Scott Sharrard Interview: Gregg Allman’s Right Hand Man
In the fall of 2014 we witnessed what we were told would be the final shows of the Allman Brothers Band. After 45 years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act has hung it up, never to play together again, or so the story goes. But band leader and namesake Gregg Allman already had his calendar of tour dates booked pretty solid by the time those final shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York City even took place. Clearly, Gregg ain’t done yet.
And even while the ABB was still going strong, Allman routinely filled the down time with his own solo tours. For most of the past decade, whenever he’s been on the road without Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks sharing his stage, Allman’s guitar player has been Mr. Scott Sharrard, a product of Milwaukee, and a long-time player on the New York City blues circuit.
It would seem that Sharrard was actually born for this gig. Bucking the rock and pop trends that distracted many of his peers, Sharrard had a money-making blues band rolling while still in his teens. He steeped himself in, and built a deep knowledge of blues, soul, and early rock. And he found himself being personally mentored by some of the masters of the old Chess Records crowd. It turned out to be the perfect recipe for catching the ear of the Hammond-playing Allman Brother.
His life’s journey is not only interesting, it’s a road-map well worth paying attention to, and his perseverance well worth noting.
In this in-depth interview, Guitar.com spoke with Sharrard about playing with legends such as Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin, about advice and visionary discussions shared with him by renowned music industry bigwig Ahmet Ertegun, and about his unique and nerve-wracking audition with Gregg Allman.
We also spoke about the role Sharrad now plays as Allman’s musical director, writing songs with the rock legend, and -- in a separate video gear tour which you'll find below (scroll down), about the tools Sharrard uses on stage while standing next to that vaunted Hammond player. Dig in.
Guitar.com: You got started playing blues at an early age, and played with some pretty big name guys as a teen in Milwaukee. How did that all come about?
Scott Sharrard: The way it all started was, I had a band in Milwaukee when I was a teenager called the Chesterfield Kings. And we had a local gig at this place called the Up and Under. It’s still there, but it’s not really a blues club anymore. But when I was there it was this amazing salon of blues artists. And sometimes when you went into the jam session on Sunday nights, it would be Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, and these amazing local guys.
There was a guy named Stokes who would often play in the house band, and was just phenomenal. Willie Higgins had a band. Most of these guys have passed away, except for Stokes. And eventually I worked with all of those guys in different capacities. And I also went to a high school of the arts during the day, which had an amazing jazz program. And we had guys like Mel Rhyne -- Wes Montgomery’s organ player -- would come through. And then I ended up getting to work with Mel.
And then Gerald Cannon, who was playing bass for Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine was one of the adjunct profs for awhile. Penny Goodwin, a great singer. So I was exposed to a jazz curriculum during the day, and then at night I was playing blues. And I was getting to know a lot of these cats who -- obviously all these guys used to play at Chess Records back in the day, and play at the clubs, like Checkerboard Lounge, where all the residencies were going on. Because these guys all played with Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, or Freddie King, Magic Sam.
Magic Sam’s bass player, Ron Hill, was another big mentor of mine. All these guys, right off the bat, when I was 15, I was exposed to all these older musicians, and they just versed me in the hippest stuff. I was so lucky.
Guitar.com: Your Dad got you started at a young age, right?
Sharrard: Yeah. My Dad was a guitar player and singer, and the first songs he taught me were like Jimmy Reed and Chuck Berry. So I had that foundation, and I went deeper and deeper into rock, and the blues, and soul music. So by the time I met these guys when I was 15, I was pretty hip to what they were all about. But they took me farther into and taught me about guys like -- pre-Internet, of course, this was the mid-’90s -- they taught me about Magic Sam, Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker. And basically was running to people’s houses and taping this vinyl, and going to every record store I could to find stuff. And I was just immersed.
So I did come down to Chicago at times. Willie Higgins and Ron Hill were the two guys who brought me down here. And I got my toes wet down here a little bit. I played at the Checkerboard; played at Koko Taylor’s. Sat in. Got to know John Primer and Magic Slim a little bit.
But that Milwaukee scene was really strong, and when I was about 16 I formed my own group. And I was also being a sideman for these guys and other local blues artists. There was a really vibrant blues scene. And this amazing club that had the jam session gave me Thursday nights, with my band, the Chesterfield Kings. And we had a residency that lasted for a couple of years.
