The death of the Allman Brothers Band’s Gregg Allman wasn’t a complete surprise to most of his fans, but it was still hard felt.
Allman’s early years had been marked by excesses and addictions. In his later years, the 69-year-old’s health had sharply declined. He’d battled liver cancer and survived a liver transplant, but he’d grown thin and frail-looking.
Paul Greco, owner of Sam’s Uptown Cafe & Bar, said the passing of Allman hit close to his heart.
On Saturday, Greco and his band, Soul Slaw, will be honoring Allman with a tribute show at the bar and grill’s upstairs lounge.
Greco, the bassist for Soul Slaw, said he’s been playing Allman Brothers music almost as long as he’s been listening to the band.
“This goes quite a ways back,” the 48-year-old said. “Josh Cannon and I, basically, have been playing Allman Brothers tunes since we were in high school in upstate New York.”
At a ballpark guess, Greco, figured that was somewhere around 30 to 35 years.
“I graduated in 1987. Josh graduated in 1988,” he said.
There was no Soul Slaw back then. Greco and Cannon were just teenage musicians, playing in their garages or in other people’s garages, along with Cannon’s brother, Scotty Thompson.
Greco moved to Charleston in 1992. His friends eventually followed.
“We’ve been in various combinations of bands over the years — just having a good time, playing good music,” Greco said.
The Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman were always part of the playlist.
Soul Slaw, Greco explained, was an occasional project.
“We hadn’t played in a while, and we’d been talking about doing an Allman Brothers show,” he said. “And then Gregg passed.”
It became more of a need.
Greco saw the Allman Brothers Band several times over the years, in various incarnations, but mostly during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I didn’t see Gregg when he was at the Clay Center last year,” he said. “But my friend, Rob Rosano, got an autographed picture for me.”
The bassist and bar owner said he’d also met Allman Brothers Band members Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.
“My best was when I met Al Woody. He played bass for the band when I got to see them,” he said.
Woody joined The Allman Brothers Band along with guitarist Warren Haynes in 1989, during the group’s reunion.
When Woody wasn’t touring with The Allman Brothers, he usually toured with Haynes in Gov’t Mule.
In the late 1990s, Gov’t Mule performed a show to a packed house at The Empty Glass.
“I was on the front row,” Greco said.
It was a good show, but a tough night for Greco.
“I had to open up at Joey’s the next day at 9:30 a.m.,” he said. “It was going to be rough, let me tell you.”
But his first customer of the day was Woody himself, who came through the door, wanting barbecue and a beer.
“He sat down and we chatted a bit,” he said. “That was really cool for me.”
The Saturday show will feature Allman Brothers songs, with an emphasis on the material the singer/songwriter was known best for, as well as some of his solo work.
Some practice and preparation was required, but not too much, Greco said.
“A few we had to polish up, but we play a lot of Allman Brothers music. We just don’t play it all, all of the time,” he said. “We play some Marshall Tucker Band, a lot of Gov’t Mule, classic and psychedelic rock, and some newer, jammy stuff, like Moe.”
Most of the work, he said, falls on Thompson.
“He’s our only vocalist,” Greco said. “He has to know all the words.”
The rest of them can get by without being note-for-note like the album.
“Most of the Allman Brothers solos are improvisational,” he said. “We just need to make it sound good.”
Gregg Allman would probably approve, Greco said.
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter. Follow Bill’s One Month At A Time progress on his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth/. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap.