Welcome to Rock of Agers

Welcome to Rock of Agers

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gregg Allman Helps My Wife Have a Great 65th at Sea

Like so many of my fellow baby boomers, music has played, and continues to play, an essential role in my life, as well as that of my wife of 43 years, Judy. Here is just 1 story of how strong that music-life link can be.

We both cut our hair before our wedding ceremony & then cut the cake to "Honky Tonk Woman".
Judy Lynn Snyder and I were married in a steady wintry downpour on Jan. 27, 1973 in my mother's South Jersey Church, with Judy in a white dress and me in a close (but much cheaper) version of the 3-piece cream suit Mick Jagger wore when he married Bianca the previous year.

By the time of our marriage, I had been playing organ (1st a Farfisa, then a Vox Continental) in rock and soul bands since early 1966,  when both Judy and I were 10th graders in high school. (An aside here: When I was selected to be in the house band of Philly Classic Rock radio station WGMK nearly 40 years later, Judy was asked if she was excited. Here is her verbatim response: "No ... I heard Dave in 1966. He isn't any better, just louder"). 

After playing fire halls, pool parties, school dances, proms, shopping centers, teenage hangouts, bar
Frog Ocean Road
s and clubs that weren't concerned about employing underage musicians, and finally summers at the Jersey shore including shows at the famed Steel Pier in Atlantic City. By 1973 I was in my 3rd group - one of the area's 1st 70s jam bands named Frog Ocean Road. (Another aside here: Our 16-year-old drummer then was
Jerry Gaskill, who is now the drummer for King's X, a 3-piece band that opened Woodstock '94 and continues to make new music and tour the world). 

Since I couldn't choose which of my 4 bandmates I wanted for best man, I opted for our manager and van driver John Morgan. (A final aside here: At the time, John and our guitar player James Gilbert Overstreet were best friends. John later developed a near-fatal drug habit and was divorced from his wife, Suzanne. Jimmy married Suzanne and they now live in Florida, where Jimbo Gilbo, as I call him, continues to play his Sunburst Fender Telecaster and his Fiesta Red Stratocaster tuned down half a step to E flat in clubs and outdoor venues). 

Anyway, back to our wedding and our music. While we both loved music, Judy, an artist, was into Motown, Carly Simon, and anything from the band Chicago. Meanwhile, I favored Mountain, Ten Years After, and anything by the Rolling Stones. I think you'll get the feel of our musical dichotomy from the 2 songs we asked the church organist to play at our ceremony - Judy chose "Color My World" by Chicago, while I selected "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Stones.

Six months after we were married our first (and what would prove to be our only child) arrived on 7/7/73. Judy, ever the creative artist, wanted to name him Zarba. But being a stable musician (now there is an oxymoronic phrase if I ever wrote one), I put my foot (the one that wasn't on my keyboard volume pedal) down and we selected Michael Keith Price, which meant our son was named for the singer (Michael Jagger) and lead guitarist (Keith Richard) of the Stones.

Of course, as in the life story of any couple, the years passed. Judy was an art teacher and I was a journalist who continued to play music when he could. Then Judy left teaching and became manager of an art gallery and custom frame shop, and I left journalism to become an English teacher who played music when he could. Then I left the classroom after 20 years to become an instructional coach for Johns Hopkins University who, that's right, played music when he could. And suddenly, it was 2011 and we retired, moved from our small South Jersey city to Washington, DC, where I worked as an independent educational consultant for a firm which serviced poverty high schools in DC, Baltimore, and Syracuse, New York.

Final Vinyl at Harvest Festival. You can't hear it in this picture,
 but Jimmy, on the right, as always is too damn loud.
During many of those years, as I previously stated, I continued to play music off and on, mostly in bands with my old guitar brother from Frog Ocean, Jimbo Gilbo. Our most successful endeavor was in a Philadelphia-area band called Final Vinyl, which became the house band for Philly classic rock radio station WMGK. As the house band, we did pre-show venue concerts for many big artists including Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Genesis, and Van Halen. We also opened a huge July 4th Freedom Festival for headliner Randy Bachman (who, in one of those twists of fate Bob Dylan talks about, was scheduled to play play 3 shows on the Rock Legends IV  Cruise you will be reading about a few paragraphs from now) in Camden's Cooper River Park in front of about 40,000 classic rock fans. 