Guitar.com: That’s a pretty impressive situation for a teenager.
Sharrard: Yeah, we did very well on the local scene. We didn’t have any original material, but we were known for being a band that could play traditional Chicago blues, but would also play New Orleans funk. So we were the only band that anybody could go see who played Meters songs. Nobody in Milwaukee knew about the Meters, except for musicians. So we’d play college parties, or college kids would come to the Up and Under, and we’d play sets of Meters tunes, and they thought we wrote all of them. We learned all of the Meters songs.
So it was an interesting band because we were doing the Chicago Blues thing, but we were also doing the New Orleans funk thing. And I’ve always been obsessed with Stax, so we mixed in some of the Stax soul. A lot of Johnnie Taylor stuff. We always did really deep cuts, and I think that’s what made people come back over and over again, because I swear most of them probably thought, “These guys are writing great stuff!”
And we’re just playing “People Say,” and “Who’s Makin’ Love,” and “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” All these deep cuts soul tunes. So that was a really fun time.
The Gregg Allman Band plays “Can’t Be Satisfied”
Guitar.com: So how did you end up in New York City?
Sharrard: Well, we were doing really well, and I was making a good living -- I had my own apartment at 18 -- and I was doing really well. Everyone in Chesterfield Kings was a seasoned musician in their 30s. And one of the guys, Sean Dixon -- we were these two teenage kids -- he’s a great percussionist, drummer, and bass player. We decided to move to New York.
We got this deal we found for a rent controlled apartment, which is very hard to find, on 13th and 1st Avenue in the East Village, in ‘97 or ‘98. So we made the move. We took the leap. I was only 19 years old. I think Sean was 20. And we moved into our own place in New York.
And then that was another whole situation where it was like, just scuffling. I went from being a full-time, decently paid, had-my-own-place musician, to being an office temp to make a living, and then playing gigs at night. Eventually I managed to work my way out of a job after a few years.
And we changed the name of the band to the Chesterfields when we got to New York. And Sean and I kept working together.
Guitar.com: And eventually you ran into Atlantic Records founder and music industry legend Ahmet Ertegun, right?
Sharrard: So Ahmet used to go to this club Terra Blues all the time. It’s still there. It’s the only blues club left in New York City that’s an official blues club. Although these days there’s a lot of places to play blues there, but we’ll get to that later. The scene is starting to come back in New York.
But when I got there it was kind of winding down, the blues scene. But Terra Blues was a place Ahmet would go and watch bands. And I also met Jimmy Vivino at a club. And Jimmy brought me to Terra Blues. He saw me play at a jam session in Tribeca, and this was in first couple months that I got there. The first jam session that I went to was at this club, and I walked in, and there was nobody in this place, but Jimmy Vivino and Craig Dreyer. And those two guys are the guys who got me all my work. It was like a stroke of luck. It was unbelievable.
And the next week Jimmy Vivino told me, “Man, I want you to come meet me at Terra Blues. I want to introduce you to the owner. You need to play there.” And sure enough, I went there when he asked me and Lon, the owner, started giving me slots. So I started playing there regularly.
And then through a chain of events, I basically ended up getting this interview with Ahmet Ertegun. I got a phone call one day from his secretary: “Ahmet would like to meet with you.” So I go up to his office. He was the chairman at the time. And I took the elevator up into the Time Warner building, which used to be next to Radio City. And it was very intimidating.
Guitar.com: I bet it was…
Sharrard: Yeah. I was 20 or 21 at the time. And the CD that he had was our first record that we made as soon as we got to New York, with the new lineup of the Chesterfields. And it had a cover of “A Fool For You,” on it -- the Ray Charles song. And Ahmet had produced that Ray Charles record. So I’m going to this meeting thinking, “I can’t believe he has this record. This is embarrassing. He has my version of “A Fool For You.” I don’t want him to ever even hear that.”
So I get to the meeting and he was everything has always said about him: He was gracious, and sharp, and just wonderful. Just like a musician. It was like hanging out with a cat. It wasn’t like being with a suit at all. But he was dressed immaculately. And he was chain smoking cigarettes while we were sitting there. He just struck me as being unbelievably cool. And I had a very deep knowledge of how responsible he was, because Ray Charles has always been one of my main influences.
