Greg Allman died yesterday (May 27, 2017) at age 69 from complications of liver cancer. John Morton met Duane and Greg Allman when they were still Hour Glass and playing the same clubs in L.A. as Hunger!
Hearing of Greg Allman’s death John Morton had this to say. “It’s sad to hear about Gregg Allman passing. A fellow compadre I would have loved to have seen him before he died. I’m lucky to have had the honor to play with him. I remember the first time I saw him singing in The Hourglass. He was doing their rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. This gutsy, soulful voice with southern comfort charm. I’ll never forget how cool he was, long blonde hair playing a big hammond organ. I could see back then he was destined for rock and roll greatness. To see both him and Duane Allman playing up close was a sight to see. I know it sounds over the top but these memories come flooding in like it was yesterday seeing him perform. He really lived longer than anyone expected. He dealt with his demons, drugs, alcohol, wild women and partying. He had a liver transplant and contracted hepatitis c early in his career from sharing needles. And he payed for it in the end suffering with ill health. He said that music was the one thing that kept him alive. When he became too sick to perform he had no reason to hang on. Great epitaph for his final song. I feel like now there’s just fewer and fewer of us left to tell our story.”
Hour Glass which was the predecessor band to the Allman Brothers Band played at The Cheetah, we had played with them at a lot of other gigs. One night Duane Allman and I were standing around backstage waiting to go on and we started talking as the next act was getting ready to go on. A young guy went onstage with a Spanish guitar, wearing sunglasses. Duane and I looked at each other baffled.
“This guy thinks he’s Ray Charles,” I said. Duane looked at me and said sarcastically, “I bet he’s good!” We grinned at each other as the announcer said,
“I met this kid at a music store and his teacher said he was his best student and he played a few bars of a flamenco tune and I was blown away! See what you think. Oh and he can sing too! This my friends is Jose Feliciano!” Feliciano broke into Malagueña and then did a rousing acoustic version of “Light my Fire.” Whatever fears he may have had being on stage with some of the best psychedelic rock bands just melted away. He was a one man show and he had the crowd yelling and cheering for more. He was the best received act that night. The announcer stepped up to the mic and said, “what more can I say but this is his first performance and definitely not his last. This kid’s going someplace!” Duane looked at me and said, “Man, the proof’s in the putting!”
Duane had heard Hunger! play at other shows and it turned out he dug our sound especially on our opening with “She’s Not There.” We both agreed covers weren’t the way to go to become known. The Hour Glass was covering “Eleanor Rigby” which in my opinion was really shaping them into becoming The Allman Brothers Band. Although Gregg Allman was trying to sound like James Brown and the band sounded a little like Motown. It didn’t fit their image of long hair southern boys. This gutsy, soulful voice with southern comfort charm. I’ll never forget how cool he was, long blonde hair playing a big Hammond organ. I could see back then he was destined for rock and roll greatness. To see both him and Duane Allman playing up close was a sight to see. They hadn’t even scraped the surface of what they would become, a powerful, long twenty minute lead, jam band in which they personified the new southern rock sound.
I had a lot in common with Duane, two guys writing music trying to come up with an original sound. He played slide guitar like no one I had ever seen. I had no idea he’d become a legend in his own right. He loved playing. Music was a vast universe to him. We’d discuss and compare ideas. He liked the idea of throwing a touch of jazz into a song and dug melody lines and taking two guitars playing them off of each other like we did in Hunger! His main thing was getting his slide guitar to sing like a human voice. He said that’s what made the music come alive, and he hadn’t even played on “Layla” yet with it’s searingly beautiful slide guitar lead. Duane was actually shy, but man could he play the blues. He was showing me stuff backstage on his slide, stuff with just his Les Paul unplugged that blew me away.
“Man you’re great,” I said, “that’s phenomenal playing. You oughta incorporate that into your sound!”
“Where do you think I can take this?” He asked.
“As far as you want man! That’s definitely your own style.” From that moment on we began a great friendship even though it was short lived. I’d like to think I had a part in his decision to go to slide but the truth is it was already in his blood being from Florida and the South. A love for music was something that we both had in common. He was an inspiration to me and vice versa. I showed him my style and he showed me licks. I couldn’t play half the licks he knew, but we both had a love for what would become jazz rock. He liked syncopated rhythm and jazz chording that I was incorporating into one of our new songs “The Truth,” which Mike Lane had written. Duane asked me if he could borrow that rhythm and I said, “I don’t own it. It’s been played in jazz for years!” It was in 5/4 time with Am-Am 6th-A minor 7th in a chucka-chucka style. That eventually became the rhythm in the double lead solo on their song “Whipping Post” which became one of the Allman Brothers greatest songs. Whenever I hear that song it always takes me back to Duane and I just sharing musical ideas. Our friendship grew and whenever I saw him we’d be like old friends ready to tell each other our latest adventures. It was cool playing on the same stage together. They were rising in popularity and so were we. They spent almost as much time playing late nights at The Whisky as Hunger! did, honing their craft.
The last time I saw Duane Allman was when I returned to L.A. and living in the valley in the apartments. It was a surprise visit and I was shocked how he found me. I guess he just asked around, probably at The Whisky. We both played there a lot doing after hour gigs. Duane had found success with his new band The Allman Brothers. He introduced me to his new guitar player Dickie Betts. As I remember both of them were dressed Southern style, cowboy boots, hip hugger pants, fancy belts, his hair in a pony-tail, and Duane had his Southern drawl back. I was wearing sandals and shorts, Duane said he’d never get away wearing that in public but he envied me, “fame has a way of dictating your life but it’s worth it when you step on stage and deliver your best to an enthusiastic crowd. We got a new sound–people are calling it Southern Rock. So, how you all been John? Man it’s been a spell since I seen ya.”
“Man, we had some bad luck happen to the band,” then I went into the whole story about leaving and being involved with the mob.
“Shit, that’s a bummer, any way I can help ya, let me know. I’m here in town to pick up some stuff I got in storage mainly my guitars then Dickie and I are headed back to Florida. We’re picking up a great following. People really dig us in the South. We’re doing some gigs here and at The Avalon in San Francisco. Greg tried a solo act but he’s back with us now and we’re doing a lot of original songs more into the blues.” It was great to see he finally found success. I thought in my mind Hunger! would make it too, get new equipment and be back on stage. With a new album coming out and a strong following it would be our ticket to fame. I said to Duane, “yeah we had some set backs but I’m sure we’ll be gigging soon. Good chance we’ll be doing some gigs together.”
“Great man! Love to see you out on the road with us. Well you all keep in touch. You can reach me through my number.” He wrote it down and gave it to me but I knew how musicians were. By the time I called him back the phone number had been disconnected and there was no forwarding number. Aw yes, a fleeting moment in time. “Take care man. We’ll all see you soon.” I gave him a big brotherly hug, shook Dickie Betts hand and wished them well with a peace sign. We both smiled and I never saw them again.
Duane died October 29, 1971 in a motorcycle accident, I still can’t believe he was killed on a motorcycle. He never seemed to me like the guy that took chances.
This excerpt is from the forthcoming book “Strictly From Hunger!: A Rock and Roll Memoir” due out late in 2017 or early 2018. You can find other excerpts in this blog. If you would like to follow the progress of the book, you can on Facebook at Strictly From Hunger! or follow on Twitter @strictlyhunger.