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Talkin' Blues with the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott

Alan Bryson By

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Touring with Aretha Franklin

AAJ: Another really sad thing was the tragic murder of King Curtis in the summer of 1971. On Aretha Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971) you hear her say how much she enjoys playing with you, Bernard Purdie, Cornell Durpree, and King Curtis, and how she's looking forward to years of working together with you guys. That was just such a magical combination.

JJ: It really was. And King Curtis put that together. Like I said before, I'd told him, "I didn't want to go on the road anymore—so don't call me to go on the road." So I told him no, the first time he asked. We were in the studio recording something of his, and I remember him telling me about the project, what he had in mind, and who would be in the band.

Eventually I relented. We had a special connection, there were a lot of guys out there, but he knew what he wanted—and he wanted me. He knew my spontaneous interplay with Cornell, Purdie, Billy Preston and the singers was what this band needed. So he had that vision, and he sold the idea to Jerry Wexler.

He and Jerry saw that by playing to the hippies, they could open up a new market, and this band was the vehicle to get it there.

AAJ: You know what I thought was really cool about that idea, at that time there were lots of black female singers in sequined gowns standing out front. But now we also got to experience Aretha as a musician in the band. She had great feel on the piano and seemed to really enjoy being part of the band.

JJ: She of course was the center, and we all gravitated towards her, and that's the way it's supposed to be. It was about her and what she stood for, the whole tradition of black rhythm and blues performers, putting on a real show. She brought all that, and a church feel. So King Curtis was attuned to all that.

That show at the Fillmore was great, but by the time we got to Switzerland for Montreux we were on fire. When you listened to the recordings from Montreux, they are faster and more intense. Some are available on my website.

Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi

AAJ: You and Bernard Purdie were at the Allman Brothers 40 Year Anniversary at the Beacon a few years back when they did a tribute to King Curtis. You must have been touched to see how the fans remembered you guys after 40 years.

JJ: I was, and I was pumped up being there, you know, representing, and also being able to express my gratitude to Duane and King Curtis and that whole circle of people, and friends from that time who were part of Duane's life.

That's actually how I got the gig working with Gregg. He called me a couple of weeks later and asked me to join the band. So it was great, everything is a leap of faith, and it turned out that something good came out of being there.

AAJ: And after 40 years, you really are coming full-circle.

JJ: [Laughing] My life's had a lot of full-circles!

AAJ: Are you enjoying playing with Gregg Allman?

JJ: It's a great opportunity to see a lot of my fans. They come out and bring me recordings I've done, and I go, "Wow, you've got this!" We share a lot of the same fans, because going back Gregg and Duane's music intertwined with mine. The same with their styles, they were into jazz, country, blues, R&B, and rock—you know those cats were swinging.

Gregg has still got the same flavor and mentality about music, and he's looking to make new music and to play different types of music. So playing with him gives me a great opportunity draw on my arsenal of styles that I've played over the years. We play some country, some jazz, some blues, some rock, some pop, you name it. And however people want to describe it, his hits.

Because of all the different styles you get all kinds of people coming out: bikers, hippies, straight-up guys, and Southern blues guys. So the audience is different, it's a conglomeration, old and young, they bring their kids, the grandparents are there. It's wild, people will follow the bus for three or four hours just to get an autograph.

It's a great experience to play with a super star like that, an icon.

AAJ: I caught you guys at the show in Bonn last summer, when you were touring Europe. That was the one where you guys were with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. I remember a couple of days afterwards the news came out that you were going to have to cut off the tour because of Gregg's health. All the people I know who saw it were amazed—my immediate thought was wow, that guy is a real trooper. That was a great show, and I would have never guessed Gregg was ailing.

JJ: That was a truly great show, I remember because I kept a big poster of it and had everybody sign it.

AAJ: I remember when Derek and Susan sat in with you guys, and you and Susan were connecting on stage, it was really special.

JJ: We did, and we had a great time. Every time I've played with Derek and Susan it's always been a lot of fun. It's great to see these younger people coming up and embracing the musical tradition and caring it on.

AAJ: They've got that gift of carrying on the tradition, but also leaving their own mark on the music.

JJ: They really are something. In fact it was a friend of theirs, Jack Devaney, who is responsible for me getting into the Gregg Allman camp. I think he introduced me to Derek first, then Otiel Burbridge, and then Susan; and eventually I met Gregg.

They are really good people, and they are an extension of Duane and Gregg. That's still what Gregg is about, they are all solid people who want to do good and make great music.

Derek's playing is unique. There's a great rhythmic aspect to his playing, his technique and that strumming thing he does—what can you say, he's just got it, he's making new music on the instrument every day.

AAJ: One thing he and Duane share is that horn quality.

JJ: Yeah Derek loves listening to melodic things, and his interest runs deep in John Coltrane and the whole jazz world. He's deeply involved in making improvisational music.

AAJ: I wanted to mention a couple of other guys in Gregg's band: Steve Potts on drums, and Scott Sharrard on guitar. I was particularly impressed with them. Scott plays those songs that have been played a thousand times, and he manages to bring out something new, staying true to the feel, but using his own voice and making it interesting. Respect.

JJ: I'm glad to hear that, because they really put a lot of work into what they do. And you know his hero is Cornell Dupree.

AAJ: And he gets to play with you night after night, it doesn't get much better than that.

JJ: He has a blast, and he's really embraced the challenge of playing that music that's been played so often, and is so well known. So he gives them what they want, but does his own thing too. It's a hard job because the music is very guitar-centric.

AAJ: Also I wanted to mention your sound engineer on the tour. With Derek and Susan's band, the sound slipped into a bit of a sonic-blur at times, and although you guys were almost as loud, your sound was very clear and distinct. I was very impressed.

JJ: His name is Michael Jackson, and he hails from Berkley, California. He's an impressive guy and a beautiful individual. Highly intelligent and intuitive. He makes it easy for us.

AAJ: Another thing that stuck me when I saw you with Gregg Allman is that you guys covered the song "Ridin' Thumb." That really blew me away, because I'd forgotten that King Curtis had covered that song. I remembered it from the original, it was on an obscure Seals & Crofts album that was released before they signed with Warner Brothers. I thought, "How in the world did Gregg find this?"

JJ: You know what, that's the last recording King Curtis ever did, we finished recording that right before he was killed. The last song he ever recorded was "Ridin' Thumb."

I'm not sure how he came upon it, but he was always listening. And he was like that, he'd hear a song on the radio on Monday and he'd cover it, and by next Monday [laughing] it would be pressed, packaged, and ready for delivery.

He had the connections and the company behind him to do stuff like that. Let me think, "A Whole Lotta Love" was a single like that.


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