But he signed Coltrane. He signed the Stones. He signed Led Zeppelin. He put Clapton and Duane together, in sort of a back room way. He’s so important man, and every musician who is great from that era, you talk to them and right away, if you bring up Ahmet, they just get a big smile on their face. I feel lucky because I know why. I spent about a half hour in his office. But the best thing about meeting with Ahmet, was, so I sat down, and I’m thinking, “I should not be here.” This is way premature. And the first thing he tells me is, “You’ve really got something, but -- I could spend my own money on you, because I’m the chairman now. I can’t sign you.”
I believe at the time Jason Flom was the head of A&R there. And he said, “I’ve got to put you through the channels. They’re not gonna let me sign you. I could pay out of my pocket and get Tommy LiPuma to do a record for you and try to figure things out. But I’m not gonna do that.”
And I was really intrigued. And we started talking, and I think D’Angelo had just come out at the time, and he brought up D’Angelo as being an interesting artist that was on his radar. And I said, “Well what do you think I should do Ahmet, if I’m up here and you’re not gonna give me a deal.”
And he said, “Well I wanted to sit down with you and give you some advice because I really like where you’re going.” He said, “You’re gonna need to work twice as hard as the guys I sign.” And I said, “Why is that?”
And he said, “Because if this was the ‘60s, I’d be signing you right now, and I’d be getting a producer, and an arranger, and a writer to work with you. And we’d be making records.” And he said, “But that’s not the world we live in.”
And then he said something really prescient, which was, “This whole thing is coming an end, because these guys downstairs who are running it now, want to get bonuses, and put pools in the ground. They’d be just as happy selling a video game console as they would a record. These are not record men.”
And I said, “Well what do you suggest I do?” And he said, “You’re gonna have to wait until technology” -- which was amazing that he brought that up -- “catches up. Because they’re gonna run it into the ground.”
And at the time -- this was 2000 -- and business was booming. Atlantic was huge. They had boy bands, it was the height of Britney Spears, ‘N Sync. Record labels were just making money hand over fist on garbage. Garbage, garbage. And he says, “They’re gonna run it into the ground because they have no creativity, and no vision. And they can’t work with artists.”
And lo and behold, was that guy right about everything! He was right about everything he told me.
Guitar.com: Wow. He sure was.
Sharrard: And I won’t lie, I was disappointed. I told him, “I thought this was gonna be may chance to develop and work with you.” And he said, “If I hold your hand and pay for this stuff and take you through this whole thing, basically what’s gonna end up happening is that you’re gonna end up getting dropped, and left hung out to dry, and you’re going to have to start all over again.”
So his thing was like, “Go on your own, go with your band, and get really, really, really good -- at everything.” His thing was, “You’re not gonna be able to just play the guitar. You’re not gonna be able to just write. You’re not going to be able to just perform gigs, or just make records and be a studio guy. All that is what they’re gonna kill downstairs.”
And that was amazing. It was like some really deep, prescient information. And I’ve been running with that information every since. And I’ll be damned if it hasn’t come true -- everything he said.
And I think, I’m not a very good businessman. I think there a lot of very good musicians out there who are successful now who are. There’s Dave Matthews and John Mayer, String Cheese Incident, Phish. There’s a lot of examples of these bands who are just phenomenal business people. Phenomenal self-promoters, and also viable, popular artists.
Unfortunately I don’t really have that gene. I’m a little bit old school. I learned from a lot of old guys. I spend all my time on the music. That’s basically what I try to do, for better or for worse. But I feel like if you spend all your time on the music, you’re not going to make as much money, you’re not going to reach as many people, but you’ll reach the right people. The music has a way of taking care of you if you take care of it.
And I think I learned all of that from that short time that I spent with Ahmet. And he did call me and follow up over the years. He wrote me letters. I have two letters at home that he wrote on his typewriter, and signed: “Checking in. Seeing how you’re doing. Do you have something else to play for me?”
Guitar.com: So where did you go from there, and did you send him anything?
Sharrard: I made records with the Chesterfields. We made another record called Henry Street Soul that I was very proud of. And I got a chance to send it to him, and he wrote me back and said he really dug it. At that point he said, “I’m even farther afield now. I’m retired now.” And that was the last correspondence I had with him. But he said “I really like what you’re doing. Just keep going.”
