What is it about old Bluesmen that is just so moving? Perhaps it is knowing that they have survived the gamut of emotions in their songs – falling from the soaring highs to the lowest sorrows. To these sweeping sensations, add an authentic blues tune and a layer of sweet vocal harmonies and I am as gone as a heartbroken sweetheart crying at the end of a lonely, beachside pier.
Gregg Allman and John Paul White had this exact effect when they performed together after a screening of the Muscle Shoals music documentary at the Sundance London festival. A resident of said county in Alabama, White was there to help the director promote the film and the music he grew up with. Allman’s mentor, brother Duane, had been studio house band guitarist and one of the originators of the Muscle Shoals sound at the legendary FAME studios. So, street cred established, White kicked things off with a solo stint and a handful of songs, including ‘No one will ever love you’. Penned for the hit (but unfathomably awful) TV show, Nashville, this song let White’s powerful voice soar – and heavenly heights it sure enough reached.
After a hesitantly performed Allman Brothers cover, White was joined on stage by the man himself. The duo started the intro for ‘Midnight Rider’ and their combined harmonies brought tears to my eyes. You don’t expect something quiet and melodic to be electrifying, but it just was.
Despite his hard-living history (I submit as evidence that the man has survived a recent liver transplant) Allman has an innocence in his voice that brings a lump to your throat. And when he recounts older brother Duane calling him ‘Babybro’ (‘… that was his kind of nickname for me.’) well, your heart just melts.
Allman inspired a similar awe in his performing partner. While tuning his guitar, White stopped suddenly: ‘I know this may be breaking all sorts of protocol here, but I just want to say what an honour it is to be here performing with you.’ Allman is so humble, he barely flinches. Instead, he just says a quiet ‘thanks’ and begins to introduce an old song ‘I can’t be satisfied’. Saying it has been covered by many performers, he runs off a list and adds Muddy Waters.
White can’t help himself and adds: ‘… and Gregg Allman’.
To which Allman responds with a country gentleman’s quiet, understated laugh: ‘Of course.’
Seeing these two performers separately is a treat; seeing them together is to witness a powerful mixing of base metals – with a good measure of bourbon to sweeten the mix. Let’s hope that T-Bone Burnett, their mutual producer, is planning an alchemy session, Southern style, soon.
Cheers for now, Beth