In the spring of 1973, Gregg Allman and a cherry-picked cadre of musicians landed the finishing touches on the then 26-year-old’s debut solo effort, Laid Back. Guitarist Tommy Talton and his Cowboy mate Scott Boyer, along with drummer Bill Stewart, multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett, and bassist Charlie Hayward (who would go on to a nearly half-century tenure in the Charlie Daniels Band) were part of a core surrounded by notables (including Paul Hornsby, Chuck Leavell, and Jaimoe) under the direction and arrangement of Capricorn Records stalwart Johnny Sandlin. The end result with its now-iconic Abdul Mati Klarwein cover has since become a crown jewel in the career of the Allman Brothers Band co-founder and a rallying point for fans and the artists that helped bring it to life in the studio and on the stage. The Gregg Allman Laid Back Legacy reunited members of the album’s session and touring band to honor their friend after his death in 2017, and on May 27th, the five year anniversary of Gregg’s passing, the Legacy continues with what promises to be an emotional performance at the Hargray Capitol Theatre. Tommy Talton and Legacy vocalist Mike Veal took a break from rehearsals to reminisce and share how they came to be involved with the tribute.
AI- I want to go back to the genesis of Laid Back, the album. [Tommy], at that point, you’re longtime friends with Gregg, and you find out he wants to do a solo album. What was your reaction to that idea?
TT- Let me put it this way, back then, man, we were all just hangin’ together. You’re right, I knew Gregg and Duane since 1966. In fact, I was in Macon because of Duane. I had never even heard of Macon! But when he told me he was goin’ back up there and we needed to come too, that was in late ’69, and we went up in the beginning of ’70.
Gregg had a bunch of songs that just wouldn’t work with the brothers, which was fine. I don’t even remember, I think it was like an off-the-cuff statement of, “You know, I wanna record these tunes too. Why don’t we do this?” And Johnny Sandlin– he told Johnny first, probably– and Johnny said, “Well, I was talkin’ to Gregg and he wants you and Scott [Boyer], Chuck [Leavell), everybody to get together. Why don’t we do a bunch o’ his tunes?” And that’s kinda how it went! It’s as simple as that! In the decades after that, you would have to probably call up management and say, “Hello? At two o’clock on Thursday, could you please be at the studio?” It was all pretty low-key.
That first tour that you guys did for [Laid Back], I imagine puttin’ it all together in the studio was one thing, but tell me about the first time you got out there on stage with the strings behind you. What was the reaction from the audience? And had you ever done that before?
TT- No, I had not done that before or since! It’s like one of the greatest feelings ever, man! Twenty-six people on stage, the beautiful power of it was just amazing. We rehearsed over on Jekyll Island. We rented a house for a week or two, and we did all of the rehearsals in an auditorium that was there. This would be March of 1974. Twiggs Lyndon and I went over early to set up the house, make sure everything was ready for everybody that was comin’ later, and when the strings joined us, Aaron, it was just a power that’s unexplainable– and I believe the audience, obviously, felt that.
Now, Mike, let me ask you to jump in here– tell me about the beginning of the Laid Back Legacy idea and how you came to be involved with it.
MV- Bill Stewart called me. He had heard me doin’ several of the songs off of Laid Back with my cover band, and he said, “We’re thinkin’ about doin’ a one-off on a little tribute to Gregg– would you be interested in doin’ the vocals?” And I said, “Absolutely! When do we start?” And then findin’ out that Tommy was involved, I was sold ’cause I was always a Tommy Talton and Cowboy fan. It was a dream for me– a dream come true!
When did you meet Tommy?
(Laughs) That’s a funny story! Tommy might not remember this… I’m fourteen years old in Macon, and I used to go over to Capricorn and hang out in the front there to try and meet somebody– and I actually met Tommy back then! He was super nice to me…
TT- I had a bad day (laughs)!
MV- Yeah, you ran into me, you had a real bad day (laughs)! But he didn’t have to spend time with a fourteen-year-old kid, but he talked to me, and I always remembered that. Growin’ up around that area, we worshiped everything comin’ outta Capricorn!
Of course! There’s always a sort of mysticism that surrounds those recording sessions, that room, and all the artists that came through. Tommy, I’ve read where you’ve said on numerous occasions that’s a time and those are instances that could never be recreated. What do you think made that era of music so special– I don’t just mean Macon– in a nutshell? If you can?
TT- Wow… Well, I don’t know. It’s so easy to get outside philosophical about all that stuff, but it was just a point in time that came about, just as things happen today because of the situation of the world. The introduction of the Internet kind of took away some of that innocence that was there back then. Everybody wasn’t walkin’ around with a camera in their pocket, first of all– a camera and computer! Things were slower, and people paid more attention to the spirit of the music. Back then, people used to sit around and say, “I can’t wait ’til the new album comes out by so-and-so! Did you see the cover? Did you read the back of that cover? Did you see those photographs?” Now, because of CDs– well, even they’re gone now (laughs)! There’s no room on a CD to provide cool information. It kinda takes away from the wonder of it all and how it was created. It takes away some of the importance of it too, I think. But I’m just an old guy (laughs)!
When did the first Legacy show happen? This was in the wake of and after Gregg’s passing?
TT- Yes, it was. I think the first one was August 5th of 2017.
MV- Yeah, 2017 at a place called the Avondale Theatre, which is no longer there.
TT- In Atlanta. And if I remember right, Mike, Scott called me and said, “Me and Mike Veal have been talking– would you like to be involved?” And you know, at first, I kinda hesitated. The person who got me to change my mind was Chank Middleton. I told him about the possibility of it, and Chank said, “Tommy, man, bro, you guys are the ones that did it, and you’re the only ones left. You’re the only ones that can really truly keep it alive.” When he said that, I saw the whole thing in a different light, and that’s why I got involved.
What was your reticence to begin with?
TT- I just didn’t feel comfortable with it at the time. Gregg was a friend of mine who had passed, and at that time, it was pretty raw. I had just played with him on his very last gig, too, in Atlanta at the Laid Back Festival. I played “Melissa” with him the last time he ever played it! Those feelings were raw and deep, and I just felt a little funny about goin’ up and it didn’t have the import that I wanted it to have until Chank told me that. And then I saw that we could make it a worthwhile, powerful thing to show our love for Gregg. That’s what matters. From the beginning, we’ve always wanted to keep the shows minimal so that each one that we do is more important and has its own merit.
This one coming up in Macon on [May] 27th has been in the works for a little while. The circumstances in which we have found ourselves have necessitated a reschedule at least once– possibly twice?
Above and beyond all that, it will be on the anniversary of Gregg’s passing…
TT- That’s exactly why we moved it to that date. We moved it there purposely because we were supposed to be there in January, and when we couldn’t do that, we thought the next best date to do it would be May 27th. What makes more sense than to celebrate the life of such a wonderful musician, singer-songwriter as Gregg? Either on his birthday or the day he left us, one of the two! We’ll be celebrating the whole thing!