I’m a big fan of southern rock legend, Gregg Allman of Allman Brothers Band fame, who died Saturday, May 27, 2017, in Savannah, GA. He was 69.
I’m an even bigger fan of the 1973 country-rock classic, “Ramblin’ Man,” the Allman Brothers Band’s biggest pop single, which peaked at No. 2 in October 1973 and which helped propel their album Brothers and Sisters to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making it Allman’s only No. 1 album of his or his group’s career.
While Allman doesn’t warrant full credit for its success – since he was the band’s keyboardist – “Ramblin’ Man” still has one of the greatest guitar finishes in rock and roll history, as it featured the song’s singer and writer – and Allman Brothers Band member – Dickey Betts, in a harmonized guitar jam session with Les Dudek during the song’s rebel-rousing second half.
But to get to the point of this story, while somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it’s important to draw the connection between “Ramblin’ Man” and the “disco record” Allman would record just six years later.
“Ramblin’ Man” was a hit with AM radio right out of the gate in summer/fall 1973, racing up the Billboard pop charts from 85-58-35-21-15-10-7…and then No. 2 during the week ending October 13.
Sitting at No. 1 that week was the recent Billboard Icon Award winner Cher and her ubiquitous hit, “Half-Breed.” It was Cher’s tale of mixed-race heritage and racial discrimination holding out the Allmans’ charming southern-rock ditty and ruining the band’s best chance of hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The next week, “Ramblin’ Man” fell back to No. 3, beginning a descent that would have it off the charts by that Christmas.
Cher would continue making the Allman Brothers, and Greg in particular, her Billboard chart “whipping post” in the subsequent months. Cher’s follow-up single, “Dark Lady” debuted the week of January 19, 1974, at No. 82, while the Allmans’ follow-up “Jessica,” entered the same week at No. 90. Meanwhile, Allman’s solo take on the band’s “Midnight Rider” was moving into the Top 40 that week at No. 36.
Cher’s “Dark Lady” left the Allman band’s “Jessica” in the dust and would eventually surpass “Midnight Rider” on her way to No. 1, giving Cher a third chart-topper, while an intrigued Gregg Allman was likely taking notice of some of Cher’s other assets at the time.
In June 1975, just a year after those songs’ chart runs and only four days after her divorce from first husband, Sonny Bono, was finalized, Cher and Gregg Allman married each other. From their union came one son, Elijah Blue,…and an album.
And it’s that album, entitled Two The Hard Way and billed under the name Allman and Woman, that was the source of Gregg Allman’s first – and as far as I know, only – attempt at disco.
The album was released in November 1977 (ironically the same week as the most famous disco album of all time, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever) on Warner Brothers Records. Allman and Woman’s (I chuckle every time I type that) album contained no less than five disco-oriented tracks, including lead single, “Move Me” and four other tunes: “I Found You Love,” “I Love Makin’ Love To You,” “In For The Night” and “We’re Gonna Make It.”
Needless to say, the unlikely pairing of Allman and Cher, err…Woman, didn’t make it – either musically or personally. Their union had been seen as a head-scratcher to most people alive back then, and it ultimately played out as such. The album – and eventually the marriage – would flop before the ’70s were over.
Allman and Cher traded vocals on nine of the eleven tracks on the album, including all five of the disco cuts. And before anyone judges him for making this shift from his guitar-and-keyboard southern-rock roots to the string-and-brass heavy, four-on-the-floor rhythmic beats found on Two The Hard Way, one must remember where Allman’s career was at that time.
He had left his famous band a couple of years earlier (although he would thankfully regroup with them later). Disco music, while already popular in late 1977, hadn’t yet become the annoying sellout magnet that it would be just a year later when pop, rock, soul and country artists worldwide jumped on the post-Saturday Night Fever bandwagon. And finally, Allman was a newly married man who was likely trying to find a happy musical compromise between him and his wife, whose own pop career had been in the cellar since “Dark Lady” a few years before.
And, despite what many rock fans believe, disco is NOT a bad word, in fact, when it was done right, it was usually a good thing.
Following their divorce, Cher gave disco a second shot with her next album, 1979’s Take Me Home, the title track of which became her first top-ten pop hit since 1974.
Allman, on the other hand, left disco alone and returned to his rock roots with subsequent releases. His next album, billed under the Gregg Allman Band, was 1987’s I’m No Angel. Its title track barely missed the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, but peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, becoming his first No. 1 on any chart since the Brothers and Sisters album 14 years earlier…you know, the one that contained the song that started this whole story.
And, like that song, one could label me a “Ramblin’ Man” for even bringing up this aspect of Allman’s legendary career in the roundabout way that I did, especially a man whose legacy is better defined by classic rock gems like 1969’s “Whipping Post,” 1970’s (and ’73’s) “Midnight Rider,” ’74’s “Jessica” and many others.
However, it’s always good to appreciate the complete artist when recalling his life and art, not just the cool stuff we want to remember.
Besides, in hindsight, Two The Hard Way, isn’t all that bad an album. Yes, there is some cheesy disco (and even love songs) on it. But there’s also a gem or two.
Check out that lead single, “Move Me” below, followed by the album’s last track, a decent soulful ballad between Cher and Allman called “Love Me,” then judge for yourself.
So, in short, despite the roasting it still gets from music elitists nationwide, even a rock god like Gregg Allman saw the virtues of disco. Either that, or it was a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” regarding his former wife and duet partner, Cher.
Gregg Allman, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, thank you for ALL the music you gave us for nearly 50 years.
May you now rest in Rock and Roll Heaven.