He sits, shorn of Cher and much of his fame, in a small brick house off Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. The place belongs to Jimmy Thackery of the Nighthawks, D.C. blues band. The blinds are drawn. Muffled sounds float from within. A dog growls lowly behind a fence.
Inside, a sleepy gregg Allman is bent over a guitar. Blue jersey with orange "tennessee" lettered on it. Jeans. White cotton socks. Also, opaque glasses. Later, when he was warmed some, he will take off the glasses and say how he's trying to get over a case of conjunctivitis. "i might look like I been on a two-day bender> man, but that's what it is."
Gregg Allman, 30 this past December, would know about benders. About cocaine, too, though he won't talk as readily about drugs as he will about alcohol. Recently Allman says he has been drying out in an AA-related treatment center in the South. "He won't say where.) He reportedly left the pace to come to Washington this week to jam around town with the Nighthawks.
"I've been trying to get all the liquor out of my body," he says quietly. %It ain't easy." He says he feels better now than he has in years. This afternoon he's sipping bottled water and smoking Marlboros. Endlessly.
Thackery's wife comes to say dinner is on the table. Omelets and cherry cobbler. The two go to work as if they haven't seen food in days. "Yhis is breakfast, grins Thackery, who looks like a Tiny Tim crossed with an Alice Cooper. He is a serious musician who feels that Nighthawks are on the ledge of fame - even if major labels seem best on ignoring them. Allman, who doesn't have a band these days, thinks they're about to hit too.
"We're just jamming together," he says. "Something might come of it, something might not." People who know Allman says blues, the music be grew up on, is what he wants to play now. It's on line with his move back down South.
But Gregg Allman has always seemed something of an enigmatic man - the younger brother of a legend snuffed at 24. (Duane Allman, founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band, died in a motorcycle accident in 1971.) Thrice married. On-again, off-again with Cher. Star witness in a sensational drug trial. A life riddles.
The talk drifts to tattoos. Thackery has them down both arms. Allman has five including an "ABB" on his calf which he letter himself back in the days when the Allman Brothers - according to the Playboy Music poll, for[WORD ILLEGIBLE] - were the hottest rock band in America, on their way to racking five gold and three platinum albums. That was circa 1973.
This past weekend, in Atlanta, Allman got his newest tattoo - technicolor Chinese sun and a bird with an eighth note in its mouth. The thing sits on Allman's shoulder. It's sore as well. He more or less thought up the idea himself, he says proudly - with the help, of course, of Rangoon Rocky, his tattooist.
"He got all done and I said, 'Hey, man, I want some purple in there,'" Rickey charged him $30, Allman says, "He kept saying he couldn't go to work until he could see the 'green motivation.'"
This talk about tattoos (Thackery has come in to say he thinks it's a primal urge, sticking needles in your skin) has somehow roused Allman. He is almost animated now, talking in whole sentences, erupting in small, noisy laughs. He had stopped rubbing sleep from his eyes. He looks alive, even interested. The painful shyness is gone.
"I got this friend in prison. He doesn't have all his marbles - you know, a couple of quarts low - and so anyway this guy in the joint with him says he wants a lion tattooed on his back. So his friend takes his needles and draws this LINE down the dude's back. 'Are you done already?' he says to my friend. Christ, I would've loved to seen that poor guy's face."
This gets a laught all around.
The name "Scooter" comes up. Scooter is John C. Herring, Gregg Allman's onetime road manager, valet and all-round company-keeper. Nearly two years ago during the summer of 1976, in a heavily guarded courtroom in Macon, Ga., Allman turned state's evidence against Herring, testifying he had purchased cocaine from him 15 times in a 16-month period. Three weeks later Herring was sentenced to 75 years in Atlanta's federal penitentiary.
"Aw, the times have healed all that," Allman says, waving at the question, getting up to go to the refrigerator for more ice. (He has been jumping up at lot.) "The dude never went to jail. (Herring's bail was posted almost immediately, and he since has been out on appeal. Several weeks ago the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned his conviction.) I just saw him, in fact. We spent the evening together in Macon. I bet we talked six hours." He says though he and Scooter weren't personally in touch the past two years, he kept in communication through friends.
"All that's past now. There's no reason to talk about it. Let's talk about the blues." He reaches again for his guitar.
Mention of Cher, his third wife, bores him too. "We're still on good terms. As a matter of fact, we're still married technically. What's to talk about?" But Ellijah Blue brings a light. "He's 20 months old, weighs 30 pounds, I helped deliver him. He likes to sit on my lap and bang a piano."
Talk of the past. "Those big pop festivals used to scare hell out of me. They still do. Even last night Sunday, when he jammed with the nighthawks, without billing, at Georgetown's Bayou) I was scared stiff. It's a feeling that takes over your whole body. Your ankles and knees go to rubber. You can't talk. You can't think straight. You're just begging for that first song to hit."
A grin rolls up. "I remember my brother Duane and I once playing this VFW hall in Daytona where we lived - we had this little surfer band - and that same night my mother makes this whole batch of spaghetti. She said, 'You boys ain't going nowhere till you eat this dinner.' I ended up losing if off one side of the stage during a break. Now I don't even eat after 4 o'clock on a night we're gonna play."
Allman hasn't been invited to dinner at the White House this time, he says. (He and Cher ate a private supper with Jimmy and the family inauguration night, he says. They had fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens, biscuits.) He's not sure the Carters even know he's in town. "Maybe I should call over there. I wonder if Chip's in town.He and I got be good friends during the campaign. I think he digs rock 'n' roll about as much as I do."
Old Town Alexandria. The bar is called the Shed, and the Nighthawks, in their first appearance here, are tearing it apart. Word has spread like grass fire that Allman is to sit in tonight. By 10:30 the street is lined with fans who won't get in.
The star shows up at midnight, entering by a back door. He seems lucid and relaxed, pausing to chat with several fans. Then he accompanies the band on organ on a half dozen hard-as-nails blues tunes. His playing is tight, nearly frenzied, his voice gutthroaty.
Afterward he is flushed and smiling. "It almost makes you never want to play another coliseum again," he says, "This is how we begun."