And then unfortunately the Chesterfields broke up, and then I made my first solo album, Dawnbreaker, which I was trying to get to him, and that was around the time that he passed away. So I never actually got my first solo record to him. But it was a really important -- short, but really important -- encounter with him, that I’ve always held on to. And I guess even though we had that one meeting, and those letters, and a little phone call here and there, for me it was a major mentoring moment. Just the fact that he kept up with me. And he still went to Terra Blues and would sit in the back and watch bands. He was really a real record man. And we really need these guys.
Guitar.com: Yes we do, and I don’t know how we ever get back to that point in the music industry, though I’m sure there are guys out there with the artistic integrity, and heart and soul -- and business sense -- of those old record guys...
Sharrard: Somebody has to figure out, if you look at when he started: Atlantic was a mom and pop operation. Sun, Stax, Motown, Hi Records -- from the ‘50s up through the ‘70s it was the mom and pop records, it was the entrepreneurs just throwing shit together and seeing what sticks, that really made music history. I think we need some Berry Gordys and Ahmet Erteguns and Mo Ostins. I think we’re really screwed if we don’t get them. So we’ve got to figure out how to make the platforms that we have now really work for that.
Scott Sharrard & The Brickyard Band
Guitar.com: Well, you went a route where you put out a few solo albums. And you put them out at a tough time. You paid for them yourself?
Sharrard: Pretty much. I have been lucky enough to have some investors. There’s a friend of mine from Milwaukee who I got to know as a kid, named Michael Drescher, who has helped me quite a bit with funding records at times. But I always partially finance them.
Dawnbreaker and Analog/Monolog were my first two solo albums. Those were actually done at my parents house. They moved to upstate New York, and my producing partner, Charlie Martinez, who has produced and engineered every record of mine, since the Chesterfields. He’s my partner man, I can’t make a record without him around. He engineers and co-produces with me whenever we do stuff.
And we did those two solo albums in my parents’ garage. We took a space that wasn’t even treated, that wasn’t even proper, and we got a bunch of instruments up there -- Hammond organ, a bunch of old Fender amps, an old Gretsch drum kit, Ampeg SVT bass amp, and a Pro Tools rig. And Charlie is a great engineer. He’s engineered for everybody. He’s a Grammy-winning mixer. He worked with Keith Richards for a long time, and the Stones, and then he moved from that into doing Steely Dan. He did Steely Dan for the last few years, he engineered the last Donald Fagen solo album.
Guitar.com: Well, that’s a great friend to have...
Sharrad: Charlie’s a bad-ass dude. He was one of Rob Fraboni’s apprentices. It’s like Charlie has golden ears, and great gear, and great mics, and he knows where to put them. So my thing was, if we can get in this space over my parents garage -- this little space -- and somehow turn this into a studio. We were on top of each other in this space, and he was at the board. And I played every instrument on both those albums, to start. Two songs Charley Drayton played drums on, on Dawnbreaker, from a previous session we had done in the city. And then on Analog/Monolog I played drums on the whole thing, and then we actually ended up getting our friends Shawn Pelton to come in and re-do the drums.
But I kept my bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals. I was playing most of the instruments. I had this moment, I guess with Dawnbreaker I was probably about 23, and I always loved Prince, and Stevie Wonder, and Shuggie Otis. And I wanted to do like a real early Prince/Shuggie Otis Inspiration Information type record.
And that’s kind of what Dawnbreaker was, and that carried over into Analog/Monolog.
And I had a great live band at the time that I was gigging with, but I really just wanted to see that through. So that’s what those records were about. And then Ante Up is the third solo album. And Charlie Martinez got free time at this incredible studio in Cleveland -- it’s not there anymore. The studio was called Ante Up. My band at the time was Diego Voglino on drums and Jeff Hanley on bass, who are still with me in the Brickyard Band, but we were a power trio at the time.
So we drove out to Cleveland, and we were there for three days, but we made that record -- I think it’s an 8-song record -- but we made it in a couple hours. Vocals, guitar, bass, and drums all cut live on the floor. In one room. And then we brought it back to New York, put some organ on it. Had Jay Collins do some horns, but that was basically it. So that was almost like a live in the studio album. I had never done anything like that before. It was really inspiring
I think it’s a really special record, I think everyone plays amazing on it, especially that trio live in that room. And doing it without headphones. Just doing it with monitors in this beautiful huge room, with this great Neve board, and great mics and stuff. It was really fun.
