Wednesday, 02 October 2013 15:29

30 Years Later with Gregg Allman

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It had been 30 years since I caught up with Gregg Allman at The Roundtable Restaurant. The year the KSHE book was published; I got another chance to get an autograph from the musician. By some strange alignment of the planets, I met him again at my place of work.

In 2009 Gregg Allman was finishing his book My Cross to Bear. That summer he made an impromptu visit to our office building. On that day, I was mired in my work when an art director stunned me with the news. "Hey John, do you know Gregg Allman is on 27?" he asked.

Work came to an abrupt halt, and I dashed down six flights of stairs. Shortly after he started telling stories that were to go into his book I caught up with the rock star. As I stood at the outer edge of the crowd, I could hear him recount how he and his brother held a "foot-shootin'" gathering, a plan concocted in order to avoid getting drafted during Vietnam. Gregg seemed comfortable with the setting and told a number of stories that day. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of anything else because I knew that there would be a brief question and answer period.

"What the hell should I ask him?" I wondered. I was short of breath from the mad dash from my cubicle. My mind was reeling. By 2009, I had talked to a number of people who hung out in the late 1960s at Gaslight Square, Castaway, and Prince's Palace in Belleville when Duane and Gregg Allman played gigs at those clubs with the Allman Joys and Hourglass. I heard some great stories of those bands from that brief time before The Allman Brothers Band were to become famous. Once the question and answer session started, I shot my hand up. After a few co-workers got their turn, he pointed at me. "Do you remember The Acid-Sette?" I asked. The room was stone silent for a few seconds, as he appeared unsure. The uncomfortable stillness in the air for that brief time made it apparent that he had no idea what I was asking. Before I could elaborate, the moderator interjected and wrapped up the event and the crowd closed in as he was quickly ushered in the opposite direction. Feeling a bit dejected, I took the elevator back to my floor.

Fifteen minutes back into my work routine, an art director stopped by and told me Gregg had yet to leave the building and was still on the 27th floor. I quickly printed off the spread for the Allman Brother's section I had designed for the book, grabbed the copy and once again dashed down the stairs. Walking quickly around the 27th floor, I saw no sign of him. As I passed rows of cubicles, I asked a few people if they had seen him and was about to give up when a copywriter told me Gregg had gone in the men's room. Realizing there are two exits to the restroom, I bolted through the door. After I burst through a second door, I was met with the sight of Gregg Allman standing at the urinal. Not wanting the day to get weirder, I walked as far as I could down the row of stalls and waited patiently. Didn't want the guy accusing me of being a men's room stalker. Standing there for what seemed like eternity I decided I would introduce myself when he went to wash his hands. He finally finished his business, but instead doin' the hand-washing routine, he went straight for the exit.

At that point I sped after him and caught up before he made it through the second door. We were standing in the foyer the size of a large closet. After introducing myself, I immediately handed him the color copy. Rather than a wet bottle of beer like thirty years before, Gregg was holding an 11x17 inch piece of paper. There prominently to the right in the layout was a large photo of him at his Hammond B3. In the picture Gregg was sporting a Dutch Boy haircut. To the right of the photo another picture featured his brother Duane with his giant mustache. Duane's eyes were closed and he seemed to be in another world with his Stratocaster. The photos were taken in July of 1968 at the Castaway in Ferguson. Above Duane, the club's familiar checkerboard ceiling tile was visible.

I explained to him that I had been working on a book about KSHE and the St. Louis music scene for the last seven years. I had talked to guys who met him way back in time such as Jan Marks and Joey Marshall. I then asked him, "Joey was a guitarist with The Acid-Sette. He told me when he first met you and Duane in 1967 at Pepe's a Go Gos in Gaslight Square in St. Louis, you all went back to his parent's house. At the time you and Duane were happy to eat bologna sandwiches. Do you remember much of those days?"

Gregg looked at me and spoke slowly in his gravely voice, "Yeah, those were some hard times," he said. "I remember selling half of my rights to "Melissa." I needed the money and never did get what I was supposed to," The question was all I could muster. Adrenaline and anxiety left my mind in a fog. He signed the color copy. I thanked him – and yes – I did shake his hand. I still wasn't sure if he remembered much from those days so long ago. I didn't have much time to think about it. Just like 30 years before, I had to get back to work.

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