Scott Sharrard: From Gregg Allman to Manhattan, Memphis and Muscle Shoals
Photo by Dino Perrucci
For nearly a decade, Scott Sharrard has been known to many as the guitarist and music director for Gregg Allman’s band, but he’s also been simultaneously building a solo career. Now, Sharrard is on what he’s calling an epic quest, recording a new solo album in the musically historical locales of Memphis and Muscle Shoals. He’s also reaching out to his fans directly through Pledgemusic to help fund the album’s making. From his home in New York City, Sharrard discussed a wide range of topics including his relationship with Allman, his views on fans as patrons, and the opportunity to work with his heroes.
How would you describe your relationship with Gregg?
I’ve been obsessed with his music, and his brother’s music, since I was a little kid. It was one of the early inspirations for me to play, like so many guitar players. My family took me to see them live countless times in my early, impressionable years. So, it was music I’d been playing my whole life. When I got the call nine years ago, it wasn’t even a matter of learning the material. It was like going back to my unfinished basement with my guitar and my amp trying to figure out how to play music. It’s like going full-circle.
It’s been amazing getting to know Gregg and what kind of blues aficionado he is. I had a whole period in my teens when I was playing a lot with a lot of the old Chicago blues musician sidemen when I was living in Milwaukee. Gregg and I bonded over Bobby “Blue” Bland and Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Tucker, and all that. We had the bond of both coming from garage bands that desperately wanted to play this incredible black music; blues, soul, jazz. In the process of failing at it, we discovered our own way of playing music while keeping the beating heart in everything we do. That’s what I have most in common with Gregg beyond him being an idol and influence of mine. He’ll always be, ultimately, like a father figure to me.
But, he also seems to rely on you, especially as his music director. He’s been really complimentary about you in interviews.
I would never think of myself as on the same level. The whole thing comes full-circle when he sings a couple of my songs, even recording one of them, or writing songs together. It’s been a really interesting relationship. He has a history of using the guitar player as a source of stability, starting with his brother. After that, Dickey Betts, of course. And, I would also throw Dan Toler’s hat in the ring for the years when they had the Gregg Allman Band in the ‘80s. He was such a powerful guitar player and great friend of Gregg’s. He’s just looked for that (in guitarists) for a long time. When I joined the band I was not the music director, but as time went on, I think he gravitated towards me for all those reasons.
I won’t ask you to disclose any information about Gregg’s current health, but in regards to the cancelled City Winery shows, how did it come about that you would play those free shows in his absence?
New York City is where I’ve lived for 20 years. I have a relationship with the people that run City Winery that goes back a few years now. My management has been talking to them about having my band there next year. So, when this came up, they asked me directly to please do this. This is a hometown gig for me, and our fans crossover a lot. I think it was the obvious business move for the people running the club. I certainly didn’t do it to try and fill Gregg’s shoes. You’d have to be completely insane to think anyone could do that. Everything was themed around the Allman Brothers’ music, and we were doing the best we could with a tough situation. His fans want to see him get well, just like we do.
What things can you take from your experience with Gregg to your solo band?
In Gregg’s band, he’s the boss. He has his aesthetic and his approach to music that is all his own. I’ve learned a lot from dealing with him on an intimate level; the dynamics, how the band plays to a vocal, and what the right tempo is for him from night to night. There is a lot of subtlety that Gregg is aware of as a singer. I always call him the Frank Sinatra of rock and roll. In my own band, I try to be as good a singer as I possibly can. I try to rely on tone, power, and dynamic. Reading the lyric. My band is a little closer to the punk rock energy of the early Allman Brothers, where Gregg now has really come into his own like his idols; Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Muddy Waters, Little Milton. He’s become one of those figures, one of those voices.
The pledge campaign you are undertaking to fund your record reminds me of the patron system from hundreds of years ago.
When I was 20 years-old I had a meeting with Ahmet Ertegun that lasted about 45 minutes. He was interested in signing me, but at that point he was a chairman, no longer an A&R guy, so he couldn’t sign me. This was 1999. He explained to me how the music business was going to eat itself because the young guys downstairs will be just as happy selling video games as they would records. It makes no difference. It’s a transaction; (so they could be able) to buy a house in Connecticut and an apartment downtown. They’re not record men. That’s where it all started; at the peak of the boy bands and Britney Spears. This was the last gasp of the record-selling blitzkrieg. As a result, we come to now, when the Spotify deal is reached; record company executives walked with stock options and artists walked with the shittiest royalty rate in the history or recorded music. They’ve sold the store. They burned the stores down. And, they have all walked away. So, who are the patrons now?
It reminded me of how classical music was supported.
You can go back to the 1950s into the ‘60s, the dawning of the rock and roll record business, with people like Sam Philipps and Berry Gordy, and small independent labels like Stax, having regional hits and signing some our greatest geniuses that created rock and roll. Throw Chess Records in there, as well. They were all indies. Nobody wanted a piece of them at first. They shipped with their own money out of their own houses. That’s where creativity and innovation came from, with the art and commerce sides working together. That’s one way to look at it.
What’s the other?
Look what happened to jazz and classical music. Hundreds of years ago, classical music was in vogue. Now, to play in an orchestra, to your average American, is a curiosity. But, those orchestras are held up by private patronage. This is true in jazz, as well. Now, jazz musicians do more educating for money than they do playing. I would say all music that uses bass, drums, guitar, and keyboards as it basis is moving in this direction; of becoming a Jazz at Lincoln Center-type model. It happened to classical. It happened to jazz. It’s happening to this music, as well. The sooner we embrace that, the better off we will be.
What does it mean to embrace it?
To celebrate tradition and craft, first. I think you see that in a whole variety of artists now. Certainly, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gary Clark, Jr.; all these acts that are having success as touring acts. They’re certainly not having success selling records the way they would have back in the ‘70s. They are acts that celebrate their influences first, in the same way Wynton Marsalis, when you go to see him at Lincoln Center, brilliantly celebrates the heritage of jazz music. When you see Tedeschi Trucks Band, often they are going to be playing a lot of Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Santana. You’re going to experience their brilliant interpretation of a brilliant and great art form that needs to be preserved. That’s where we’re at. Where it goes from here, I have no idea.