And that carried over to the Brickyard Band album, which we did a couple years ago. I was living in Woodstock at the time. And I had moved up there because my buddy Jay Collins -- we work together in Gregg Allman’s band -- he was living up there. And Bruce Katz who was in Gregg’s band and is an amazing pianist and keyboardist. I was starting to work with those guys on projects, and also starting to work at Levon Helm’s studio, with Levon quite a bit -- both recording and playing in the Ramble band.
Guitar.com: So then you moved there?
Sharrard: Yeah. So my wife and I decided to move up there for a change of pace, and I discovered Applehead Studios, and then we did the Brickyard Band with my buddy Moses Patrou on percussion, second drums, and keyboards. Plays amazing, sings amazing.And an amazing songwriter. He brought a huge amount of talent to the band.
My thing with the Brickyard Band is, I want to do the new Little Feat. That was my thing. That was always one of my favorite bands, and I always loved the mix of soul, blues, and rock and roll. With Brickyard I had sort of Little Feat, and of course Allman Brothers, and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I had all that stuff kind of brewing in my head. Traffic, was another band that was an inspiration for it. Really heavy percussion.
So we did two drum kits on some of it, and percussion and one drum kit. And they would switch off who was the drummer on some songs. And to Diego and Jeff we added Moses and Ben Stivers on organ. He plays organ and Wurlitzer on that records. Beautiful studio, great analog gear. We did it on Pro Tools, but we did everything live. And then we added horns later. And that record we had Ian Hendrickson-Smith do the horns. He did the Amy Winehouse records, and he’s a collaborator of ours when we gig around New York. So that was another special record, and again cut in just a couple days, and then we did overdubs back in New York City.
Guitar.com: And you toured around with these albums?
Sharrard: A little bit. Really, I’ve been with Gregg’s band for a little over seven years. Since I’ve been playing with Gregg, it’s been tricky. You can’t really submit a booking agent deal because I have so many commitments out here with Gregg. Especially now, with the Allman Brothers in apparent retirement. We didn’t tour a lot, but we’d grab gigs here and there. We’d grab gigs in New York, we played in the Hudson Valley. Getting the tri-state area, but every time I would get festivals or gigs overseas, it would conflict. It’s something I’m going to be doing a lot more of soon though.
Watch Guitar.com's Exclusive Rig Tour with Scott Sharrard:
If you check my schedule it’s evolving. We have a residency that I’m extremely excited about, at a club called Bar Chord. It’s actually an old guitar shop in Brooklyn. The owners have turned this old guitar store into a club. They still have guitars on the wall that they sell, and they sell strings and stuff. But they put in a stage, they have a nice sound system. They’ve got a huge outdoor space. And it’s really funky. It’s like a place you would go in New Orleans.
It’s just funky, and it’s perfect for my band. So we’ve done a couple of gigs, and once we get into the summer, it’s going to be off the charts. We have this room we play into, but then there’s these doors that open into this huge outdoor area, and they have graffiti on the walls, and this really cool vibe. So that’s going to be our home in New York, and they told us anytime you’re home on a Thursday, we want you playing here -- two sets, 9 to 12. We’ve got a big long time to stretch out and play, and every week we’re going to have different guests.
I’ve got Scott Metzger joining us. He plays with Phil Lesh, Phil Russo’s Almost Dead. You’re going to be hearing a lot more from him. And Trixie Whitley. We also do a lot of funky stuff.
Guitar.com: So if there’s a lesson for other musicians from a lot of the things that you’ve done, it’s you just kept on playing with as many different people, and you were open to opportunities, and one thing lead to another.
Sharrard: Absolutely. And I’ve also had a lot of lucky breaks. It’s preparation plus timing. The adage is true. My family was obsessed with music. My father played guitar and sang, and really played great, deep music. Bob Dylan, Jesse Colin Young, Lead Belly, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry. If you could play nothing but Jimmy Reed and Chuck Berry, you can outplay everybody, because it’s just so boiled down. If you can sing and play those songs, I just don’t think it gets any better than those guys. That’s like the root right there, of all the great… There is no Bob Dylan without Chuck Berry. Period. There’s no Jimi Hendrix without Chuck Berry. Period, end of story.
The way he was putting words together, and the way he straightened out that shuffle beat and made it a straight eight instead of a swinging eight. So I feel really lucky that I was exposed to all that. I think that was my first lucky break.