Meanwhile our son Michael, who refused to be called Mick by anyone other than me, also developed a love of music, but as a listener, not a performer. Once, at my insistence, he played "Louie Louie" on my keyboards in a club. But that was the extent of his on-stage career. He did manage to play Division I tennis, follow both the Grateful Dead and Phish on tour, get 2 masters and a PhD, marry Shannon Sullivan from Boston, have 2 children, Audrey and Owen; and finally ended up in Atlanta, Georgia, teaching at Georgia State University in the fall, Chicago University in the spring, and working for World Bank projects in such places as Istanbul, Dubai, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Katmandu, Nepal in the summers. 

When our nomadic grandchildren (by age 7 our granddaughter Audrey had lived in 5 homes in 3 states) finally landed in one fixed spot, we immediately decided to join them in the Atlanta Perimeter community of Dunwoody, Georgia.

So that's how we came to move in late December of last year. But before we truly settled into our new Atlanta location, we had a final task from our DC years to complete.

A year ago this past January, we discovered that Gregg Allman was going to be one of the featured artists on Rock Legends IV, a 4-day Caribbean cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Turks and Caicos and back. We quickly decided to book passage on the Jan. 21st, 2016 voyage.

Allman, the brother of the late legendary guitarist Duane Allman, is one of the artists that both Judy and I like equally and immensely. I had been fortunate enough to see the Allman Brothers twice before Duane died in 1971 in a tragic motorcycle crash and Judy and I had seen them frequently over the ensuing years in several of the band's different incarnations.

Now, with the Allmans disbanded, Gregg would be appearing with his solo group, which consisted of himself on Hammond B-3 and some guitar, 1 lead guitarist, a second keyboard player who handled piano duties, a bass player, a drummer, and the percussionist from the Allmans. The most interesting aspect of Gregg's band was that he had replaced the Allmans' traditional second guitarist with a 3-member horn section. This gave the group the sound of a Memphis/Stax soul review and allowed it to pursue more funky or jazzy arrangements of Greg's classic songs like "Whipping Post," "Southbound," or "I'm No Angel".

Now Judy and I had cruised quite a bit in much of the world. But this would be the first time we had ever sailed on a themed cruise and, even though it would be our shortest sojourn on the sea ever, our expectations were high. The final musical lineup included 22 artists performing 64 shows over 4 days. There would be live music from 10 a.m until 1 or 2 a.m. the next day. Although there were many acts we wanted to see, we agreed that attending the 3 shows by the Greg Allman Band would be our priority.

Greg Allman checks out the view from the ship
When we boarded the massive Independence of the Sea, we learned that the ship was sold out and we would be sharing our floating festival-type experience with 4,368 other passengers. But the ship is so huge that crowds wouldn't be a problem. Plus with 3 large stages, 1 outside and 2 inside, and dozens of other activities running at the same time, there would be plenty of room at all the shows.

We also discovered a special bonus. On Friday, January 22nd, Gregg would be doing a meet-and-greet with a photo op. And, as luck would have it, that day also happened to be Judy's 65th birthday. This meant my wife would get the gift of spending a good portion of the special day officially marking her arrival as a senior citizen with one of her long-time musical favorites.

Gregg's greet-the-fans session would run for 45 minutes and was set for 1 pm. That meant we could see a full 90-minute set set by another of my southern jam favorites, The Devon Allman Band, and still be in line at 11:30 for the Greg session. Now you may notice a similarity of names here. And there is a reason for that. Devon is Gregg's 43-year-old son. As you might expect, the younger Allman bears a striking similarity to his father in both looks and vocal phrasing.

After Devon's show - which included a powerful cover of "Ziggy Stardust" as a tribute to the recently deceased David Bowie and an electrifying  cover of Eric Clapton's "Forever Man" - we headed straight to the line for his father's appearance.

There were only about 30 people in front of us, a fairly sure sign that we would get in.  So we began our wait. Now waiting in line for 90 minutes, or queuing as the British call it, can be boring. But not on a ship filled with ardent rock fans. A group of 8 of us standing next to each other began talking about rock bands and rock records and rock shows and the cruise and even Donald Trump. By the time the doors opened exactly at 1 p.m., we knew more about each other than some people we had worked with for decades.

