Concert Review– Gregg Allman, with JJ Grey and Mofro– The Florida Theatre, Jacksonville, FL, 12/31/13
” But I’m not gonna let ’em catch me, no; not gon’ let ’em catch the Midnight Rider “-
Gregg Allman, ” Midnight Rider ”
So who were those hellhounds on the trail of the Midnight Rider? The law? Jealous husband’s posse? Or could it have been Father Time, stalking even the most elusive of us, bearing down until every horse had fallen under our saddles, every step in flight had ground to a halt? Or could one bearded Pale Rider outrun even Time itself?
Back in the late 60s, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the frontman for a Jacksonville based band, the Allman Joys, phoned his brother Duane to ask that he leave his rising career as a session guitarist in Muscle Shoals and L.A. and come east to start a new band. Based in Macon, GA, the Allman Brothers roared out of the South behind a two-drummer, twin lead guitar lineup playing a blues/rock hybrid that gave free rein to jammy solos and soulful vocals. Soon they headlined festivals, sold millions of records, and won fans worldwide, their career arc culminating in the 1970 release of one of the greatest live LPs ever, ” Live at the Fillmore East ” . Sadly, Brother Duane and bassist Berry Oakley died in motorcycle wrecks months apart within a few blocks of their beloved Big House headquarters and residence in Macon, and now rest peacefully in a lovely local cemetery.
But the music lived on with new band members, surviving the departure of original lead guitarist Dicky Betts and various personal triumphs and tragedies. And no one put more miles on the odometer than Gregg, with his confidante Scooter Herring puking on the band to the DEA, a head-spinning marriage to Cher Bono, tattoo-contracted Hepatitis, and constant touring in the headwind of musical trends from punk to disco to grunge threatening to marginalize every genuine blues rocker into obscurity. But like the song says, ” the road goes on forever.. and I’ve got one more silver dollar…”
Today the Allman Brothers Band features guitarists Derek Trucks ( whose uncle Butch is an original member on drums) and Warren Haynes, both named by Rolling Stone as among the 50 top axemen of all time ( both just announced this year as their last with the ABB – Ed.), and tours as a unit when Derek and wife Susan Tedeschi are not on the road with their Grammy-winning band, Haynes is on break from Government Mule, and Gregg is not touring with his own band. And as Father Time bore down on 2013 on Florida’s First Coast, the Midnight Rider took his act into the Florida Theatre before a hard-sellout crowd of ABB fans from three generations.
The promoters could not have scored a better opener than local favorite JJ Grey and Mofro, who would ordinarily have been rocking the Freebird LIve, a Jax Beach venue owned by Ronnie Van Zandt’s widow Judy, during their annual 3-night New Year’s run that has become legend in these parts. JJ has stubbornly refused to follow any trends or commercial leads, instead hammering away at his very own blend of blues, soul, R and B, with a smattering of rock. JJ’s love for the swamps and backwaters of the undeveloped Florida woods pours out in his lyrics and music, especially tunes like ” Lochloosa “, which prompted an amazing singalong by the packed house. The number of fans who knew JJ’s material was staggering for a guy whose name is unknown nationally and never will have a ” hit “, much less care. His set was wildly received, and the humbly amiable frontman wore a shit-eating grin throughout, no doubt prompted by the show of love from the locals.
Grey led Mofro through a rousing set of favorites, including ” 99 Shades of Crazy “,” Country Ghetto”, ” Brighter Days”, ” Ybor City “, and a tribute and wave to his daughter in the house , ” The Sweetest Thing”. His stage banter and mid-song freestyling were alternatively poignant and hilarious, with down-home philosophizing on the beauty of Old Florida and the inanity of his childhood preference of a Big Mac over the native foods he loves today: ” I didn’t want no okra… I didn’t want no blackeyed peas… I didn’t want no Silver Queen corn fresh off the cob!” Grey’s unabashed sincerity and embrace of American roots music forms show his artistic integrity, and drive his steadfast fan loyalty and fellow musicians’ respect.
The extended ovation for Mofro was exceeded only by the roar when Gregg strode onstage, waved, and climbed behind the Hammond B3. Back off, Father Time!
With the opening lines of ” Statesboro Blues ” , the lead track from ” Live At the Fillmore East” rocking the house, the sellout crowd knew they were in the presence of Blues Rock Royalty. Following his solo ” I’m No Angel “, Gregg chose heavily from the ABB catalog, with ” Ain’t Wastin’ Time”, ” Hot ‘Lanta “, ” Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ ” , ” Whipping Post “, and yes, ” Midnight Rider ” . Gregg stepped off the Hammond B3 stool to join Scott Sharrard on guitar for several tunes, including ” Melissa”, and Jackson Browne’s ” These Days “. Despite the years and the mileage, his voice was amazingly strong, with no apparent loss of tone or range. To the delight of the crowd, Sharrard managed to wail unerringly through the well-known Skydog and Betts solos on the ABB standards, with the rhythm section and horns keeping pace. The band closed with Sonny Boy Williamson’s ” One Way Out “, another ABB war horse, and the celebration ended as the New Year began.
Father Time rounded up the hellhounds and waved goodnight, as the Baby New Year cried in vain for another encore. The Midnight Rider escaped again!
Our Florida correspondent Nanker Phledge sends special thanks to the Florida Theatre security for clearing out the pinheads who constantly stand in front of the stage shooting video on tiny cameras that will never be watched by anyone. Props to you!