And then I moved to New York and I managed to just play in the club where Jimmy Vivino was. And I managed to play in the club where Ahmet Ertegun went. And I managed to meet with him, and then I managed to find this club, and so on.
Guitar.com: And a lot of these were jam nights, right?
Sharrard: Yeah, and a lot of those don’t even exist anymore. So where you gonna do that now? I’m sure there’s somewhere. Actually the blues is having a huge revival in New York right now. It’s absolutely insane. For years I would take my band to these clubs in New York that were gonna try it out again -- because when I got to New York there were tons of clubs playing blues, and they all closed, one by one by one.
And then, a year or two again, I started getting calls and emails from clubs finding me. There is a place called Skinny Dennison’s, in a really hipstered out place in Williamsburg. But every time we’ve been there in the past, and got up there and played some blues or soul or real rock and roll, the kids would look at us like, “What the f#&*! This is terrible.” And I’d just come home from Williamsburg with my tail between my legs. And I’d think, “OK, I guess we’ve just got to keep playing at Terra Blues and these places for older people. It’s cool.”
But we just did this gig at this place Skinny Dennison’s and we’re playing Johnny Guitar Watson songs, and these kids in the audience are going berserk. Just loving it. People in their 20s. And now there’s a bunch of places to play where this happens. And it’s been really encouraging. So we’ve got a new management team and I think we’re gonna really make some stuff happen for my band this year.
Plus I’ve got a lot of plans with Gregg too. We’re talking about doing a record. Gregg and I have been writing some songs together, and he’s been covering one of my songs, “Love Like Kerosene,” which was on my last record. We’ve been doing that on pretty much every gig. And I think there’s a DVD coming out that it might be on.
So we’ve got some plans on that front as well. I’m praying for a Gregg Allman studio record, because he’s ready to do it. I think we’re halfway there material wise.
Guitar.com: You’ve been with him for seven or eight years at this point. It’s an interesting story about your audition.
Sharrard: Yeah, that was rough man. My Dad took me to see the Allman Brothers when I was a kid. I was pretty young. And it blew my mind because I think he took me to see the Stones or Aerosmith the week before. It was somebody who had just an amazing show. And I went to see the Allman Brothers and I was so excited because I’d been trying to learn all their licks -- I think I’d been playing guitar for only a couple years at that point. And I thought “Man this is gonna be amazing.”
And I get to the gig and they come out, and they just play. And I was like, “Wow, this is great! These guys are like, musicians. These guys don’t give a shit about artifice. They are gonna leave blood on the floor, and it’s gonna come from their hands and their mouths, and there’s no pyrotechnics, and there’s no bullshit.”
And they were stretching the tunes out… It was late ‘80s or early ‘90s. So it was like Dickey and Warren, and they were just on fire. And we went to a bunch of shows during that Dickey-Warren time period. So I was extremely well versed in music as a very young child. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when all this was going on, as I was getting super immersed in them, and learning about blues through them. And Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton. They were all on VH1 at the time. When I was 10 years old, if you turned on VH1 you saw Eric Clapton videos, you saw Allman Brothers videos, you’d see a Robert Cray video. You’d see a Stevie Ray Vaughan video.
You couldn’t see it so much on MTV, but on VH1 that had it on all the time. Bonnie Raitt. And you’d go see them in concert a couple times a year, they were always on the road. So I feel very lucky to have been in that situation also, because they were providing some very serious information and interviews as well. And again, this was before I moved to Milwaukee, before I was hanging around with the old cats. This was the earliest years.
Guitar.com: So how did you get the call for the audition?
Sharrard: So for a couple years Jay Collins was trying to get me in Gregg’s band. And I was living in New York City, playing in Jay’s band. And he was always saying “Man, this is like the gig you were born to do.” And I’m like, “Well tell me something I don’t know!” I know this music. Just get me near this cat, and I will show him that I know this music. And not only that, I know a ton about the music that he loves, and that I believe Duane loved, and Jay was like, “I know man, I’m gonna hook you up with this thing.”
So it was over two years, and it became this ongoing joke with Jay that I was gonna come do this gig. We could never find a time for me to hook-up. And the whole thing was that I was going to have to go sit in with him somewhere.
