cats come play with us as guests, Ian Hendrickson Smith [Sharon Jones, the Roots, Amy Winehouse, Jimmy Fallon Band saxophonist and horn arranger] comes down and plays with our buddy Marcus Parsley (trumpet for JJ Grey, Sharon Jones) and they are a killer section. We also have Scott Metzger (Phil Lesh, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) join us on guitar sometimes, Teddy Kumpel and Clark Gayton have come down. It’s a great place to hang and play.
I also have plans to bring my band to Memphis to make a new album of original material and my buddies from the Bo Keys will be involved with that alongside some of the original Hi Records rhythm section. We hope to record that this winter. I also have a great new management team with a new company called Busters Main Stem, and those guys are kicking ass getting us set up for some more touring in between Gregg Allman runs. It's gonna be a busy year for sure!
Alan Paul is the author of Reckoning: Conversations with the Grateful Dead and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.