Southern Blood is now available for pre-order (see links below). A special and unique part of the deluxe package and the first run of the vinyl will be the inclusion of a painting that Allman and his daughter Layla commissioned from visual artist Vincent Castiglia. The beautiful portrait Castiglia painted was made with Gregg’s actual blood in the paint. The process served as inspiration for the album title. On August 4, a limited edition numbered double-sided picture disc will be available at local record shops or with pre-orders of the album via greggallman.com.
“As his producer, I was dedicated to helping Gregg crystallize his vision for the record and to help make sure that this vision made it to the tape,” says Was. “He was a musical hero of mine and, in later years, had become a good friend. The gravitas of this particular situation was not lost on me. Gregg was a sweet, humble man with a good heart and good intentions and it was a great honor to help him put his musical affairs in order and say a proper farewell.”
Allman, well aware his time was short, approached the project with an unambiguously realistic agenda. High atop his list of goals was to capture the sound of the ultimate Gregg Allman Band in full flight, considering them the tightest knit combo of all the line-ups that had backed him over his 40+ year solo career. Despite his ongoing health issues, the Gregg Allman Band had picked up right where the Allman Brothers Band left off in 2015, spending nearly 2 years on the road with tour highlights including the now-annual Allman-curated Laid Back Festival. 2015’s two-disc CD/DVD set, Back to Macon GA, immortalized Allman and his eight-member band’s floor-shaking live power, but their leader was determined to see what the group could do within the confines of the studio.
“Gregg was very excited to be in the studio,” says Lehman. “He was especially thrilled to be recording this studio album with his solo band – he was so proud of them and loved the sound that they produced together. Gregg felt close to every single one of them. The Gregg Allman Band was like a family or a well oiled machine, always knowing what the other band members were thinking and doing.”
“The Gregg Allman Band enabled him to realize a sound that he’d been hearing in his head for decades but was previously unable to achieve. We talked a lot about his first solo LP, 1973’s Laid Back – what would that type of album sound like in the modern era played by these cats and fronted by an older and wiser Gregg Allman?”
A further key to Allman’s vision for Southern Blood was his decision to record at the world-renowned FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Alongside its own fabled history, the legendary studio occupied a momentous place in Allman’s personal back pages.
“A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman says. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to FAME Studios to bring him full circle.”
“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” says Was. “FAME was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”
Brother Duane’s presence courses through Southern Blood, from Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam” — the final verse of which Was says reminded Gregg of his older brother’s premature passing — to the funk-fried “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats,” originally found on the Duane-produced Ton-Ton Macoute!, a lost 1970 classic from left-handed blues guitarist Johnny Jenkins. Allman, Was, and Lehman spent significant time plotting out Southern Blood, carefully selecting material that would capture the moment and simultaneously serve as a synopsis of an undeniably extraordinary life. Songs like Bob Dylan’s haunting “Going, Going Gone” and Tim Buckley’s immortal “Once I Was” allowed Allman a chance to look back over his time on Earth while also pondering the journey that lay ahead.
“Gregg, Don, and I listened to a lot of material,” Lehman says. “We went back and forth with each other to ultimately come up with songs that Gregg felt reflected his mood, where he was presently in life both on a personal level and professional level, as well as what would be on his fans’ minds later on.”
Allman was of course a gifted and evocative tunesmith in his own right, the award-winning author of such modern standards as “Midnight Rider,” “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” “Dreams,” and “Whipping Post.” Southern Blood is highlighted by one of the most candid tracks of his long songwriting career, “My Only True Friend,” co-written with Gregg Allman Band guitarist/musical director Scott Sharrard.
“‘My Only True Friend’ was Gregg’s attempt to contextualize the course of his life,” says Was. “The man that his fans saw performing onstage was the essential Gregg Allman — he was whole and truly satisfied when he was up there playing music. The trials and troubles he faced in life were mostly the result of not knowing what to do with himself in between shows. In this song, he’s addressing a woman and explaining that, although he loves her and doesn’t want to face living his life alone, being away on the road and performing every night is his lifeblood. If you understand this about Gregg Allman, every other aspect of his life makes complete sense.”
Sharrard — who also contributes his own show-stopping “Love Like Kerosene” — led the Gregg Allman Band through 2 weeks of recording, with all nine musicians playing together in the same room and Allman singing live vocals. Despite the undeniable “overtones of finality,” the sessions proved both relaxed and fun for all involved. Though Allman’s diminishing stamina caused the daily sessions to be shortened, he filled each moment in-studio with every ounce of signature Gregg fire and enthusiasm — an intensity that prevailed to the very last note.
“Gregg was not feeling great,” Lehman says, “but being a true professional, he gave it his all as usual. He hit the studio every day for about 4 or 5 hours and would typically nail one or two of the songs.”
“Gregg was thrilled that the sound in his head was manifesting itself on the tape,” Was adds. “He didn’t have all the lungpower of his younger self, but we felt that these raw, weathered performances were honest and compelling. We all agreed to leave them as they were on the day they were recorded. In the spirit of Laid Back, Gregg wanted to hear things like background harmony vocals and reverb on his voice, but this album is essentially a documentary of our 2 weeks in the studio.
“Even though I’d known Gregg for a while, I was still blown away to be there with him and to witness his genius up close,” Was concludes. “I can still remember being swept away by his performances. He was so deeply engaged with the music! Working closely with him reinforced and further enhanced my view that Gregg Allman was one of the greatest artists of this or any time.”
Rich with emotional texture, historical connectivity, and purity of performance, Southern Blood would be a landmark Gregg Allman record under any circumstance, its powerful subject matter and passionate presentation as emblematic an expression of his distinctive art as any prior work in the Allman canon. Though his loss leaves a vast musical space that can never truly be filled, Southern Blood stands tall as a remarkable valedictory and memorial to a true giant of American music, now and forever.