For a second, the question seems like a terrible mistake, and Gregg Allman pauses. He is told Eric Clapton’s favorite guitar solo came at the end of Wilson Pickett’s 1968 version of “Hey Jude.” It’s by Allman’s brother, Duane, who died in 1971. “That was his favorite thing my brother played on,” dryly repeats Allman, co-founder with Duane of the guitar-solo-heavy Allman Brothers Band. “Well, I can think of a lot better stuff.”
But Allman, the 68-year-old singer and keyboardist, who soldiered on with the Allman Brothers until they played their final show two years ago at New York’s Beacon Theatre, quickly returns to amiable-phone-interview mode. He recalls Duane’s “monstrous” amplifiers. “You don’t do that — you get a small amp, and you overload it,” he says from his home in Savannah, Georgia. “But you know, guitar players, they’re all pretty much set in their ways, which is very cool.”
In post-Allman Brothers mode, Gregg has formed a new band, influenced by Southern soul and built around his weary voice and Hammond B-3 organ. He put out a live album last year, drawn from a killer Macon, Georgia, set, with versions of “Whipping Post” and his solo hit “I’m No Angel,” and says he plans a studio album, “Southern Blood,” in January. He’s headlining his own Laid Back Festival (which hits Jones Beach Saturday), co-starring country singer Jason Isbell and ’70s rockers America and the Marshall Tucker Band. Working with promoter Live Nation and his manager, Michael Lehman, Allman approves the acts on the traveling show.
“I tell you, they’re all good — it ranges from, like, jug bands to jazz,” Allman says. “We got to sit down and call up some of our buddies and say, ‘Hey, you want to come play a festival?’ And just about all of ’em said ‘Yes.’ ”
The 20-minute conversation is all over the place, with Allman brushing off a few questions and going unexpectedly deep on others. He loves talking about his latest band, a nine-piece with a decidedly un-Allman Brothers-like horn section as well as guitarist Scott Sharrard, percussionist Marc Quinones and drummer Steve Potts. He suggests the Allmans — legendary for feuding, breaking up, then coming together, with a shambling, rotating, sometimes great lineup over the years — never had a leader after Duane died. “You’ve got to have somebody to say ‘stop’ and ‘go,’ a focal point of some kind,” he says matter-of-factly. “And it really helps if the rest of the guys respect him.”
In recent interviews, Allman has conspicuously refused to shut the door on an Allmans reunion. But he sounds like he has closure now. “It’s a hard road out there. It is,” he says. “But we met it with dignity. And we finished everything we started. And one thing people can say is that, when it came to our concerts, they got their money’s worth.”
Laid Back Festival
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 4 p.m., Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh