Tue February 15, 2011
Music Interviews

Gregg Allman: Dead Man Walking

On his latest album, Low Country Blues, Gregg Allman sings of a near-death experience. The song is called "Floating Bridge," and its narrator recounts in detail the time he almost drowned.

Like most of the songs on the album, "Floating Bridge" isn't a Gregg Allman original. Low Country Blues is a collection of old blues covers, this one attributed to Sleepy John Estes. But as Allman tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, he listened very carefully to Estes' version when crafting his own.

"If you heard the original of this, it sounds real spooky-like," Allman says. "You can tell that he's really putting all his emotions in it. That's what makes me think that it really happened. His voice is shaking, and I don't mean like a natural vibrato."

That tale of a narrow survival is fitting for Allman, who recently experienced his own brush with death. Famous for songs like "I'm No Angel," he spent the '70s and '80s as a rock star. He also partied like one, abusing drugs and alcohol. Later, he cleaned up his life — and only then found out that he needed a liver transplant.

While he may have been dismayed, Allman says, he wasn't surprised. "That's the way it usually always happens," he says, chuckling. "A lot of my friends would quit drinking, quit drugging, quit smoking, quit everything, and then two or three years down the road they have liver failure."

Allman spent half of last year waiting for a transplant — five months and five days, he recalls exactly. When he finally got the good news, it came from his manager, whom he'd called just a short while earlier to complain.

"About two hours later, he called me back and said, 'You still bored?' " Allman says. "I said, 'What up?' He said, 'Well, they have you a liver, so you'd best be making it on down to Jacksonville.' "

Allman says that today, he tries not to think about how Low Country Blues could have become a posthumous release — or how he can relate to the drowning man in "Floating Bridge." He just plays it. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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