So this all started to kind of fall off my radar. And then one day I get a call from Jay and he says, “All right man, it’s happening. I need you to meet me on the turnpike, and we’re gonna go to Camden, New Jersey, and you’re gonna sit in with the Allman Brothers. And that’s gonna be your audition. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”
So I’ve never met anybody in the band at this point. I’ve never met Warren Haynes, or Derek Trucks. I think I was 30 at the time. But I felt like I was ready. So I got there, and the first thing I did was I met Gregg. And as he is, he was unbelievably gracious. And like a lot of people who emote a lot on stage, he’s very soft spoken. And that was the first thing that struck me, like “Wow, this guy’s a class act. This is a special person.” You get that right away.
And the first thing he talked to me about, he said, “Man, I hear you can play.” And I said, “Well, I’ll try my best Gregg. I learned most of it from your records.” And he said, “You know those Wayne Bennett licks on those Bobby Bland records?” And I said, “Of course.” And then we talked about Wayne Bennett, and I think that was the point where we connected, before we even played. Because me knowing Wayne Bennett, and singing some of those solos back to him, I think he was like, “All right, I think this is gonna be the cat.”
And again, I guess that’s a case where preparation worked to my advantage. I had known “Further On Up the Road,” and now I’ve been hearing that there’s some other cat playing on that track. But Gregg says Bobby Bland swore up and down that it was Wayne Bennett. But I guess there was another guy who was playing with Little Junior Parker -- I forget his name right now.
But anyway, we were bonding over that particular song. And “Stormy Monday,” the Bobby Bland version with Wayne Bennett. If you listen to that version, you’ll hear the one that’s on Fillmore East, except it’s up a half-step. You’ll hear a lot of where they got a lot of the licks for their interpretation of it.
So we had that bonding point, and then they called me up and I had to get on stage with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, which is, to this day one of my favorite and least favorite experiences at the same time. They’re so incredible, and they’re both -- like Gregg -- two unbelievably gracious human beings. And really welcoming, and totally laid back. There’s no ego. There’s no attachment to what they’re doing. But then they play, and it’s like, “OK, it’s time to play now.”
So I was pretty nervous. But I think I held my own, at least enough to get the gig. And then a couple months later I was at his house, and we were rehearsing, and that was it. We were off.
Guitar.com: That’s really cool. And now that you’ve been with him for awhile, you’ve been writing songs with Gregg too, right? How did that come about?
Sharrard: Yeah. Over the last couple years, there was some point a couple years ago -- Gregg’s always listened to my records -- but a couple years ago he asked me to put my Brickyard Band record on his iPod or his phone or his iTunes or whatever. So I transferred it on. And we were sitting around on his house, and he was like, “Man, can you just put that on my phone, because I want to listen to it. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it.” And I said, “Sure.”
So I went on the computer and loaded it up. And then something happened where, that day, he accidentally erased all the music on his device, except for that album. And on our next tour he was walking around, and every day I’d see him and he’d go, “Scotty, I love this song, man.” And then he’d name another song from the record. And it was just this funny thing where he was just getting into this record. And then he started to realize that he was just listening to my record all the time.
And one day he said, “Man, we’ve got to write some tunes. I’m really into this record.” And next thing I knew I was at his house just to write. And we started coming up with some stuff. And we realized that we could go a little deeper with this, with the writing thing. And then he brought up “Love Like Kerosene,” that was on his phone, and he said, “I want to start playing that song.” And I went, “Wow, absolutely.”
And then I remember there was another really surreal experience where he was sitting down with his guitar and he like figured out one of the songs on my record, and he was singing it back to me -- one of my tunes. And I was totally blown away by it. I didn’t even know what to say. So we ended up writing.
And we’ve been writing on and off for over a year or two now. We’ve got a couple things that I think we feel real strong about to put on a record.
Fan Shot Video: Scott Sharrard and Gregg Allman Band Play “Love Like Kerosene”
Guitar.com: Wow. Very cool. So at first you joined Gregg’s band as the guitar player. But now, fast forward almost a decade, you’re writing songs with him, and you’re Gregg’s musical director too.