Earlier, volunteer cruise workers had said that Allman wouldn't be signing any articles, but Greg quickly ignored that rule. His massive bodyguard also had warned us that men were not to drape their arms around Gregg or touch him, but women could if they wanted to too. They could even ask for a hug. 

Gregg Allman greets Judy for her birthday
By the time it came to our turn, I let Judy go first. Gregg was sitting on a high bar stool with stools on on either side of him. A professional photographer was taking the shots and said they would be available online later. Judy approached Greg and told him how much she appreciated his music, adding that it was her 65th birthday. Greg gave her a hearty hug and happy birthday and, after less than a minute, motioned for me to join them.

As  I sat down on the 3rd stool, I grinned and joked, "Hey Gregg, you're not trying to steal my wife are you?"

His grayish eyes twinkled and he let out a laugh that I swear had some of the same growly effects as his incredible blues voice. "Nah, man," he said in a smooth southern drawl as he pointed to his wife and one of his stunning daughters sitting a few feet away. "I got that covered",

The famous Fillmore shot of the Allmans
Now I really wanted to ask Gregg about the 1st time I had seen the Allman Brothers Band. It was, I was certain, in the  summer of 1970. I know the concert was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. As I recall the show, the legendary Little Richard was scheduled to open. Richard, in all his strange weirdness, bounced onto the stage and in his trademark high-pitched voice screeched "I'm Little Richard and I don't open for nobody". After a few minutes of heated discussion, Gregg's brother Duane, who at the time was band leader, apparently said fine and agreed to have the Brothers go on first. But after 3 or 4 songs, Little Richard, his brightly colored cape swaying behind him, again bounded onto stage, commandeered a microphone, and shrieked something that sounded like "I want to play right now". This time Duane and the band weren't so accommodating. A dramatically protesting Little Richard was led off stage, the Allman Brothers resumed their set, and Richard never did play that night.

Or at least that's the way I recall it. But since this was the early 70s, I spent a lot of time fueled by a combination of cannabis, chemicals, and Boone's Farm Apple Wine. That means many of my memories were then - and still are - sketchy, faulty, or even downright hallucinatory.

Gregg and Me
So although Gregg Allman was right there is front of me, I declined to ask any questions. Basically, there were several good reasons for that decision. First, I thought it would be unfair to ask Gregg about 1 specific show out of the thousands he had played, especially 1 that occurred 45 years ago. Secondly, I didn't want him to look at me like I was some crazed fan for even bringing it up. Thirdly, since I had been telling the Little Richard story for years and really liked it, I didn't want to find out it was completely untrue. Finally, and most importantly, I didn't want to monopolize Gregg. The important thing was that Judy was able to spend some up-close-and-personal time with him on her special day. After the photographer took 2 or 3 shots, I simply said, "Gregg thanks for all the music and the memories all these years" and stood up.

Greg reached out his hand for a farewell shake, and, with a smile, sincerely said, "Man, thank you for coming to all those shows".

With that, Judy and I walked out and, with each step, became more glad that we had gotten in line early. The line to see Greg stretched all the way down the long hallway, through the casino, and up the ship's 3-deck staircase. I later learned that dozens and dozens of disappointed fans had to be turned away because the 45-minute deadline had expired.

After lunch from the ship's overflowing buffet, Judy and I whiled away time talking to some friends we had already made by the 2nd day of the cruise. We were waiting for Greg'gs band performance, which was scheduled to begin at 5:45 pm on the 11th-deck outdoor stage. 

Now there's always some uncertainty about outdoor concerts no matter where they are held. And this one was going to be taking place in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Outdoors, the weather can be quite a factor. Judy and I had once seen a Stones concert from the top rows of the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia during a powerful summer N'Eastern storm. The howling wind swirled Mick Jagger's vocals so much they sounded like this: "Jumpin' Jack Jack Jack Jack Flash Flash Flash Flash is a gas, gas, gas, gas, gas, gas ...."

Even the greatest festivals in rock history were shaped by weather conditions. For example, take Monterrey Pop and Woodstock. Monterrey was all sun and warming winds. Woodstock was rain, mud, and lightning, followed by mud and more mud.

By 5 p.m., it was clear that tonight's conditions for the Gregg Allman Band show were going to be more Woodstock than Monterrey. As we approached the stage area around 5 pm, a hard rain was falling. The strong wind was swirling. Although all the Allman Band equipment was on stage, it was covered by heavily taped-down blue tarp.

