Gregg Allman bends down and shoves a trowel into the ground. The famous hard-rocking musician, better known for digging grooves than digging holes, is planting impatiens.
"I like anything with color," says Gregg, whose newfound interest in gardening surprises no one more than him. A broad-rimmed hat shades his blond-going-gray ponytail. His gardening gloves don’t quite reach the queen-of-hearts tattoo on his left forearm. A sea breeze drifts through live oaks and carries the harmonies of chirping birds.
During breaks from a raucous concert schedule, Gregg and his wife, Stacey, come home to a place on the Belfast River near Richmond Hill, 20 miles south of Savannah, where he enjoys quietly connecting with nature. "I've learned this," he says, tamping potting soil around a plant. "No one else will take care of your yard the way you take care of it yourself."
He's One of Us
For more than three decades the longtime leader of The Allman Brothers Band has toured the globe with Georgia on his mind. Gregg became captivated by Savannah at age 9, when his family moved from Nashville, Tennessee, to Daytona Beach, Florida. "I remember going down a road with oaks meeting overhead," he says, demonstrating with interlocked fingers. "I thought that was the hippest thing I'd ever seen."
The guitarist and keyboard player lived in Macon during the 1970s and recorded with his brother, the late Duane Allman. They pioneered the high-energy, blues-inspired, Georgia-born sound that came to define Southern rock.
Calling Georgia Home
Gregg and Stacey moved to Richmond Hill from San Rafael, California, a few years ago to flee West Coast congestion and return to his Southern roots. To ride his treasured collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the scenic Napa Valley there, he first had to navigate a treacherous 12-lane freeway. "Here I can pull out of my driveway and already be riding on a beautiful country road lined with wildflowers," he says.
They live in a custom-built Tudor-style home on 4.5-acres of a former antebellum plantation. A long wooden pier extending from their riverfront haven lets them watch Atlantic bottlenose dolphins leap and coastal birds feed.
"We love being on the water," says Stacey, a former accountant who met Gregg at a Texas jazz club 14 years ago, and who now sells property with the Savannah-based Coastal Real Estate Group. "We get the most gorgeous sunsets! And people in Georgia are so nice and down-to-earth."
Gregg agrees. When the singer-songwriter returns from a tour, he looks for a little peace of mind. "It's nice to come home to a place that's so quiet and serene," he says as he reclines on a sofa in a living room with heart-pine ceiling beams and French doors facing the peaceful river.
Good Clean Fun
This hard-living musician kicked alcohol and drug problems nearly a decade ago and reports he's enjoying the sober life. "My next drink literally could have killed me," he says. "You don’t know you have an addictive personality until you're in the jaws of the beast." Today the laid-back 59-year-old spends his downtime fishing for trout and spotted bass, boating to a sandbar for a picnic with Stacey, and riding motorcycles. His most dangerous addiction is a passion for Southern barbecue.
Stacey, who practices yoga and rides a bicycle for exercise, plays a big role in keeping her husband on a healthy track. She joins him on tour, attending concerts and steering him away from temptation. "I think he was ready, but he needed the right support," she says.
Gregg and Stacey share their home with pets Lil’ Dawn (a miniature poodle), Lucky (a deaf Australian shepherd), SmokeyJo (a cockapoo), and Emmy (an energetic tuxedo cat). The house reflects a casual coastal lifestyle. Family and dining room walls sport vivid shades of tangerine and magenta as colorful as the flowering landscape outside. Asian, African, and Southwestern pieces that the couple picked up in their travels furnish the place.
Amenities include an upper-level bunkhouse to accommodate family and friends. Bandmates practice in a soundproof room. A spacious garage holds several of Gregg’s motorcycles. In his spare time Gregg paints flora in a cozy art studio.
The composer of some of The Allman Brothers' biggest hits, such as "Midnight Rider," "Whipping Post," and "I'm No Angel" (his signature solo), still enjoys writing songs. "Writing a song is also like going on a ride you haven't been on before at the fair," he says. "It's new every time."
Gregg has earned many honors in the music world and was recently inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His proudest achievement: donating concert proceeds to charities such as Joseph's Home for Boys in Statesboro.
After so many years on the road, Gregg savors every moment at his coastal sanctuary. "This place is magical," he says with a satisfied smile. "It feels like home."
Saved by Music
Until he picked up a guitar in the fifth grade, something was missing in Gregg Allman's life. "I felt this void," says Gregg, who was 2 when his dad died. "One day I went to a rhythm and blues revue featuring Otis Redding, B.B. King, and Patti LaBelle, and that changed my life." He borrowed a neighbor's guitar, learned some chords, and delivered newspapers until he could afford his first instrument. He played in bands with his older brother, Duane, who died in a 1971 motorcycle crash. "Duane and I caught it like an illness," he recalls. "We didn't eat, we didn't sleep, we didn't think about anything except music." Gregg once considered a career as a dental surgeon. "I figured playing music was a temporary thing," he says. "Nothing worked out the way I thought it would."
"At Home With Georgia's Midnight Rider" is from the August 2007 issue of Georgia Living: People & Places, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in Georgia.