“I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone…” — Gregg Allman, “The Road Is My Only True Friend”
Goose bumps, my friends… goose bumps rose on my arms the first time I heard this hauntingly beautiful first track from Gregg’s upcoming album ‘Southern Blood.’ Entitled, “The Road Is My Only Friend,” it’s classic Allman. If Gregg’s goal with this song was to “haunt” us with the “music of (his) soul when (he’s) gone,” he certainly succeeded. I’ve conspicuously avoided posting anything about this new track as Gregg’s loss, on the heels of the devastating loss of Chris Cornell, left me a little shaken. So, I’m a little overdue on this post… This is a song to sip whiskey to in the wee small hours.
According to Allman’s guitarist and co-writer on the track, Scott Sharrad, he started writing the song from Gregg’s brother Duane’s point of view. He didn’t tell Gregg that’s what he was doing, but Gregg responded with a verse. Sharrad told Rolling Stone magazine it was eerie how the lyrics evolved like a conversation between the two brothers.
Gregg Allman didn’t only play the blues during his long and storied career, he lived the blues. He lost his father at an early age. His brother, the guitar wizard Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident just as they were breaking big. A year later, almost to the day, the Allman Brother’s bassist Barry Oakley died the same way. There were women, wives, divorces and drugs. Worst of all, there was Cher… er, maybe I’ll just skip past that period. You hear all of that in this song.
Lyrically, the track is like sitting down in a bar, next to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and having the friend tell you his story. The idea that Sharrad shared, that this was written as a conversation comes across in the lyrics. One might easily believe this would be another ode to the gypsy life Allman lived and lauded in songs like “Melissa,” or “Midnight Rider,” or even the great solo track, “Just Another Rider” from Allman’s last LP, ‘Low Country Blues.’ But this song plays more like you would expect it to, like a man who can see the end of the long, hard road he’s ridden. In the end, the narrator is left with his only true friend, the road… “Another night alone, but I see you in my dreams sometimes…” Jesus, I think we’ve all been there.
Allman’s bluesy voice is front and center and despite his health problems, his vocals are strong. The track starts on a floating guitar solo by Mr. Sharrad, with lush keyboard under-pinings. It sounds, well, very Allman Brother-ish. Then comes the voice… that weathered, lived in voice. I can’t say enough about Gregg’s singing on this tune. It’s clear he poured his soul into these final recordings. During the verses they surround Allman’s voice with acoustic guitar and keyboards. When the verses hit, the bluesy lead guitar comes back in. Towards the end of the song, a lone, sad sounding trumpet (I think it’s a trumpet, I’m not a horn expert) plays as the guitars jam. It’s like watching a car disappear over a hill in the distance set to bluesy guitars. Simply, haunting.
When I look out at the track list on ‘Southern Blood,’ I see a lot of cover tunes. According to Sharrad, the plan was to record an album of new material, but Allman’s health became an issue so they went with another album of mostly covers, ala ‘Low Country Blues.’ Looking at the song selection, I must say, it’s inspired. He covers Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone” and Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam,” whose “These Days” Allman covered on his classic album, ‘Laid Back.’
It’s not often an artist gets to write his own epitaph, but in this case, Gregg managed to write an awfully beautiful one. Check out this track immediately. Goosebumps… I guarantee it…