But bad weather can be a boon to dedicated concert goers. Judy and I immediately headed to the front of the stage on Gregg Allman's side. There were only a handful of people milling around. We immediately staked out a spot directly in front of Gregg's Hammond B-3. We would be in the front row. This would be perfect positioning, provided, of course, there was a show.
Stage crew works to uncover Greg Allman's Hammond B-3
As the minutes dragged on, that outcome seemed more doubtful. The rain lessened, but the wind increased. The wind had caused severe problems the night before. It had been so forceful that it had toppled the giant bass stacks used by Foghat. 5:45 came. The equipment remained covered. 6 pm. 6:15. 6:30. But fans remain steadfast. What's some rain and wind when you have a chance to see the Gregg Allman Band this close? Finally, around 6:40 a cheer erupted. The crew was on stage, working to remove the tarps. They succeed and a few minutes after 7, the band, led by Gregg, walked across the stage to their instruments.

Judy, stage front, watches Greg
Gregg sat down at his organ. He was struggling to keep his black baseball cap on his head.The wind didn't care that Allman was one of the most acclaimed rock musicians on land and now on sea. Apparently, nature is completely indifferent to stardom.

 "Hey, sorry about that," Gregg said, finally giving up adjusting his baseball cap. "First we were going on, then we weren't. The captain agreed to stop the ship for an hour to see if we can get this show in for you". All the while we could hear the wind whipping through the mikes and hissing out the giant PA speakers. I could only imagine what it sounded like in the tiny ear monitors each of the band members were wearing. Gregg didn't have to wonder. He was experiencing it directly. "Damn this wind," he said, tugging and pushing at his ear.

Finally, Gregg counted off and the band hit the 1st notes of their opening number "Statesboro Blues", a classic Allmans opener since the days of their great Fillmore East live shows. Now, as much as I like the Allmans, "Statesboro Blues" had never been a favorite. But the 3 horns replacing the 2nd guitar gave the song a new vitality.

About 4 songs into a hastily rearranged, abbreviated set, Gregg got off his organ bench and a guitar tech handed him one of his guitars. I  was fairly certain I knew what was coming. And, if I was right, my wife would be extremely happy.

If you were to ask Judy to name her 20 favorite songs, I'm positive 3 Allman Brothers tunes would make the list - "Jessica," "Melissa" and "Midnight Rider". Now since "Jessica" was written by Dicky Betts and former Allman Brothers pianist and current Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, Gregg doesn't include that in his live repertoire. But he does perform the beautiful "Melissa" and the haunting "Midnight Rider," 2 of his best-known tunes, regularly. Sometimes, however, he only plays 1 a show. I felt that might be the case tonight since he only had an hour. But I was wrong. He played them both back to back, giving Judy a 15-minute special birthday present that you can only receive if one of your favorite artists plays 2 of your favorite songs back to back while you are standing less than 15 feet away.

After a few more tunes, the band closed with a shortened, drastically reworked version of "Whipping Post, " which, in the 1970s, could run for as long as half an hour or more.

We would go on to see a captivating 90-minute set inside the next night, the highlight of which was the closer "One Way Out" featuring a guest appearance by fellow cruise performer Orianthi, a fabulous female guitarist from Australia who plays like her guitar tutors were Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Prince. On the last night, we returned to the outdoor stage once again to see another abbreviated, chilly, but nonetheless great 1-hour set.

Together, Judy and I saw many other bands over the next couple of days - Peter Frampton (twice), Randy Bachman (twice), Grand Funk, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Artimus Pyle (the original drummer for Lynard Skynard - twice), the Outlaws (twice) , Dana Fuchs, Marshall Tucker, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, Devon Allman again, and 2 shows by America, a band I had never liked before on record or radio, but surprisingly enjoyed live on the cruise.

But as good as they were, they were just icing on the (birthday) cake.

Gregg Allman 2016, but who for 2017?
I'm certain we would not have gone on the cruise if Gregg Allman hadn't been booked. And he and his band had provided a perfect cake for a wife's 65th birthday.

But our GreggAllman cruise adventure did leave me with one huge problem. What do I get my wife for birthday number 66? Hey, does anyone know what Smokey Robinson, Carly Simon, and Chicago are doing next January 22nd?

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