Allman tells it straight

Keyboardist talks about personal struggles

To say that Gregg Allman is a candid man would be an understatement.

During a recent phone interview, the Allman Brothers keyboardist and leader ducked no questions and gave generous answers. His own troubled past, the state of the band and the recent controversial departure of guitarist Dickey Betts were all fair game, and the gravelly voiced singer seemed more than happy to offer his take on all of the above.

Formed in 1968, the Allmans have survived a series of personnel changes and tragedies, including the deaths of founder Duanne Allman in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley in 1972. The band continued on successfully throughout the '70s, and after a nine-year hiatus, regrouped in 1989 and has since toured consistently.

Multiple-night stands at some venues have become the norm, and in 1994 the band was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. In 1996 the group won its first Grammy for a new, live performance of the classic "Jessica."

Alcohol problems?

Allman says it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Original guitarist Dickey Betts has been replaced for this summer's tour. Guitarists Jimmy Herring and Derek Trucks are in, and rounding out the lineup is Butch Trucks on drums and tympani, Jaimoe on drums, Marc Quinones on congas, percussion and vocals, and Oteil Burbridge on bass.

In a report earlier this year, the band cited "creative differences" as the reason for Betts' departure, but added they hoped he'd be back by the fall. Some reports, however, said he'd been fired, and a friend of Betts said the guitarist received a fax from the band saying "his services were no longer required."

In another report, Betts' wife, Donna, said the band had insinuated that a drug and alcohol problem forced it to let Betts go. She strongly denied Betts had any such problems.

Simply put, the situation got a little ugly.

"This whole thing has been boiling up for years," says Allman, choosing to use himself as an example to explain Betts' departure.

"In 1979, I first realized that I had trouble with alcohol. I'd wake up in the morning and my hands would shake. Well, three stops into the '79 spring tour, my attorney came knockin' on my door. I was passed out, face down on the bed, and I said ... 'Where's the next show at?"'

The next stop, his friend said, was not for a concert. Allman was off to rehab.

"The stopped the tour and I went in there," he says. "That's about what's happening here. We haven't fired Dickey. " It's about the same thing as in '79. I, of course, was just muttering. I wasn't even singing. I was drinking a quart and a half of vodka a day, for God's sakes. How the hell can you perform under that?"

Allman says the door is open for Betts to return.

"It's up to him to take care of himself," says Allman. "Nobody helped me to get sober, because they couldn't. They tried, for God's sake. If they could, hell, I would have been sober years ago. A man's got to do it by himself. Once he starts to help himself, he gets all the help he needs. The only thing I had to do was admit that I could not drink the (stuff)."

A new energy

Allman says the group is once again dishing out its jam-styled, percussion-fueled blues, and that the new players have re-energized the project. Herring, he says, has filled in with the Allmans before and is an excellent player. And Trucks -- the nephew of Butch -- reminds him of someone very special.

"The band is smokin'," says Allman. "Now, with 'The Bros,' it's like the old days, man. I'm not by any means saying 'ding-dong the witch is dead,' I'm just saying that the problem is straightened out. The new blood has really breathed some new life into this thing. ...

"I mean, you talk about a serious deja vu. Derek, he plays the same type guitar as my brother did. In the seat that I'm in, it's the most beautiful thing that I believe could happen to anybody. It's like this whole generation round-up of Allman Brothers.

"I don't know how it happened, but we wound up with the perfect players."

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