Michael Allman, son of famous Allman Brother Gregg Allman, is performing with his band The Michael Allman Band tonight at the Hasan Shriners BBQ Cookoff in Ashburn, Ga. (Special photo)
ALBANY — Often considered more a curse than a blessing, being the progeny of rock royalty is something Michael Allman, son of legendary Allman Brothers Band lead singer Gregg Allman, has finally come to embrace during the past several years.
“To not be Michael Allman is harder than being Michael Allman,” said the singer whose Michael Allman Band is currently on the road playing gigs up and down the East Coast. “I can’t even grasp the expectations folks have about me. But if he was just a plumber down the road, I’d be honored to follow in his footsteps and use his tools. He’s my father. If he was a plumber it would be a father and son plumbing company.”
This weekend that musical heritage will be on display at the Hasan Shriners BBQ Cook-off in Ashburn, not far from where his dad’s legendary band blazed a trail for Southern rock when Allman was in diapers.
Drawing from the rich catalogue of Allman Brothers tunes, Michael and his band play shows that consist of roughly 75 percent Allman Brothers music and 25 percent original material, something the younger Allman said he is honored to do for the fans of his father’s famous band.
“Right now I give them what they want, which is Allman Brothers’ music,” Allman said. “I’m honored to reproduce it, and the band works hard to make sure it sound great. We enjoy it ourselves. We love that music, and we love what we’re doing. I grew up listening to that music and love playing it.”
Allman is the eldest son of the Southern rock icon, born to a single mother in 1966 outside of Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I was born before the Allman Brothers Band,” Allman said. “My mom was a go-go dancer at the time, and he (Gregg) was a skinny blonde surfer kid, just 19 years old.”
Allman’s mother and the future rock star never married, and the couple’s only son together spent the first few years of his life not realizing he came from such a famous lineage.
As Allman tells it, his mother married a man named Daniel Green, who Michael believed was his father until the age of 6 when tragedy struck and the truth came out.
“I almost become Michael Green,” Allman said. “He was a pilot and was killed in a Lear Jet crash, which put a halt to his adopting me. I was upset and thought I had just lost my father, so my mom decided to tell me, ‘No your father isn’t dead,’ and told me who my real father was. That was very bizarre.”
Despite learning who his biological father was, it was some time before the younger Allman had any contact or formed a relationship with Gregg Aallman. In fact, most of Allman’s young life was spent with his mother before he was enrolled in a military academy at age 15.
Finally, however, when Allman was a teenager and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, he began a relationship with his father.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Allman recalls. “She didn’t want to die and me not have anyone, so she called him up and I went to live with him when I was 17 years old. That was incredibly overwhelming, but I didn’t know how to handle it. I failed miserably. I was just like ‘I got a daddy!’ He was really good to me, but I didn’t know how to act. I went back and lived with him again when I was 21 and wasn’t much better. I drank a lot and had a lot of issues.”
Allman said that early on he felt as though things would just work out for him because he was the son of Gregg Allman, and when they didn’t he didn’t handle things well, getting into trouble and straining his relationship with his father.
“I don’t blame him; he’s a great man, but he’s not a parent, not a father,” Allman said. “He grew up bascially without a father. He had his brother and he died, so that’s what he knows. All of us (Allman’s other children and relatives) don’t know how to handle family. I’ve got two kids myself, and I’m barely a father to them either. I mean, I am but I struggle.”
Despite their tenuous past, Allman does have occasional contact with his father, and the two get along when they see each other. But they don’t have much of a relationship beyond that. As Allman says, “It’s kind of out of sight, out of mind.”
While he may not have much physical contact with his famous father, Allman has developed a strong connection with Gregg’s music. Since he was a young man, he has worked as a singer and embraced his father’s legacy.
By embracing that powerful musical legacy, Allman has also become closer to the Allman Brothers Clan, as he calls it, meeting and spending time with other second-generation Allmans and learning first-hand, through the remembrances of others, just how important the Allman Brothers Band is to so many people.
“It’s nice following in the footsteps of a man and a band that’s so adored,” Allman said. “Everywhere we play, people come up to me and share their stories about the Allman Brothers. Everybody has an Allman Brothers story, and I sit and listen to all of them with the biggest grin on my face. It’s cool too that the next time they tell somebody that story, they’ll probably add that they met Michael Allman, too.”
While Michael and the band today have taken on the Allman Brothers legacy mantle with eagerness and pride, that wasn’t always the case for the young musician, who despite wanting to be a musician like his father, wanted to distance himself early on and try and carve out his own sound.
Unfortunately, Allman admits, a sense of entitlement and problems with drugs and alcohol stalled any chance he had. He admits that while he wanted to make it on his own, he expected doors to open and things to happen simply because he was Gregg Allman’s son.
It took getting his wilder ways under control and battling testicular cancer for Allman to see that what he really wanted to do and needed to do was write music and play what came naturally to the soulful singer.
Throughout the ’90s, Allman fronted a different version of the Michael Allman Band to limited success and eventually gave up on his dream of being a musician. However, after successfully battling cancer in the early 2000s, he returned to music with a renewed vigor and began writing and recording, which culminated in the release of his first album in 2009, “Michael Allman’s Hard Labor Creek.”
After meeting Michael Shane and starting a new version of the Michael Allman Band, Allman spent the next two years searching the country for the right mix of musicians to help him realize his ideal lineup.
“I regret ever giving up music,” said Allman. “I just missed it. I recorded ‘Hard Labor Creek’ and after searching everywhere for the right musicians, I found the perfect clique of musicians and now we have a great band. I have the absolute perfect band.”
Consisting of Dennis Toerpe on Hammond B3 organ, Ronnie Ray and Stephen Douglas on guitar, Tazz on bass and newest member Kenny Hines on drums, the Michael Allman Band calls New Port Richey, Fla., home and has spent the last several months touring the Eastern seaboard, tightening their sound.
“This band is fantasic, the real deal,” said Allman. “We’ve been busting our hump playing shows. It’s been great.”
Allman said the band is planning to get into the studio this fall to record a new album of original material that has already been written. In the meantime, the band members are enjoying their time on the road and looking forward to playing small shows in the south, including tonight’s show in Ashburn.
Organized by Carroll’s Sausage and Meats and sponsored by Sconyers Gin and Warehouse Co., Paulk Funeral Home, Colony Bank, Rich-Way Transportation, the Turner County Stockyard and others, the cook-off will feature a barbecue competition with $5,000 in prizes, a car and truck show, bounce houses, rides, vendors and the show by Michael Allman and his band.
The cook-off will take place at Peanut Park in Ashburn Friday and Saturday.
Allman, whose band will entertain the crowd Friday night, said he is thrilled he and the band have the opportunity to play the event as they’ve built a friendship with the folks from Carroll’s over the years.
“Mr. Hardy and everybody there are great folks,” said Allman. “We met first because we travelled by it all the time and you can see it from the interstate. We stopped and became friends. I want to do this for them because they are great folks. We don’t play many sausage factories. This is out of respect for them. They are great people, and they have great meat. We love stopping there.”
In addition to Friday night’s show, the band will also perform at Horse Creek Winery in Sparks Saturday night.