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Gregg Allman previews new music: 'The energy from the audience scares you into getting it right'

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Gregg Allman didn’t have to play a single note to get a standing ovation at a private event hosted by real-estate company Brookfield and the Grammy Foundation at Time Inc.’s Henry R. Luce Auditorium in New York City Thursday night.

The audience was already on its feet when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer sat down with Grammy Foundation Vice President Scott Goldman for a career-spanning interview about his influences, his early-career days, and his new material—Allman has been working on a new album in Muscle Shoals with producer Don Was that he says will be out in January. But Allman wasn’t going to leave the stage without playing a few songs: after the talk, he treated fans to an acoustic set that included his famous cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” as well as the Allman Brothers Band tunes “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider.” Below are highlights from his conversation:

He shared some health tips.

Allman made a few jabs about his memory whenever he lost track of the question he was answering, breaking out in song when he couldn’t remember a song title and telling the audience at one point, “[At my age] you get in a room and ask, ‘What did I come here for?’” Yet when Goldman kicked off their conversation by asking how Allman was doing, Allman went above and beyond with his answer: “I started drinking juice every morning,” he said. “You gotta give it seven days. You’ll have more energy.”

His first concert was the stuff of legend.

When Allman was about 9 or 10, his mom dropped him and his brother, Duane, off at a concert whose lineup included Otis Redding and B.B. King. The real star of the night, however, may have been the Hammond B-3 organ that was sitting on stage and caught Allman’s eye. Allman would become one of the B-3’s most notable players, and the instrument even factors into Allman’s famous three rules: “You don’t mess with my wife, you don’t mess with my Harley Davidson, and you don’t touch my B-3,” he joked.

He coped with his brother’s death by taking a vacation to Jamaica.

Duane died in 1971 at the age of 24 after getting into a motorcycle accident. Shaken by his brother’s passing, Allman took off for a roughly week-long trip to Jamaica and told himself, “‘We gon’ set aside two hours every day for you to have the blues, and then go and be happy,’” Allman remembers. “We’d have exotic drinks, laugh, snorkel, parasail.” It was Allman who also told his bandmates they needed to continue on: “‘If we don’t keep playing,’” he said at the time, “‘we’re all going to fade into dust.’”

He’s candid about the early days of his career.

The Allman Brothers Band’s genre-blending brand of southern rock remains one of music’s most influential sounds. But when Allman first got started with the band, he wasn’t so confident in it. “I thought it was too loud,” he admits. “You’ve got to have dynamics. Some of this metal stuff starts up here”—Allman raised his hand up—”and ends up here.” He also wasn’t a fan of the band names he and Duane played under before officially starting the Allman Brothers Band. Hourglass? “Terrible name.” Allman Joys? “Just as bad.”

He says his band is playing the best it ever has.

“When you start out, you have to learn everybody [in your band],” Allman says. His drummer and his bass player need to be “two feet of the same body” so they can reel him in whenever excitement from the crowd causes him to count in songs too quickly. “That’s the way the band I have now is.” Still, Allman notes, feeding off of the audience’s energy is important—especially when it comes to road-testing new material. “My theory is that the energy from the audience scares you into getting it right,” he says.