TRAVELOGUE #2: THE GREGG ALLMAN TRIP
We have a new series called "OFFSTAGE". It’s where we go to an artist and record a radio show--usually in their home where they are totally relaxed and can focus on music. They have total control over the song list, what they say, everything. It’s a chance for an artist to do radio like they think it should sound…tap into their music collection without the pressures of a weekly show. The first shows are Phil Collen and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. We’ve also recorded Nancy and Ann Wilson, Joe Walsh and a bunch of others.Last Saturday, Lou Brutus, XM "audio animator" John Stevens and I piled into my plane and flew to Savannah to record Gregg Allman in his home. It was one of those magical days. Tooling at 8000 feet over North Carolina, exchanging Andy Griffith stories between calls to ATC. Checking out the real estate below. Talking trash about the North Carolina stations we knew. My first client was WQDR in Raleigh in ’71. Station was owned by a conservative insurance company. They REALLY didn’t get the music, and the hippie invasion when we hired the staff raised a few eyebrows. GM Carl Venters loved it, though…especially when we had a 10 share in our first book. Suddenly these hippies were "OK". That was a strange time. We had a jock freak out on the air…and an all night guy that played the live version of America by the Nice in the Left Speaker and the studio version in the right offering listeners a chance to choose. Unfortunately the live version was 8 minutes longer and he forgot that SOME people had mono receivers. Those were interesting times.We departed DC around 9am. Perfect day. The flight down was uneventful…upon arrival in Savannah it was HOT. REAL hot. Got a rental car (with GPS thankfully) And after giving out some XM discount cards to the staff at Signature Flight Support (the arrivalterminal) we hit the road to a remote location south of Savannah. My airplane tail number is 101XM, so I can usually sell a few radios to the airport crew whenever I land. Once I flew into Poughkeepsie with two rather attractive female XM employees. The tower controller actually took a break from the tower to meet the plane. Huge O&A fan who heard the boys talking about how I flew the plane drunk and stoned, would fall asleep at the controls and other stuff like that (I don’t). He was blown away that we actually came to Poughkeepsie. Huge XM fan…figured it typical that there’d be two babes in the plane…after all— it’s "the XM plane".En route from the Airport we hit Krystals. I lived in Atlanta so knew about this Southern version of White Castle. Lou and John were impressed that it was WhiteCastle-- but actually clean and with nice counter people. John ordered 12 sliders but backed off to a more realistic 4. Turned on the radio, but stuck with AM’s around 1500 that were so ‘small town’ they were interesting. The ads were the best. Feed stores and Used Car dealer type stuff. The local FMs held no interest whatsoever.Back on I-95, headed to Gregg’s house. Got off on a long road. EVERY building was a Church or an Auto Supply place. Kept driving. Finally hit another road (love the GPS!) Now we were clearly in the South. A few miles, then in the midst of this Southern forest was his road. We wound down the road and hit his place. Totally nice. He and his wife were beyond gracious... nice dogs too. Fueled on Mr. Pibb and sweet Iced Teas, John Stevens was sitting up the equipment while Lou and I were talking with Gregg about everything from early R&B radio to the Blues. Gregg was relaxed, sprawled out on his easy couch tellin’ stories. Damn! I wish we had THAT on tape! Finally the tape was rolling and without missing a beat, Gregg rolls into a totally unaffected series of raps and stories about the songs and eras that touched him…leading into his favorite songs with grace and an "I was there" sense of personal history. It was perfect. If only all DJ’s could talk like he did…informed, intelligent and completely relating to the music. It was friendly but totally from the heart.He pretty much walked us through his musical life.Growing up in Nashville. Moving to Florida and being wowed by WELE the local Soul station…listening to WMFJ in Daytona and WAPE in Jacksonville. Befriending a local old time Blues player. Sneaking across the tracks to soak in genuine music. Learning the guitar.Life with Duane. The early days of forming his band.His musical influences which ranged from the B Side of "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby and the Romantics to B.B.King to Tim McGraw. Got teary-eyed reminiscing about Stevie Ray Vaughn. What a great storyteller! Brilliant radio.His house is really cool. What you’d expect an Allman Brothers house to look like. Mellow…beautiful and relaxed…artistic vibe...deep in the Woods of Georgia on a river. His Wife tells us that Country Life Magazine is coming by to do a spread-- I believe it!After finishing the OFFSTAGE, we took a few photos...actually Lou took about 1,500 photos of everything from sliders to slide guitars…and we all talked more…walked around…secretly looked at his book and music library. Lots of Hammond Organ and American Blues stuff.Gregg and his Wife suggested we soak in local culture and head downtown to Lady & Sons, a local restaurant.Tell ‘em Gregg sent ya. We navigated to downtown Savannah and finally found a parking space. We asked directions to walk to the place and were met with laughs…"You’ll NEVER get in there"….We walked to the place and the line was over a block. Went to the front and tried the Gregg sent us line and amongst the din we got a loud…"huh?". We blew it off and went to a dive called Sorry Charlie’s. The waitress was extremely cute and John tried to pick her up. He used the "We’re from XM...flew down to hang with Gregg Allman" line. Unbelievably, she bought it and was totally impressed. She was addicted to our X-Country channel and was oddly enough really into everything John was telling her. She hung out with us and avoided all of her other tables. She was all of 21, so Lou and I being the old guys dug the attention, but there was nowhere this was going to go! Besides, the White Sox were in the bottom of the 11th with the Indians so I had to keep track of that. (A Chicagothing—SOUTHside) So I left a nice tip and we headed back into the oppressive heat to head back to DC. The GPS failed us. Lou dialed in Signature Flight support.Unfortunately, Signature has numerous locations and Des Moines was plugged in. Shortly after realizing our errors we finally made it to the SAVANNAH location.Upon arrival, sold another radio to the clerk.John engaged an F-15 jock in a conversation. What a scene that was. Like Satan talking to Mr.America. John begged him for a ride. The pilot was a nice guy about it, but homeland security would have a field day with that scenario.We took off…a few bumps at 7000 feet, so we went up to a smooth, cool 9000. Raleigh Approach Control alerted us of severe weather ahead. The onboard XM weather showed some heavy stuff ahead too. On the Nexrad radar display green is light, yellow is heavy, red is bad, purple is REAL bad. Not forecasted…but it was there.Mostly yellow with a few patches of red. Lou went from happy and buzzy to pale blue. John thought the bad weather was cool and then passed out from exhaustion. As we got closer, Lou got bluer. Finally we penetrated the storm (heavy rain—not much more than that)….but Lou was thinking imminent death as the pounding rain WAS loud. I glance over and he’s PRAYING! Sorta like Johnny Rotten praying. In reality it was a thin band of rain that we blew through. It was unnerving to him because we were completely inside of these black clouds, bouncing around a bit. But in my best Chuck Yeager voice, I calmly asked ATC for a few turns to stay away from the heavy stuff, and minutes later we exited the storm to an amazing sunset and blue skies. After we peeled Lou’s fingernails from the panel, he was back with his Nikon shooting cloud and ground shots. John was still sleeping.Approaching the lights of DC at 10pm, we reflected on what an amazing day it had been….Lou was finally recovering from the storm and John was finally waking up with a classic "We there yet?—I gotta pee". We landed, the Sox won and all was good.