Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman (Wikimedia Commons)

Rex Smith

Editor’s note: The writer, a local lawyer, approached us after the recent death of musician Gregg Allman, wanting to share his memories of a concert by The Allman Brothers Band more than 40 years ago. He volunteered that what he wrote was “semi-autobiographical,” with people from his past—and concerts they attended—mixed into composite characters and composite anecdotes.

It was dark, real dark, around midnight in Heard County, because there are no street lights in Centralhatchee. It was cool and damp, and you could smell the rich earth tilled and ready to plant. The tree frogs were singing, and it was time to go.

“Come on, Eddie, the gates open at 8 a.m., and I want to be down front,” I said. As far as I knew, no one in the county had ever seen The Allman Brothers Band.

Eddie had been my best friend since third grade, and now 20, he had turned me on to the Allmans just a few weeks before. It started when he ran through the back porch—the screen door not hitting him on his backside as he burst in—and bellowed, “You ain’t going to believe this!” He thrust something at me I had never even imagined: a double LP, the live album “At Fillmore East.” Eddie had bought it at Miller’s Five and Dime in Carrollton.

The reason Eddie pulled up in my side yard was that I had an RCA Victor stereo record player I had bought from the Sears Roebuck catalog for $39.95. I loved that catalog and that stereo. Eddie and I wore out the balance knob making the sound bounce from one side of the room to the other. It was the greatest technological development since the A-bomb.

We wore out the vinyl on “At Fillmore East” and almost got into a fight when our buddy Gary Jackson scratched it. I still have the skip on “Trouble No More” tattooed on my brain—”I tell, tell, tell, tell, WHACK everybody in my neighborhood.”

Soon we were off to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We left the county in my ’55 Chevrolet Bel Air. We had put a Hurst three-speed shifter on the floor and painted it metallic green. I had bought mag wheels from the Western Auto in LaGrange. (I just knew every girl in town wanted to ride in that car, but that was just one of many things on which I turned out to be wrong.)

We went through Moreland and crossed over Highway 41 on the other side of Woolsey. We kept rolling down the highway with that 283 V8 Chevy humming all the way to Charlotte. Neither of us had ever been to North Carolina, but in the dark it smelled and looked just like Georgia.

We got to Charlotte, parked and headed for the gate. We came up over the hill and there was four-deep, mile-long line to get into the raceway. We were dumbstruck. I had been to Sanford Stadium and seen 50,000 people watching Georgia football, but I’d seen nothing like this. The biggest crowd Eddie had ever seen was when his aunt took him to Atlanta to a Billy Graham revival. The Atlanta Journal said there were 6,000 people.

Eddie let out a whistle. “Boy howdie!” We found out later there was over 100,000 kids there that day—not one of them with a dab of sunscreen. This was the day the Brothers developed the reputation as having a lot of redneck fans. We were about to become two of them.

“Rex, I didn’t spend $6 of my hard-earned money to stand in the back,” said Eddie. He had been working with his dad hauling logs, while I’d been working in the hardware store. “We are going to walk down to the gate at five to 8 and break in line.”

“We can’t do that!” I protested.

“Who said?” he shot back.

Our timing was perfect. Just when the gates opened, Eddie stepped in line, pointed to the sleepy, hungover folks right up front and said, “We’re with them.”

Nobody said a word, and then we saw a stage as big as and as long as Eddie’s daddy’s tractor-trailer and yet another one. We were the first two human beings on the infield. We both played high school football, and we ran like white-tailed deer to the very front of the stage. We were young and free and fit, and we ran with the enthusiasm of knowing we’d just pulled one off. Just like when we stole the watermelons out of Aubrey Porters’ patch.

I didn’t realize we would hear so many other bands before the Brothers. Wet Willie, Charlie Daniels and the Marshall Tucker Band. I liked them all, and my ears weren’t ringing too bad. People were playing Frisbee, drinking and smoking stuff that smelled funny. All and all, it was more fun than I ever thought you could have outside of Georgia beating Tech.

And then it happened. It was growing dark, and even though we were exhausted and hadn’t slept in over 20 hours, the electricity in the crowd was palpable. I really can’t describe it. We were all one just willing our hometown heroes to come out.

“OK, the Allman Brothers Band” someone announced, and the crowd was in full throat. Just before the first notes, a girl shouted out, “I’m trippin!” And I suspect we all were in our own way.

“Da do da doop”—the first notes of “Statesboro Blues”—and 200,000 fists went in the air. It was that moment I realized we all knew Gregg Allman. He wasn’t just mine and Eddie’s. He was everybody’s. And he was playing our song and our music. Since Eddie and I were the only two kids in the county that knew him, I thought we were special. And we were just as special as every other Gregg Allman fan in the raceway. We all knew the words. We had all worn out the balance knobs. We all knew if Baby couldn’t make it, her sister Lucille wanted to go. We sang our hearts out in unison.

Gregg sang about some things I knew and some things I would learn. Being from a small town church, I knew the story in Matthew 27 about Simon the Cyrenian bearing Jesus’ cross. But I had not been run down or lied to. I had not suffered life’s lashes and blows, like Gregg sang about in “Whippin’ Post.” But, life’s blows and lashes would come. As they come to us all in due time.

The words of wisdom and hurt and loss were indelibly imprinted into me. Gregg’s and the Brothers’ music have been with me through the years over the oceans, across the mountains and through the cool desert nights. Gregg, his music and his words have been the backdrop of my life.

Gregg, I can’t repay you. You were right. You are strong and you will live on. Live on and live strong in the memories of a multimillion throng.