When I was in college, we used to listen to live music at this little dive bar called The Stone Toad, a couple miles outside of Hattiesburg on the highway leading to the coast. Well, some people called it the Stone Toad and others called it the Stone Pony, but I think the Pony camp was just getting confused with Linda Ronstadt’s band. The truth is, by the time we were frequenting the place in the early 80s, it was no longer officially named Stone anything, and had changed ownership and names multiple times, but it was forever known by the college crowd as The Stone something.
One night, believe it or not, Gregg Allman gave a concert at the Stone Whatever. I guess it was a low point in his career. This was post-Cher, post-Laid Back, pre-the-comeback-with “I’m no Angel”, and pre-people-respecting-what-we-now-call-classic-rock. The place was packed to the rafters, but there were two contingents in the audience: the people that knew what they were about to receive and were truly grateful, and those that were there just to dance and drink beer.
The “stage”, if you could call it that, was a little homemade-looking structure, barely rising off the floor. At first, the dancers, oblivious to the greatness before us, actually got out on the tiny dance floor and blocked our view of the great one and company. The listeners, of which I was obviously a part, slowly infiltrated the dancer-zone and sat on the dance floor immediately in front of Gregg at the edge of the stage. Eventually, the dancers were either relegated to the perimeter of the floor or they gave up altogether and sat down to listen. As it wound up, I was situated right in the front with a direct view of Gregg as he performed. Unbelievable.
During a break, I was stuck in a gridlock of frat boys, trying to get to the bar for a beer, when I turned slightly and spotted, directly behind me, a sheet of long, blond hair. Turning a little more, I saw, I swear by Odin, the tall, Viking-esque Gregg Allman – scrunched right up behind me; hedged in by the crowd. He was going to the bar to get a beer too. That’s right – not a flunky, not some groupie or hanger-on, but Gregg himself was going to the bar, in the midst of a bunch of frat boys (and me) to get his own beer. Nobody was saying anything to him, no one was hounding him for an autograph – nothing. Unbelievable again, I know.
So I’m basically crushed right up next to him, looking eye to eye with the man, and I say, startled as heck, “Oh, hey.”
To which he responds, “Hey”.
And from there we have a stilted conversation. Him being a rock star guy and me being almost stunned speechless, it was kind of rough at first. I weakly, lamely murmur something like, “I really love your music”.
He comes back with, “Thanks”. Then he helps me greatly by saying, “Ya goin’ t’school down here?”
At this point, I proceed to bore Gregg Allman with all the details of my major and my future career plans. I must say, he feigned polite interest very well. Shortly after my presentation on the field of sociology and its many career opportunities (Ha! Naïve child.), the crowd shifted and we were separated. When we were back in our spots, he at his keyboards and me sitting on the floor at the edge of the stage, and he resumed playing, it felt like we were bonded, and we had a lot of eye contact. Yep. That’s right. Extensive eye contact with Gregg Allman. While he was singing. Let’s have a moment of silence and just let that sink in.
So I had come to the Stone Whatever with a group of friends, and the guy that had driven us suddenly got all grouchy and weird acting and made us leave as soon as the concert was over. Of course, I later figured out that he was a little perturbed because what appeared to be an ancient Nordic love spell had been cast upon all the girls to whom he had so nicely and without ulterior motives (yeah, right) offered a ride.
For a long time, I bitterly regretted that I was snatched from the hand of fate in such a way, but after I read Gregg’s autobiography, I came to terms with the fact that it was probably for the best that somebody got me out of there and quick. Darn it. Apparently, Gregg was something of a….ummm…ladies’ man in those days. Oh well, it makes a great, amazing story with which to bore my teenage daughter as I sit here in my recliner. And it was without a doubt, one of the best concerts and best evenings of my life.
And I want to say that Gregg Allman was the nicest, most polite, down to earth and approachable “rock god” imaginable. As you may know, my dear follower, I read a lot of biographies of musicians, and I always enjoy learning about the people that make the music I love, but Gregg’s autobiography, “My Cross to Bear”, was one of the most enjoyable for me – because it seemed like it could have been written by the guy next door. In fact, I discovered that our paths have sort of crossed quite a few times over the years. For instance, it seems that Gregg wrote “Melissa” at the little crummy “fishing motel” where I used to stay with my parents as a kid when we went deep sea fishing. Very cool.
You may recall that in an earlier post, I mentioned that my three favorite British blues-rock singers are the Marriott-Plant-Rodgers trinity. Well, as far as American blues-rock singers, there’s only one that stands head and shoulders above all, and that’s Gregg Allman…and the Allman Brothers Band is my favorite American band, hands down…and my mousepad has a picture of Duane Allman playing slide guitar on it…
I think that says it all.
I can’t listen to this beautiful song now without thinking about that little dumpy fishing motel where it was written, and the night I was almost another notch…I mean that fantastic concert. With the marvelous Dickey Betts and the supremely talented Warren Haynes…here’s “Melissa”….
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