Sharrard: Yeah, in the midst of that whole (writing) process, I think it just became the natural progression that we were working so closely on these songs, and I think he was seeking my advice on some things for the set. And also seeking a little bit of advice on changes in the band, and getting the line-up of the musicians that he wanted. And there were some names of some guys that I gave him, and they worked out. And I think he saw that, and he was like, “Well, if I can write songs with this guy, and play with him on stage, and he’s standing in the center of the stage…”
This position I have on stage is ideal for directing the band because I’ve got Gregg right here by my side, so I’m ready for whatever he needs, and all I have to do is turn around and I can see everybody. If someone was doing that from anywhere else on the stage it would be much more difficult to communicate. And there’s a lot of communicating. Like I was telling you earlier, with Gregg, this is a musicians’ gig. He’ll change things. He’ll want the tempo a certain way. He’s very sensitive to extremely subtle things that make big differences, like tempos, and dynamics.
Guitar.com: That’s important stuff that a lot of younger players don’t understand.
Sharrard: Yeah, tempos and dynamics, that’s some men-from-boys stuff right there. Ray Charles was an absolute master of that, and I think maybe Gregg got it from listening to a lot of Ray, I have a feeling. I feel like this band is sort of like an electric rock version of the Ray Charles orchestra, really. To me, that’s the way it sounds. It’s dense harmonically, and we have the horn thing. We have three amazing horn players. We have a great section sound. And we play a lot of blues.
Guitar.com: I saw Ray Charles at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and I went out for drinks with one of his singers afterwards, one of the girls, the Raylettes. And she was from Milwaukee. And this was around ‘92 or ‘93. Do you know some girls from Milwaukee who sang with Ray?
Sharrard: No. He went through a lot of people. He beat the shit out of those bands. By the time I saw Ray here -- I was living in New York at the time, but I was here (in Chicago) visiting my parents in Milwaukee, around 2000. I saw Ray play at this Chicago House of Blues, and he was phenomenal, just phenomenally great. But he was yelling at his band and soundman the whole gig. And the band was OK. They were doing their best. But they weren’t Fathead, and Hank Crawford. That horn section was just unreal. Those guys were just off the charts.
Guitar.com: So I heard you talking to Gregg earlier, making some changes to tonights set list. What was that all about?
Sharrard: Well that happens from time to time. I make the set list around soundcheck time and I text it to him. And then sometimes I hear back. If I don’t it usually means it’s OK. Today it wasn’t OK. There were some songs he wanted to get to that I didn’t put in. We’re here for two nights so I think he had some people come down and he wanted to have them hear certain songs.
We’ve added a lot of songs to the set. We did a couple days rehearsals before we came out on this run, and we added like six tunes. Five of the tunes are from the Allman Brothers Band catalog. And one of them is “Brightest Smile In Town,” which is a Ray Charles song that we’re playing.
Gregg actually recorded the song, on one of his records -- I think it’s Playing Up a Storm. It’s a beautiful song.
Club Gig: Scott Sharrad and Gregg Allman Play “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”
Guitar.com: You had mentioned to me that on this tour you’re playing a lot of Allman Brothes stuff, in part because Gregg feels that people want to hear it?
Sharrard: Where else are you going to go to hear Gregg Allman sing “One Way Out,” or “Trouble No More,” or “Whipping Post,” or “Melissa” anymore? This is the only place you can come, as of right now. That could always change. Never say never with the Allman Brothers Band. They’ve been broken up and together a lot over the years.
But I think, for this year, this year certainly you’re going to be seeing a lot of this band. We’re doing all the slots that we didn’t get to do in the past because they were Allman Brothers gigs. Peachfest, Wanee, Gathering of the Vibes. We’re gettin’ all that love this year. So that’s gonna be good for this band, and I feel like it’s perfect timing, because I feel like we’ve got just a solid lineup of dudes. The band is really just firing on all cylinders.
Guitar.com: I noticed that, right at the time of the final Beacon shows, Gregg’s calendar was already filling up, quite a bit.
Sharrard: Yeah. He doesn’t like to sit around too long. I guess that’s the B.B. King method. Ramp it up. Keep going.
Guitar.com: Yep. Well Scott, you’ve given me a world of history and all kinds of stuff. Thank you so much for your time today.
Sharrard: I’m trying my best. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the stuff. But I appreciate you coming down today man. And it’s always fun to be in Chicago. I actually saw the Chess studios today, for the the first time.
Guitar.com: Yeah, it’s a cool place.
Sharrard: It was amazing. I want to record in there. But thank you again, and any time we pass through, come on down and say hello.
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Gregg Allman Website
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