“If it hadn’t been for Gregg Allman, I never would have been President” (Jimmy Carter)

Let’s take some time in the midst of all the Trump crap going on to remember better times and better Presidents. And former Presidents.  Jimmy Carter never got his due even from many Democrats during his time in Office. History is finally starting to acknowledge him properly and someday he’ll be regarded in the history books as a good President with vision that had it been appreciated in his time allowed him to be a great one. However, for decades there’s been little dispute that however one views his Presidency there’s been no finer and more accomplished former President than Jimmy Carter. It was improbable he even made it to the White House, and crazy as it sounds it might have been a big name southern rock band responsible for him getting there.

So let’s have some feel good time on this Sunday afternoon. We don’t just deserve it. We need it. Yes, it’s tinged with some sadness over the recent death of Dicky Betts of the Allman Brothers Band. However, that’s prompted both tributes to the band as well as some exploration of their impact, which it turns out went beyond the influence they had on rock music. This LA Times article boldly states in the headline of it’s story examining the Allman Brothers history they made Jimmy Carter President.  Trust me when I tell you if you love music the entire article is worth the time to read. Younger folks might not know much about that era or the impact/influence of the Allman brothers but they can learn, and us old farts can be reminded of why they’re truly iconic. From the LA Times:

“The Allman Brothers Band elevated above their rock and roll peers to become an American institution … a group that birthed a genre, had immense impact on country music, helped elect an American president, and stood at the center of the nation’s culture,” writes Paul, also the author of the best-selling “One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.”

Still, the point of all this is the influence the band had on a Presidential election and literally our country’s history.  I won’t go into all the band’s history but in their early years they settled in Macon, Georgia and when they got recognized music executives wanted them to relocate. The band bluntly said f**k off and stayed were they were, finding a small farm and turning Macon from a sleepy small town into a thriving community of rock and motorcycles. Tragically Duane Allman would die in a motorcycle accident but in those days the band was resilient and forged on. Their improbable rise continued.

Georgia was “home” for them, fitting given the southern rock sound they injected into the music scene. Georgia as you know was also the home state of another person who was already living an improbably life. James Earl “Jimmy Carter of Plains, Georgia. From his speck on the map town he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and had quite the career going. He played a key role in developing the “nuclear navy” (ships powered with miniatured nuclear plants) and was on a solid path to probably one day being an Admiral. But fate called him back home to save the family business when his father died.

Carter not only saved the family business but built the peanut farm into a thriving one. And then he entered politics. He’d even wind up in the Governor’s mansion. Yet he remained at heart a small town guy who was devoted to family and church but that didn’t mean he was a stick in the mud. Or prudish. It turns out he was an actual regular guy in surprising ways including an appreciation for types of music many in his small hometown and church didn’t particular care for. But Carter was who he was, and the Allman Brothers Band were who they were and somehow the two stars improbably aligned.

By 1974 Carter was already going around making almost unknown appearances and starting out with what would become a famous line: “My name is Jimmy Carter and I’m running for President.” It seemed like a joke, at least until the time came when it wasn’t a joke anymore. And people, including too many Democrats in “official Washington” realized this unknown Governor from a ‘podunk’ southern state actually had to be taken seriously. That, and how he was treated during his years in the WH by official Washington is something to set aside today.

What matters is that Carter needed credibility with as many voting blocs as possible. And money. Younger voters were, thanks to the turmoil of the 1960s, both having Humphrey shoved on the Democratic Party by the bosses in 1968 and then McGovern going down in flames in 1972 turned off. Still, Carter recognized there was still a passion that could if the right person came along be re-ignited. And in 1973 the Allman Brothers iconic came out. It was a bit different but if not considered “great” at the time resonated with the public in positive ways. It even had some upbeat aspects, one of which I’ll include. As noted in the linked article:

“The vibe on ‘Brothers and Sisters’ was unknowingly tapping into a national mood,” Paul writes. “The country sought tranquility, togetherness, and a simpler, more peaceful time after being torn apart in the ’60s by social upheaval.”

Carter as I said defied the older white guy goody-goody image and truly appreciated music from the 60s and into the 70s people of his age and older saw as partly responsible for the turmoil of the 1960s.  He hosted a post-show party at the Governor’s Mansion for Bob Dylan and the band. Due to his relationship with the Allman Brothers manager Phil Walden he invited them too. It was just one of those little things, that would turn out to be a very big thing in the end.

Gregg Allman actually was way late. He didn’t show up until everyone else was gone but he wasn’t turned away. It seems Carter like him enough the pair wound up alone on the porch drinking scotch and listening to blues records by Elmore James. Carter started rattling off lyrics to Midnight Rider and other tunes Allman had written and Gregg realized the man wasn’t fronting. He really was a fan of not just his band’s music but a lot of other music  including that of the people he’d hosted earlier. Who knew?  What mattered most is that during that get together Carter mentioned he was running for President. And might someday need some financial help.

So much has changed about Presidential politics but one thing that hasn’t is that money is the mother’s milk of all Presidential candidacies. Without it, or enough of it all candidacies are doomed. When people don’t contribute that’s that. As the LA Times notes:

Allman liked Carter but thought the Levi’s- and T-shirt-clad man seated next to him had no chance. But Carter, like the Allman Brothers, repeatedly defied the odds. On Nov. 25, 1975, the band played a benefit for the cash-strapped candidate at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island. The group not only raised money for Carter but, as Paul notes, also burnished his image with young voters.

That last part is crucial. Carter’s campaign got a much needed cash infusion at a critical time, AND young voters started to think maybe he was worth considering after all. Let’s face it. A mild-mannered Governor no one had ever heard of from a then insignificant southern state would be lucky to get a glance from young voters back then.  Hence the quote from Carter that leads off this piece. Crazy as it seems looking back, a chance late evening sit down with a supposed “old fogey” southern Governor and an unusual rock star, just shooting the breeze, knocking back J&B scotch and listening to blues led to a partnership that would pave the way for a credible, and ultimately successful Presidential candidacy!

You just never know how small, chance encounters and/or events can change more than anyone ever believed possible. Sometimes for the worse, but sometimes we are lucky and they change things hugely and in the best possible ways. So think about all that and allow yourself to feel good. To feel like when things seem so dark if we keep plugging along good, seemingly magical things can happen. With that I leave you with my favorite Allman Brothers tune. Jessica. No lyrics, just awesome feel good music. Hope you enjoy it like I do and as this week and others whack us with all kinds of stuff remember it to get yourself back on an even keel:


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    • Thanks for that stroll down memory lane Denis. I was a huge Allman Bros fan (“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was and still is my favorite) and remember those days with fondness and nostaligia. I was surprised however to read about Gregg and Jimmy drinking together. I always thought Jimmy Carter was a tea totaler. I’m sure Rosalynn was but thought the President was also. Anyway, thanks again for this story.

      • Their friendship was a lasting one. When searching for a title pic I was torn in the end between two. This seemed the right choice as it reflects the early times, but there was one of Carter awarding Allman an Honorary Doctorate decades later. It was pretty cool too!


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