Monday, June 19, 2006

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.

9 Comments:

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous dono said...

The ads were the best. Feed stores and Used Car dealer type stuff.

Saturday and Sunday are the best for southern AM radio. Hellfire and brimstome preachin' I'm talking about.

I was coming from Asheville back home to Johnson City, and I heard "Let me git this coat off! I'm fixin' to start slobberin' and slingin' snot!"

And, "No. You won't come back to church on Sunday night. But, you'll set at home, eatin' popcorn and watching the Three Stooooges."

Nice post about Gregg. And another wonderful concept -

 
At 3:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting entry.Wondering about the recording equipment carried on these trips.I was surprised to learn tape is still used. I thought it would all be hard drives.

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger David said...

Must be nice to be payed by xm,which is funded in large part by the share holders and subscribers, to fly around and do these things. Sounds great but as a subscriber and share holder it just seems like a waste of resources in contrast to the loss of so much unique channel choices. Luna, ngoma and world channel. I love the idea of the Greg Allman stuff and think it is important but I would much rather be able to listen to Luna in my car.

Lee how do you deal with the current state of xm compared to three years ago. How can you feel good about where the company has gone with its music selection. For me it is in no way better than three years ago, except for the addition of 202 and baseball.

The loss of Luna was the final blow and testimony to the fact that there are some true idiots in charge. Who are they? I don't know but I am sure you do Lee. I have no idea what your postion was on the channel changes of Luna,Ngoma,nd World channel.

Lee could you please write a blog addressing these issues. Inform us,please,the thinking behind doingaway with these channels. And please let us know our chances of getting Luna back, and hopefully Ngoma and World channel.

Thank you,

David

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Chug-A-Bug said...

This is really of a piece with the golf channel expenditure.

It seems like XM is super-serving the classic rock baby boomers.

Here you go, flying out to Gregg Allman's house to shoot the shit about the good ol' days, while the modern rock channels are a largely voice-tracked afterthought and poorly programmed.

A small fraction of the money spent on visiting Gregg Allman and having Cheap Trick re-create Live at Budokhan could be used to improve the experience for people not of the Abrams generation.

 
At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Uncle Freddy said...

Love the blog, Lee!

I'd like to make a suggestion for a future topic. I'm sure I'm not alone in requesting you write about what you think XM will look like in 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years from now. What changes do your foresee in programming? Are there new areas XM will branch into?

I've heard Eric Logan say that he wants to appeal to 100 niches. How will XM get there?

Thanks much!

 
At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a baby boomer, too, and I love my old vinyl from my college years, but I'm not so delusional as to think that my generation's music is the only music that "matters." Please stop pushing the same tired dinosaur acts today that you pushed in your "Superstars" FM consultant days 30 years ago, PLEASE!

I'm with the previous posters. What XM has done to world and Latin music is a crime -- nothing but outright pandering to the aging classic rock fans and the statistically insignificant Quebec audience.

Howard

 
At 2:10 PM, Blogger Chug-A-Bug said...

Ok, not to harp on it, but there are other outlets on the internet where these kinds of issues are voiced and nobody at XM seems to read them or care much. At least here, since comments must be approved, we know someone at XM has to read them.

I was just in the car and flipping through 41, The Bone Yard, a hard rock hair metal station that has fallen on very hard, neglected/voice tracked times after a few years. It used to be a reliable outlet for the spandex sound. No more.

41 was playing Nirvana, In Bloom. This is out of format for the station, but I can see how a rookie or a computer would hear loud guitars and think it fits on the boneyard. Since it's a good tune, I kept it on.

But when it was over, the Boneyard went into.... The Police, Walking on the Moon. Are you fucking kidding me, this is on the bone yard? It ain't exactly Ratt!

Lee, since nobody at XM apparently knows this music, just please take my word for it -- it's like having the Ray Conniff Singers or Britney Spears on Deep Tracks.

Is XM not capable of hiring people who know some of these genres? Again, it's all about the "then again" music. Very sad.

 
At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Eddie Esserman said...

Lee,

How is it that I'm trying rent a car at Signature Savannah and got your blog?

 
At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you got some good information in your blog. I think we share a lot of the same interests.

I do a lot of reviews and I think you may be interested in The Simple Golf Swing Review and maybe Jamorama Review.

Well stop by and sometime and say hi, looking forward to seeing updates in your blog.

- Greg

 

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