NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When Gregg Allman asked his doctors for permission to start touring again just a few months after a liver transplant, he got quizzical looks. "They said, 'Well, we're going to give you a pass and sign you out -- but are you crazy?' " Allman said. "I actually think that it had to do in the big step in healing up that happened after I went on the road."
'Low Country Blues'
|Artist: Gregg Allman|
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, who this week releases "Low Country Blues," his first solo recording in 14 years, has experienced the healing power of music firsthand. Allman had his transplant on June 23 after hepatitis and the rock-star life left him in a state of deteriorating health. He knew the operation and recovery would be challenging, but he found it far more painful than he imagined it would be.
"They don't tell you about a lot of it because they don't want to scare you, you know," the 63-year-old said in a phone interview.
Allman found relief in music. He was playing the guitar and piano again several weeks after the surgery and slowly worked his way back onstage.
"That's kind of like the planet of no pain, being onstage," Allman said.
Allman has a theory about the therapeutic power of music.
"I think it's because you're doing something that you truly love," he said. "I think it just creates a diversion from the pain itself. You've been swallowed up by something you love, you know, and you're just totally engulfed."
Another thing that helped him through was his anticipation over the release of "Low Country Blues," produced by T Bone Burnett.
He'd been thinking about a new record when his manager set up a meeting with Burnett in Memphis, Tenn. The two bonded over once forgotten blues songs. Burnett recasts Allman as a Delta blues singer with covers of Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied," Skip James' haunted "Devil Got My Woman" and Sleepy John Estes' "Floating Bridge," one of his favorites.
Allman says he feels clean now, cleansed of the toxins left by alcohol and drug abuse and disease. Liver damage robbed him of his vitality and left him dwindling and exhausted. As his health worsened, it might take 10 hours of sleep to prepare for or recover from a three-hour show. The wait for a donor liver was an anxious one, and he found himself seeking a stronger relationship with God.
"I was pretty sure I was gonna die," he said with a rueful chuckle. "And I just said, 'Man, come help me, God, can you come and help me? I'm in a real bad way here.' I said, 'Take what you want, just don't let me die.' He didn't take anything, you know, or anything like that. He restored my faith and my sanity and all that stuff. It was very painful, but there were different places along the way that I got little signs to tell me to hold on, that everything was going to be OK."